Before we even delve into the content, there are a couple of solid reasons to dig deep into your pockets and splash out the £10.99 asking price. The royalties from this collection of short stories and poetry will go to human rights charity Amnesty International. And, at a time when the issues raised in the collection are rife around the world, there can’t be many better causes to which you can contribute your coins.
A second, more literary, reason can be found in the list of contributors. Luminaries like Jackie Kay, Matt Haig, and AL Kennedy are joined by exciting talents such as Ryan Gattis, Chibundu Onuzo, and Christie Watson. Throw in an appearance from Neil Gaiman, and an interview with American soldier and whistleblower Chelsea Manning, and it becomes hard to think of the list as anything but stellar. My advice to you? Stop reading this review and order yourself a copy.
But if we must discuss the stories, and I suppose we must, I’ll start with an honest observation. Collections with such rigid themes, and such admirable ambitions, can often feel a little forced and repetitive. Here I Stand does not escape this issue. Conclusions of certain stories can be a little too obvious when we know what the original thinking behind the story is before we start to read it. And reading some twenty five works of fiction in which we are shoehorned into sympathising for the protagonists means that there can be a lack of variety and intrigue.
Despite those trappings, though, there are more successes than failures on these pages. Highlights come from John Boyne, Chibundu Onuzo, Liz Kessler, Ryan Gattis, Sarah Crossan, Francis Hardinge, Amy Leon, Sabrina Mahfouz, and, in particular, Bali Rai. Rai’s story touches on racism and islamophobia and the way young friendships can crumble when these issues arise. Other stories listed deal with immigration, homosexuality, juvenile detention, and child abuse – to name just a few – and all are thought provoking. When this collection is working, it will put some of society’s central issues at the forefront of your thinking.
Any Cop?: The list of topics above will indicate that this is never an easy read. But it’s not supposed to be. And yes, the collection can get a little heavy-handed at times as the societal guilt is spread pretty thickly. But the aim of the book is to wake people up to the issues that surround them on a daily basis, and it should be highly commended for the way it attempts this. It’s just a shame that most people who read it will be the ones who have the least to learn.