Published in: 2002
Age Range: Young Teens
Setting: English Town
- Darryl owns two racing pigeons and secretly allows their eggs to hatch, against his father's wishes. Meanwhile, he keeps from his parents the fear he lives in of the school bully, and tries to come to terms with the interest two girls show in him.
- Garry is Darryl's best friend who remains loyal despite a few spats and who occasionally acts as go-between for Darryl and the girls in their class.
- Susan Duckins is the granddaughter of Alf Ducking who gave Darryl his pigeons. She helps Darryl a few times, but has her own reasons for doing things.
- Warren Spigott has threatened Darryl even since their school has been made aware of the bullying. His mother died in a car accident some years ago while taking pigeons to a race and he blames his father, Lenny Spigott, who has now taken Darryl on as an apprentice while he looks after the newly-hatched pigeon chicks.
- Suzie McAllister is in Darryl's class at school, a slightly more thoughtful girl than the others, who is a judo expert, stands up against bullying, and is not afraid to apologise when she feels she's done something wrong. She perseveres in help Darryl even when he fails to appreciate her efforts.
Darryl must do the best he can for his racing pigeons while keeping at bay his mother, pregnant with twins, his father, who doesn't want the pigeons, Warren, the school bully, and Susan Duckins and Suzie McAllister, who both have designs on him for entirely different reasons. He is shocked when one of his pigeon chicks dies unexpectedly and is terrified of the thought of lodging the other with Mr Spigott, the father of the school bully. Some of the girls in his class undertake to protect him, and Susan, two years older than him, appears to have an interest in him as well.
General: A rites-of-passage sort of book where the concern Darryl has for his racing pigeons in some way mirrors the attitude of parents, especially now that his mother is in the early stages of a pregnancy whose outcome is uncertain. Darryl's difficulties in coping with the threats of the school bully and the support offered by the girls of his class portray very well the confusion and fears of boys at that age. It's not clear exactly how old Darryl and the girls are but they are presumably in the first years of high school and just starting to take an interest in each other.
Families: Darryl's Mum and Dad are supportive of him. Even though his Dad doesn't agree with his hatching the pigeon chicks, he makes arrangements for them to be lodged with an expert pigeon-fancier. His Mum explains to him simply that she had lost two children from previous pregnancies to prepare him for the possible failure of this one. Darryl's Gran takes him to stay with her at a difficult time for him, and tries to help him get over things with her gentle love. When 5-year-old Natalie comes to visit him there, he finds it easy to take her for a walk by the hand.
Lenny Spigott is unaware that his 16-year-old son has been Darryl's tormentor since the previous year, and both father and son continue to be upset by the death of Emily, wife and mother, some years previously. Lenny is kind to Darryl and wins him over with his straightfoward competence.
Suzie McAllister's parents are little less conventional, but they're still obviously a close family.
Babies: Darryl undergoes vicariously the difficulties of parenthood when his chicks hatch and one dies soon after. At the same time, his mother reveals her pregnancy and her history of miscarriage and he is terrified when he misinterprets something and believes that the baby is malformed. She describes this child as “unplanned” but without entering into any details.
Friendship: Garry & Darryl have been best friends for ever and even when they fall out they're soon back together again. The girls in their class, in particular Gemma, Fern & Suzie, form a gang called the Angels and undertake to protect Darryl from Warren, helped by Suzie's prowess at judo. Darryl doesn't know how to respond to this, and we are led to contrast the self-interested glamour of Susan, whom Darryl's Mum & Gran mistrust, with the persevering kindness of Suzie which Darryl initially spurns, then later accepts, and then has to win back again.
Modesty & Decency: When Darryl visits Suzie's house, they end up have a tickling contest in her bedroom which leaves them lying near each other on her bed — fully clothed — when her mother walks in. Susan is seen kissing Warren after he grandfather's funeral, not least to spite Darryl who's nearby, and we later learn that he assaulted her in an unspecified (but presumably sexual) way. At one point, Darryl and Garry are hiding in the boys' toilets at school when Warren and his mates come in: there is a fair amount of vulgar talk.
Violence: Warren and his friends physically and verbally intimidate others, including hitting and (we presume) sexually interfering with Susan. Suzie uses her judo skills sparingly. Darryl, Garry, Suzie and Gemma decide to ambush Warren and cut off his hair. The police arrive during this episode and make it quite clear that they should not take the law into their own hands and that they have only narrowly escaped a charge of assault, despite the fact that Warren is himself wanted for a charge of assault.
“Why didn't you just tell us it was him?” said Dad. He was pacing the lounge like a caged wolf. Arms folded. Tie loosened. Shirt sleeves rolled. His face showing no emotion whatsoever.
“Tim, please, you'll wear the carpet out,” said Mum. She was sitting in an armchair, fussing with a tissue.
On the sofa beside me, Suzie, sitting very prim and proper, gave me a gentle nudge.
“Dunno,” I mumbled. What can you say? “And what exactly did he do to you?”
I looked sideways at Suzie, She gave a little nod. For the first time ever, I spilled it to my parents. Whatever Warren had commanded, I'd done.
“Oh, Darryl. Why didn't you just say?” said Mum. There was so much sadness in her voice — as if she felt she'd let me down. “We would have helped you. We would have understood.”
“I was scared to, Mum.”
“Did he hit you?” asked Dad.
I shook my head. “Only arm twists and stuff.” He swept past, tracing his brow with his fingers.
“But didn't that letter from the school put an end to it?” Mum crumpled her tissue, pulled another from the box.
Suzie explained about Warren at the chip shop and how he'd said it wasn't over.
Saturday 13th March 2004