Naked Without a Hat

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Life isn't going so well for 19-year-old Will. His mother is always nagging him about the lucky knit hat that he never takes off; his mother's boyfriend has forbidden Will to play "Wild Thing"—the only song he knows—on the guitar; and he just got fired from his job at Burger King. But Will's luck changes when he moves into a flat with Chrissy, James, and Rocko and gets a new job at the local park.

At the park Will meets Zara, a gypsy girl ...
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Life isn't going so well for 19-year-old Will. His mother is always nagging him about the lucky knit hat that he never takes off; his mother's boyfriend has forbidden Will to play "Wild Thing"—the only song he knows—on the guitar; and he just got fired from his job at Burger King. But Will's luck changes when he moves into a flat with Chrissy, James, and Rocko and gets a new job at the local park.

At the park Will meets Zara, a gypsy girl whose family is camping there illegally. Will has never been happier. Until his mother threatens to ruin everything by revealing Will's childhood secret. Is Will and Zara's love for each other strong enough to survive?

Promising to keep his mother's secret, eighteen-year-old Will moves into a house for people with disabilities, falls in love with a young Gypsy woman, and learns to assert his own identity and independence.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Readers may have difficulty getting a handle on the characters for much of this British novel by the author of The Truth or Something. Protagonist Will, who moves out of his mother's home at age 19, appears weirdly naive for his years ("When I said goodbye, I told her there were raindrops on the inside of her glasses. She said yes, that's what they were and to ring if I needed anything"). Will's new boarding-house roommates, Rocko and James, also seem out of touch with the world. Their obsessions and eccentricities (like Rocko's refusal to remove a month-old, half-eaten sausage from the refrigerator and James's tendency to blurt out whatever sexual images are on his mind) are more puzzling and offensive than comical. The role of the boys' landlady, Chrissy, proves to be as confusing as Will's sudden romantic interest in a Gypsy girl who stole his wallet. At last Will's mother re-enters the scene to reveal some family secrets (namely, that Will has Down's syndrome and has had plastic surgery to conceal it). However, the information comes too late to revive interest, and while the news that Will is developmentally disabled helps makes sense of some of the fragmented components of the novel, it does not turn Will into an especially convincing or engaging narrator. Ages 14-up. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Programmed by his mother never to share his secret, sweet, simple, nineteen-year-old Will Avery guards some past trauma so shocking that it caused his father to leave home while Will was a baby and prompted his mother to move from England to Denver. There she could rely on her sister, Caroline, to manage Will's development. But recently Sweet Caroline died of cancer, the Averys returned to England, and Mom started dating a policeman. Will, a charming and unreliable narrator, moves out when his mother's boyfriend cannot stand his incessant playing of "Wild Thing" on his guitar. Taking a room in a house with two other young men—both of whom are limited either intellectually or emotionally—and where the endearing, eccentric landlady, Chrissy, is more like a housemother, Will attains sexual maturity and a level of independence previously unknown to him. Now that Will has moved to Chrissy's, he takes work at Trent Park (much like a petting zoo) and falls passionately in love with Zara, an illiterate Gypsy temptress who dreams of clerking in a shop and wants to marry Will. Although Willis's narrative style makes beginning the novel difficult, Will's story is ultimately an engagingly hilarious combination of zany characters and various misadventures. When the conclusion reveals Will's secret to be Down syndrome—masked by childhood plastic surgery—the reader better understands Will's simple, trusting nature and his surprise at discovering that Chrissy provides a sheltered living situation. Coarse language and explicit content make this novel suitable for older audiences. VOYA Codes 3Q 3P S (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined asgrades 10 to 12). 2004, Delacorte, 224p., and PLB Ages 15 to 18.
—Cynthia Winfield
Children's Literature
Eighteen-year-old Will is no longer happy living in his mother's home. His mother criticizes him for constantly wearing a knit hat. Her boyfriend, Ray, nags him for playing "Wild Thing"—the only song he knows—over and over on his cherished guitar. Fed up, he decides to move out. He finds a spot in a shared house with three roommates. Rocko is a temperamental artist who has his own lucky hat; he and Will immediately connect. James is oversexed and girl-crazy; he and Will end up working together at the park. Chrissy is the owner of the house; she ends up being a sort of sister-advisor to Will. Life seems to be looking up for Will. He enjoys his new home, he likes his new job, and he's just met a great girl: sixteen-year-old Zara, an Irish gypsy. However, when his mother finds out about this relationship and threatens to expose Will's long-held secret, he just might lose everything he holds most dear. Some readers may be troubled with the speed of Will and Zara's relationship; Will believes he is "in love" with Zara before they even have a date, and he drinks himself blind out of misery when she misses their first date. Later, the young people talk of eloping, but they can't even admit to their closest friends that their "engagement party" is just that. In short, their fantasy of a brilliant home and future seems far from grounded. The story does raise interesting themes of prejudice and identity, but it may not be suitable for all teens. 2003, Delacorte, Ages 15 to 18.
—Heidi Hauser Green
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Will Avery, 18, has had it with life in the English suburbs with his mother and her boyfriend, so he takes a room in a house with three roommates. Rocko, a painter, is sweetly, childishly innocent, yet prone to fits of rage. James is loud, oversexed, and lives to inflame Rocko. Chrissy owns the house and takes casual, sisterly care of them all. Will falls in love with Zara, an Irish Gypsy who insists that he keep her background a secret from his mother. Unfortunately, that's not even the half of his mom's hang-ups-she freaks out when she finds out Will has sex at all, let alone with a dirty, thieving Gypsy. She forbids their relationship and threatens to divulge Will's own terrible secret to break them up. The first-person narration moves slowly, accentuated by Will's somewhat simplistic telling. The author overwrites her protagonist's wide-eyed wonder at adult life-he falls in love with Zara before they even have a date. Willis has a great ear for the snappy colloquialisms of Irish/English speech, and the story gains pace and humor when she lets the characters talk, especially Zara and her cantankerous parents. Despite believable dialogue, the major characters, especially Will, are one-dimensionally quaint-Zara is sprightly, the Gypsys are scrappy, Rocko's a nutcase, and Will watches, innocent. His deliberate telling makes more sense when his secret is revealed, but this comes too late in the narrative to captivate readers.-Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Will Avery, who's slow, deliberate, and unusually kind to both people and animals, narrates his love story in an unsophisticated voice. At 19, he values his first chance to live away from home and hold down a job, even one cleaning up at a park. When he meets the volatile Zara, who describes herself as part Gypsy and part Irish, they fall in love and soon become close, sexually and emotionally. But Will and his mother have a secret that threatens to undermine his relationship with Zara. The secret, which comes out near the end, prompts readers to see the narrative up to that point in a new light. The revelation, only one of several plot elements that deal with prejudice, emphasizes how labels diminish everyone involved. With strong secondary characters and an original final twist, this British story, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread prize, moves slowly at times but ultimately rewards the reader in full measure. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385731669
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 5/11/2004
  • Pages: 224
  • Age range: 13 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 7.88 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Read an Excerpt

chapter one

I left home mostly because I don't like Ray. I called him a liar and a riot pig. I didn't mind him being in the police so much, but he worked nights, you know? He slept in the day so I couldn't play my guitar. I could play it anytime before he came along. Anytime, day or night. All afternoon if I felt like it and sometimes I did. It kept me from thinking.

Now I couldn't play when I wanted and I wished to hell Ray wasn't my mother's lover. I told her that, but she didn't want to hear it one little bit. She just couldn't take it. She said she wanted us to be a happy family--Ray likes you, Will. He really does. No, really. How dare I call him a pig and a liar? She just stood there waiting for me to say sorry.

I apologized for saying pig, but either he was lying or she was. I hoped it was him because say it wasn't? If my own mother was lying to me, how could I ever trust anybody? She always said I played a mean guitar. Those were her exact words. I took it to mean she thought I was good. I wanted to believe that but maybe it was just another lie.

I taught myself mostly when we were living in Denver. I had an acoustic given to me by a Spanish guy, name of Pablo. A real old guy he was--skin so black and flaky he looked like he been smoked. He used to work the bars, and one time he saw me sitting lazy on a low wall and he sat down right next to me and asked what I was thinking. "What you thinking, boy?" and I told him I'm tired of thinking.

"Don't think. Just listen," he said, and he shut his eyes like he was sleeping and played his guitar until my head filled with birds rising and the wind blowing the corn and I thought I would burst with the beauty of it. After, hetook his guitar and put it in my lap. It fitted just right, like I was born with it there. I held it in my arms. Touched it. Stroked it. It felt like a living thing and I didn't want to put it down.

"You have her," Pablo said. He had a deep laugh mixed with a cough. "Have my old lady. She's tired of old men's fingers."

And that's how I got to keep his guitar. He came by on and off and showed me tricks. All different sorts of music--classical and rock. No one ever knew he came around except me.

The wall where we played was out of the way. I used to wait for him there on warm evenings. He wouldn't turn up if it was too cold for shirtsleeves. He told me that. He told me a lot of stuff. I don't know how, because he never spoke much. He didn't seem to need many words.

One day he just stopped coming. I don't know why. Died of drink maybe. Fell off a wall maybe. I missed him pretty bad, but the way to stop missing him was to play his old guitar. I played and played until I got it to sound just like him and as long as I kept playing, it felt like he'd never gone.

One afternoon my mother came in from working on some campaign and caught me sitting on the swing seat in the yard. Rumpuss was under the swing chair licking his belly fur in the shade and I was playing "Wild Thing." I played it straight off--no fluffs. It sounded good but I never knew she was listening until I heard clapping. I turned round and there she was. Well, my mother couldn't believe what she'd heard and she said I played a mean guitar. Afterward she was always wanting me to play for people.

I played for Ray. The first time he heard "Wild Thing" he said how good it was. He said it sounded just like the real thing but by the end of the week he'd gone off it big time. He shouted at me down the stairs--if I played that fucking song once more--just once more--he'd take my guitar and shove it up my ass.

I got to thinking he'd lied about me being any good from the start and that's what finally made me want to leave. My mother came to my room after all the shouting and said she didn't want me to go--I didn't have to go--I was her baby, but then she stopped crying and said maybe I'd be happier doing my own thing and she'd help me find a place--just as long as I promised not to tell anyone about my secret.

"What secret is that, Mother?"

I always said that--like I'd forgotten. It was the only way to make her shut up. I wish I could forget and carry on as normal, only every time she told me not to mention it, she reminded me all over again, which was stupid. I told her that while we were packing.

"Stupid? That's funny coming from you," she said. Why was I always picking on her after all she'd done for me? Why didn't I just leave her alone, for chrissake? She'd be glad when I was gone. I was happy to go. I'd had enough by then. I wanted her off my back.

"Don't worry, I'm going," I said. "I wish you'd died instead of Sweet Caroline."

"You know what, Will? So do I."

Even so, she gave me a lift in the car. I wasn't too sure which bus to catch. It was spitting outside and it was too far to walk. When I said goodbye, I told her there were raindrops on the inside of her glasses. She said yes, that's what they were and to ring if I needed anything. Then she said, "Look, I know you think I'm going on and on but please don't tell anyone. Not even friends. For your own sake? And do you have to wear that hat? Take it off."

I liked that hat. It was a part of me. I didn't see how my hat was any of her business. I was so glad to be leaving home, you know? I'd rather be in my own place doing things wrong than staying at home being told how to do them right.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2007

    Good enough for a few hundred reads...

    This book was amazing beyond one's imagination. The way he writes, you see yourself there on the carousel, you feel the happiness when Avery see's Zara. You'll find yourself yelling,crying,laughing,and swooning for all the witty remarks and intmate moments they share.

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