‘Things change very quickly in his (Will’s) life.’ But that changes, too, from this deeply affecting memoir about a boy growing up in the outside world that gives way to global change
‘Our lives are intimately bound up with the cycles of all that happens around us.’
So here in Walking Home (translated by Paula Cushley) by Bryan Smart, a boy named Will sits in a van. His father is away, and the boy is forced to live at home with his mother and older brother. The street, of course, is littered with doorknobs that will either break, turn into ice cream cones, or otherwise stop your young body in its tracks.
But a few weeks later, his father returns. And walking to his sister’s house to spend the weekend, he asks Will if he can save him from having to walk back. “I walked around to look out the windows of the night. I looked out at all the change that had been coming to our lives. I looked at a stick – a stick! – that has been my friend for a while and been the only moment that I was confused at my life. I thought about my fingers. My fingers held onto the stick’s string. I held onto the stick’s string. I thought about my feet. I thought about walking home … and then I thought of a little dog-blind guy with a baby trying to pick up the stick. Like I said, things change very quickly in his (Will’s) life.”
This is Smart’s first novel, but it is perhaps the deepest and most mature of the four memoirs in this collection. Initially, walking home to protect his family sounds boring and nothing more than a solitary experience. But as Smart trains his mind to new circumstances and experiences, his thoughts and intentions expand into the present and the future.
‘I thought of my fingers. My fingers held onto the stick’s string. I held onto the stick’s string. I thought about my feet. I thought about walking home’
Smart is a deeply intelligent, well-formed writer. He seamlessly combines history, a deeply felt understanding of self-discovery, personal development, and adult questioning – all of which is fuelled by a touch of fantasy – into a lyrical and compelling story.
Smart’s narrator experiences history, issues such as sex, and the city in a way that is both wonderfully intimate and open, insightful and tragic. His prose, rich and full of complicated thoughts, thoughts that are contemporary and timeless, is nuanced, realistic and full of sadness.
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Smart’s visual storymaking – in the composition of the frame – is important and intimate. He details the path of innocence in a clear and nuanced way, as it leads to hatred and murder. Smart “know[s] to write hard to let the soul beat its heart out”. The characterisation is what excites me most in this book. Smart has the ability to let go and be present to his characters, drawn out in a gentle and compelling way. You come away questioning the world, and yourself.
I love Walking Home. I am curious to hear what other people have to say about this book. I suspect that the thing that will draw you in the most is Smart’s subtle narration, of both real and mythical events that arise around us. His voice is enthralling. His intentions are pure and his journey into adulthood a warm and trusting one. Smart is a writer for us all.
• Like Riding a Bike: A Middle Grade Novel Asks, What if We Do Forget How? by Bryan Smart is published by Canongate (£12.99). To order a copy for £10.59 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99