A Story by James Hendry
Reggie & Me is a witty, tragic and beautiful story that crept into my heart.
This coming-of-age novel follows the brave, yet unfortunate adventures of Hamish Charles Sutherland Fraser – a boy growing up in the suburbs of Johannesburg, trying to navigate his life in a world that doesn’t quite make sense. The story spans the first eighteen years of Hamish’s life, 1976 – 1994. A time of turbulence and transformation for South Africa.
Reading Hamish’s story is as at the same time enjoyably easy and excruciatingly difficult. Hendry’s writing style is easy to follow, entertaining, and full of raw emotion capturing your attention. However, Hamish’s life, be it very entertaining, is not an easy life to read about. For nearly the whole first part of the novel I was holding my breath and reading through squinted eyes as I lived with Hamish through his daily disappointments. Growing up he doesn’t quite fit the mould of what society expects of him; He isn’t a sportsman, or lady’s man, doesn’t make friends easily, and doesn’t seem to adapt well in the classroom. He finds himself the frequent victim of ridicule and bullying, and is constantly defying authority. On top of that, puberty hits him very late.
Yet, despite his challenges and constant failures Hamish’s story is one of courage and real emotion. Even though my heart felt like it couldn’t take any more setbacks and disappointments, Hamish is constantly pushing forward, setting himself new goals and high expectations. His emotions are raw and uncontrolled at first, making his failures hard to endure, but as he grows older we see him growing emotionally too, and reacting kinder to defeat and failure. His bravery and determination is what forms part of his beautiful character.
An aspect which I loved about the novel is how it addressed social, educational and political issues indirectly via Hamish’s adventures – or misadventures. Here we have a boy who, despite his best efforts, just doesn’t fit into this world. By facing his struggles, we also face the struggles of society at that time – we face bullying, gender constructs, homophobia, racism, a flawed educational system and love in its various forms.
Hamish lives in a world where he doesn’t yet understand the rules of his country, but as he navigates his own world, I believe he learns that he does not wish to follow these rules. By just being himself, Hamish challenges the rules of Apartheid, he challenges the stereotype of teenage boys, he challenges homophobia, and he challenges an educational system that doesn’t work for him.
I believe that people who grew up, raised a family or just lived through that time period of South Africa will find various scenarios and characters highly relatable. Even I found the issues faced in Reggie & Me scarily relatable to the societal issues of today.
Hamish Charles Sutherland Fraser’s story is not just his own. It is all of our story. It is a story about a boy growing up in world that wasn’t ready for him, and it is a story about a world that needed to change.
My last bit of love for the story lies within eighteen-year-old Hamish as he learns to love and accept himself. I like to think that maybe he realised he was always born to stand out.