The Last Days of Archie Maxwell is a quick read that packs a real punch. I devoured it in one sitting and found myself heart-broken, but ultimately uplifted.
Archie Maxwell’s parents are separating. The book begins with a poignant scene around the dinner table where they announce this to Archie and his sisters. As someone who has been in a similar situation as a child, my heart really went out to these kids. The separation isn’t all though, later it is revealed that Archie’s parents separated because his father is gay. This changes Archie’s life both at home, and at school when the news gets out. Meanwhile, Archie finds himself drawn to the trainline at the bottom of his garden, and he is not the only one. There he meets a classmate who is struggling with her feelings a year after her brother committed suicide.
For a book of 104 pages, there is a lot going on. The Last Day of Archie Maxwell tackles issues around bullying, sexuality, family breakdown, mental health and suicide, as well as the dangers of stereotyping young boys.
As the mother of a small boy, this last issue is the one that fascinated me most. Archie is treated very differently from his sister’s during the breakdown of his family. His mother comments that he has reacted more calmly than his sisters and “boys are so much easier than girls”. He is expected to “man-up” and deal with what happens without being emotional, and to set a good example for his sisters. Whilst they are granted the space to deal with their feelings, Archie is expected to carry on as normal (his dad shows up the day after to take him to football as usual, and his mother makes him go). These expectations place a pressure on Archie that his sisters don’t have to face and lead to him facing mental health difficulties. I loved seeing this explored in a book for young people, as it is an issue facing many young boys today.
Annabel tackles a lot of issues with this book, but they all fit seamlessly into one brilliantly told story that I hope will help many young readers.
As a mum, I highly recommend it to everyone with a young boy. As a reader: you all want to pick this up. Trust me. The Last Days of Archie Maxwell is an absolute masterpiece.