At primary school we were shown a video warning children not to get into strangers’ cars. We were told to note the places with Safety House stickers on the way home. I remember wondering if, on being pursued, I’d be able to run all the way to the nearest one. Every so often, we heard about a kidnapping on the news, so we took these warnings seriously.
Sonya Hartnett’s novel Of a Boy, written for the adult market after her many successful Young Adult novels, begins with a kidnapping, which provides a counterpoint to the central story of nine-year-old Adrian. Veronica, Zoe, and Christopher Metford go to the milk bar one afternoon to buy ice cream, and never return. Adrian watches this news story with interest and trepidation, asking his grandmother if it happened nearby.
Adrian keeps a list of his ordinary fears. Reading a newspaper article about a sea monster found off the coast of New Zealand, he ‘adds the sea monster to the list of things he finds disquieting’. Just as he remains attentive to the story of the kidnapped Metford children, he searches throughout the course of the novel for more information regarding this sea monster. His list of fears includes the concrete (he ‘dislikes seeing his cupboard door ajar, especially at night’: this is common sense), but it also encompasses murkier fears. Adrian is afraid of everything, especially being left alone.