Lark by Anthony McGowan.
The Truth of Things 4,
Barrington Stoke 2020 (2019)
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was meant to be a stroll, a laugh.
Going for a walk on the Yorkshire moors when you’re underprepared is never a good idea. Especially when snow is on the way,and you’ve set off later than you should have. And when you’re responsible for your brother who has learning difficulties.
Teenager Nicky and his older brother are filling in time before their mother flies in for a visit with the boys and their father, from whom she’s divorced. As a way to distract them from excitement mixed in with some anxiety, their father suggests a little expedition on a walk he used to do as a lad.
But Nicky is inexperienced and underestimates the dangers involved; it’s a lot of responsibility to load onto his shoulders. It’s all very well to buoy up Kenny with stories he has thought up — until they find themselves embroiled in a real-life story which mayn’t have a happy ending.
This is — as all the best stories are — a tale about love. Love of siblings, of parents, of surrogate parents, of animal companions, and of course the first crush. And it’s about how one reacts when that love is tested.
The last of a quartet of novellas composed for readers with reading difficulties, Lark is not only perfectly relatable as a standalone but is also testament to the fact that ‘simple’ writing needn’t be simplistic, nor does it exclude moments of beauty and emotion. In fact this was a narrative of real skill which kept me glued to the page in virtually one sitting.
The adults are very much relegated to the background because the author’s focus is almost entirely on Nicky and Kenny, and to a lesser extent on their faithful terrier Tina. The way their strong sibling bonds shine through feels absolutely authentic, as does the daring scatological badinage; while Nicky’s concern for his brother’s wellbeing is a joy to behold even while it’s severely tested.
I won’t expand on the plot any more for fear of spoiling Lark for new readers, but I will add that I was extremely moved by the last few chapters. And if they don’t affect you then the epilogue surely will.
And after what starts off as a joke, a lark, there eventually is a real live bird:
“the mad ecstatic music of the lark […] the small bird straining upwards […] all effort, as if hauling itself up by sheer will — a wanting, a yearning.”
It’s not hard to see how this moving novella has merited its many plaudits and its award.