Ben Fletcher is in a bit of a soup. He was with a bunch of his friends when he was nabbed after an unfortunate incident at the supermarket. It involved a stolen bottle of Martini Rosso and a lollipop lady. Anyway the upshot of it is that Ben Fletcher has to do community service. According to Claudia Gunter of the West Meon Probation Service, Ben Fletcher has to maintain a personal journal, “giving as full an account as possible of the events of each day and recording, in detail, your thoughts, concerns and feelings.” He is also asked to take up a hobby to keep him on the straight and narrow. Of the few classes being offered at school, he wishes to join the one being offered by the “hot teacher”, Jessica Swallow. Unfortunately it is knitting. So knitting class is what he signs up for.
Ben lives with his parents and six-year-old sister, Megan. His father claims to be dyslexic and is a car mechanic who thinks that Jeremy Clarkson is god. “I suppose he’s all right, my dad, except he just talks about nothing but football and Top Gear. On and the Second World War. ” Ben’s mother is a “state magician, which sounds quite cool but it’s not really, because it isn’t like David Copperfield with a huge stage and special effects. It’s just little clubs and pubs with dodgy PAs, unappreciative audiences and nowhere she can keep her white doves. She’s always off ‘on the circuit’. My relationship with my mum is OK, when she’s around. On the one hand she never cooks or cleans or does any of the stuff mums are supposed to do, on the other hand she can make Pringles come out of my ear.”
He is a normal boy, Ben is. When he manages to find himself in this incredible situation of learning how to knit, tying himself up in knots wondering what people would think of him, especially the girls. Once in knitting class he discovers the joys of knitting patterns, being creative with colours and experimenting with designs. He slowly discovers he has a talent for it, likes it, begins to take orders and is competitive too. All the while he is trying to knit quietly and secretly in his room, hiding his knitting pattern sheets and balls of wool under the bed. Even Claudia Gunter is interested in his progress.
Boys Don’t Knit is a delightful, laugh-out-loud funny book by Tom Easton. (In his “spare time” he is the Production Manager for Hachette UK.) It is devoid of vampires and ghouls–creatures about whom Tom Easton also loves to write–but it has all the ingredients of a crackling good read. It has the angst of a young boy, just stepping into his teens, who to his dismay has to take up knitting classes, thus upturning the preconceived notions of gendered roles in society. At the same time he discovers how to handle competitiveness with grace and remain focused on the goal of winning the prestigious knitting competition. And more importantly, discovering that the girl of his dreams, Megan Hopper, may just have a thing for him. Life could not get any better.
The imprint, Hot Keys Books, will be releasing Boys Don’t Knit on 14 Jan 2014. It is an imprint worth watching out for. After a long time I am discovering the joys of being familiar with a list that is producing magnificent titles, with a range of issues and very well written. So far any book that I have picked out of their pile has been worth reading. Hot Keys Books was begun by Sarah Odedin who in her previous avatar was an editor at Bloomsbury. Hot Key Books, a brand new division of Bonnier Publishing, publishes books for 9 – 19 year olds and was established in 2011. They are focused on developing this as a brand and so far doing it well. In the couple of years of existence they have already got a winner with Sally Gardener’s Maggot Moon. It won the 2012 Children’s Costa Book Award and the 2013 Carnegie Medal. From 2014, it seems Hot Keys Books will increase their number of titles from 40 to 60 per year.
Tom Easton Boys Don’t Knit Hot Keys Books, London, 2014. Pb. pp. 278 £6.99 ( Age range: 12+)