Declan Henry,
  The London Press
  ISBN 1905006128,
  £13 or £10
  direct from author – PO Box 333, Gillingham, Kent ME7 5WU

Three out of every four children enjoy a good enough childhood, and manage to successfully navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood – emerging as well-adjusted human beings, writes Helen Falconer. But the remaining quarter are ill-treated, abused, brutalised and abandoned through circumstances beyond their control.

The 26 short stories in Glimpses, which give us a snapshot into the lives of youth discarded by family and friends and classed as social problems, are fictional but the kind of circumstances displayed are true to life.

Teenagers are shaped by experience – what happens when these experiences affect them negatively? Declan Henry uses these stories to show the reader that there are reasons for problematic behaviour and reminds us of untapped potential in the youth of today. It reads like a collection of dark fairy tales, each of them starring a horribly twisted monster. These monsters prey on the weak that cross their path; or they seek to destroy themselves, overcome with grief at their own ugliness. The monsters are human children, and the forests they haunt are all around us.

Henry has drawn on his long experience as a social worker to bring us an unforgettable cast of fictional characters, each of whom would break your heart with fear and pity.

Chenai cuts herself every time her father rapes her; her mother continues to disbelieve her. Fay rather hopes her joyriding will land her in prison, away from her dangerously violent home life. Jake wants to tell his side of the story – it is a long story, covering the 707 days since his mother’s terrible death – but now he has
stabbed a man he worries no one will ever listen to him.

There are redemptive tales: Gerry wants to be a criminal like his father and brothers, but decides to grow up when he nearly burns an old man to death. Young teenager Malena believes she is ugly, and therefore believes her baby is ugly too – until she suddenly sees the “magic in her daughter’s eyes” and decides to go back to school.

These stories do not sentimentalise these sad children, nor absolve them from all responsibility for their lives – but they do illustrate with insight and compassion how easy it is to take malleable children and batter them into truly pitiful shapes.

Helen Falconer is an author and journalist



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