An Act of Love- Alan Gibbons

Synopsis from Amazon.
Childhood friends Chris and Imran celebrate the Millenium as inseparable blood brothers, they are both seven years old. But by 2011 their lives have taken very different paths. One has joined the Army and served in Afghanistan, the other is a potential jihad recruit. They are no longer friends, and there are bitter wounds between them which remain unhealed. Will their childhood bond be strong enough to overcome an extremist plot? In a highly-charged, honest and life affirming story, told in flashback from both Chris and Imran’s viewpoint, Alan Gibbon’s cleverly explores the very real issue of terrorism that affects everyone today.

“Imran dabbed at is nose. ‘Hey, look at that. We still bleed the same colour.’ He cleared his throat. ‘This proves we are blood brothers’.
He offered his hand and pulled me to my feet.”

Initial Final Page Thoughts.
Perfect ending for a beautiful book.

High Points.
Honest portrayal of the situation. Unflinching. Neutral. Impossible questions. Impossible truths. Growing up. The past. The present. The future. Change. Hope. Beliefs. Family. Friendship. Love.

Low Points.
I would have liked more chapters told from the perspective of Imran. His journey was so fascinating and raw. It seemed much more honest than Chris’ in some way.

Heroes.
What struck me the most about Chris and Imran, best friends since they were born until history/prejudice/ignorance/circumstances/call-it-what-you-want dragged them apart, was how young they were. The story flits around on their timeline but focussing mostly on when they were eight, seventeen and then, in present day, when they are twenty. That is just two years younger than me. I can’t even begin to fathom that.
Our two heroes, just two ordinary boys, have been broken, torn apart and forced to grow up in a world that is decided and moulded by ignorant and mindless people who refuse to see beyond their own narrow views. They are in the hands of extremists and their lives are no longer theirs to control. It was difficult to read about these two boys stumbling blindly down the paths that history and ignorance has paved for them but there was a definite sense of inevitability as well.

Both Chris and Imran are terribly flawed characters. They both make unfortunate decisions and they make mistakes that they will undoubtedly regret for the rest of their lives.
But it is the way that they both atone for their mistakes and never give up hope, after everything, that make Chris and Imran such endearing characters and ones that will stick with me for a long time.
I feel I also need to mention Rafiq, Imran’s troubled older brother. He was definitely my favourite character in this novel. His story, like Imran’s, was not easy to read but it was honest and full of anger, redemption and, above all, hope for the future.

Theme Tune.

There was no other song I could pick as theme tune for this book. In my opinion, this song (and it’s brutal and profound video which has a definite resonance with this novel when you look at the age of the subjects) is one of the most effective anti-ignorance songs that has ever been written.
I’ve never been religious but I believe in the words of Maxi Jazz.

Angst Level.
Gibbons expertly writes with an unwavering view of what is happening right now and, considering recent events in Norway, this book is all too terrifyingly real. A more contemporary book you will not find.
What I respected most about this book was that Gibbons took a neutral stance. It is difficult to write a book on a subject that is happening right now and that has affected everyone in some way, whether it is simply reading an article in your local newspaper or seeing new poppy-adorned crosses and laminated pictures placed at the foot of your hometown memorial or seeing yet another boy being brought home through the streets of Wootton Bassett.
It is obvious that this book does not have an agenda, to mouth-off and spout an opinion is easy, but I believe that depicting difficult issues from all perspectives and every moral standpoint that is much more commendable.
But if you can take anything from this book it is that there are no easy answers and everything falls into that shade of murky grey that often plagues history.
In his Author’s Note, Gibbons states that he is often asked why he chooses to write about such dark and bleak subjects (he wrote another novel about two young teenagers in love after the September 11th attacks) and he said:

“Well, you only enter a dark room if you think you can light the way out.”

Gibbons may not have answered the questions that he raises, but he asks them and that is the first step to lighting the room.
This book is not easy to read. It may not be easy to read but it’s a necessary one and one that should be read by all ages, not just teenagers.

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