Author: Matt Greene
Publication date: 27 August 2013
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Young Adult
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Buy it: Amazon | The Book Depository
In a nutshell
This is Alex’s story. But he doesn’t know exactly what it’s about yet, so you probably shouldn’t either. Instead, here are some things that it’s sort of about (but not really):
It’s sort of (but not really) about brain surgery. It’s sort of (but not really) about a hamster named Jaws 2 (after the original Jaws (who died), not the movie Jaws 2). It’s sort of (but actually quite a lot) about Alex’s parents. It’s sort of (but not really) about feeling ostrichized (which is a better word for excluded (because ostriches can’t fly so they often feel left out)). It’s sort of (but not really (but actually, the more you think about it, kind of a lot)) about empathy (which is like sympathy only better), and also love and trust and fate and time and quantum mechanics and friendship and exams and growing up.
And it’s also sort of about courage. Because sometimes it actually takes quite a lot of it to bury your head in the sand.
Writing about people suffering from serious illnesses is a difficult thing to tackle but Matt Greene does a brilliant job in his debut novel. Ostrich tells the story of Alex, a young boy who has brain tumour and suffers from epilepsy which, despite the fact that he’s smart and seems to be among the best pupils at school, inevitably makes him feel like an outsider. Through the course of the book Alex undergoes brain surgery, falls in love (even if he doesn’t know this at the time), gets behind the wheels of his dad’s car for the first time, albeit illegally, analyses internet porn, tries to get to the bottom of his hamster’s odd behaviour and, with the help of his friend Chloe, devises a plan to find out what happened to his parents’ marriage. At first glance, it may seem like a simple story, a bitter-sweet saga of a young boy and everything he goes through in his early teens. It’s only when you read the last lines that you realize Ostrich is in fact a lot more complex than you have imagined.
I’ve always loved coming-of-age novels and this book was no exception. Although it took me a short while to get used to the language (Alex is very fond of science, grammar, and using lots of brackets, you see) and Alex’s narration, it was impossible not to be charmed by his personality and his witty remarks. And this is one of the reasons why I loved this book. With hindsight, it’s quite a sad story but without being sloppy or making you reach for your tissues every two seconds. In fact, Alex’s jokes (“I can swear in sixty-seven different languages. But I can apologize in only three, which means I could get beaten up in sixty-four countries.” is one of my favourites) and all the hilarious things he and his friend Chloe are up to make for quite an entertaining read. I do love a tear-jerker, don’t get me wrong. But books which can address difficult subjects while bringing a bit of humour into the plot always feel a bit more special – and that’s how I felt about Ostrich as well. It’s not simply a story of a boy with a serious illness. It’s so, so much more than that.
The other thing I particularly enjoyed about Greene’s novel is that it really makes you think. You read the last line, close the book and know that Alex’s story will stay with you for a long time. It’s also one of those books that, when you get to the very last chapter and find out how it ends, makes you re-evaluate everything and see everything and everyone in a new light. It also makes you want to go back and read the whole thing all over again. And the more you think about it and all those little hints you missed along the way the more you realize how complex the story is.
Even though Alex’s tics slightly annoyed me in the first few chapters, he changes a lot by the time his story comes to an end and by the time I finished reading it, I couldn’t have loved him more. I don’t usually re-read books but I’m a hundred percent sure I’ll pick up Ostrich again. And I hope you will too. It’s a beautiful, unique, thought-provoking and yet funny story I absolutely adored and I’m glad I had the opportunity to read it.
*Many thanks to Ballantine Books for sending me an e-book for review*