Review: Thalidomide Kid
Daryl Wainwright is the quirky youngest child of a large family of petty thieves and criminals who calls himself ‘Thalidomide Kid’.
Celia Burkett is the new girl at the local primary school, and the daughter of the deputy head at the local comprehensive where she is bound the following September. With few friends, Celia soon becomes fascinated by ‘the boy with no arms’.
The story of a blossoming romance and sexual awakening between a lonely girl and a disabled boy, and their struggle against adversity and prejudice as they pass from primary to secondary school in 1970s Cirencester. The story deals with themes and issues that are timeless.
Any book I read after Fishing for Maui was likely to have a rough go. So remember that I’m still in fantastic story hangover space as I write this.
I wanted to like this book that tells the story of one boy’s rise above the challenges of pshycial and social handicap. I loved the idea of telling the story of a child with disability caused by thalidomide. Adding that he was also socially disadvantaged also intrigued me since so many children in my career suffered that double whammy. But I never bonded with the actual story as much as the idea of the story.
A big issue for me was that I couldn’t respect Celia at all in the last third of the book. I’m not really sure why the author chose to take her down such a dark path. In some ways, it sullied Daryl’s story to watch him pine after a girl so shallow and dumb. The other mistake, in general, was including so much of Celia’s POV. We miss most of Daryl’s monumental achievements because we only hear about them from Celia. I would’ve preferred to live more of life through Daryl with Celia being only a minor heartbreak in an overall inspiring life. As a final complaint, I don’t really understand why I needed quite as much explicit sexual detail as I was given. I understood why it was an important issue to explore for Daryl but Celia becomes a sex, drugs and rock n roll morality story that felt out of step with the intent of the story. Perhaps the intent was to show that entitled children make messes of their own lives whereas children born to struggle value life - it’s a bit of an unfair cliche and didn’t hold true as often as you’d think among the children I worked with but I suppose I could make a case for the book as a morality tale with extra bad sex.
(As an aside - I’m glad my high school experience was nothing like this. Poor self esteem is the only reason I can fathom why anyone would let that much awful sex happen to them. As an additional warning, there is assault in this book. Lots of it - the kind we used to believe was just kids having fun and now realize is harmful.)
That I was so annoyed by the story does speak to the writer’s talents. She spun the story well with deep conviction. The characters find life on the page. The story didn’t work for me but that hardly means it’s not worthwhile. There are lovely moments of truth about the life of a person with disability and the way society both ignores and panders to those born with lifelong challenges.
Kate Rigby was born near Liverpool and now lives in the south west of England. She’s been writing for nearly forty years. She has been traditionally published, small press published and indie published.
She realized her unhip credentials were mounting so she decided to write about it. Little Guide to Unhip was first published in 2010 and has since been updated.
However she’s not completely unhip. Her punk novel, Fall Of The Flamingo Circus was published by Allison & Busby (1990) and by Villard (American hardback 1990). Skrev Press published her novels Seaview Terrace (2003) Sucka!(2004) and Break Point (2006) and other shorter work has appeared in Skrev’s magazines.
Thalidomide Kid was published by Bewrite Books (2007). Her novel Savage To Savvy was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) Quarter-Finalist in 2012.
She has had other short stories published and shortlisted including Hard Workers and Headboards, first published in The Diva Book of Short Stories, in an erotic anthology published by Pfoxmoor Publishing and more recently in an anthology of Awkward Sexcapades by Beating Windward Press.
She also received a Southern Arts bursary for her novel Where A Shadow Played (now re-Kindled as Did You Whisper Back?). She has re-Kindled her backlist and is gradually getting her titles (back) into paperback
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