Tuesday, August 27, 2013

There's Something About Alex

First Paragraph:

"I can tell my parents are unhappy by the way they smile at waiters. In that small act of ingratiation I can see the custody battle to come. It won't be fought in the courtroom but in HMV and Game. Stocks in Nintendo will soar as my affections are auctioned off to the highest bidder. My teeth will rot."

   Amazon/ Amazon.co.uk

Ostrich by Matt Greene is a blunt book about the different ways one person can feel ostracised (hence the title) through the eyes of a twelve year old boy.


Alex is an "almost thirteen" year old boy, though his mind seems much older. In his own words, he is a "worldy and cynical" person. Alex is different. Not just in any of the usual ways (though he is some of those too). Alex has a brain tumour. If the school grapevine wasn't enough to get the info around, the shaved head is. 

But for all Alex's 'cynicism', he is quite an optimistic, young boy. His surgery is scheduled and soon he hopes to be on the road to recovery. Not just for himself, but for those around him too. If the first paragraph didn't tip you off, Alex's parents' marriage has hit a snag. The stress of daily life, added to the stress of Alex's condition, has taken its toll on them, leaving him on the outside as they 'politely' squabble the days away. But is that all there is to it? What exactly is going on with his parents' marriage?


It's a little hard to pinpoint what this book is about, because it's not really about anything. It's more Alex's observations and perceptions of the world around him. It's a little slice-of-life, coming-of-age, with Alex's illness and the way it affects not just him, but those around him adding a darker tone to the story. 

There are a lot of off-topics mentioned in this book, that most people tiptoe around. Here, they are laid bare. From religion, sexuality, terrorism, illness, bullying, racism, puberty, divorce, depression and many others, this book incorporates a lot of big issues, some more 'controversial' than others. Some are only briefly mentioned (with a passing comment) and some are the basis for the entire story. All are spoken of bluntly, viewed through the eyes of a boy who doesn't necessarily even understand them. Satire is woven through almost every page, with keen quips at the world around us. 

The writing is without a doubt the strongest element. The wordplay is incredibly clever, and the way the author manipulates the language is a treat. I wouldn't say this is a funny book, but I would say it was witty- which is much the same thing, but requires more intelligence. 

I adore Alex himself. A dead-pan, incredibly smart main character. He's bright, friendly, funny, but also damaged- as can be expected. A very inquisitive boy, he's filled with the 'wonder of the world' and feels the need to explain his newest discoveries of what is mostly useless trivia (though sometimes subtly relevant) to his readers. His tumour causes 'absences' (literal blackout periods for him, that look normal to others), causing him to become incredibly perceptive, so he's very good at noticing things other people would miss. And how much do I love him for having a 'To Google' list?

As for his explanations? They are basically tangents, though interesting and entertaining (for the most part). Their nature and use are a little reminiscent of the excerpts from the Guide in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. On the whole irrelevant, but enjoyably odd and sometimes quite apt.

At its core, this is a story about how the people in our lives affect us, especially when we're young and still becoming people ourselves. Alex embarks on a mission to find the truth about his parents not because he wants to know, but because he needs to. They say 'the truth will set you free'. Though in my experience, that is highly dependant on the particular truth in question. While some may 'set you free', others hit you in the gut, stealing your breath away and leaving you gasping in a heap on the floor and remembering another idiom- 'ignorance is bliss'.

I won't say anything about the ending- not one thing. There is nothing I could say that would describe it well enough, without giving anything away. It can be a little confusing, and a little ambiguous or perfectly clear depending on your interpretation of it. In my opinion, exactly what happened is unclear, but definite- in that I know what happened, but I don't know how or why. I can make educated guesses, but that's all they'd be.

I could tell you how the ending made me feel, but that in itself would be a spoiler. If I told you it made me happy, you could guess it was too. If I told you it broke my heart, you could guess the nature of that ending. If I told you it completed me, you'd probably think I was a little obsessed. If I told you it was all three, you'd be confused. So really, I can't tell you anything. How did it make me feel? The answer is obvious isn't it? It made me feel the way it made me feel. Nothing more, nothing less. 

Was it the perfect ending to the book? No. I'd like to say it was a very good ending, and one befitting the story, but this is one of those stories that will be undeniably personal. For the most part people react in similar ways to an ending. This story however, it's anybody's guess how an individual will take it.

Personally, I loved this book. The down-to-earth reality, the feeling that everything has a consequence, kept light and funny through Alex's unintentional (mostly) humour. However, this is a love it/hate it book. Which side you're on will vary according to you.

I wanted to briefly mention one thing. This book has been compared to "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time" and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", but I'm not going to do that because I want you to go into this book with no preconceptions about it. Don't think about what you think it will be, just read it. Don't think about it in terms of other stories, just think about it. In my opinion, there's no faster way of ruining something than to go into it believing it to be something else. A perfect example? Going to a movie based on a book you love. You spend the entire time complaining about what they did differently. I learnt long ago that the secret to enjoying things with similarities, is to completely forget they have any relevance to each other. Oh and fyi, while I would say the above books mentioned have similarities (what doesn't), I wouldn't necessarily say they were anything alike. I don't like this book because it reminds me of something else, I like this book for itself.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy of this book through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

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