I know it says “Afterword” for a reason, but sometimes starting from the back of a book (must be an Asian thing!) feels just right. In this latest title from British author/screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (Millions – which was also a pretty good film – and Framed), the end is where you’ll find the story of how this book started … I will confess to the possibility of a spoiler, so continue at your own risk …
“A few years back …,” Boyce went on a school visit, walked into a classroom, and met a young girl named Misheel: “She was a refugee from Mongolia, and she just lit up the room.” As for her classmates, “Her presence massively enriched their lives.” Sadly, she did not last long in that primary school in small-town Bootle, England. “Maybe there is some complicated reason why a depopulated and culturally deprived area like Bootle shouldn’t be allowed generous and brilliant visitors,” Boyce questions. “I do know that a country that authorizes its functionaries to snatch children from their beds in the middle of the night can’t really be called civilized.”
And yet, “this isn’t Misheel’s story,” as Boyce intones. “It’s a made-up story.” Instead, Coat is a different tale entirely, about a pair of brothers, Chingis and Nergui, who arrive in the same Year Six class as Julie O’Connor. Actually, Nergui should be down the corridor in Miss Hoyle’s class, but never mind, he won’t leave his big brother’s side.
“‘In Mongolia,’” Chingis explains, “‘we are nomads. When we come to a new country, we need to find a Good Guide.’” And with that, he appoints Julie who readily, eagerly agrees to her new title. In between taking her Good Guide duties very seriously, Julie learns about the brothers’ homeland and culture, captured in grainy instant Polaroid pictures Chingis carries in the pockets of his signature coat. The brothers also need Julie’s help staying out of sight of “a certain demon,” who they are convinced has the power to make Nergui vanish …
Besides being a heartfelt story memorably told, Coat is also a gorgeously presented adventure. From the textured cloth cover to the notebook-lined pages (some showing a bit of creased wear-and-tear even), to the aging photographs with yellowing borders, Boyce’s collaboration with his longtime filmmaker buddies is a multi-layered, multi-media mini-production. Not to mention truly a case of quality over quantity. Unforgettable indeed!
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult