It’s not really kidnapping, is it? He’d have to be alive for it to be proper kidnapping.’ Kenny, Sim and Blake are about to embark on a remarkable journey of friendship. Stealing the urn containing the ashes of their best friend Ross, they set out from Cleethorpes on the east coast to travel the 261 miles to the tiny hamlet of Ross in Dumfries and Galloway. After a depressing and dispiriting funeral they feel taking Ross to Ross will be a fitting memorial for a 15 year-old boy who changed all their lives through his friendship. Little do they realise just how much Ross can still affect life for them even though he’s now dead. Drawing on personal experience Keith Gray has written an extraordinary novel about friendship, loss and suicide, and about the good things that may be waiting just out of sight around the corner …
I’ve been meaning to read something by Keith Gray for a while now, so when earlier in the year I noticed the Rep in Birmingham was putting on a performance of Ostrich Boys I had to go – especially as the ticket was only £5. This in turn made me want to read the novel it was based on before I went and I’m glad I did (the play was fab though).
The story centres around three boys dealing with the death of their friend Ross and decide to honour his wish to visit a town which shared his name so Ross would be in Ross. Along the way they come to terms with the news Ross’s death might not have been an accident and their guilt towards how they each individually treated him in his last few days – from girlfriends, to bullies and lost things.
This really was a wonderful book. It sounds so cliched but it dealt superbly with some really heavy subjects which sadly aren’t all that uncommon amongst teenagers. The reaction to the news that Ross might have committed suicide, both anger and quiet understanding, is so well played out that at no point does it feel patronising which it could so easily have been. The understanding and portrayal of how the nature of friendship groups change after a big event and the loss of one friend rings painfully true and the depiction of teenage boys feels entirely realistic – like hearing the story of a friend’s little brother. This novel is wonderful – I read it in less than a day and relished every minute of it.
My copy suggests this might not be suitable for younger readers, but I disagree. I think this book does a fine job of showing how unaware and well hidden other peoples emotional states can be and explaining the confusion and anger of those left behind. The main characters might all be boys, but I fail to believe that anyone wouldn’t be touched by this book. Beautifully bittersweet.