So, you have a book you’re like, sure, excited to read. You’re not rushing to finish your current read so you can get to it, but you’re definitely looking forward to it. Like, passively, perhaps. You hadn’t bought a copy despite it being out for ages, but then the publisher is having a sale, so you finally grab it. It comes to your house and, yeah, sure, you’re excited to read it.
And then you read it. And, oh my god, do you become so wildly endeared to it. You weren’t expecting to see you or your friends or your childhood and teenhood on the page. You weren’t expecting to feel seen. You weren’t expecting to relive some of the most wholesome moments of what was otherwise not the best part of your life (so you thought – teenhood was great looking back now! But teen me was miserable! And for why!?).
And THEN this book has the audacity? The unmitigated gall? It breaks your heart! You turn the page and there’s this major, unexpected character death! And, yes it’s sudden and an out of the blue twist, but it also makes sense for the world and the setting. It’s earned. And the responses of other characters thereafter are all so agonizingly human and there’s just…
Pain, pain, pain – solace – pain, pain pain. Happiness again. Pain. Happiness again. Happiness again.
Duck Feet by Ely Percy
Duck Feet by Ely Percy is a coming of age novel, set in the mid-noughties in Renfrew and Paisley, Scotland.
Kirsty, a 12-year-old embarking her first year of secondary school, guides us through growing up. Her peers either act their age or can’t wait to whizz through childhood; racing to the edgy highs of older teenhood – think love, sex, drugs, all that.
We see her navigate first year: adapting from primary school to secondary; strangers all around her; her friends changing drastically, seemingly overnight. Fourth year: boyfriends, boy friends, teen pregnancy, and a massive host of other life defining events. Finally, sixth year – Kirsty experiences love, burst in through the door out of nowhere, then grief. All the while, her future is looming ahead of her.
Percy’s writing is so spectacular and believable. It never feels like you’re reading a caricature of early teenhood, the way shows set in high schools usually reek of writers’ rooms filled with adults who haven’t had a meaningful interaction with a teen in god knows how long. Kirsty, in her narration, is earnest, sweet, funny, and authentic.
My favourite thing about the text: the characters
The way Percy’s large cast of characters weave in and out of the story is satisfying and realistic. Sometimes, people come and go. Sometimes they leave forever, and sometimes they stay. Especially in secondary school when it feels like everything is up in the air. Percy’s writing reflects this wonderfully.
It’s so easy to put people into boxes when you’re young, and to be petty and stubborn, and to hold grudges. To watch Percy’s cast evolve from mean girl or neddy bully to, simply put, rounded, problematic, but still growing adults, is bittersweetly gratifying.
Overall, Duck Feet was an unexpected dream to read. It was so deeply touching and funny and sad and so purposeful in everything it did. It’s written in Scots, and the flow of the language is satisfying throughout. If you grew up in working class Scotland, you will stare your childhood in the face, and it will be bittersweet but beautiful. If you didn’t grow up here, it’s just an all round fantastic story that I can’t recommend enough.
Yes, Duck Feet by Ely Percy is heartbreaking. But it’s heart warming. It’s soft and rough and so meaningful. I didn’t walk in expecting much, but I sincerely treasure what I got from it.