Ten-year-old Zac Hutchinson will soon be eleven and there’s only one thing he wants for his birthday… to find the dad he has never met.
And it’s not just for himself – it could also give Zac’s hard-pressed mum the chance of a much-deserved happy-ever-after.
Katy Regan, who was born and grew up in Morecambe, eschews her Lancashire home town for the old Lincolnshire sea port of Grimsby in a beautiful, bittersweet novel which follows a troubled boy searching for the truth about his missing father, and uncovering a decade of secrets and lies at the heart of his family.
Now living in Hertfordshire, Regan has worked on newspapers and magazines, and since 2009 has penned several clever and insightful novels, including One Thing Led to Another, The One Before the One, How We Met and The Story of You.
Told through the perspective of three generations of a family, Little Big Man is a poignant, funny and utterly charming tale which explores what love means to both adults and children, and is set in a northern working class community where hope is sometimes dimmed by hardship and despair.
Regan feels strongly that the north is generally under-represented in fiction, declaring that ‘books shouldn’t just be set in London, New York or idyllic country villages,’ and here she paints a memorable portrait of one little boy from a tough council estate trying to make his family see the big things in life.
For Zac and his single mum Juliet, life is a bit of a struggle and to compensate, they find comfort in each other and eating. But now they are both overweight and Zac is being bullied at school because people ‘don’t like different.’
Zac reckons they need ‘a man in the house’ but he has always been told that his dad did a runner before he was born and has never understood why he never wanted to see his own son.
One evening, after a disastrous date and too many glasses of wine, his mum lets slip that Zac’s dad, Liam Jones, was the only man she ever loved and Zac determines to find him so that his mum can ‘be in love again’ and won’t have to ‘go on any more crap dates.’
With the help of his best friend, Teagan O’Brien, Zac turns detective and hatches a plan to track down Liam but what he doesn’t realise is that sometimes people have good reasons for disappearing…
Family, friendship, love, guilt and grief all play their part in Zac’s rollercoaster ‘Find Dad’ mission, a journey that is full of humour, hope and heart-rending home truths, and stars an incisively authentic cast of characters, from the brave, determined and resilient Zac to his world-weary mother Juliet and his granddad Mick, a man bedevilled and entrapped by the demons that have shaped his family and haunted his life.
Regan writes with a tender touch, an observant eye and an impressive child’s-eye-view of the world as secrets from the past slowly explode into the present and long-hidden truths that have defined a family are finally revealed in moments of tear-jerking poignancy.
Difficult subjects are tackled with subtlety, sensitivity and a refreshing honesty which lays bare the cruelties of bullying, shame and isolation. But there is also hope here, the life-affirming bonds of family love, and the enchanting flashes of humour that make this story of innocence and revelation such a delight to read.
(Mantle, hardback, £14.99)