‘Sensual and full of suspense’  -  The Jury of the Boekenleeuw-awards

 


Maurice Hamster, nicknamed Mo, is sixteen and slightly out of touch with other kids. They spend their time fooling around and experimenting with illegal substances, while Mo prefers staying home and reading. The world isn’t exactly an inviting place when you haven’t even decided whether you like boys or girls.

Mo can see himself leaving one day, off into a dramatic future, but it isn’t likely to happen soon. Not this boring summer, anyway.

Or is it?

The season holds an unexpected thrill in the person of Dean, a boy Mo’s age and a stranger to town. Dean is mysterious, mischievous and highly untrustworthy. Mo finds himself swept up in Dean’s wild current and finally learns to live a little. But living can be painful...

‘The Seventeenth Summer of Maurice Hamster’ was published in Dutch by Clavis (Hasselt/Amsterdam, 2009).

It has won a ‘Boekenwelp’, the runner-up of the ‘Boekenleeuw’, the award for Best Children’s book in Flanders in 2010. It was also nominated for the ‘Children’s and Young Adult-Jury’ in Belgium and the ‘Jonge Jury’ in the Netherlands, and for ‘De Kleine Cervantes’- award in Belgium.

The author holds the rights to the English version.

A Sample...


    Mr. Coldwell was sitting on his porch waiting for me. He was a tall man with a pale narrow face and a brooding air. If he were a god, he would be a distracted one, who sat absent-mindedly fingering the fringes of life’s tremendous quilt, wondering where he left his glasses, while the world was being ravaged during a hair-raising apocalypse.

    He liked to teach Poe, in a way that made you suspect that he wanted to nip all our youthful optimism in the bud. Usually he fell silent in a classroom after reading a few poems, as if after all this time of teaching them, they still rendered him speechless. At other times he got agitated by our reluctance to accompany him on his trips into the valley of doom, and said things that sometimes made people cry and leave the room.

    Students were generally uncomfortable with him. Once there had been a group of Goth kids who publicly idolized him and gave his classes cult status, but that happened just once and he definitely wouldn't have encouraged it. All he wanted was to teach his classes, inspire us with gloom and be left alone.

    I had been taking English with Mr. Coldwell for a year when he approached me, roughly a year ago, and asked me if I wanted a job. When I asked him what it was, he told me to come to his house the same evening and see for myself.

     ‘I need an assistant, I guess,’ he said. His eyes were huge and anxious behind his glasses. I had a feeling that something bad would happen to him if I refused.

    When I got to his house, he gave me coffee, placed me at a desk, and shoved a pile of composition papers under my nose.

    I looked up at him, not understanding.

    He blinked twice and said: ‘Well, do you think you could grade these?’ 

    I gawked. They were other students' papers. About a hundred in total.

    ‘I don’t know,’ I said.

    ‘You would do me a big favor. It’s not hard. Most of these are full of stupidity and badly written.  That’s why I’m asking you to do it, if you can be discreet about it and not tell a soul. Not even your mother. However nice she may be. This is an unusual request, I know that.’

He paused and swallowed. ‘The thing is, I can’t do it anymore. Not if I want to keep functioning in my job. As it is, I’m barely functioning. I thought I’d be dead before I turned forty-five, but no such luck. So I have no choice but to seek some assistance.’

    ‘Are you sick, Mr. Coldwell?’ I was getting worried. Maybe he would get a seizure while I was there, and I wouldn’t know what to do.

     He gave a hollow laugh. ‘No, I'm not sick. Nothing wrong with my heart. I just lost it, that's all.' He stopped talking for a moment, clutching and releasing a bony hand. ‘You see, the more I know about my students the more I want to quit, on the spot. If I don’t read their essays any more, I might just pull through until my retirement. I want to be oblivious of the people I have in front of me, in order to be able to keep teaching. Which is why I don’t want to read their essays.’ He brightened. ‘I think it’s a splendid idea. I don’t know why I haven’t thought of it before.’

    It was all very weird, what he was telling me. I didn’t see the logic of being a teacher and not wanting to have anything to do with your students. On the other hand, I was willing to help him. It seemed to be his only hope. Besides, it felt flattering to be chosen by a teacher to secretly grade the papers of your fellow students. Even if the teacher was Mr. Coldwell.