When I Was Five I Killed Myself by Howard Buten

I first came across When I Was Five I Killed Myself perhaps five or six years ago, when a friend added it to her own reading list. I was so intrigued by the title that it’s sat on my Amazon wishlist ever since. If I recall correctly, it was only available as a second-hand paperback at the time, but more recently became available on Kindle and so finally took up its place on my Paperwhite.

It wasn’t a long read at all, and I’m glad I finally got round to it. Told from the perspective of eight-year-old Burt, readers slowly come to discover why he’s locked away in the Children’s Trust Residence Center. Burt makes for an engaging narrator, with a voice full of phrases borrowed from his parents and half-understood: conniption fits and “to be candid”. With a vivid imagination and a heart full of friendship, Burt tries to make sense of the adult world around him. The results are amusing, tender and tragic in turns.

This is definitely a page-turner of a book, and while readers can broadly guess at the event which leads Burt to his incarceration, it doesn’t diminish the compulsion to continue. I picked it up at gone midnight after a late shift, and found myself still wide awake with it come 2am. I’d definitely recommend it to others, and even though the treatment of children considered ‘other’ has come a long way in the few short decades since it was written, I think there’s very much still a place for Burt in the hearts of readers.

[Read from 12-13 November 2016]

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