An emotional rollercoaster
Joshua, a talented artist, has recently transferred to the vocational education system and is trying to fit in among the other students, who would rather be working with punchbags than watercolour paper. His biggest worry is that he’ll become a punchbag himself.
That looks like it might be on the cards when Joshua makes friends with the tough guy Sergio, who steals his sketchbook. Luckily, it’s not the one he used for his drawings of his friend Zivan, who he’s also in love with.
Zivan has fled her native country and is in danger of being sent back there by her family to get married. She runs away at first, finding refuge in a shelter, but later gives in and leaves, much to Joshua’s frustration. How can he tell Sergio and his pals, who hit first and ask questions later, what he’s trying to say with his pencil and brushes?
The book is an emotional rollercoaster. The feelings around the farewell and loss are huge, while the descriptions of the ups and downs in his new class are extremely funny. The tension between these two barely compatible forces clears the way for Sassen to write very frankly about differences that could prove irreconcilable.
One hilarious scene occurs when Joshua and Sergio’s class visits the Rijksmuseum to see The Night Watch, the nightmare of every parent and teacher. However, his new friends are unexpectedly impressed by the art – and even by Joshua’s drawings. And Joshua learns that his kickboxing friends might have just as rich an emotional life as he does.
This is both a sketchbook and a novel. Writer and illustrator act as equal partners, taking it in turns to tell the story of Joshua and Zivan. This makes reading the book an adventurous experience.