Hello Mum

Hello Mum

Hello Mum was written by Bernardine Evaristo and first published in 2010. It is young adult contemporary novella which focuses on the life of a teenage boy living on a London council estate. The story was published as part of Penguin’s Quick Reads series and is a stand-alone story, so you don’t have to read any of Evaristo’s earlier works to fully appreciate it.

Fourteen year old Jerome (JJ) has not had an easy life. He lives in a tiny flat and has a really strained relationship with his mother. JJ knows that it’s not her fault but she just doesn’t understand what life on the streets is like. A teen like him as no future prospects. He isn’t going to do well in school or get a top job. His only chance to survive in a world where kids are beaten up for living in the wrong street is to join a gang.

In his area code that gang is the Kamikaze Kru, arch rivals of the notorious B-Block Boys. JJ is proud to have caught the attention of the Kamikaze Kru’s leader, Delmar – one of the few guys in his school who are genuinely respected – and hopes to one day become like him. However, it’s not long before JJ learns that being part of a gang is not as glamorous as he thought.

Hello Mum is a letter from JJ to his Mum, apologising for what has come to pass and explaining the events that led up to his ultimate fate.

This probably isn’t going to be a very long review. My copy of Hello Mum is only 81 pages long and therefore I don’t have much to work with. However, despite its length, Hello Mum is not as easy to get through as I imagined. As I previously mentioned, the entire novella is told in the form of a letter which has been written by JJ. As JJ writes the way that he speaks, it takes a few chapters to get used to his tone. His grammar is far from perfect and he mentions the same things over and over again, which quickly makes reading his stream of conscious a little tiring. However, once you get use to the way that JJ speaks, the story becomes a lot easier to read.

At its core, Hello Mum is a modern morality play. It’s a cautionary tale, warning boys about the dangers of gang culture. JJ has been lead to believe that such a lifestyle is glamorous and his best way to get out of the estate. He knows that teenagers like him – impoverished underachievers from broken homes – don’t have the best chance at a happy ending. Smart and sensitive kids are the first ones to get beaten up and the only way to “survive” is to get yourself a reputation as a hard man. Because of this, JJ idolises the likes of Tony Montana – a nobody who dragged himself out of the gutter and became wealthy.

The moral issues attached to such a lifestyle do not strike JJ until close to the end of the story, when he realises that reality is not quite like it appears in the movies. Throughout the novella, he thinks that the leaders of his gang lead some kind of privileged existence. He’s obsessed with material gain and views the mark of success as owning designer clothes and plasma TVs rather than having a higher education or working hard. While he imagines the leaders as being Hollywood gangsters, he is shocked when he discovers that the reality is far from this.

While the novella is short and does present its subject matter very well, I found it difficult to get fully invested in it. Part of this was the twist. I’ve been very careful not to recreate the blurb of the book (though you can read this on Goodreads if you’re curious), as I feel it reveals too much. In fact, because of the way that the blurb is worded, I actually guessed the twist before I even started reading the story. This was a bit of a disappointment for me. The sting only comes in the final two pages and it really loses some of its shock value when you know what’s going to happen.

Yet my primary issue with the story is the character of JJ himself. This is largely a personal gripe but I just find it hard to relate to characters of this sort. I had the same issue when I read the likes of Concentr8 and the first CHERUB book. The typical “London council estate” character just seems utterly unlikable. This could be a cultural bias as I didn’t grow up in that kind of environment and I do appreciate how JJ’s personality flaws come from his horrible upbringing but just consider what we learn about him in the novella.

JJ idolises drug dealers. He is horrible to his childhood friend – an overweight boy who just wants to do well in school – because he believes that the boy has no chance of succeeding (and is jealous of the fact that his friend has the optimism that he personally lacks). He continues to ridicule said boy for the way he looks and eventually decides that he doesn’t want anything to do with him because hanging out with a cry-baby ruins his reputation. He also respects violence more than compassion, dreaming of becoming the sort of person that people cross the street to avoid. While Evaristo does not portray JJ’s personality as being a good thing in any way, it still made it hard for me to feel any empathy to him. I really can’t stand bullies and this was essentially what JJ was.

So, all in all, Hello Mum is decent enough for a light read. It doesn’t really have a lot of depth but it’s an interesting look at the life of a London teen and provides a strong moral message for the dangers of glamorising gang culture. It’s not really to my personal taste but the novella is only cheap on Amazon at the moment. If you’re a fan of dark contemporary fiction you should certainly take a look.

Hello Mum can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ryandejonghe
    Aug 29, 2015 @ 18:21:08

    Good review. LOVE the picture!

    Reply

  2. inthroughacolouredlens
    Aug 29, 2015 @ 20:16:30

    Reblogged this on In Through A Coloured Lens.

    Reply

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