Broken Windows, Broken Lives (by Adrian Plass)

I have loved every book I’ve read by Adrian Plass, since I first came across his ‘Sacred Diary’ back in the mid-1980s. In the absence of a new book, I’m re-reading his books interspersed with those of other favourite writers. I’ve spent the last few days re-reading ‘Broken windows, broken lives’, a novel that’s rather different from his usual style.

While Plass has a tremendous gift for self-deprecating humorous writing, he is also talented in the thought-provoking and poignant field. This book falls in the latter category. It’s the story of David Harper, a young man who begins work as a house-father at a boarding school for ‘maladjusted’ boys. No doubt the name nowadays, thirty years after publication, would be more politically correct. But the boys, it’s quickly clear to see, are not criminals or at fault in any way; they are the victims of unhappy, sometimes abusive homes.

David starts work with naive confidence, encouraged by his girlfriend Annie, and quickly discovers that the job is a lot more difficult than he had thought; yet it also has unexpected rewards. Some children take to him fairly quickly, others compare him negatively with other staff. His predecessor was clearly not a kind man at all, and some of the other boys in his care are afraid that he will taunt them in similar ways.

The book is based on the author’s own experiences of working amongst disadvantaged children. I don’t know how closely his career resembled that of his character, but the people and incidents ring true. There are some caricatures - the headmaster, for instance, is excellent in his job, but also somewhat eccentric. Some of the children, too, seem a little two-dimensional in personality. But others are portrayed with empathy and realism, as is David himself; full of trepidation, regularly getting things wrong, yet caring deeply for every child in his care.

Although I’ve read this at least three times before, I loved it every time. Other than the general idea of the book I had forgotten most of the storylines and all the characters, and found some of the scenes, particularly towards the end, extremely moving.

Very highly recommended. The book is not currently in print, sadly, but fairly often found in charity shops.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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