THE PLOT: Hello Mum by Bernadine Evaristo is about a fourteen-year-old boy dragged into gang violence in London. Written as a letter to his mum, Jerome narrates the accounts of a single day when his life got out of control. He also explains the events leading up to the incident and how he got involved with a gang. Part of the Quick Reads series by The Reading Agency, it’s designed to be a short, sharp snapshot of a novel for young readers.
RATING: As an adult reader, I’m giving this book three stars. I liked what it’s trying to do, and I keep bearing in mind this was published in 2010 (a decade ago!) so knife crime in London was less featured in literature. However, I felt like it lacked description and scene setting, and it felt quite dated.
GOOD BITS: The voice of the protagonist is very strong and the characterisation appropriately captures the important issues present in this novel. I liked the hints at different causes of Jerome’s struggles, such as his relationship with his father, abusive step-father and transition from primary to secondary school. These little nuggets of information were dropped in effortlessly and added to the richness of the story.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: I wanted more description, setting and context. Firstly, I appreciate this was written a quick read, but I still would’ve preferred less ‘telling’ and more ‘showing’. I tried to enter my mind of a younger reader to give this a fair review. But, looking back on my favourite books as a ‘tween’ (Out of the Ashes, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Jade’s Story), I still think more world-building would’ve heightened the emotional investment.
As someone from London and adjacent to the world this novel takes place in, I believe my younger self would’ve found the explanation of different acronyms and slang in this book patronizing. Many words I still use and take for granted (e.g. ‘ends’, ‘LMAO’) are elaborately explained, as if describing them to an adult. Although Jerome is writing to his mother, I think it would’ve been more naturalistic not to explain his cadence of speech. I mean, what teenager is considerate enough to instinctively modify their speech or explain exactly what they mean by certain slang words? And, surely a London-Mum in her mid-thirties would be familiar with the slang her son uses?
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book for affluent children aged 11 – 13 so they can learn about their privilege in an accessible way. Personally, I think a 14 or 15-year-old may find it too simplistic, and someone from the same background may find it condescending, but this could be a good present for a younger reader not familiar with the issues in the novel.