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Reviews

The Boy Who Loved Rain

Clare F. Hobba

Gerard Kelly, Lion, 320pp

Lion is a Christian publisher and Gerard Kelly a pastor, proclaimed in his biography as a 'twitturgist'. So this is one novel where Christianity is an accepted part of the scene and where a character who proclaims themselves a Christian will not inevitably turn out to be a villain. However, nor is it a novel concerned with punching home a Christian message. Instead, it describes how Christians deal with a particularly challenging situation. The novel starts in a promising way. A woman is invited to the head teacher's office to discuss why her son has started a fight with a classmate. Anybody who has been 'up on the carpet' in this manner (as I myself have) will immediately relate to the confusion of this nice middle class Mum, Fiona. And it turns out this isn't the first time: Fiona's son, Colom, has previously been accused of cyber-bullying. The opening section of the book was to me the most gripping: Colom suffered a sudden personality change the year he turned thirteen and there are questions about his use of the internet. I began to hope for a novel which tackled the pressures which face modern teens and parents. Since Lion is the publisher, I expected this to be from a Christian point of view. The story darkens when Colom's school friend commits suicide: his computer shows that he has been visiting suicide websites. A search reveals that Colom has been following the same pattern. However, it turns out that the story is not about the current malaise in rearing older children, but is a very different story with a busy plot. It is about how exceptional traumas in the past of one individual may steal their future, encapsulated by the strapline for the novel "They say what you don't know can't hurt you. They're wrong." The novel goes on to explore the different roles that Christians may take in helping to restore a broken person (Colom) to health. Without giving away too much, there are characters who wish to brush the 'toxic secrets' of Colom's past under the carpet because they are threats to their respectability. On the other hand, there are those who offer Colom time and sanctuary like Fiona's friend Miriam. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Shriver) and What I Loved (Hustvedt) both powerfully examine boys who manifest evil behaviour and ask whether it is their nature, nurture or environment that makes a difference. Kelly's perspective is much more aligned with psychoanalysis where childhood traumas are thought to shape the current behaviour of the individual. The lesson that this novel teaches is that to fully recognise the trauma is to be free of it. Thus, as soon as the final jigsaw puzzle piece has fallen into place, a happy ending will be assured. Yet, many parents today are faced with offspring who are addicted to video games, who self-harm, who develop eating disorders, who become obsessed by suicide. However, there is no major dark secret in the past of most of them and it would be interesting to see a novelist explore the pressures and factors that operate on them. As soon as I realized that there was an identifiable reason for Colom's suicidal tendencies, I became far more interested in the death of his school friend, Daniel, who appeared to have killed himself for no good reason and whose wish to die was never really examined by the novel. For schools, mental health is becoming the new red-letter issue. This generalized lack of hope amongst the young is more identifiably an area where Christianity really can help. The Christian faith offers positive messages which can provide youngsters with a rock to cling to in the storm of adolescence: the assurance that although this world may be imperfect, the next will offer justice; the fact that even after abuse, violence and death, Jesus rose again to rule the universe. Comparably, it has also been shown that children who are reared on literature which has a positive outcome are more likely to develop optimism within themselves. Cyber-bullying occurs in the early pages of The Boy who Loved Rain and is another threat to teenagers offering an unprecedentedly intense form of persecution. Again, church membership and youth teaching within the church has the potential to provide youngsters with a supportive peer group, and a wider 'family' network on whom they can rely, even if some of their acquaintances are still out to get them. In recent years, the discipline of positive psychology has enquired into what makes an individual 'happy' and helps them to be 'resilient'. One very positive factor has been religion. To Christians, our religion presents a hope for the future and also a means of affecting the present positively through actions and prayer. The Boy who Loved Rain, however, in focusing on a teenager who has very specific problems in their past, steers the conversation away from what Christianity might offer to disaffected youth in general. However, that reservation aside, Gerard Kelly tells the story engagingly. He writes credibly as a woman, (Fiona, Colom's mother) which is no mean achievement. On the other hand, often the point-of-view of a scene shifts uneasily between characters, and there is a degree of 'telling' the reader what is happening through extended narration, rather than letting them work it out from the behaviour and dialogue of their characters. This also robs the reader of the opportunity to get to know and to empathise with the protagonists. With its strong plotting and multitude of different international settings for different episodes, the novel is a page-turner and will keep the reader hooked for the outcome, with new revelations occurring right up until the end.