Book Review – Man Down by James Goodhand

Pages: 381
Published: 3rd March 2022
Genre: Contemporary Fiction

I recently took part in the blog tour for this book. Without that, this would probably not been the kind of thing I might have picked up otherwise, so it was an interesting proposition when I received my free copy.

A man stands. A man fights. A man bleeds.

These are the first lessons you learn in a town where girls are objects, words are weak and fists do the talking.

Will’s more at home in the classroom than the gym, and the most important woman in his life is his gran. So how can a boy who’s always backed away from a fight become the hero who saves the day?

Because a disaster is coming. One that Will can prevent. But only if he learns the most important lesson of all: sometimes to step up, you have to man down.

One thing that you can wholeheartedly say about this book is that it is truly unique. It is out there to make a point and a very relevant one at that, as a powerful story is interspersed with sensitive themes and thought-provoking supernatural elements which help to set it apart, yet will also split opinion. As such, certain parts are highly commendable while others are objectionable.

The messaging throughout is unsubtle in the extreme but it certainly gets its point across, exploring the topic of toxic masculinity in a variety of different guises. It does so quite skilfully at times, though not without making it a really unsettling read. Indeed, the list of content warnings is extensive to say the least and impact my enjoyment of the book, as well as spark disbelief that it is marketed as young adult.

Will is the protagonist and he struggles with society’s expectations of what it means to ‘be a man’, possessing a very different personality to his brother Danny, who is all bravado and basically treats women like objects. There are some things about Will and the way he thinks that will be relatable to many readers, especially the way he approaches certain conversations and scenarios.

His heart is in the right place and we see that as surprising incidents take place over the course of the story, although it must be said that he is not always likeable either. By far the most interesting aspects of the plot were his on/off romance with April, a complex and similarly flawed character, and his friendship with Alfie that leaves quite an emotional impact.

Other than that, some parts of the story were either abstract or underwhelming, so I occasionally resorted to skim reading. It ventures deep into philosophical discussions while the supernatural elements provide an air of unpredictability where you know something is going to happen, but you never really know what that might be. The biggest case in point is the ending, which turns much of Will’s journey on its head.

Overall, whether you enjoy this book depends almost entirely on whether you connect with Will as a character and appreciate the edginess of the writing. It deserves a lot of praise for tackling a vitally important societal issue with such a degree of thought and originality, but some things about it were just a bit too heavy and so it left me with decidedly conflicting feelings.

As mentioned in the review, there are a LOT of content warnings in this book – in fact most of the ones you could possibly think of. On that basis I will never understand how this book is categorised as young adult, but there you go.

It contains frequent misogyny, references to sexual exploitation, sexual content, sexual assault, drugs, bullying, attempted suicide, and homophobia. That list is by no means excessive.

There were things to appreciate and while I was invested in some parts of the book, I found it hard to enjoy all the way through.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐


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