Eleven-year-old Harri Opoku is the second-fastest runner in Year 7. He has lived on an estate in London for two months when Stephen Kelman’s novel Pigeon English begins, and he has drawn the Adidas stripes onto his trainers with marker pen. But as he gets to know the culture and picks up slang, an older boy is stabbed to death outside a fried chicken shop in his neighbourhood. The story was inspired by the real-life murder of Damilola Taylor, a Nigerian schoolboy killed in Peckham in 2000. And as Harri and his best friend Dean investigate, using detective skills learned from CSI, the novel is all the more terrifying for how blissfully unaware Harri is of the danger surrounding him.
Harri emigrated to London from Ghana with his mum and sister, but the rest of his family is still waiting in Africa, saving up the money to join them. That makes Harri the “man of the house” and he is determined to keep his family safe.
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The novel’s title is a reference to “pidgin English”, a term for the blending and simplifying of different languages. Harri is a master, mixing Ghanaian dialect with London slang. “In England, there’s a hell of a lot of different words for everything,” he says. “If you forget one, there’s always another one left over. It’s very helpful.”
Extra! London school cracks down on slang
Basically everyone’s bare vexed coz a London school like banned students from using slang, innit. Is the previous sentence an abomination – or just a snapshot of evolving English?
Lotsa lolz new words enter Scrabble lexicon
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Avo, bougie and rando: the new words for 2018
Is the English language getting out of hand? Merriam-Webster has added more than 800 new words to its dictionary, including “TL;DR”. Our language has been constantly changing for centuries.
Harri’s mum works all hours to pay off loan sharks, and his dad is still trying to scrape together enough money to join them. How does the poverty surrounding the characters affect their decisions and outlook on life? Is it a realistic portrayal?
Richest 62 ‘as wealthy as half the world’
Oxfam has caused a stir with its claim that the world’s 62 richest people own as much wealth as its poorest 3.6 billion. But is that number accurate? And does it matter if it is?
Social mobility is a cruel lie, experts warn
Is social mobility a myth? All board members of the UK’s Social Mobility Commission resigned in protest at the lack of government support. Now some say social divides are stronger than ever.
PM’s ‘paralysis and failure’ on poverty law
How much help should the poor be given? A furore has built up over universal credit — a simple way of claiming benefits. The government has been accused of harking back to the 19th century.
One of the most striking things about the novel is how quickly Harri gets used to the violence around him. He and his friends are considering joining the local gang, and they play “suicide bomber” in the playground. And yet he retains his sweet, curious good nature.
London rocked by bank holiday bloodshed
Why is violent crime rising? In London, a horrific streak of shootings and stabbings has left one teenager dead and multiple injured. Violent crime rates are surging across the country too.
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It took 18 years of cover-ups and denials but two men have finally been jailed for the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence. The whole of the UK is gripped. But why?
Model Harry Uzoka dies in London knife attack
How can we stop the rise of violent knife crime in Britain? Last year, 80 people were stabbed and killed in London alone. Now, male model Harry Uzoka has become the latest victim.
“Stay good for as long as you can. Just stay the way you are,” says the boyfriend of Harri’s aunt. Despite everything he has seen, Harri is still a good kid in a bad world. But how long can that last?
Drugs, guns and poverty: the lost children
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Alarm over growing use of child soldiers
Isa Dare’s role in Daesh’s latest video is a reminder that child recruits are as important to the group as adults. The issue of child soldiers is growing around the world – what can be done?
Parents told: ‘get mean’ to avoid spoiled children
A quarter of British children do nothing to help around the house, a survey finds. ‘Mean parenting’ gurus say parents who overindulge children are creating a generation of spoiled brats.