BOOK REVIEW: How Not to Be a Boy by Robert Webb
Review by Gabriel Brown
The most honest, personal, and downright relatable book I have ever read.
What Robert Webb has produced here is something I wish I’d been able to read sooner. He has crafted a really beautiful book – and it’s rare I use that word to describe things. I think my main thought while reading wasn’t even about how relevant it was to me, but mostly wow. The level of honesty in the book is off the scale, from family deaths to relationship issues. I couldn’t actually imagine another human being speaking this honestly, except maybe to a partner, in the confines of a long term relationship.
Something I think that really makes the book an interesting read for me is the fact, as a “boy”, I can relate to the topics discussed. That’s not to say that if you are a girl, or if you’re unable to relate to any of the things discussed in the book, you won’t enjoy this. It is a beautiful book to read and behold, but my particular affinity with it derived from the fact that I could relate to so many of the subjects addressed: from not wanting to play football, to being seen as less of a man when wanting to spend more time with your mum than with your dad. The fact that this book is so relatable makes it easy for Webb to get his point across.
The way the book is told, with chapter titles playing on male stereotypes, such as “Boys Aren’t Shy” and “Men Are Organised”, is well thought out. While Webb does stray from the main focus of the chapters, he does so in a way that contributes to the overall story he’s telling in each section. A particularly humorous and interesting way he writes, which I would have liked to have seen even more of, is his talking to his younger self. Not only does this give us a way to see his progression into the person he is today, it also acts as self reflection for him – as his older self tells his younger self of things to come.
I think the diverse array of themes covered in this book makes it even more engaging. Webb’s inclusion of so many topics (family issues, sex, suicide, marriage, depression and more) might seem overwhelming to some, but they follow on from each other in a coherent way. Again, this brings me back to the book’s honesty; the depth Webb goes into is astounding. This truth, and the way he writes it, has in fact inspired me to write my own look-back/thoughts on my life. While not as detailed or as lived as Webb’s, the very fact this book has stirred this feeling in me demonstrates Webb’s authorial prowess.
It should definitely be said that while I didn’t cry over the book, due to me not being a highly emotional person, I did have many reactions to it, including a small bit of sadness, and if anything, book or otherwise, can do that to me it is highly commendable.
Robert Webb has truly delivered not only a unique read here, but a powerful one too. Regardless of age or gender, I would highly recommend this book to everyone, so that you can feel Webb’s honesty overcome you, and experience a great book.
Cuckoo Review is an arts journalism programme for young writers aged 15-23. Through the Cuckoo Reviewers in Residence programme at Durham Book Festival, young people have reviewed festival events and books, and have interviewed featured authors. For more information about Cuckoo Review visit review.cuckoowriters.com.