cover image Grievous


H.S. Cross. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (544p) ISBN 978-0-374-27995-0

Cross (Wilberforce) tells the story of John Grieves and his charge, young Gray Riding, in this rich novel. Grieves—nicknamed Grievous—is a housemaster at St. Stephen’s Academy in 1931 Yorkshire who watches Gray’s struggles through adolescence. At 14, Gray is an exceptionally intelligent student who has been moved ahead in school and is younger than the other boys in his class; his creativity emerges in a fantasy book he works on to help him through prep school. During the three terms that Gray is in the “Remove,” the year before entering the “Upper School,” he engages in adventures with his friends, and also experiences and witnesses abusive corporal punishment. Gray even finds young love in Grieves’s 13-year-old goddaughter, Cordelia. As housemaster, Grieves can’t replace Gray’s dead father, but he can attempt to understand the battles of youth in an old-fashioned school filled with adolescent boys, whose personalities range from emotional to athletic and from friendly to bullying. Although elements of the writing style (disjointed dialogue and slang) may require some patience from the reader, the complex characters lend an intriguing poignancy to this tale. (Apr.)