Meet Alex, a teenager who struggles with OCD. In fact, he struggles to leave the house. All around him are germs that must be cleaned. The worst place to be is school. Even the route there is a treacherous journey which involves navigating cracks in pavements, dog mess and other people. Even worse, waiting at the end is Dan.
Now let me introduce Dan. Things aren’t easy for Dan either. His brother has left and everything has changed. His only option is to take out his frustrations on easy targets such as Alex. Both boys’ are tested when their mothers, oblivious to the tensions at school, arrange for the boys to meet up at weekends.
As the story unravels, so do the boys’ personalities. It soon becomes clear that Dan isn’t just a stereotypical bully. We learn more about his inner feelings and soon begin to empathize with him. He may have a hard exterior, but underneath there is a boy crying out for help. Add to this the fact that Dan has to juggle different personalities when in different company and you end up with a highly complex character. If I’m honest, I found myself preferring Dan as a character due to that depth of personality.
That’s not to say there is anything wrong with the portrayal of Alex. In fact, Stewart Foster has depicted Alex’s struggles skillfully. By writing in the first person, the reader is invited into Alex’s confused mind. We see his internal struggle laid bare, realizing how debilitating his condition can be. It is a highly accomplished piece of characterisation.
Another masterstroke is Foster’s decision to alternate viewpoints every chapter. This not only progresses the plot, but also allows us to see every situation that arises from the protagonist and antagonist viewpoints. The real skill is that each viewpoint is balanced. Each character is given an equal airing allowing the reader to develop emotions towards each. Pretty quickly I found I was routing for both Dan and Alex, but is very different ways.
Now that the profile of mental health has been raised, it is important that books like All The Things That Could Go Wrong are published. It gives children a clear understanding as to what others go through and helps break the long-standing stereotypes. It also dispels many beliefs about bullies and challenges the reader to look behind the outward projection of a person. In this vein it very similar to Goldfish Boy which I recently reviewed.
I have heard criticism of the plot with some saying that not much happens. This completely misses the point of the book. This was never meant to be an action-packed thriller. It is a book which challenges the reader to empathise with two opposing characters and to watch them find their place in the world. It is definitely a book that I will be recommending to my class.
Age Recommendation: 10+
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK