Glasgow Boys

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Pub Date 2 May 2024 | Archive Date 26 Apr 2024

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A striking debut exploring the power of identity, community and the Scottish working class. This coming-of-age story is an incisive look at young masculinity and the way even the most fraught childhood is not without hope.

Neither Finlay or Banjo can remember the last time they had a hug. Against all odds, 18-year-old Finlay has begun his nursing degree at Glasgow University. But coming straight from the care system means he has no support network. How can he write essays, focus on his nursing placement and stop himself from falling in love when he’s struggling to even feed himself? Meanwhile, 17-year-old Banjo is trying to settle into his new foster family and finish high school, desperate to hold down his job and the people it contains. But his anger and fear keep boiling over, threatening his already uncertain future.

Underpinning everything is what happened three years ago in their group care home, when Finlay and Banjo were as close as brothers until they stopped speaking. If these boys want to keep hold of the people they love, they have to be able to forgive one another. More than this, they must find a way to forgive themselves.

A striking debut exploring the power of identity, community and the Scottish working class. This coming-of-age story is an incisive look at young masculinity and the way even the most fraught...

Advance Praise

'Tenderness itself, a song to love and friendship.' – Andrew O'Hagan

'Hopeful, often painful, and ultimately joyful... a beautifully told story.' – Simon James Green

'Captures pining and tenderness, hope and loss, as if you are reading your own heart written upon the page.' – Non Pratt

'Tenderness itself, a song to love and friendship.' – Andrew O'Hagan

'Hopeful, often painful, and ultimately joyful... a beautifully told story.' – Simon James Green

'Captures pining and tenderness...

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ISBN 9780571382972
PRICE £8.99 (GBP)

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Featured Reviews

‘My family is who I allow it to be.’

Glasgow Boys. The title and blurb immediately reminded me of gritty stories set in Glasgow like Shuggie Bain and Young Mungo, or even Boys Don’t Cry, set in Dublin (please pick up this one if you haven’t yet), but while reading I found beauty and hopefulness instead of darkness.

I have to admit, I had to get used to the writing. Third person, present tense is never my favorite, and combined with the short, blunt sentences and chapters, it felt distant to me. But the writing grew on me.

Meet Finlay, the bony, blonde, socially awkward, closeted student. Meet Banjo, the short, ginger, hot-headed, athletic boy. Both craving for love.

Two boys so different, but once close as brothers when they lived in the same group care home. Until they had a fall out. Neither of them having had a hug for ages. Both surviving on their own. Neither of them needing anyone else.

Sometimes, my mom’s heart hurt tremendously, and I all wanted to do is hug those two boys. I had lumps in my throat when they thought about the one at the other side of the bathroom door, or when they touched the wooden dresser and knew another person was touching it too. I had tears in my eyes when Banjo got beaten up or Finlay felt so alone. I bawled my eyes out when Banjo gave Mr Black to Finlay. And when I read what had happened between them I sobbed. Uncontrollably. But …

I didn’t only have tears from anger of sadness. I blinked wildly when Finlay talked about his sexuality and when Alena’s mom called Banjo a sweetheart. And for most of the book, a smile danced on my face. Because of Finlay’s immediate crush on Akash, because of Banjo’s joy in working in a greasy kitchen, because of the people who accepted them for who they were, and because of the bond those two boys so visibly had in the past.

Be aware this is not a romance. Yeah, there are love interests, but falling in love is not the main theme. Glasgow Boys is about love though. It’s about finding your place in the world, finding your people, and, most of all, finding yourself and loving yourself for who you are.

The writing and the story are quite unique and it’s difficult to compare this beautiful story to any other YA book. But if I had to, I’d choose When You Call my Name. A completely different story but somehow those two books both brought up the same feelings in me.

The last page of Glasgow Boys gave me goosebumps. Of happiness. And a part of me now longs for a sequel to follow those two boys into adulthood and see their dreams come true.

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Oh wow, what an incredibly moving book. I didn’t expect this story to capture me the way it did, from the first chapter I was hooked and had no choice but to finish this book in one sitting. I adored Banjo and Finlay, they both felt so real and raw. From the get go I was emotionally invested and craving answers about these boys. They were emotional and traumatised and beautiful characters that represent so many young people that are misunderstood and often overlooked. This book was brimming with love and hope, but equally heartbreak and despair. I’ll be thinking about this one for a while, what a poignant display of human emotion.

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Glasgow Boys is an emotional book about trauma, love and healing. We follow two boys, both of whom have had deeply troubled lives and have been through the foster care system. They had once been roommates in a group home, formed a deep connection with each other, then something happened and they haven't seen each other in years.

Banjo is an angry teenager, looking for fights everywhere he goes. His emotions spill over frequently, and he has a hard time connecting to the world because of it. Still in foster care, Banjo secures a job at a cafe where he starts to form relationships with the workers, especially Alena, a cute girl who deals with Crohn's Disease.

Meanwhile, Finlay has aged out of care and is trying to make it on his own as a nursing student. Rather than project his trauma outwardly, Finlay thinks himself unlovable by the world so he ghosts and retreats as much as he can. He reconnects with an old childhood friend, but struggles with the idea that someone could want to be around him.

This book had me sobbing multiple times; I believe it's a story about love more than anything else. Interwoven between the different POV's, we get snippets of what happened three years ago in the group home. Every single word of this novel had me gripped and I felt emotionally attached to not only the two main boys, but also to the multiple side characters.

If I could rate this higher than a 5/5, I easily would.

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Outstanding. Truly truly outstanding. What a beautiful work of art this book was. I'm struggling to put my feelings into words, but it felt tender and fragile and bold all at the same time and was just absolutely heart wrenching.
Margaret McDonald spent these 350 pages carefully carving out a place in my heart for these brilliant characters, this book will truly stay with me. It's barely February but I'm calling it right now, this will be in my top three books this year, I just know it.
Absolutely beautiful.

I was kindly given an ARC of this book, which I am incredibly grateful for. All opinions are my own.

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Oooft, this was a hard read in terms of putting your emotions through the wringer. A story of friendship, love and trauma and a painful insight into the care system, Glasgow Boys is up there with Shuggie Bain in its ability to make the reader sob uncontrollably.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC in return for an honest review of the book.

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What a beautiful book! I have to admit, I am a sucker for books set in the city where I work and have previously lived but, even if it hadn't been set in Glasgow, I would still have loved it.

The titular Glasgow Boys are Finlay and Banjo with the story told in alternating chapters from their perspectives. Both have a history of being in care, or 'looked after', with Banjo now living with foster parents and Finlay starting a nursing degree at the University of Glasgow (where I am currently a mature student).

Although it becomes apparent that Finlay and Banjo are known to each other, it is not clear how or why until we are drip fed some back story. What we do know, in the present day, is that both of them are struggling to comes to terms with growing up and are still caught up in their difficult pasta.

I absolutely fell in love with both characters and I am sure you will do the same. I won't give away too much more but there are plenty of tears of sadness and joy, smiles and tantrums and everything in-between.

A truly brilliant novel which will be enjoyed by all.

Thanks to Netgalley, and Faber and Faber for an ARC in exchange for an honest review

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This is a heart warming tale of friendship and love, and the challenges faced by two young boys growing up in care. I really enjoyed this novel as I thought the characterisation was strong and the story full of tenderness.

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The only thing I can articulate about this book was that it was incredible, moving, and everything I needed.

The characters, the story, the setting—it was all so beautiful and the emotions it put me through were so impactful and I really felt what the characters were going through alongside them.

Finlay and Banjo’s friendship is difficult, and reading their struggle to find each-other again was so heartbreaking yet lovely at the same time—the fact that pure love such as theirs can exist is just so beautiful to me, and I think it really shows how deeply love in a friendship can resonate.

This book deals with some difficult themes, but I think they were very well done and insightful. I really loved the character development and healing that the two main characters express and go through.

This was a lovely story, filled with so many heartfelt moments of family, friendship, love; everything. It’s tender and tough but really worth the read.

This is a new favourite of mine, I just adored it so much.

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This was a really beautiful read and I'm very grateful to have done so. Well written, wonderful characters and superbly paced. Look forward to seeing more.

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A deeply emotional story!

Glasgow Boys plunges into the sad and lonely reality of kids growing up in the care system and the trauma such an upbringing can leave them with.

Finlay and Banjo used to be best friends, each other's anchor, until a fight due to miscommunication and hidden fears caused them to fall out for good and never see each other again.

Neither of them has fully moved on: Finlay stopped letting people in to avoid getting hurt when they eventually leave him and Banjo believes he deserves nothing good in his life, picking up fights and driving people away with hostility.

Both boys are finally close to finding their footing in life, and their past falling out is the mental obstacle between them and happiness. They will need to face their trauma head-on to avoid losing new friends, a boyfriend and a girlfriend, a new found family...

The book is bittersweet and quite heavy at several moments - the road to recovery is steep and slippery. It's also optimistic because you can see the changes happen slowly and steadily in the boys' minds.

If I have one criticism, is that the climax and turning point takes place too late - I would like more space in the end showing their "post-meeting" lives.

An excellent debut overall by Margaret McDonald!

Thank you NetGalley and Faber & Faber for the ARC!

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Book of the year so far! I think I need to read it again... I spent so much of it reading through tears I may have missed bits. The characters were so well drawn (not just the mains but supporting characters too) and I physically ached for Banjo and Finlay at times. An arresting, powerful and uplifting debut that I am already telling everyone I know about!

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I really enjoyed this and it felt that it was believable in terms of the age of the characters and very true to life in the care system. Well paced and descriptive

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This is the story of two kids whose lives have been intertwined, their friendship and how they manage to enjoy life again. I would lie if I said I didn’t cry, I did.

The story of Banjo and Finlay is sad cause it’s real, I feel like a lot of kids might be going through what they went through, but this specific story is also wholesome in a way that makes you wanna give a hug to every person in your life.

The plot itself is well developed, two povs and two timelines, everything is well fitted and the storylines work perfectly; the writing is also very good and the Scottish dialect and accent plays a very nice role in the dialogues showing especially Banjo’s way of speaking, at the same time it’s not too hard to understand, so well done.

Not gonna spoiler the ending, just wanna say that it’s slightly different from what I was expecting but I really liked how things are complementary and the author managed to make everything work out for the characters and storyline even if it’s a different way than the one I was originally expecting or hoping for.

I’d recommend.

ps. Trigger Warnings should be underlined, I can mention a few such as Suicide, self harm, hate and violence.

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Finlay and Banjo, 18 and 17 respectively, have grown up in foster care in Scotland. Once as close as two people could be, there’s now a massive rift separating them stemming from an incident three years prior. As they both attempt to navigate the twists and turns in their daily lives, Banjo as he settles in with his final foster family, starts a job and a new school, gets a girlfriend, and Finlay as he begins his nursing degree, makes new friends, and tries his absolute hardest not to fall in love, their fallout weighs heavy on both of them and the lasting effects in their personal lives are impossible to shake. Glasgow Boys is a gorgeous exploration of their journeys into young adulthood as they stumble back into each other’s lives and finally grapple with the cause of their dramatic split. This is a book about forgiveness, and found family, and finding love in all its forms when you least expect it and feel you least deserve it and I loved every second of it.

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Such a moving story about two boys who grew up in care starting their journey of healing, both of themselves and their lost friendship.

You just couldn’t help but feel so much empathy for both Banjo and Finlay. The whole way through you’re just rooting so hard for them to recognise their worth and stop beating themselves up.

There’s a lot of sad moments, the book really shows how a tumultuous upbringing can completely shatter you’re self-esteem and make it hard to trust anyone. However, ultimately, it’s such a heartwarming book. Seeing both boys create new friendships and open themselves up to love was beautiful.

Whilst I would have maybe liked a bit more of Banjo and Finlay spending time together, their reunion and honest conversations with each other towards the end were incredibly heartwarming.

I think a lot of young people will get so much from reading this book…and probably a lot of adults will too!!

Thanks to Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Oh, how I loved this book. It emotionally gutted me - but in the best possible way. It follows two Scottish teenagers, Banjo and Finlay. Both have been in the care system. Banjo is in his last year of school and just arrived at a new family placement. Finlay has aged out of the system and is starting a nursing course at university. As the novel progresses we see that both young men have present day struggles to overcome - Finlay with self-worth, Banjo with violence. We slowly learn more about their respective pasts, how they came to be in the system, how they had once been close and how that relationship imploded.

Both Banjo and Finlay are beautifully drawn, characters who I know will stay with me for a long, long time. My heart hurt when I learned what they’d each endured and as I saw them struggle to overcome their present day issues. Conversely it soared and sang as they made concrete steps to overcome some of their demons, as they realised they had people in their lives who would love and support them, and, most importantly, as they started to trust these people and themselves. The ending was just beautiful.

One of their things that really struck me about this novel was its take on the foster system. It’s focus was not so much on criticising the system (although it did make pertinent points about the problems with teens aging out at 18 and having to navigate life with little to no support) nor in highlighting abusive caregivers. Rather it’s on the fact that the system is needed in the first place, the losses that the boys suffered (the details are not unduly dwelt on), and the fact that no system would be able to fully heal those losses. I know there are abusive carers but it was refreshing to see the carers in the group home and Banjo’s new family be kind and supportive, handling some challenging situations as well as I think was possible.

This was a gorgeously written coming of age story, a tender exploration of male friendship, which also focuses on mental health, sexual identity, class, masculinity, community, love and forgiveness. A stunning debut and most definitely an author to keep an eye on.

If you want a novel that’ll make you feel deeply while also leaving you with plenty to think about - How can we improve the foster system so it better meets the needs of children and young people who have no choice but to rely on it? How can we help young men deal with emotional pain so they don’t damage themselves or others? - be sure to pick up Glasgow Boys when it releases on 2 May. Many thanks to @NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with this eArc.

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This is a wonderful book.
Margaret McDonald has written a story for young adults that has such heart, and warmth and wit and understanding, that, as a librarian , I want to thrust it into the hands of young adults and tell them to read it and find themselves in it in many ways, and know that they are not alone in their feelings, their awkwardness and their apprehensions about life.
Finlay and Banjo, both boys from in care backgrounds, leap from the page and wrap themselves round your geart as their coming of age stories unfurl.
There is so much humour and pathos in Margaret McDonald's writing, and the boys' lives are so well portrayed that, sitting in Glasgow while I was reading it, I half expected to see either boy go by me out in the streets or be sitting in the cafes studying, or with his friends, as I walked past.
Young love is so beautifully captured in both boys' cases, the frightening fragile intensity of those initial feelings vividly invoked.
Perhaps the ending is too picture perfect for some, but I was rooting for those boys so much, that anything less than the happiness they finally both receive would have broken my heart a little.
Don't get me wrong, there is a good dose of harsh reality in these pages, this is Glasgow after all, in all it's colours and moods, and some of them arent pretty, but overall, this book leaves you with the life affirming knowledge that there is more good in the world than bad, and more kindness and concern for others than callous indifference, more enveloping family love than cold and cruel parenting, and more chance of living a full and happy life if you just give yourself a chance to step out into it and risk all that that might mean.
Thank you indeed to NetGalley and Faber and Faber for an earc of this title which was a joy to read, and an easy book honestly to review favourably.

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What a beautiful book. It’s not always an easy read but it’s impossible not to root for the two main characters. Finlay and Banjo are very different people with one major thing in common – both have been raised in the care system in Glasgow. Finlay has managed to gain a place on a nursing course at Glasgow University while Banjo has begun working in a small café while finishing school and living with new foster parents. Finlay is reserved, nervous and shies away from people and life while Banjo comes out swinging against adversity. We know, through flashbacks, that they have a connection in their past life in a care home but it’s not until close to the end that we find out what happened to divide them and how that has affected them both.

It's a beautifully told story. Both of the main characters are sometimes sympathetic and sometimes frustrating but it always makes sense why they do what they do. Their painful pasts and lack of faith in themselves and their future is very moving and makes sense of their behaviour in the present so it’s heartwarming to see them find support and gain in confidence. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Netgalley and Faber and Faber for the advance copy in return for an honest review.

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An absolute must-read. I can’t get my head around this being a debut. Margaret McDonald, take a bow!

Glasgow Boys follows two boys as they reach the crucial stage between childhood and adulthood. 18-year-old Finlay is starting a nursing degree at Glasgow University, while 17-year-old Banjo is in his final year of school. If you don’t instantly fall in love with both of these boys then you might need to check your heart is in working order. Although very different, both boys have a fractured past with negligent parents, spending their formative years in foster care and group homes. Finlay’s trauma translates into isolation, while Banjo’s becomes a living, breathing, rage-filled beast. At one time they balanced each other out and started to feel that there was hope in human connection, but single moment changes everything and when we meet them, the boys are no longer in each other’s lives.

What I love so much about this book, aside from the impeccable writing, is the intimacy McDonald allows us to build with her two main characters, making us care deeply for them and their futures. It is a book that delves deep into trauma and doesn’t shy away from the events that caused Finlay and Banjo’s pain, yet is at the same time filled to bursting with joy and hope. It challenges toxic masculinity head-on and places LGBTQ+ characters front and center without too much fanfare, which is the best way to normalize queerness.

Although definitely suitable and accessible to mature teen readers, this new adult novel is reminiscent to me of Young Mungo and Demon Copperhead, two of my favourite reads of recent years. What these three novels have in common, and what I think we need more of in popular fiction, is that they revolve around male characters whose vulnerability and tenderness is what leads endears them to the reader and turns them into the heroes of their own stories.

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I finished this book last night and my head is still full of the characters. Talk about all the feels. I am also really sad to have had to leave the characters behind as I got a wee bit emotionally involved with them and their lives. I read the last few pages behind tear filled eyes...
So... Finlay and Banjo knew each other when they shared a room in a group care home when they were 15 and 14. Both from very different backgrounds and both pretty broken, they eventually formed a close bond. A bond that was broken irreparably by something bad that happened.
Fast forward 3 years and Finlay, now 18, has just started a Nursing degree at Glasgow Uni. He has come straight from care so had no one and nothing and, mainly due to the incident of three years ago, still has issue around people and trust. Banjo is now 17 and has just moved into a new foster home and, joy of joys, is starting a new school. But his issues from the past are also still unresolved and, well, mainly spill out of him as anger, often with violent repercussions.
Told in the present, as dual narrative, we follow them as Finlay tries to navigate uni, work, placement, and assignments, and Banjo similarly with schoolwork, running, work, and foster parents, both also navigating the choppy waters of first love, with flashbacks from the past, the author weaves a very emotional tale which held me hostage for the duration, reading way past my bedtime to finish it.
The story in the past starts with the two boys meeting and how their friendship developed. Told chronologically, it is drip fed into the present day narrative at exactly the right moments to both complement and progress the present day story being told. Parts of it were harrowing, and I do admit to sobbing at certain places. But then there's also some really great uplifting scenes and, also, some rather funny moments, which kept the book from getting too dark.
I took to both the boys right from the off. Yes I wanted to mother them, to hold them, to say it will all be OK. I felt so much for them, but also pride as they were both trying to do the best with what they had. I was also intrigued as to what could possibly have happened in the past to have affected them so much. But I'm not going to expand on that any further. Suffice to say, the fallout was still affecting them three years later so...
I initially had mixed opinions on the ending though. Not how it ended, more when it ended. I originally thought that I would have loved to have seen what happened beyond where the author stopped. But then again, having thought about it some more, I think it ended at exactly the right time. Any more would have possibly undone all the emotion that had gone before and made it all a bit twee. Suffice to say though, I was very sad when I finished the book and thought of all the characters I had to say goodbye to. Not just Finlay and Banjo, but their families and friends too. Every single character was perfect, so easy to connect to, both good and bad and all things in between. But I know that this will be a book I will go back to and re-read in the future. It takes a special book to make me say that, and this is definitely a special book. And... blow me down - It's only a blooming debut book. That has knocked me for six... And also made me very very excited to see what the author serves up for next time.
My thanks go to the Publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book.

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What a hugely emotional and beautiful book. It’s redundant to say this is “like Shuggie Bain”, and also unfair - it is wholly its own book, with wonderful characters in Banjo and Finlay!

Both battling demons, both angry and without anywhere to place that anger except out into the world.

This is raw and yet fluid storytelling, I couldn’t stop reading even though it was making me ache. I couldn’t put it down, read it over one weekend and was rooting for a happy ending.

Really can’t believe this is a debut, and how beautifully the themes of masculinity and trauma are explored through these characters.

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