‘Stone Cold’, by Robert Swindells is an award winning children’s novel that tells the story of sixteen-year-old Link, who lives on the streets of London. In this essay, I will illustrate how Swindells effectively portrays the struggles and difficulties that face homeless people today.
After fleeing a violent family home, Link finds himself in London. For one week he rents a bed-sit while he searches for work but no where will take him on, and soon he finds himself sleeping rough. Link finds life on the streets very hard but it becomes more bearable when he finds a friend in Ginger. However, when Ginger goes missing Link and his new friend Gail don’t think much of it – People move on. More homeless people go missing and the two friends become anxious. They track down the killer – an ex-sergeant – and the police arrest him. Link finds out that Gail is a journalist and she leaves him with only a few bank notes.
The novel has two narrators and is told in the first person. Link and Shelter don’t meet until the end of the book, but their stories interweave throughout the whole novel. One thing that Swindells does well is to show the personalities and feelings of the characters – particularly Link and Shelter – very well. The author uses the metaphor:
“I was poised at the top of a downward spiral,”
to show how vulnerable Link feels and how he feels that the only way his life can go is down. It shows he is depressed and pessimistic and that he thinks there is no escape from the vicious circle that is homelessness. Link has no self-esteem anymore and feels invisible to passers by. This shows when he says:
“People passed by continuously but nobody glanced my way.
Nobody knew I was there.”
This is shown again when he says,
“No-body cares no-body gives a damn.”
Link can’t understand why people turn a blind eye to him. This is best illustrated when Link says,
“I asked myself how it was possible for a person to be sensitive to the beauty of fine art, and at the same time insensitive to the feelings of a fellow creature.”
This shows that Link is sensitive but feels strongly about how people should treat each other – and that they should help the homeless.
Swindells spent three days on the street prior to writing “Stone Cold”, so he has experienced first hand the struggles that face the homeless, and shows them through the novel. One problem is that they are vulnerable. On Link’s first night sleeping rough, a “streetwise tough” steals his spot.
“When I got back to my doorway somebody was there.
I didn’t see him ’til I kicked his foot. He leapt up. A six footer – as wide as the door.” Then he steals Link’s spot.
Later in the novel, Link talks about other things that could happen. Homeless people are likely to be alone, and could be targeted by anyone. Link says:
“You might be spotted by a gang of lager louts on the look-out for someone to maim. That happens all the time too, and if they get carried away you can end up dead.”
This demonstrates how homeless people are vulnerable in many ways, particularly by those who are looking for trouble, and who don’t see them as any value. Link says “you can end up dead”, as though it is nothing out of the ordinary – an acceptable thing to happen, as though homeless people are worthless.
Another problem is the cold. A homeless person will be outside most of the time so they could be wet, which would make them even colder. Link says:
“If you’ve ever tried to drop off to sleep with cold feet, even in bed, you’ll know it’s impossible.”
Because of the danger and the cold, Link finds it hard to fall asleep and this is shown when he is trying to get to sleep and says:
“Listen. Is he still there? Silence now. Creeping up perhaps. No. Relax. Jeez my feet are cold.”
The short sentences make this look like Link is very nervous and jittery. In this phrase, Swindells shows effectively how Link’s mind is racing from one thing to another, and not relaxing. “Creeping up perhaps,” shows that he is on edge, ready for the worst to happen. Another thing that stops him from sleeping is the cold, hard concrete and cramped doorways. He can’t get comfortable. He says:
“You won’t find it comfy, I can tell you. You won’t sleep unless you’re dead drunk or zonked on downers.”
Link says this in a matter of fact way- “You won’t find it comfy. You won’t sleep” – because there is no alternative. He thinks there is no way that you can sleep on a street and be comfortable. He also says “dead drunk or zonked on downers” as if it is acceptable to be so, or as if everyone does it. After a while on the streets, Link so becomes so tired that he can “hardly string a sentence together”.
The last main problem that people living on the streets face is hunger, and in stone cold I think Swindells shows best how hungry you can be when Link says:
“The cold seems to settle in your bones when there’s
nothing in your stomach. You can’t shift it.”
This shows that when you’re hungry, it makes the cold even worse and there’s no getting rid of it. Not eating properly also leads to you being underweight. Link says:
“You’re going to wake up with bruises on hips, shoulders, elbows, ankles and knees – especially if you’re a bit thin from not eating properly.”
So, hunger makes other problems worse. If you are hungry, you are colder and more uncomfortable, which makes it harder to sleep, which makes you more tired.
‘Stone cold’ is an evocative novel that makes the reader see homeless people in a different light. Robert Swindells effectively shows what homeless people go through every day, by showing the problems Link faces throughout the book, and how he suffers. This is what makes ‘Stone Cold’ a good book.