Published by Scholastic, 2019.
Call Me Alastair is quite unlike any other MG book that I’ve read. For a start, it’s told by a parrot: an African grey called Alastair. He’s really grumpy and antisocial. Oh, and he writes poetry. It’s his dream to escape from the pet shop, where he lives with with his sister Aggie, and head for a palm tree in Key West.
The book’s two other main characters are Fritz and Bertie. We hear chapters told from their perspectives too. Fritz is a lonely 12-year-old with ambitions of becoming a doctor. Bertie is an exuberant widow in her 80s. I really enjoyed the three different narrative voices. Each has their own distinct style and I liked how the story switched between the three.
Fritz has a part-time job at the pet store and Bertie is a regular customer. Alastair’s escape plans are thwarted when he and his sister are separated; Fritz buys Aggie and Bertie buys Alastair.
As the story unfolds, we watch Alastair become increasingly anxious and depressed, Fritz wrestle with guilt and Bertie suffer from self-imposed loneliness. Slowly they each learn how to break free from their troubles. The book has some very important life lessons not just for the three main characters but for us as readers too. The wisest words come from Porky the guinea pig: “You can get hung up on all the things you don’t have, or you can be thankful for what you do got. It’s all in the way you eyeball it.” Bertie also has a pretty profound cherry/life analogy, the essence of which is that you need to enjoy the good things in life (the cherries) while you’ve got them and leave the pits. The pits are all those things you don’t like, all the things you can’t control. She recognises that there will be times when it feels like all you’ve got are pits and that these might take a while to chew through but it’s important to remember the taste of cherry and not crack your tooth on a pit.
There’s a lot of wit and humour in the book. Conversations and scenarios had me chuckling and smiling to myself. My absolute favourite scene in the book is when Humpty Dumpty the goldfish finally speaks. He has been pretty much mute up until this point but he breaks his silence to eloquently explain the finer nuances of Alastair’s poetry to the cat, displaying a remarkable ease with portmanteau words as he does so. It was totally unexpected and hilariously out of character.
Call Me Alastair is poignant, unusual and funny. I recommend it.
Suitable for children aged 10+
Thank you to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.