This is Dublin.
Except in Boys Don’t Cry, there’s no Grafton Street or Temple Bar. This is real, lived-in Dublin.
We’re transported to a block of flats named ‘The Jax,’ – after the famed Mother Teresa Bojaxhiu – where Joe and Finn O’Reilly live, along with their parents.
Under a bleak backdrop, Boys Don’t Cry navigates the often complex landscapes of adolescence and grief. It’s masterfully done – a real standout novel.
Told through a past/present twin-narrative by brothers Finn & Joe, Boys Don’t Cry alternates between the two POVs, revealing more about the boys’ lives as the novel progresses.
Joe, aged 17, is a promising art student. His parents send him to private school with the intent of giving him the opportunity to make a better life. Resented by his old schoolmates who attend a ‘regular’ school, and never quite accepted by his new peers, Joe never truly belongs.
His father is in jail, his mother suffers (seemingly from depression), and Finn is battling an aggressive cancer.
A bitter man, Joe is hardened by these experiences. He’s pressured to ”be the man’ of the house, a brother, a son, a friend. Never to show weakness.
Finn, by contrast, is unblemished by the agonising social dynamics of adolescence. An optimist who wouldn’t seem out of place in Leonard and Hungry Paul, Finn sees the best in the flawed people around him.
As the moral compass of the two brothers, Finn’s lightness of heart sets him apart from the gathering gloom around him.
And yet, his narrative is punctuated by a deep melancholy.
Authenticity & Immersion
From the lovely Dubliner dialect to its stellar characters (Sabine being a personal highlight), authenticity permeates the book.
Scarlett’s novel is packed with real people full of their own fervent hopes and fears.
It’s also a highly immersive setting, much of this down to the excellent quality of the prose. Scarlett has a wonderful talent for taking the reader to her boys’ Dublin.
The Jax… Dessie’s corner in the pub… the prison visitors’ lounge where Joe speaks with his dad… they’re all places that feel acutely familiar.
In fact, Boys Don’t Cry is one of those rare books in which you become so immersed in the lives of its characters, you forget – for fleeting moments – that you’re reading fiction.
It’s phenomenal stuff.
Boys Don’t Cry comes strongly recommended. It’s a phenomenally powerful debut novel that deserves all the praise it’s currently receiving.
I do wish it was slightly longer, however.
The novel is well paced for the most part, but a major incident that occurs in the final few chapters of the novel raises a host of questions about the fate of certain characters.
Questions I was desperate for answers to.
On the whole though, Boys Don’t Cry is an emotionally-driven, sometimes dark, but overall endearing examination of adolescence, grief, and the pressures faced by young men in a hyper-masculine environment.
With all this in mind, I would strongly recommend that you pick up a copy!