Originally published: 22 April 2021
Author: Fíona Scarlett
Published by: Faber Books
Length: 256 pages
Reading dates: 28-30 April 2021
Joe is 17, a gifted artist and a brilliant older brother to 12-year-old Finn. They live with their Ma and Da in a Dublin tower block called Bojaxhiu or ‘the Jax’. It’s not an easy place to be a kid, especially when your father, Frank, is the muscle for the notorious gang leader Dessie ‘The Badger’ Murphy. But whether it’s daytrips to the beach or drawing secret sketches, Joe works hard to show Finn life beyond the battered concrete yard below their flat.
Joe is determined not to become like his Da. But when Finn falls ill, Joe finds his convictions harder to cling to. With his father now in prison, his mother submerged in her grief, and his relationships with friends and classmates crumbling, Joe has to figure out how to survive without becoming what the world around him expects him to be.
Boys Don’t Cry is Fíona Scarlett‘s debut novel and it is stunning. Told from the viewpoint of 17 year old Joe and 12 year Finn who are growing up on a gritty Dublin estate, these boys just stole my heart.
The boys live in a Dublin tower block with their mum and dad, Their dad works for the local gang leader and is quick to anger, often taking it out on their mum and sometimes Joe.
Finn is a typical cheeky boy who loves his big brother, football and hanging out with his mates. When he starts having nosebleeds and unexplained bruising the hospital diagnose cancer but he is mainly unconcerned, being quite sure he will be fine. He narrates his story during his discovery of his diagnosis and the ensuing treatment and it is heart-breaking to hear about the pain and discomfort he goes through. His observations into his family life and how they cope with his illness are moving, but his humour shines through as tells his story.
Joe is a talented artist and has a scholarship at an exclusive school and everyone is hopeful he won’t follow in the footsteps of his dad. But after Finn’s illness he struggles to focus and with his mum struggling with her own grief and his dad in jail, he has no one to watch out for him. He ends up getting involved with the local gang leader to help out a friend. His narration takes place after Finn’s death (not a spoiler – we find out Finn has died in the first few pages) and the pain he feels is breath-taking.
Boys Don’t Cry moved me to tears. Joe and Finn have found a place in my heart – their personalities shone through and their stories are memorable. A wonderful, gritty and emotionally charged debut, I highly recommend this unforgettable book.
Thank you so much to Phoebe from Faber for sending me a proof copy.
About the author:
Fíona Scarlett is from Dublin but now living in Co. Kildare with her husband and two children. She holds an MLitt in creative writing from the University of Glasgow as well as a masters in early childhood education. She was awarded the Denis O’Driscoll Literary Bursary through Kildare County Council in 2019 and a Literature Bursary through the National Arts Council Ireland in 2020. She works full time as a primary school teacher and Boys Don’t Cry is her debut novel.