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Nicholas Dane by Melvin Burgess

Some days it feels like I’m the last person on the planet to jump on the YA bandwagon. It’s almost embarassing to admit that I haven’t yet read modern-day YA classics, like the Hunger Games trilogy. I’m trying to make a concerted effort to change that, though, and I started with Melvin Burgess’ Nicholas Dane. As someone who grew up in a generation where teen lit was anything but edgy, I was a bit surprised by the graphical content, but it made for an intriguing story.

Nicholas Dane, 14, is sent to a home for boys when his mother dies of a heroin overdose. Meadow Hill is ruled by intimidation and violence, from the other boys to the disciplinarian staff. On his first day, he’s introduced to a fragile-looking boy, Oliver, who Nicholas instantly bonds with. Even though he’s constantly getting into fights with other boys, Oliver is the one friend he has there.

One day, after a particularly nasty fight, Nicholas is rescued by Tony Creal, the deputy head. Creal invites him up to his apartment and cleans him up, offering him food and a place to relax. Before he leaves, Creal tells Nicholas if he starts settling down, he would be one of the few boys invited up to his flat for evenings away to watch TV and get treats.

But when Nicholas finally gets his invite up there, he finds out that the deputy head has a completely different idea of what goes on during the trips up there. From that moment on, Nicholas is determined to make his escape from Meadow Hill, along with Oliver and his friend from the outside, Davey, who also found himself at the home.

While a lot of the horror Nicholas experiences is seen coming from a mile away by the reader, it doesn’t make it any less traumatic to read. I felt sorry for Nicholas, who was not only physically hurt by the treatment there but also mentally crushed as he had actually put his faith and trust in someone for the first time in a long while.

I’m not surprised that teens are now reading more and more with novels like this to choose to read. It’s very life like, and the harsh realities are not sugar coated. Readers don’t have their proverbial eyes covered and are left to feel as raw as Nicholas Dane. There’s a reason Burgesss is a Carnegie Medal-winning author (for Smack) and he’s written another gripping tale with Nicholas Dane.



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