teenage


Reckless


Author: Cornelia Funke   

Publisher: Chicken House

ISBN: 9781905294855

Reviewed by: Mélanie McGilloway 

 

Jacob Reckless is still a child when he finds himself propelled into a fairytale world found on the other side of the mirror in his father’s study. Is this the way that his father also disappeared all these years ago, leaving Jacob, his brother Will and their mother behind? Ever since he has found this strange, magical world, Jacob has lived on both sides of the mirror and has managed to keep it secret from the rest of his family. Until now, as his brother Will has just crossed the threshold and straightaway got himself struck by a Goyl. As a result, he is slowly turning to stone, a curse created by the Dark Fairy as a way to “mother” children for her Goyl King. Jacob is willing to do whatever it takes to halt the change, and his quest takes him and his companions across the fairytale world, meeting on the way some very familiar sights such as Hansel and Gretel’s Gingerbread House and Sleeping Beauty’s enchanted castle.

 

My only experience of reading Cornelia Funke’s work was Inkheart and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but nothing prepared me for the experience of reading Reckless. Funke has created an intricate, dark, dangerous and utterly fascinating fairytale world which is both new and yet  intertwined by tales that readers will all know and recognise. The author has also managed to mix and match the eras to create her unique world; for example, it includes many aspects of the Industrial Revolution, including dark steam-spitting trains which are the preferred mode of transport for the Goyl King, and planes (described in the book as metal dragons). It shouldn’t work amidst the traditional setting of a fairytale world, but it does, and that what makes this tale so unique.

 

Each chapter begins with a small illustration by Cornelia Funke herself. These really help set the dark atmosphere of the book.


Funke’s use of language is wonderful; a lot of descriptive language helps make many of the scenes particularly effective. This is to the credit to her translator, who worked alongside her to retain the feel of the story in its translation from German.

 

At the heart of this fairytale story though, is love. Brotherly love first and foremost, between Jacob and Will (also the first names of the Brothers Grimm, another tribute to traditional fairytales) but also love with a big L, unrequited or otherwise. This is particularly striking in the female characters who I thought were the real successes in this tale. All, whether it is the fairies, Clara or Fox, are independent and driven, but yet all are softened and deeply affected by love and longing. Fox, above all, is my favourite character. Her longing for Jacob, his absolute inability to see it, and the struggle between her two “skins”, make her a beautifully vulnerable character.

 

I don’t think Reckless is a particularly easy book to read. It is very dark at times, and requires stamina to fully enjoy the experience. Therefore it is most definitely a teen book and might not be suited to a younger audience. But it is a superbly crafted book from a master storyteller. I very much look forward to the second part of this trilogy.

 


Ronnie's War


Author: Bernard Ashley       

Publisher: Frances Lincoln

ISBN: 9781847800541
Reviewed by: Laura Taylor

 

To mark the 70th anniversary on the Blitz, Bernard Ashley tells the story of Ronnie Warren, an 11 year old boy living with his mother while his father is away fighting in WW11. Ronnie’s War is told in four parts, and traces his personal journey from the Blitz to Victory Day, and from childhood to adulthood.

 

This story is at once dramatic, gripping, amusing and poignant, as Ashley contrasts Ronnie’s own private experiences against the global issues of the war. It is often these more quiet, understated moments that are the most moving, as Ronnie tries to live a normal teenage life in a time where war is affecting everything around him.

 

Written in a simple style, and with just the right amounts of sentiment and historical detail, this makes a wonderful book for young readers as well as older children.

 


Deep Secret


Author: Berlie Doherty      

Publisher: Andersen

ISBN: 9781849392358
Reviewed by: Linda Newbery

Having admired this outstanding novel on its first publication in 2003, I’m pleased to see it reissued by Andersen in paperback original, and to have the chance to review it for a second time. Berlie Doherty has based her story on the building of Ladybower reservoir in the Peak District, which entailed the evacuation and flooding of two villages. Her novel focuses on the fictional village of Birchen, and the effect on residents of facing separation from their homes and the land their families have farmed for centuries.

 

The Second World War is not long past, and the village has already suffered losses. Even before the news of the forced evacuation, a new tragedy shocks the community: one of a pair of identical twins, Grace, slips and drowns while crossing the stream. Her sister Madeleine, from whom she has been inseparable since birth, is deeply traumatised by this loss of her sister and of a crucial part of her own identity. She tells her parents that it’s Madeleine who is dead, taking the name Grace for herself; only the blind carpenter, Seth, undistracted by appearances, can reliably tell the sisters apart, and knows which sister died. Now even Grace’s grave, which gives such solace to the twins’ mother, must be left behind, and the stream itself submerged.

 

Doherty’s writing is rich in detail of rural life, vividly evoking the landscape, the seasons, and the traditions of this threatened community. She moves without contrivance through several perspectives, among them Ben the newly-married pig farmer, who will be purposeless without his farm; the twins’ great-aunt Susan, harbouring a long-ago grief; would-be writer Louise, and the friendship which grows between vicar’s son Colin and “navvy” Oliver in spite of their romantic rivalry over Madeleine. One of the novel’s many strengths is the deft drawing of even the most minor characters, so the interplay of resentments, ambitions and fears has the intensity of lived experience. As the reservoir plan moves inexorably on, some of Birchen’s residents welcome the move to a new estate of bungalows, easy rail travel and opportunities for employment, while others can only grieve for what will be lost.

 

Deep Secret is poignant, thoroughly absorbing and wonderfully written, and must rank as one of Berlie Doherty’s finest achievements. I hope this reprint will give pleasure to a new swathe of readers.

 


The Poisoned House


Author: Michael Ford     

Publisher: Bloomsbury

ISBN: 9780408804506
Reviewed by: Linda Newbery

Set in 1855, at the time of the Crimean War, The Poisoned House includes several ingredients typical of the Victorian Gothic novel: a grand house, servants and their masters, a séance, a Will that defeats expectations, and supernatural goings-on. The plot gets off to a promising start, with maidservant Abi, aged fourteen, convinced that her late mother, employed in the same house, died from unnatural causes. After trying to run away, Abi changes her plan in favour of staying at Greave Hall to uncover the truth. Chief suspect is the formidable housekeeper, Mrs Cotton, sister of the late mistress of the house, who increasingly takes advantage of her elderly brother-in-law’s illness and confusion. Abi finds possible allies in two of her colleagues, and later in Samuel, the soldier son of Lord Greave, who returns from the Crimea to face the agony of a leg amputation.

 

There’s plenty of convincing detail of domestic life, and Michael Ford uses a brisk, simple register for Abi’s first-person narrative, a style which encourages page-turning.  However, modern phrases such as “friends round for dinner”, “Is that a yes?”, “He’d be there for me, just as I’d always been there for him,” and even the bluntly direct “I’m pregnant”, are jarring in this mid-Victorian context. And although the supernatural manifestations – handprints on windows, a ransacked nursery – add mystery, Abi herself is never much more than discomfited by them, so the chills are short-lived. There is a big enough twist to surprise and satisfy most readers, but the ending is rushed, leaving little time for reflection on Abi’s abrupt change of fortune. The Poisoned House will doubtless find appreciative teenage readers, but its effect depends on plot rather than on subtleties of language, characterisation or atmosphere.



The Thief-Taker's Apprentice


Author: Stephen Deas       

Publisher: Gollancz (Orion Books)

ISBN: 9780575094475
Reviewed by: Linda Lawler

Berren is a thief, one of a gang directed by a Fagin-like master. His life is harsh, but he enjoys a certain degree of freedom as he roams both the filthy alleys and the broad highways of Deephaven. All this changes the day he tries to steal a purse from a thief-taker: instead of punishment, Syannis takes him as an apprentice.

 

Much of this book, the first in a series, is taken up with Berren's development from a half-wild creature to a personable young man. His horror at Syannis' refusal to teach him swordsmanship until he learns to read and write is both comic and convincing, and his dreams of becoming an accomplished fighter contrast well with the terrible reality of having to kill a man.

 

The other major character in the book is the thief-taker himself: we learn that he is a prince, ousted from his small kingdom years before, but a good deal of mystery still surrounds him. In many Young Adult books the inner life of the young hero, is the only real viewpoint, but here we see much of Syannis' thoughts and experiences too, offering a richer take on the new world created in this series.

 

This is definitely a bloodthirsty book: there are several fights to the death, and while the pace at times is quite gentle, especially while Berren is getting used to his new home, fans of swordplay and pursuits through stinking hovels and murky streets will be well satisfied. Deephaven itself is richly described: its many temples, its taverns and its slums all come to life on the page as Syannis educates his apprentice, giving a vivid background to their adventures. The book does give the impression at times of setting up situations and mysteries so they can be explored in later books, including the identity and fate of Berren himself, but it does not suffer too much by that because the battle to find and stop a group of thieves, which is the main action of this book, is clearly resolved.



The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight


Author: Jenny Valentine      

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 9780007283613
Reviewed by: Francesca Del Mese

In a marketplace that is crowded with supernatural / spy / ghoulish detective books for boys, it’s refreshing to read a thriller without a hint of a skull or demon in sight. Bucking against market trends, The Life of Cassiel Roadnight is a refreshing antidote to the abundance of teenage fantasy writing being published at the moment. Where many books rely conveniently on magic realism to resolve tricky plot-lines, writer Jenny Valentine does no such thing; she has written a gritty narrative that carries her readers through the book using a well-thought and realistic plot set in contemporary England.

 

The story tells of a runaway boy who assumes the identity of another missing boy who looks identical to him. In a snap decision, the protagonist decides to assume the identity of Cassiel to escape life on the streets, but unknowingly walks into a family fraught with dark secrets of its own. When the new ‘Cassiel’ discovers the disturbing secret in his adopted family, he faces his own choice: should he uncover the secret and disclose his fake identity thus running the risk of losing his new home, or keep the secret hidden and live in fear for his life?

 

The pace of the first half of the book is a little slow, with long sections of narrative devoted to how the protagonist feels about cheating his new family. This could have been improved by either explaining the main character’s own history earlier in the book, or by including some bigger hooks to pull the reader through into the second half, which quickly builds up pace and becomes much more gripping as ‘Cassiel’s’ new family’s secret unfolds. Once the pace builds up, however, the story becomes more compelling, and although there are times when the narrator’s voice doesn’t seem authentic or street-wise enough to be that of a runaway teenage boy, the reader is willing to accept the literary nature of the storytelling to find out how the story ends. An original concept, the book is based on an interesting premise that makes the reader fear ‘this could actually happen.’




Boy vs Girl


Author: Na'ima B Robert       

Publisher: Frances Lincoln

ISBN: 9781847800053
Reviewed by: Liz Bankes
 

Boy vs. Girl is the story of 16-year-old twins Farhana and Faraz. As Ramadan approaches, the twins are faced with challenges that will force them to question what it really means to be a Muslim and a teenager. Farhana is thinking of wearing the hijab, but is worried what her school friends, and her mother, will have to say about it. Faraz wants to get involved with an urban Islam art movement and explore his faith, but this would mean leaving Skrooz and his gang, and Skrooz isn’t going to make that easy.

 

Judgement is a key theme, and the author questions many received opinions that people might have about Islam. It is refreshing to see these issues, such as the wearing of the hijab, explored from many different angles – Farhana’s mother, for example, is unhappy about her decision, not because she thinks, as the teacher does, that the hijab is a symbol of the oppression of women, but because she doesn’t want the family to appear too ‘extreme’ or to alienate themselves from their neighbours. Robert leaves questions like this open-ended – it is up to the reader to draw their own conclusions.

 

The tension that drives the book is Faraz’s dilemma; you feel the real possibility of him being drawn into a gang and putting himself in danger. The pressure put on him to keep the respect of the gang members, when he really wants to be able to concentrate on art and explore his faith, makes him a very sympathetic character. I found at times that he was easier to relate to than Farhana, who is beautiful, intelligent and popular – and so a bit harder to like! I can see that this positive portrayal is important – a religious character is rarely cast as the popular and beautiful heroine of a book – but I do find, as Jacqueline Wilson continually demonstrates, that less perfect, more awkward heroines are often more likeable.

 

This book gives an interesting insight into a culture that some readers might be quite unfamiliar with. It does have a bit of an ‘educational’ feel, however, and the story takes a while to get going amid the explanation of different customs in Ramadan. After this, the coming-of-age story becomes the focus and the book is much more compelling. And you probably won’t see the ending coming…



The Map of Marvels


Author: David Calcutt      

Publisher: Oxford

ISBN: 9780192729675
Reviewed by: Gwen Grant

The Map of Marvels is a swashbuckling story of adventure and excitement as Connor sets off a terrifying series of events when an old map he is tracing drags him into its own fantastical world. His sister, Alice, who is making up a complicated story of her own, through a voice only she can hear, is unknowingly responsible for some of Connor’s most scary experiences.

 

Through the grim magic of the map, Connor finds himself on board a pirate ship that belongs to Sindbad. Also on board is Sherazhad, a fierce girl who insists she is Sindbad’s daughter. During a storm, Connor saves Sindbad’s life and so, even though Sherazhad is unnervingly keen to kill him, the three are united. There is a giant whale, a painted ocean, sea serpents, a most threatening cave under the sea, a destroyed city, not just any city but the fabled city of Ophir, djinns, a desert with sand demons and much more.  

 

There is Trismagistus, too, a dangerous, prophetic figure who has a large part to play in Connor’s desperate attempts to find his way back home.

 

Running through the book is a wonderful exploration of stories and how they operate in the world of our minds and in the historical world of the story itself. Do stories have a life of their own that demands we listen to them? Alice would certainly say so but every child will have to make up his or her own mind. 

 

Central to the story is the Tower of Truth, a tower that has a role both in the adventures and in the very existence of stories. It is just as the Tower of Truth is reached, for example, that Sindbad is snatched by a giant bird and carried away, as he has to be if the integrity of his story is to be maintained. All the same, I did worry about Sindbad and was glad to be finally reassured about him. The end place for the mysterious Sherazhad was also totally satisfying. 

 

Thrilling and thought provoking.



Dancing in the Dark


Author: Peter Prendergast       

Publisher: O'Brien Press

ISBN: 9781847171856
Reviewed by: Lauren Holmes
 

This touching story revolves around Jessie – a teenager coming to terms with isolation and loss in so many ways. From the loss of her brother who has died in a tragic cycling accident; to the loss of her parents who are wrapped up in grief; by way of the loss of her friends who have pushed her out of their group. Even Terpsichore has abandoned her and she is struggling to keep up with the other girls in her dance team, relegated to yet more isolation on the subs’ bench.

 

Despite her troubles, Jessie is a remarkably stoic protagonist and faces each day with bravery, helped in part by her brother who visits her in ghostly form. They continue their relationship where they left off, bickering and sparring much as teenage siblings are wont to do, but the sports-mad James has developed a more philosophical leaning since his death, and is now able to dole out sage advice to his younger sister. With his help, and that of geeky new boy at school, Alan, Jessie is given the boost she needs to triumph at the crucial moment.

 

If the supernatural aspect of the novel sounds implausible, then it certainly does not strike the reader as such. Peter Prendergast writes with assurance and a pace which swiftly encourages the suspension of disbelief. This is a plot-driven novel which touches on many of the difficulties of teenage life with authenticity, which will endear it to the young teenage reader. By turns poignant, funny and touching, this is an enjoyable novel and I hope, will not be the last from a new author who displays a talent for tapping into the teenage psyche.



Edge of Nowhere


Author: John Smelcer      

Publisher: Andersen

ISBN: 9781849391962
Reviewed by: Katherine Langrish

Since his mother’s death, sixteen-year-old Seth has had problems relating to his taciturn father, the skipper of an Alaskan trawler. Then one stormy night Seth and his dog Tucker are washed overboard. An air/sea search fails to find them and they are assumed drowned. But the pair have washed up on one of the many small islands dotting the coast, and begin an epic journey home.

 

As in most castaway stories, the narrative is concerned not only with survival but with transformation. From an overweight, inarticulate, average American kid, Seth gradually becomes a self-reliant, tougher, much more reflective person as, over months of hardship, he makes his way from island to island, living off raw shellfish and berries, and drawing upon the almost-forgotten traditions of his Ahtna Athabaskan Indian grandmother for spiritual as well as practical help. And meanwhile Seth’s desperate father refuses to give up hope.  

 

This is a classic adventure story of survival against the odds, in the tradition of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet and Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins. And it doesn’t fare badly from the comparison. Though occasionally ever so slightly didactic, it’s hard to resent the lessons drawn.  Unable to make fire, Seth has to survive on raw food. This throws into illuminating and shocking relief a moment when he discovers oil from the Exxon Valdez disaster still soaking through the shingle of a deserted islet. Smelcer’s understated, quiet writing style never calls attention to itself, acting as a clear window on the immensity of the Alaskan wilderness and the challenges that face the boy and his dog.



Screw Loose


Author: Chris Wheat      

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781741754957
Reviewed by: Catherine Johnson

This book does its best to look crazily interesting, but the back cover, I think, is better than the front. There’s no blurb, and it would take more than a paragraph to sum this book up. I did laugh out loud, often - this book is extremely silly in a most satisfying way.

It’s set among a group of Australian Year 11 students. One’s been signed to an Australian Rules football team; Chelsea, who’s been kicked out of her elite girls' school, takes advice from her Barbies; another’s been brought up by dingoes and is a manga superstar. Then there’s the OCD Muslim girl who’s the school beauty; Josh, who is desperate for a boyfriend and gets outed as gay in front of the whole school by the headmaster; Khiem, who’s trying his best to go straight (not like that) and Georgia, also gay, who wants to be a carpenter but doesn’t want to live with her new-found parents, who just happen to be Indian royalty. Oh and I forgot Craig, Craig who’s in love with Matilda the dingo girl and whose dad is moving in with Chelsea’s Mum.

It is utterly nuts and unbelievable, but the story carries you along  and you laugh and cringe the crazier everything gets.

There’s a lot of cross-dressing and crossed wires, but it’s so alive and fizzing with energy, warmth and good humour that you can forgive the outrageous plot and enjoy the ride.


Scat


Author: Carl Hiaasen       

Publisher: Orion

ISBN: 9781444000597
Reviewed by: Rhiannon Lassiter

Although Carl Hiaasen has been writing since the 1980s, it's only in the last decade he's made a successful leap into young adult fiction with Hoot (2002) and Flush (2005). Hoot won the Newbery Honor Award and was made into a film.

Although I've been aware of Hiaasen's name and noted the striking covers of his YA titles, Scat is the first book of his I've read. Each book is a standalone work, although Scat has the same general theme of environmental activism as the first two.

Scat is an adventure novel set in the swamps of Florida. It has all the ingredients for an exciting plot: a missing teacher, suspected arson attacks, panther sightings in the swamps, an evil oil company and a mysterious masked (or rather, hatted) avenger. Our hero, Nick Waters, will become a key figure as the true stories behind these events are unravelled.

The story starts strong with the introduction of Mrs Starch, the "most feared teacher at the Truman School". She terrorises students and teachers alike and rules her classroom with an iron fist. She doesn't even fear Duane Scrod a.k.a Smoke, the meanest kid in the class. She orders him to write an essay on his own spots. He eats her pencil. The class is in awe, wondering what will come of this showdown. Then Mrs Starch disappears on the class field trip to the swamps during a forest fire and people start to wonder if Smoke, with his history of arson attempts, is responsible for the fire and the teacher's disappearance.

We see the plot develop primarily through the eyes of Nick – but with inserts from the point of view of the head teacher, police and oil company employees. I felt this was a weakness in the story. I'd rather have remained with Nick and experience the adventure entirely though his eyes than jump ahead of his knowledge by finding out what the evil oil company was up to. It removed some of the mystery for me. Nick is an intriguing character with a complex personality that could be explored more, but as the plot develops it loses focus on Nick, expanding to include the developing cast of characters.

Most of the characters are adults; the only young adults are Nick, his friend Marta and Smoke. This created some confusing moments for me. While the oil company employees are unquestionably corrupt, some of the characters who are on Nick's 'side' commit violent acts, which are often described humorously. Mrs Starch's replacement is a buffoon who is menacingly threatened by the mysterious masked avenger. This left me in some confusion about what I'm supposed to feel. Nick and Marta are forced into a car and kidnapped – but the experience is oddly calm. Smoke's dad attacks a stranger with a visitor to his house with a set of pliers and although the act itself is violent and chaotic – again the reaction of the victim is strangely calm and calculated. There were times I felt Nick was in more danger from his allies than his antagonists, but Hiaasen doesn't explore this.

The environmental side of the plot was disappointing. We don't learn very much about the Florida swamps or their wildlife, despite the importance of the wildlife of this area to a number of characters. I perhaps expected a lot from Hiaasen since I know environmental themes are the core of his plots. But his depiction of the actions of a panther separated from her young seemed more sentimental than scientific.

Ultimately the plot winds to a dramatic and successful conclusion. The good are rewarded, the bad punished (although I'm a little confused as to how the plier-wielding maniac ended up on the side of the angels.) There are some adroit twists which are emotional appropriate for the character development: the breaking of an arm, the re-grading of the essay about spots, some final announcements from the head teacher.

Overall this is a good workable young adult novel. I can't praise it to the heights as other reviews have done but there's a lot to like in it and I doubt my quibbles will concern the majority of young readers.    


Pink


Author: Lili Wilkinson       

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781741758344
Reviewed by: Laura Brill

Ava Simpson is a lesbian teenager, the only daughter of academic, progressive parents, who seem to prefer spending their time with Ava’s existentialist girlfriend, Chloe. Wishing to be in an environment where her passion for studying does not make her stand out, Ava moves to Billy Hughes School for Academic Excellence.

To facilitate her settling in the new school she hides her relationship and her inclination, ditches the more austere clothing that Chloe prefers and adopts the fashion of the majority of the girl students, nicknamed Pastels. Study is hard initially, but although Ava seems to have found her academic milieu, other things in her life do not seem to fall in place as easily.

She is torn between her loyalty to Chloe and the fear of losing her new friends, who in the meantime are trying to set her up with the school heartthrob. Ava’s failure at being cast in the school musical only increases her sense of otherness. Her uneasiness at having to lie to Chloe and to the Pastels is coupled with the constant feeling of being an all round outsider.

Having joined the stage crew, Ava gets to know a different group of  students. Sam and his friends may be unaware of fashion and not all of them are academically excellent, but Ava soon finds out that she enjoys their company and cares for their friendship. But then it is when all untold truths come to haunt her and as everybody abandons her, Ava finds out who she really is and how to relate to others.

The desire to fit in and the wish to find out where she belongs are the forces that move Ava through the story. In fairness, she seems to have more issues than the average teenager, and even if sometimes this seems to complicate the story more than what is necessary to convey the message, it provides some cringingly comic moments. Teenage girls will find this book funny and it will ring true in many occasions.

It is good of the author not to have pandered to a happy ending, but to convey how difficult it can be managing relationships to everybody’s expectations and satisfaction, and how being true to oneself does signify having to make painful choices and accept their consequences.

Lili Wilkinson is a young Australian author who appears to be in tune with her target readership and who comes from a rather creative family, her mother being Carole Wilkinson, author of the Dragonkeeper series.


The Young Chieftain


Author: Ken Howard       

Publisher: Tamarind

ISBN: 9781848530331
Reviewed by: Gill James

Jamie’s dad is killed suddenly in a road traffic accident and as he was the chieftain of the old MacDoran clan his body has to be flown to Scotland to be buried there. The clan is now without a leader. Jamie finds life in Scotland strange at first. He is not initially made very welcome as the islanders find his American ways and accent strange and are rather astounded that his mother is black. Nevertheless, something about the place makes him want to stay. Before long he is involved with the affairs of the clan, and some very strange and quite troubling things begin to happen to him. He remains undaunted, and soon learns of the power of the MacDorans.         

Jamie is quite a likeable character. Some of the clan members, however, are a little too largely drawn, and perhaps not too believable. Hard-hearted grandmother Eleanor softens somewhat too easily. The attempts at portraying the local dialect sometimes don’t quite come off and the characters then become comical which I do not believe was the intention.   

Nevertheless the pace is fast throughout, with page-turning moments and cliff-hangers. It makes a good teen read. We are on Jamie’s side from the beginning of the story until the end and the ending is certainly satisfying and believable.       


Paper Wings


Author: Linda Sargent       

Publisher: Omnes Publishing

ISBN: 9780956483300
Reviewed by: Dennis Hamley

The Second World War is still fresh in the memory. The Kentish woodland in high summer is a wonderful place. Nature seems very close here: everything is heightened, sharp, beautiful. To Ruby and Peter it is a place of magic, excitement, to which they can escape and live their lives of imagination: adventures in a magical, unspoilt world of beauty. Two symbols pervade the book: a paper butterfly made by Ruby and a pair of swan’s wings (acquired, it must be admitted, in slightly ghoulish circumstances). Together, they seem to suggest flight and freedom, but the swan is dead, and the butterfly, though it has significance for Ruby, is only paper.

There is an invader in the woods. Ruby has an accident: a man named Gabriel appears. He has been hiding in the woods: it is where he can live in safety from a world he wants to escape. Guilt racks him; shattered idealism haunts him. Soon, Ruby and Peter are helping and shielding him.

But this meeting has unexpected consequences. Old grudges and resentments are stirred in the people round about. There is danger for Gabriel and therefore for Ruby and Peter. How these resentments are worked through to a satisfying conclusion is the mainspring of the novel.

Paper Wings is sensitively written in springy, resonant prose. Linda Sargent is expert in conveying atmosphere and states of mind. In Ruby, Peter and Gabriel she has created deep, complex characters. The novel’s construction is interesting. Instead of the usual chapter headings, she presents a series of clearly demarcated scenes. Thus the story does not seem to move like a conventional novel but almost as a sequence of connected dreams. The effect is cumulative and subtle. There is action in the story, especially towards the end, but much of it progresses though what is in the characters’ heads. Somehow, this construction suits perfectly the novel’s whole nature.

Young readers who want something different, something reflective and subtle, will find much to attract them in Paper Wings.


I am Number Four


Author: Pittacus Lore    

Publisher: Razorbill

ISBN: 9780141332475
Reviewed by: Celia Rees

The conceit here is that the author is ‘a Lorien Elder who was entrusted with the study of the Lorien Nine’. That would account for the prose style, then.  The novel is the story of eponymous Number Four. He is from a planet far, far away, one of nine survivors (the Garde) brought to Earth after their home is destroyed by the evil Mogadore. He is here with his Cepan (Guardian) who will look after him until he develops his Legacies which take the form of super powers. The Magodorians have followed, bent on the Garde’s destruction (and ultimately world domination) but the Garde can only be killed in order. Three have been disposed of already. Our boy is Number Four.

He is disguised as a teenager attending High School in the kind of remote small American town where vampires and werewolves appear in the Year Books. He is cute, but the girl he meets is way cuter. The attraction is mutual but her ex-boyfriend, the football star, is a jealous bully with a mean disposition. Our guy’s only friend is a geek with an interest in the extraterrestrial. Oh, and his dog. All boys in sci-fi/fantasy have to have a dog. The dog might or might not be disreputable but he is definitely more than he seems.

So, High School romance meets fantasy/science fiction with superpowers, magical stones/boxes/amulets/dogs all there in the mix. The book raises far more questions than it answers: Why do the inhabitants of a planet light years away carry briefcases and wear glasses? Why are their names for things spookily like our own? How are six people (at best) going to re-populate an entire planet? Why are the only lessons Astronomy and Home etc? 

I was pondering these questions, concerned for the future of science fiction and fantasy writing, when it came to me: This is fiction, Jim. But not as we know it. Not so much a novel, more a 3D film/comic book/video game novelisation. And I’m sure it will do very well. After all, it is soon to be a major motion picture – it says so on the cover. 


Angel


Author: L A Weatherly       

Publisher: Usborne

ISBN: 9781409521969
Reviewed by: Bridget Carrington

Weatherly envisages a world threatened by malevolent angels, who draw their own life force from the humans they target, leaving them drained and ill. The first book in a projected trilogy introduces us to Willow, part human, part angel, whose mother has been irreparably mentally damaged by her relationship with Willow’s father, an angel. Pursued by agents of the Church of Angels who are determined to kill her, Willow flees after meeting Alex, a teenage ex-CIA hitman, whose mother and brother died as a result of ‘angel-burn’, and who now pursues the angels who are taking over the US. Willow and Alex discover their love for each other (implausibly chaste and at some length) and the final page finds them unsuccessful in their first attempt, but preparing to continue their mission to exterminate the angelic force.

Weatherly examines serious topics in this novel, including brainwashing and indoctrination, loyalty, family relationships and love. However we rarely feel that there is true depth of thought, and overall we are left with a feeling of superficiality. The angels are truly malevolent, but in a glitzy, filmic sense which portrays them more as pseudo-vampires than as the product of a serious attempt to question the nature of good and evil. There is no attempt to unpick the process of indoctrination, and little attention given to the internal conflict which Willow, as a hybrid being, might feel. Alex is a teenage Bond, whose disrupted childhood is catalogued but insufficiently woven into any depth of characterization. 

As a long (500+page) teenage romance/fantasy/spy/horror novel Angel offers readers a satisfying enough experience, but it never reaches the parts others can’t. As yet, this trilogy poses no threat to His Dark Materials, but it will undoubtedly achieve a devoted readership more likely to progress to Mills and Boon.


My Name is Mina


Author: David Almond       

Publisher: Hodder

ISBN: 9780340997253
Reviewed by: Morag Charlwood

Luminous and life-affirming, My Name is Mina, David Almond’s prequel to Skellig, stands above easy critical description. But that is immaterial. Do read it as soon as you can lay your hands on a copy.

Open the book and follow the meanderings of Mina’s bright, enquiring mind as she strives painfully but creatively towards greater self-knowledge and self-confidence. It is entirely significant that the title of the book and the last line of her journal have brought her to the point where she can begin to assert with assurance: My name is Mina.

The story-telling format used by Almond is intriguing. He gives us a journal containing scraps of thoughts, odd words, poems, songs and legends, presented in different typographical formats, presumably  devised to mimic the variety of Mina’s writing forms in a quasi-realistic way. It certainly worked for me. I particularly like the use of blank space. I too have always liked time to mull creatively. The text is a joyous hymn to the story-telling art.

But wait. In the centre of the web sits the old story-telling spider, weaving tightly together the threads of a narrative of coming to terms with loss of a father and the need for social interaction with school mates and neighbours. How this is poetically elaborated in a unique melange of forms makes for a marvel of magic realism. Bird symbolism plays a huge part in analogising Mina’s states of mind, her desire to take creative flight, to soar and explore great heights of ideas: explorations in which the reader becomes lyrically and intellectually complicit. It will make you think big and little thoughts. What is belief? Why do we go to school? Are we made of the same stuff as the stars?

Prequels can delight or disappoint. My view is that this is all delight. By the end of My Name is Mina we are back at the beginning of Skellig, but with the bonus of a new perspective on events to come. And that, for the reader in the know, is very gratifying.


The Dead of Winter


Author: Chris Priestley     

Publisher: Bloomsbury

ISBN: 9781408800133
Reviewed by: Louise Stothard

This haunting tale is written in a gothic style of intrigue and mystery and all the ingredients are there – an orphaned young hero, a dark and rambling mansion in the middle of lonely fen lands and his remote and sad Guardian, Sir Stephen.

Young Michael Vyner arrives to spend Christmas with his newly-discovered Guardian. As soon as he enters Hawton Mere he is conscious of a strange atmosphere and mysterious noises, and is disturbed by the atmosphere of the house. Who was the woman in a white shift, seen from the carriage as they travelled through the misty fens? What is haunting Sir Stephen and his sister?

Events in the house take a turn for the worse when Michael sees a strange boy and a frightening creature in the depths of the Mirror in the Hall, and hears knocking noises coming from the blocked-up Priest’s hole. He sees the forlorn woman again and realises to his horror that she is his Guardian’s dead wife.

When Michael discovers that Sir Stephen also hears the strange noises his relief is short-lived as he realises that there is an evil force in the house. Michael’s own life is threatened and events come to a dramatic and frightening climax, in which he realises that the horrors of Hawton Mere may never be fully resolved.

This is a truly dramatic mystery and the atmospheric language and descriptions add to the tension and intrigue. Chris Priestley keeps the reader fascinated to the end.


Revolution


Author: Jennifer Donnelly       

Publisher: Bloomsbury

ISBN: 9781408801529
Reviewed by: Charlie Butler

Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution is an ambitious book that interweaves the lives of two teenage girls: Andi, an American teenager from our own time, and Alex, from the Paris of the French Revolution and its aftermath. The book’s success lies in its evocation of their two contrasting yet oddly parallel worlds and lives.

In New York City, Andi Alpers lives a life of immense privilege. She is smart, rich and talented: her French mother is an artist, her American father a Nobel-Prize-winning scientist. Yet all their lives have been blighted by the murder of Andi’s younger brother, Truman, just ten years old at the time of his death. Her mother is sufficiently disturbed to need institutionalization, while Andi (who blames herself for the death) has lost all interest in schoolwork and lives a borderline-suicidal, pill-fuelled existence. Her father, anxious to give her a change of scene, takes her to Paris, where he has been engaged to carry out a DNA test on a heart reputed to have been that of Louis XVI’s son – who also died at ten years old. While there, Andi stumbles across a diary written in the 1790s by the earlier girl, Alex.

Alex’s diary tells of her life as a member of a family of street puppeteers, and of her (perhaps rather implausible) engagement by the Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as a companion/entertainer for their son Louis. Although Alex’s motives are at first mercenary, as the events of the Revolution unfold she becomes ever more determined to protect her young charge, and when Robespierre and his successors lock him in a dungeon she assumes the nom-de-guerre of the Green Man, setting off nightly firework displays in the night skies of revolutionary Paris in order to reassure the young captive that he has not been forgotten.

Donnelly is undoubtedly a powerful writer. Her twenty-first-century version of Paris, in which Andi falls in with a street rapper from the banlieues, is drawn with style and assurance. But it is the attempt to recreate the Paris of the Revolution and the Terror that represents the greater challenge and achievement. For one thing, there is a good deal of history to explain in telling a story against this complex backdrop, and here Donnelly pulls of a remarkable expository feat, conveying a huge amount of nuanced information through her young diarist’s perspective (eked out by Andi’s speculations and conversations) without turning her story into a history lesson. The material conditions of Paris at this time are also vividly portrayed, and the accounts of the Paris catacombs in both periods have a chilling, Dantesque horror.

I must add, though, that I was not convinced by the device of the eighteenth-century diary. Andi’s discovery of it (in a secret compartment in a guitar case) is of course highly fortuitous, but a more serious problem is that Alex seems to have written her diary in a voice that is all too recognizably that of a modern young adult novel. It is not that her views are anachronistic, but her style of conveying them did not convince me as coming from the pen of an eighteenth-century writer. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book overall, and its drawing together of the lives and tragedies of the two protagonists is both satisfying and touching.


The Truth is Dead


Author: edited by Marcus Sedgwick     

Publisher: Walker

ISBN: 9781406320039
Reviewed by: Nikki Bielinski

This anthology, edited by Sedgwick, has an interesting concept as its theme - The Truth is Dead. Imagine if ‘everything you know is wrong’...  With award-winning authors (read it to find out who they all are!), historical events and characters are explored in a creative, innovative and sometimes ironic way. The writing-class exercise of taking an event and making a ‘what if something else happened?’ assumption, is taken to new levels. Each author has taken an historical event, explored it with insight and, in some cases, made a socio-political, thought provoking comment. What if, as McGowan explores, Jesus had accepted the temptations of the devil, while on his 40 day fast? What if Hitler had become an artist, instead of a fascist dictator? What if Armstrong and Aldrin didn't return from the moon? Linda Newbery sensitively explores her theme; Eleanor Updale brings in the poignancy of family and world destruction; Frank Cottrell Boyce is innovative in his world building and has a gut wrenching story to tell.

Anthologies are useful for some reluctant readers, as the variety of stories keeps the interest going. I can definitely recommend this anthology as a thought-provoking read, written with convincing voices.

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The Glass Demon


Author: Helen Grant     

Publisher: Puffin

ISBN: 9780141325767
Reviewed by: Patricia Elliot

Helen Grant’s first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, was highly praised and shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. In her second, also set in Germany, seventeen year-old Lin Fox and her family are dragged off to the Eifel for a sabbatical year by Lin’s father. He is a medieval historian who believes he is on the track of a lost set of priceless stained glass church windows. Their discovery could boost his flagging academic career.

There is a legend that the windows are haunted by a terrifying demon, and even as the family arrive and struggle to settle into their lodgings –a cottage in the courtyard of a ruined castle, surrounded by dark forests – macabre events begin to take place. People who know anything about the windows die in mysterious circumstances; a decomposing corpse leers over a gravestone; Lin’s own family is threatened. As the horrors escalate, each time Lin finds broken glass at the scene, and starts to fear that the demon might be real. At this stage, too, the reader wonders if the novel will turn out to be a supernatural thriller or a murder mystery. ‘There are demons, and they are more terrible than we can imagine.’

What makes this novel exceptional and not merely very accomplished, is the quality of the writing and the strength of the characterisation. Lin is the spiky, disaffected narrator, who disowns her somewhat feckless and self-absorbed parents at every opportunity (she has never forgiven her mother for temporarily abandoning her and her sister years before). Her voice is strong, assured, sophisticated, with a tart sense of humour that can be very funny; it is the kind of voice that is so distinctive it echoes in the mind afterwards. The setting is wonderfully atmospheric and the climax quite breathtakingly tense. My only quibble is that one of the plot devices seems overly familiar from television crime dramas and thrillers – the murders reproduce scenes in the windows – but it seems churlish to criticise such a beautifully written and compelling novel.       


Boys Don't Cry


Author: Malorie Blackman      

Publisher: Doubleday

ISBN: 9780385604796
Reviewed by: Pat Almond

This story is the musings of two brothers, Dante and his brother, Adam.

As the story unfolds it deals with many issues: teen pregnancy, homosexuality, homophobia, violence, mental health and family relationships. Dante and Adam live with their father, their mother having died a short while before their story begins. Dante is left with a baby girl who is his daughter that he didn’t know about, from an early teen relationship. Adam, his younger brother, has “outed” himself which, apparently, is received quite well although casually by his family, until he is beaten within an inch of his life.

 

By the time social services come on the scene, family relationships have changed, as have friendships outside the family.

 

This is a fascinating read because of the multiple issues, told by two brothers seeing and feeling differently about the same situations. The father and an aunt are also very important characters, and together with friends of the boys keep the story moving at a cracking pace.

 

All the issues dealt with in the story are common ones in the last couple of generations but Malorie Blackman creates a riveting story that not only entertains because it is fiction but will offer comfort, of a kind, to many of the teen readers. In fact, there are “advice” notes at the end of the book along with questions that they might like to think about or discuss.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed it!

 

- Also reviewed by Laura Graham-Clare


'Boys Don't Cry' is a two-part narrative revolving around the issues and themes of growing up, sexual awareness and acceptance into adult society. We follow the story of Dante, a 17 year old on the cusp of adulthood and at a transitional period of his life. As he waits at home for the postman to deliver his A-Level results, another more unwelcome surprise arrives: an ex-girlfriend, Mel, with a baby in tow. Mel abandons them both, and Dante is left with an impromptu daughter called Emma, and his future prospects in tatters.

 

In addition to this, we also follow the sub-plot of Dante's brother, Adam: naive, self assured but sensitive. Both boys waver on the edge of acting as adults but feeling like children, and we witness their internal and external journeys; through depression and doubt to optimism and the slow road of mature understanding. The two brothers are raised solely by their sometimes belligerent, but kindly father; and until Emma comes along, this sewn-together family unit didn't even realise they were just muddling through.

 

Malorie Blackman gives a touching account of self-discovery and the acceptance of the realities of life. She manages to cover a series of common challenges that teenagers and young adults face on the path to self. As the reader, we are put in a position to both judge and empathise with the two protagonists, and Blackman translates the hopes and fears of the age group well. Sometimes I felt the language and discourse between the brothers reflects how teenagers ‘should’ talk from the perspective of an adult, and at times verges on being slightly forced and unoriginal. Yet whilst the reactions and dialogues are slightly typical and aside from the parent-child clichés, usually attributed to the well-meaning but emotionally defunct father, the characters are still personable and realistic.

 

The ‘abandoned single mother on benefits’ story turned on its head is told in an intelligent and honest fashion. You could almost say it was a guide or a condolence for teen parents and sexually confused young adults; an 'it's hard at first, but it'll get easier' story, a guide to growing up when everything seems to be going wrong, and an assurance that 'it's not just you'. For this reason, it would be great addition to a young adult’s book list.

 

It is a tale of the acceptance of self, the acceptance of responsibilities, and the sought-after acceptance of others. The plot and themes are occasionally predictable; but the story still manages to confront preconceptions, and affirm the challenges that young adults face in growing up and finding their place in society, whatever their circumstances.

 
 


Trash



Author: Andy Mulligan      

Publisher: David Fickling Books

ISBN: 9780385619011
Reviewed by: Sue Purkiss

One of the questions authors are sometimes asked is: What is a book you would like to have written? I always find such questions difficult – how to choose? Well, if anyone asks me this in the near future, I know what to answer. I wish I had written this book. It would have been tricky, as I’ve never been to Manila, where Trash is set – but perhaps that could be arranged as part of the deal. Now – why?

 

The first good thing about this book is the look and feel of it. I’m developing a bit of a bee in my bonnet about this. If a book has cramped print and not enough white space on the page, or won’t open properly so that you can’t easily read the words at the central margin, I won’t give it a chance. If a book’s worth publishing, it’s worth publishing beautifully. That doesn’t mean it has to be littered with gold leaf and fastened with a jewelled clasp – it does mean it has to invite you to open it, and then treat you well once you’re inside. Trash, despite its title (which actually I’m not crazy about: I see that it’s apt, but it’s a bit uncompromising, a bit in-your-face in a way that the book itself isn’t) has a cover which is both inviting and intriguing. A mountain of rust-coloured rubbish rears up against a sky flaring with golden sunrise clouds. On the top are the figures of three children, who seem to be releasing another cloud, this time of scraps, into the air. The scraps coalesce to form the title, which in turn mirrors the contents of the scrap heap. In among the scraps are birds, which perch on the letters of the title and wheel against the sky – symbols of freedom. The book’s a nice size, and inside, the margins are wide and there’s plenty of white – well, cream – space.

 

It’s about three boys who work sorting trash at a huge municipal rubbish tip called Behala, in Manila. They live there too. So these are children whose experience of life is light years away from that of British children – as far removed as that of the children in Slumdog Millionaire. One day, one of the boys, Raphael, finds something unusual. At first, it seems to be a lucky find but not an extraordinary one. But then the police turn up in force, and he and his friends – Garda, and Rat, or Jun-Jun – realise that they are in possession of something that very powerful people want. Instinctively, Raphael has told the police nothing, and by the time he realises his secret is dangerous, it’s too late. The rest of the book is in part a detective story, as the boys work out and follow the clues they have to discover what it truly is that they’ve found.

 

The point of view switches between the three boys, and also between other characters who become involved; but it never becomes confusing because you’re told at the beginning of each chapter who the narrator is. After the first few chapters, it becomes difficult to put down. The trail is difficult to follow, but the boys pursue it single-heartedly, and as they go on, this becomes far more than a treasure hunt; it tells us of a corrupt political system, of venality and cruelty – there is a terrible scene where Raphael is tortured by the police – but also of courage and idealism; there is hope and, in some ways, a happy ending. So there’s an enormous amount to it, but it’s told in wonderfully spare uncluttered prose: it’s perfectly believable that these are the voices of the boys.

 

This is a powerful and gripping story that takes us into some painful places, but makes us believe that transformation is possible – that the vulnerable and weak can sometimes triumph against a whole system. I would very highly recommend it.




The 10pm Question


Author: Kate de Goldi      

Publisher: Templar

ISBN:9781848774674
Reviewed by: Angela Solomons

Twelve year old Frankie Parsons worries. His household is totally disorganised, and all his family are decidedly odd. There is Gordana, Frankie’s sister, who’s always grumpy; Uncle George (actually their father) and Frankie’s mother who spends most of her time baking cakes and pastries, never leaving the house. Lastly there are aunts Alma Nelly and Teen.

 

Contrastingly, Frankie is extremely organised – he always has everything ready for school. But when the dates are announced for school camp, he wonders how he can possibly go - who will run the house, and care about his mum? And there is the chat he has with her at 10pm every night, a very private time where Frankie offloads his worries and his mother reassures him.

 

At school there is a new girl called Sydney, starting at her fourth school in nine months. As the weeks pass Frankie gets to know Sydney better- and sees how unpredictable her life is - her mother is a 'free spirit' who is liable to move the family on at a moment’s notice. Frankie realises that he’s not the only one with an unusual family.

 

After a row with Sydney Frankie cannot sleep and finds himself compulsively list-making. He is afraid he will end up like Ma – and worst of all Sydney tells him that in three weeks’ time she will be leaving……

 

This is an extremely subtle novel, covering as it does mental illness and the flowering of first love. This was a pleasure to read and I did not want the novel to end! Kate de Goldi is very well-known in her native New Zealand, having won many awards, but it is the first time she has been published over here. I hope that Bloomsbury decide to publish more of her novels.


When You Reach Me


Author: Rebecca Stead

Publisher: Andersen Press

ISBN: 9781849392129

Reviewer: Lauren Holmes

 

This unusual novel won a host of awards including the John Newbery Medal 2010 in the US, with good reason.  Revolving around the up-until-recently pretty average life of twelve-year-old Miranda, this puzzle of a novel will stay with the reader long after they have put the book down.

 

Mysterious notes; an unprovoked punch; the ramblings of a homeless man; practice sessions for a television quiz show; and missing shoes are all somehow ravelled up together and it is up to Miranda to untangle the strands and sort out some kind of order. 

 

Time itself seems to bend and stretch as the seriousness of the task ahead becomes more apparent to Miranda. At first unsure of her role, the appearance of increasingly cryptic missives bring Miranda to believe that solving the puzzle she has been set will ultimately save someone’s life, but will she crack the secret before it is too late?  With the identity of the writer a complete mystery, and even that of the victim in doubt, Miranda feels she is groping around in the dark for a switch to shed some light on the situation. Her confusion is reinforced by a parallel narrative of shifting relationships and connections with her friends, as she undergoes the exploration of identity which characterises the life of so many older children making the transition into teenagehood.

 

The complex layers of time and space are explored in this remarkable novel, which has been described as The Time-Traveller’s Wife for children.  While the language and action are accessible to younger readers, the complexity of the plot and maturity of the protagonist lend themselves to an older reader, and indeed, adults too will enjoy this extremely well-crafted and intriguing story.

 

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