A Novel by Ben Dixon
Neil Peel’s Holiday (sequel to Ben Dixon’s 2020 novel The Heroic Truths of Neil Peel) narrates the real-life adventures of 12 years old Neil, who lives with his slightly dysfunctional but perfectly pleasant family in a small village called Lower Piercing.
“Honesty: my strength and my curse.” Teenage years can be challenging, but even more so if, like Neil, you always tell the truth. He just can’t help himself. Neil is a fundamentally shy, peculiar and curious boy trying to deal with growing up the best way he can. If only he could lie a little… the good thing is, people always know where they stand with him. In the words of Ben Dixon, “Neil lacks the elementary coordination needed to succeed” (both in PE and life); for this reason, he often finds himself in awkward situations (if not actual trouble) but always manages to wing it somehow.
The story takes place between Lower Piercing and Majorca, where Neil goes on holiday with his family and Steve’s, his best friend. The two have a completely different approach to how they want to enjoy their time there: while Neil is more interested in adventure than girls (he has a crush on a classmate and doesn’t see anybody else), Steve wants to meet a nice girl to practice “severe tongue interaction” (or STI). Neil eventually gives in and makes space in his holiday for Steve’s crush, the lovely Shamone Eehi from Egypt. This part of the story in particular is narrated with a touch of irony and extreme care, focusing on Neil’s feelings as he faces up to the fact that he does not have any relationship experience and recognises he may not be ready just yet.
Adding to these already challenging circumstances Neil had not planned for, his sister Lemony – with whom he has a true love-hate relationship – is also caught up in a spot of summer romance with waiter Stijve Tepels, who will eventually reveal his true colours, thanks to Neil’s relentless efforts to expose him for the shady character he is. This misadventure is a way to temporarily bond with his sister, as he tries to protect and vindicate her. Other unexpected and very funny holiday incidents include: unwelcome contact with topless ladies, a missing key at the bottom of the ocean, an unwanted visit to the Sugar Tots Club run by entertainment enthusiasts Ann Francisco e Felix Navidad, and a series of other embarrassing moments Neil could really have done without. The book ends with Neil returning to school and meeting a new archenemy, paving the way to Book Three.
There is only one way I can describe Neil Peel’s Holiday: clever, clever, clever. Hilarious at times and most certainly funny and witty, the story is well built from beginning to end, with no dull or slow moments. In addition to being an outstanding writer, Ben Dixon is very imaginative and successfully manages to create a very complex world around young Neil, made of awkward moments, mannerisms that make Neil unique and very real, as well as words (ever hear of “knickergred”?) and worlds that are a product of Neil’s fervid imagination.
Do not be fooled: Neil Peel’s Holiday is everything but a children’s book; it can be read by a younger audience of course – your children won’t be disappointed – but I strongly suggest you give it a go too, it won’t disappoint you either.
Ben Dixon’s books are available for purchase at: https://amzn.to/3St0TPG
About Ben Dixon
Ben Dixon is a father of four children, teacher of French and the author behind the hilarious world of Neil Peel. He grew up in Yorkshire, grew up a bit more in Leicestershire before moving to settle in Surrey. The Heroic Truths of Neil Peel was his first novel, published in 2020. Neil Peel’s Holiday was the sequel published in 2021. He lives in Guildford with his wife, Sarah, and children, Sophie, Isabelle, Max and Kiera (source: amazon.co.uk).