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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Fridrik Erlings
Age Range: 12+
Benjamin and his friends love playing with everyone in their small town, except for local bullies Howie and Eddie. When Roland moves to town, he persuades Benjamin and co that they should no longer put up with Howie’s cruelty. Led by Roland, the boys begin to fight back, styling themselves on brave knights from long ago. It’s not long, however, before a rival order of knights appears, challenging the boys to a fight and the childhood games turn to life-changing tragedy.
This is a story that deals with the age-old topic of bullying. The startling escalation of hostility and violence amongst the boys shows how what seems like a little harmless teasing can quickly and dangerously spiral out of control. The violence is especially strong at the start of the book, with a rather unpleasant scene of animal cruelty that might really upset animal lovers. This is set against an old fashioned innocence, as Benjamin, Roland and friends emulate medieval chivalry. To go from such sweetness to such tragedy shows how quickly things can become out of control amongst children, making Benjamin Dove a thought-provoking, powerful novel, as the plot quickly gathers pace. Although the characters are all very typical children, the innocence of some of them might be a stumbling block for Erlings, as the boys play out doors and dress up as knights, which might seem a bit quaint, or old fashioned to the play station generation.
Benjamin’s dream sequences are the love or loathe parts of the novel. Lovely to read, they are descriptive with magical images, projecting Benjamin’s subconscious and hinting at the sadness to come. The sequences take on a different tone to the rest of the novel, almost like a fairy tale. This is something that readers may dislike, as it might seem slightly out of keeping with the rest of the story. The dream with Manny and the unicorn, for example, is quite touching but some may find it a little twee in a story for twelve-year-olds. Especially when you consider that Fridrik Erlings included a scene of animal torture earlier in the novel.
This book is an interesting read as you seem driven to keep going, despite almost knowing the inevitable ending. It is beautifully written, Fridrik Erlings has created an ideal setting in a friendly town, and elements of the book are very poetic and attractive. It should make children think twice about bullying and forming play-ground gangs and animal cruelty, although some may find it a little too fantastical and find it difficult to relate to a character as quaint as Roland or the knight games.
Abby Phillips (2010)