Duck Feet is an episodic novel that follows the life of Kirsty Campbell as she goes from first to sixth year at school at Renfrew Grammar. From what it’s like moving up to ‘big’ school and adjusting to making new friends and seeing how old ones might have changed to dealing with relationships, pregnancy, and more, the book covers a whole range of things that happen in the lives of teenagers, all from the distinctive perspective of Kirsty, a pretty regular girl who likes swimming and gets annoyed at her younger sister.
Reading this book feels like a throwback not just to being at secondary school, but also to reading books about secondary school that put actual experiences at the forefront, which you don’t tend to get in many books, especially not ones that aren’t aimed at people currently at school. The cast of characters felt realistic, especially the way in which Kirsty’s friendships and who she spent most time with changed, sometimes without a real reason, and the way each chapter was a distinct episode helped this, feeling almost anecdotal but also showing how quickly things can change focus when you’re a teenager. Details like the fact that the band they all loved when they were young breaks up and then isn’t really mentioned again worked well to really get across that feeling of growing up and working out who you are, and having to cast off some things in that process.
Duck Feet also looks quite a bit at privilege, class, and perspective, showing how teenagers can be small-minded and pick up things from their environment, but also grow and be more complicated than it might seem. Kirsty is at times innocent or unaware, which felt quite relatable to anyone who spent time at school feeling like people were always referencing stuff they didn’t know about. It was good to see her grow up (the novel is split into three periods of time, up until she leaves school) and her friends deal with things like teenage pregnancy and sexuality, she has to adapt. I completely didn’t expect the ending of the novel, which, without wanting to give any spoilers, works as that is Kirsty’s reaction too. The book is quite long and I didn’t realise something so plot heavy was going to happen near the end!
Being so distinctively set in Scotland in the 2000s (it received a Scots Language publication grant), this is a book that has a real sense of place and realism, and that will draw a lot of people into Kirsty’s world. The use of dialect throughout is such an important feature and I found it easy to get into, though for some people it might take a moment to get used to. Being not too many years younger that the main characters, a lot of the references were relatable to me (those Scooby Doo bands! people caring about Myspace top friends!), which I think was a real highlight of reading it. I wouldn’t want to go back to secondary school, but Duck Feet was a chance to see another experience of it.
(Thanks to Monstrous Regiment for the proof copy – you can preorder Duck Feet on their website!)