The Ash House
Cardboard Cowboys tells the story of Lenny Lambert, a troubled but kind-hearted boy in his first year of secondary school in Scotland. Lenny is having a hard time in school: his classmates make fun of him because of his weight and he is struggling with the absence of his brother, Frankie. His parents refuse to speak about Frankie, and Lenny feels intense guilt over the situation (which we are not told about for the majority of the book) and finds himself feeling increasingly isolated – from his school, his parents and Frankie himself.
The book takes us inside Lenny’s mind, with a frequently funny and heartbreaking internal monologue that provides the backbone of this brilliant, well-written novel.
This book delivers an excellent portrayal of a struggling family in the midst of a crisis. It deals with isolation, misplaced blame and feelings of not belonging. When Lenny meets Bruce, a homeless man who lives in a cardboard house, he slowly begins to realise his worth, allowing him to finally confront the guilt he feels and realise that he is not to blame. The book is filled with touching moments, particularly between Frankie and Lenny. The book does deal with mature topics, with familial issues, violence and themes of grief and loss throughout, meaning that it is best aimed at young teens and above. Nevertheless, it is an exceptionally rewarding read that will resonate with teens who have suffered similar issues, while touching the hearts of all others who read it.