The Cuckoo Boy – Grant Gillespie

The Cuckoo Boy was recently short listed for the Not the Booker Prize, but it appealed to me from the moment I first heard about it.

The book is about a boy who was adopted at birth. His twin brother is said to have died, but we know next to nothing about his birth family or the reasons for his adoption.

James’ new mother is Sandra. She struggles to cope with him and as he grows he becomes increasingly difficult. As soon as James can talk he tells everyone about his friend, David; the only problem is that no-one else can see this imaginary friend. The two boys collude to commit increasingly evil acts, but there is always a reason for their actions and so the reader is left wondering whether the children are evil or just unlucky.

This book reminded me of The Fifth Child, but it also had elements of We Need to Talk About Kevin, and classic Gothic ghost stories. I loved the way in which we never knew whether David was the ghost of James’ twin brother or just a figment of James’ imagination. Many episodes of the book were quite chilling and so this is the perfect book for Halloween.

I’m always fascinated by books which explore motherhood. The Cuckoo Boy is especially good for discussions about whether children are born evil or whether it is the fault of the parents. The fact that Sandra isn’t James’ biological mother leads to some interesting insights into maternal bonding and I was impressed by the way in which the emotions of motherhood were accurately described.

This book was gripping and thought provoking, but it also contained many of the amusing observations that only young children can get away with. There were so many talking points that I’m sure I could spend hours discussing it – making it a perfect book club choice.

Highly recommended to anyone interested in books about motherhood.

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  1. Sandy says:

    I’m definitely going to read this one. We Need to Talk About Kevin literally knocked the wind out of me. And while it was physcially painful to read, I will NEVER forget it. The issue of motherhood is complicated, no? Do we make a difference in the type of kids we raise? I’ve always thought so, but Kevin obviously argues that and is a topic for hours of discussion.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Motherhood is such a complicated, emotional issue and books like this one are very scary. It is so easy to blame the mother when things go wrong which is why I find books that go against that idea so fascinating. I’m sure you’ll love it :-)

  2. Verity says:

    Although not a mother, and probably unlikely to be one, I still find books like this fascinating. I found Kevin absolutely horrifying, so I’ll be interested to see another book dealing with such emotional aspects.

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, In many ways this is more horrifying than Kevin. I think that you’d really like it :-)

  3. Amy says:

    Ohh this sounds really interesting. I just read another book that deals with the subject of if children are born bad or if it’s the fault of the parents – Bite the Stars by Eliza Clark!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I’m a big fan of this type of book so I’ve just added Bite the Stars to my wish list. Thank you :-)

  4. Steph says:

    Oooh, this sounds spooky and fabulous. I haven’t read The Fifth Child, but Kevin was a cracking read, so I think I’d enjoy this as well. I’ll definitely have to see if I can find it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I rarely find books spooky, but this one gave me shivers a few times. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  5. Brenna says:

    This sounds really good! Your review almost reminds me of the Turn of the Screw in a way, involving children who may or may not see ghosts. The theme is quite chilling. If I see this before Halloween I’ll be sure to pick it up.

    1. Jackie says:

      Brenna, It does have a few similarities to Turn of the Screw, but Cuckoo Boy is much easier to understand. Children and ghosts are a great combination :-)

  6. Dorte H says:

    A mixture of The Fifth Child and gothic stories? – well, that doesn´t sound bad at all!

    1. Jackie says:

      Dorte, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  7. I like the sound of this! Thank you, Jackie. :-)

  8. Beth F says:

    Sounds like the perfect October read! I’ll keep it in mind.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, I’m sure it will be a great read at any time of year, but there is something about reading it in Autumn that makes it extra spooky :-)

  9. Joanna says:

    This sounds amazing. I really liked We Need to Talk About Kevin when I read it and this does sound like it explores similar things.

    1. Jackie says:

      Joanna, Yes. Very similar issues, but from a slightly different perspective. I’m sure you’d love it.

  10. Alex says:

    The Fifth Child was probably one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. I still cannot think of it without a wince. Re. books about motherhood, have you read Room already?

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, I think you’ll find this almost as disturbing as The Fifth Child, although in many ways it is more realistic and so perhaps could be viewed as more disturbing.

      I have read Room – it is my favourite book of the year so far :-)

    2. Yurena says:

      Can somebody tell me who the author of Room is, please? That sounds interesting but I did a search on Bookmooch and the system can not find it :(

      1. Jackie says:

        Yurena, Room is written by Emma Donoghue, but it was only released a few months ago and so I think it might be a while before copies appear on bookmooch – you might be better off looking in your library.

  11. gavin says:

    I’m hoping my library has this one. It sounds like a perfect read for October. Thanks for this review.

  12. Jenners says:

    Well, I wasn’t a big fan of The Fifth Child but I kind of like the ideas that you described. And it makes me want to find out what is going on. Sounds like a perfect read for this time of year.

  13. Can’t believe I missed your review on this gem! I find that I can be really picky about the way authors portray a child’s POV (get annoyed if I feel that they’re too cutesy or sentimental). But Gillespie’s James really managed to highlight the thin line between naive honesty (which, yes, IS often cute) and the downright dangerous ignorance of children.

  14. Kathleen says:

    This is just the sort of book that I like to read. I would be fascinated to explore the character’s motivations and to try and figure out if he had bad luck or was evil or both!


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