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Pavithra Srinivasan

By William Sutcliffe . Design and Illustration by Greg Heinimann
Bloomsbury, London, 2014, pp. 215, Rs. 299.00


Bad Influence is one of those books that you don’t have much faith in, when you pick it up—but once you’ve gotten past the first five pages, suddenly you’re invested in the characters and the story to such a point that you desperately need to find out what happens next, even if you have a fair idea. And that, in truth, is the book’s real success.  Bad Influence’s protagonist is Ben, from whose perspective the story unfolds. You don’t get much of an idea about what exactly he’s trying to say, in the first page; everything seems rather muddled. Then, gradually, the mist clears and you’re introduced to Olly, his whacky but loyal friend; Donny, Ben’s fearsome brother who usually displays his fondness for his  sibling by shaking him until his teeth rattle; Rachel and her friend Lucy (commonly referred to as Rachelucy, owing to their closeness, demonstrated by the fact that they always walk everywhere arm-in-arm, resembling a four-legged upright animal); Mum and Dad … and then, the character who turns Ben’s life upside down: Carl.  To young Ben, who leads a fairly blameless and innocent life, lording it over Olly and playing simple games, Carl is a fascinating creature. But there’s something frightening about him too. Soon, Carl simply takes over Ben’s life, especially Olly … and Ben is torn between loyalty to Carl, anger at Olly and a deep distrust for Carl’s behaviour. He doesn’t really want to be friends with Carl—but he doesn’t want to cut himself away either, because then, he’d be left out and you really can’t be a nobody. How many of us have had ‘frenemies’ like Carl? Fascinating people to whom we’re attracted to, but who scare us too, because there’s simply no knowing what they’ll drag us into. You know they’re bad for you, but you’re desperate to be liked by them, because, ultimately, whatever they do is cool. Suddenly, family and the most loyal of friends are pushed to the background and this new person takes over your life.  It says much for William Sutcliffe’s writing that you’re able to just jump into Ben’s life as it steadily grows complicated, and your heart jumps at each of his confrontations with Carl, goes down into the ...

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