This term Year 9 have been reading a fantastic selection of short stories from a collection called Iridescent Adolescent, from which they have explored a great range of diverse texts in different styles and from different backgrounds to widen their range of types of stories they read, and to see how they could implement these styles into their writing.
We are very proud of our English curriculum, which is carefully designed to enable students to encounter both modern and classic texts, so that as many students as possible see themselves represented in the texts they study.
Iridescent Adolescent is at the heart of our thinking on representation in literature. In the introduction to the collection, the writer Phoebe Roy (whose story “Iridescent Adolescent” is the titular story for the anthology) comments that:
“Diversity and plurality in fiction is not meant to invite the reader to try on other people’s coats, but to offer a greater number of perspectives and visions of what it means to be alive; it is to observe people discovering their own coats in long-forgotten cupboards and wearing them for us."
Below are some responses from Year Nine students when they were asked to pick their favourite story in the collection. It’s clear they have really engaged with the stories and have demonstrated to their love of reading!
Amir and George is the story of a refugee searching for a new life. Amir loses his parents during bombing raids in Iraq and is left with nothing but bitterness. Amir takes a gruelling journey to find a new life and family in England. Importantly though, ‘Amir and George’ is not a story about cities destroyed and thousands left as refugees; it is a story about one boy and his personal struggle.
The story is narrated by Amir in the present and during flashbacks. Amir speaks in broken English but is clearly trying to improve. Amir’s English is far from perfect, but he doesn’t let this hold him back from telling his story. The first-person narration makes the reader feel fear and hope for Amir, rather than pitying him from an adult’s perspective. It makes the reader, especially if they are of a similar age, feel attached to Amir in his struggle to do something that is strange and new.
This is most apparent as he is called up to speak in a public speaking competition. Amir narrates, “My legs are shaking. Now I am happy Kabir isn’t here to see me fail.” Every reader can relate to Amir’s terror of trying something new in front of people who will think you a fool for failing. The reader’s attachment to Amir makes his story resonate far more than a news report or video footage ever could. Amir’s plight can now be better understood by the reader, even if they have not had any such experience, because he feels more real than any of the thousands of people who have actually succeeded in finding a new life.
For this reason, it is important that everyone at Wilson’s should read the short story. For it allows them to connect with people in real life, with whom they have little in common due to a better grasp of their struggles and how they are really just an exaggerated version of their own fears—such as speaking in public!
George Sauders' Sticks is a wonderfully crafted short story that thoroughly explores relationships, communication and change through the life of the narrator's dad and his favourite object: a pole.
It begins by talking about the unkind and rough treatment of the Dad to his children, with the Dad shrieking at his daughter for 'wasting an apple slice'. This initially creates a sense or perception of the Dad being a miserly grump. In parallel, we see that the Dad's 'only concession to glee', a pole, an object that he values more than his children, as his way of communication to the world, dressing the pole as a football player during Super Bowl week and as a ghost during Halloween. However, we sympathise with the Dad when he dresses the pile as Death when his wife, the Narrator’s mother, dies and we see him use the pole to show his emotions.
Perhaps brightening the story a bit, before his abrupt death, the Dad asks for forgiveness through the pole to his children for his harsh treatment, exploring the ideas of how relationships can improve and making amends but also reinforcing the main idea of the importance of communication. We are, however, left horrified at how quickly he is forgotten and the pole is 'yanked out and' ... 'left [by] the road on garbage day', depicting the nature of change concisely.
To me, Dark Star is the most important story in the collection of short stories, “Iridescent Adolescent”. Written by David Almond, it is about a Syrian refugee who is cooking fish with a girl, Louise, on a beach in North-East England. Together, they discuss Dark Star’s (the refugee’s) past experiences and how he is developing and starting a new chapter in his life. I think Wilson’s students would enjoy this story as, on the surface, it seems like a story of two people cooking on a beach, but Almond manages to convey subtle yet deep messages written using complex structures—I personally have learnt that you can start a story by zooming in on details, then zoom out to the plot.
Almond started his story by zooming in on Dark Star cooking fish—a “mackerel” with “oily flesh” that “smells delicious”. I personally found this very interesting, as it piques the reader’s interest.
As the story moves on, we learn Dark Star is a Syrian refugee who has travelled through France and Italy to get to England. This message to me is very intriguing, as Dark Star transcends our first image of a hopeless and needy refugee—Dark Star has gone through traumatic experiences, inflicting mental and physical scars alike, but yet in the story, we can see he has regenerated and is willing to start a new life. This is a key message that could apply to numerous Wilson’s students, including me—our past does not shape us. Quite simply, only we can write our futures.
Furthermore, I find the title of the story slightly paradoxical. “Star” connotes light and hope, perhaps the beginning of a new future, but “Dark” may refer to the refugee’s past experiences, and how he will never be able to vanquish them completely, hence the name “Dark Star”.
Overall, Dark Star is a spellbinding story that conveys complex messages through the mysterious character of “Dark Star”, who we come to like at the end of the story. I think this story would be beneficial for Wilson’s students.
The Typewriter, written by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi, revolves around a broken relationship between a mother and daughter, which is caused by stories the daughter has written on an old typewriter (though she claims she had no knowledge of writing them) found in her grandmother's house.
It powerfully describes the impact that words can have on a relationship, and how some things should never be brought up, but also how fragile some situations can be (between the mother and grandmother in this story) making it a thought-provoking story, highly recommended for Wilson's students that want to delve into their memory and see what comes out.
It also has strong links to culture: the typewriter itself symbolises a different past, as well the stories written upon it, which reflect extracts from the grandmother's childhood, and the description of her house, which the mother and daughter have just moved into. What I liked the most about this story is not the complex characters—the three have a complicated past, especially as the mother says, "You and her. Always against me," (What could that mean?) but the ending: "If she thought about it hard enough, maybe she could guess, or remember, that thing that nobody was supposed to know."
Do we all know something, that nobody is supposed to know?
Amir and George (by Sita Brahmachari) is a very emotional, yet meaningful story about an Iraqi refugee explaining his life story to a painting of George Orwell.
A key theme we can see present in the story is one of sorrow but at the same time one of determination and hope. The quote "What is he walking away from? Death. What is he walking towards? Life." really expresses here how Amir seems to believe that despite being in a terrible position, he could move on. One could say that this is even trying to defy the stereotype of refugees being people who just suffer and rather say change it to people who all have their individual hopes, dreams and aspirations in life, who can achieve it if they have help.
I think we can also see Amir finally accept himself and his past with the line "Slowly, slowly, he becomes Amir again." This sudden change from Amir referring to himself as "boy" to "Amir could indicate that he himself is finally able to remember his own experiences. Instead of trying to forget, he's trying to move on. I think Amir and George is a message to refugees to accept their past and succeed in life.
Furthermore, Amir faces many hardships in the story, and he sucks on a lemon from his garden as a coping mechanism. Perhaps this could be referring to him constantly thinking about his past life through the lemon. It seems he has difficulty in truly facing the current situation and tries to live in the nostalgia of his happier days. The change from Amir sucking on the lemon to simply keeping it in his room powerfully symbolises that refugees should never forget their past, but they should not live in it either.
The quote "Maybe some people do not want to hear but I still think it is one I must tell because I am alive" perfectly sums up the meaning of the story. It is one of listening to the stories of these refugees and facing the truth. It's truly about helping them move on and to better their lives. In its essence, it's about acceptance.