cover image Nicholas Dane

Nicholas Dane

Melvin Burgess, Holt, $17.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9203-5

Carnegie Medalist Burgess (Smack) delivers a brutal story of rape and abuse in the British child-care system that begins as a powerful and gripping tale, but poor pacing and characters that can feel like Dickensian clichés weaken its impact somewhat. Fourteen-year-old Nick, the titular protagonist, gets home from a day of cutting school to find that his mother has overdosed on heroin. Orphaned, he eventually ends up in the child-care system at the Meadow Hill Assessment Centre, where the other boys—as well as the housemaster—beat him, and only the kindly Mr. Creal offers any hope. That hope is soon shattered when Creal rapes Nick, and Nick's attempts to tell anyone what happened result in verbal abuse, torture, and more rape. Burgess's story is harrowing and intense, and he excels at getting inside the heads and motivations of his many flawed characters. But once Nick decides to escape from the home, Burgess tries to channel too many elements of Oliver Twist, including Fagan reinvented as a Rastafarian. The ending feels more like a rushed epilogue than actual storytelling. Ages 14–up. (Dec.)