Maria Mahat reviews Gone Case, a Singapore Literature Prize Commendation Award winner, which she discovers to be more than just a “heartlander” story.
Images of boys in school uniforms scouring HDB void decks and rooftops after school came to mind as I read Gone Case. This book tells the story of Yong and Liang, two boys living in a housing estate in Singapore during the 1990s.
Although Yong is the protagonist of this “heartlander” story, the title is a more apt description for his best friend, Liang. If you would like an insight into the lives of your students who have similar profiles as Yong or Liang, perhaps this is a book you should read.
The emotions of Yong and his younger brother, Ti, are rather subtle. I find it is amazing that a 12- and an 8-year-old could remain stoic despite the strain in their family life. When Yong’s father decided to move back to his parents’ so that the family could collect rent on the spare room to pay his depts, there were no outbursts from the children.
They did not even ask their parents why things were happening the way they did. Even though Yong acted “big” by bullying his brother and tried shaving to emulate his absent father, the two brothers remained responsible and wise.
Yong was doing well in his early primary school years but when he moved up a level, his results slipped. He was not a bad student but adults like his well-intentioned mother could only see his “slip” and not the probable cause of it. And this subtlety is what this book is all about.
Dave Chau’s writing is subtle and the characters in Gone Case do not scream for attention but remind us to try and understand our children or students more. Sometimes, their passivity is just a cover-up for the internal battles that they have to confront in school, at home, or in life. While Yong was resilient enough to handle all these, not all our school kids these days are as hardy and level-headed.
A sad victim to circumstances would be Liang. There was no mention of Liang’s father and his mother was a person full of anxiety, especially when it came to Liang’s elder sister, Zhen.
Zhen had an undesirable reputation in school; she smoked, dressed sexily and had a gangster for a boyfriend. She later tried to commit suicide and it was Liang who found her lying in the toilet.
With so many things happening in his life, Liang took comfort in spending time on the rooftop of his flat. He was close to becoming a “gone case” or someone who was falling through the cracks.
Thinking that he was looking out for Liang, Yong had the gates to the rooftop locked. And although this resulted in the death of their friendship, Yong might have prevented the death of a friend.
Gone Case, peppered with Singlish, is suitable for local and non-local students or teachers who would like a sneak peek into the lives of kids and come to better understand them.
So be a “heartlander”, go get a “kopi” and start reading it. Gone Case is definitely an easy afternoon read.