What do you call a bunch of hippos? A bloat. What do you call a group of giraffes? A tower. What do you call a terrific YA novel about three boys who kidnap the ashes of their dead friend to give him a “proper funeral?” Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray.
The teenage narrator Blake and his buddies, Sim and Kenny, miss the fourth corner of their quartet. Their friend Ross was struck by a motorist while on his bicycle and killed. The days leading up to Ross’s death were not good ones, and the boys, led by Sim, seek revenge against those who treated Ross badly, and those who failed him even in the end, with what the boys consider to be a “farce of a funeral.”
The opening lines of the novel hint that, despite the riotous cover, this is not a standard coming-of-age romp. “Our best friend was ash in a jar. Ross was dead. Kenny, Sim and I were learning to live with it.” However, the three teens are learning to live with the death of their friend by vandalizing the property of those they feel wronged Ross: a teacher, the school bully, and maybe Ross’s ex-girlfriend. Each boy’s approach to life becomes clear in the first few pages. Sim’s aggressive, head-on stance manifests itself in the graffiti episode.
“This is for Ross, remember,” Sim whispered. “We can’t flake out now – we all agreed. You agreed too, Kenny. Don’t say you didn’t.”
Kenny made a noise – not quite yes, not quite no. “Can’t we just put a note through his door or something? I’m telling you: if we get caught—“
Sim looked disgusted. “Christ-on-a-bike, Kenny! You want to write a poem in a card too? A card with love hearts and rabbits wearing hats on the front?” He shook his head, popped the lid off the can of spray paint he was clutching. “No. It’s got to be big.”
Here we see the bully that Sim himself almost is, the insecurities and passiveness of Kenny. Blake, the narrator, is the thinker of the group. “...I still wasn’t convinced this was the right thing to do. For Ross, I mean. I didn’t give a damn about Mr. Fowler.” Although “Ross was the one who wanted to be a writer,” Blake who “was top in English” now is the member of the group most concerned with meaning and symbolism.