BfK 10–14 Middle/Secondary Loving Spirit HHH
Linda Chapman, Puffin, 192pp, 978 0 14 132832 4, £5.99 pbk
Ellie Carrington is a 14-year-old whose parents die. She is forced to abandon her beloved home in New Zealand for a new life in Derbyshire with her paternal uncle Len who is harsh and unloving. Ellie hates her new home and resents being asked to ride the show ponies in her uncle’s stables.
Ellie’s only friend is her 16-year-old cousin Joe. The pair play truant to attend a horse fair where Ellie encounters a horse with which she strikes up an immediate bond. Much to her uncle’s irritation she buys the horse but it is to be prepared for sale within six weeks. Ellie, of course, has no intention whatever of letting the horse go. She calls him Spirit and finds that he has a surprising ability: he can transmit pictures from his mind to hers to which she can respond.
In books in which horses play a central role, the human characters are often stereotypically depicted – the good people love horses, the bad ones exploit and abuse them. However, in this book the relationships between the human protagonists take centre stage and the horse serves to emphasise and define those relationships rather than to dominate them.
The telepathic exchanges between horse and human are a compelling device but the transfer of images between human and horse just happens, without any attempt at explanation. Against a realistic narrative background, the phenom- enon jars. However this book works because the emotional bond between horse and human is powerfully and convincingly rendered. Traditionally horse and pony stories have been aimed at girls and this new title will do little to close the gender gap. I can’t imagine many boys being attracted by a book with such a touching equine portrait on its cover. RBu
Dancing in the Dark HHHH
Peter Prendergast, O’Brien Press, 192pp, 978 1 84717 185 6, £6.99 pbk
A young teenage boy, James, dies in a cycling accident; his parents and his younger sister, Jessie, are left to deal with the aftermath. While ‘coping with loss’ has served as theme for numerous children’s and young adult novels, it is given considerable freshness here in one significant respect: six months after his funeral James returns from the dead, as a ghost, to haunt his sister and to continue to bicker with her as much as he had done when alive. This continuation of their – often very entertaining – sibling rivalry is played out against a background of various
important and it is dripping all the time like precious water.’
Andy Mulligan experienced his subject matter at first hand and obviously has an agenda to bring the plight of the trash pickers to as wide an audience as possible. The tale is told by multiple narrators in a variety of styles. The tension never flags and the boy characters are par ticularly engaging, especially in their bold, moral decision at the end…
other problems confronting Jessie, principally those concerning her life at school. Gangs of some rather unpleasant youths – male and female – seem determined to ostracise her, there is some nasty bullying and, most impor tant detail of all, the (Irish) National Schools’ Dance Champion- ship finals are coming up, in which Jessie, tap dancer extraordinaire, will, unexpectedly, have a heroine’s role to play. And then there is Alan, a newly arrived boy at her school, whose presence will, eventually, bring some solace. Prendergast’s first person prose is linguistically simple but emotionally powerful, his insights into the many facets of family grieving are perceptive and sympathetic and there are some nicely obser ved social nuances in his Irish school setting. This is Prendergast’s first full-length novel and represents an impressive achievement.
RD Shadow of the Ninja HHH
Andrew Matthews, Usborne, 208pp, 978 1 4095 0620 1, £5.99 pbk
With a dramatic cover which will attract boys, this is the sequel to The Way of the Warrior, but stands well on its own. The events of the previous story are presented to the reader and the unfamiliar background of Japan in 1575 is painlessly drawn in a fast- moving narrative. Jimmu has been studying at a monastery for a year to improve his fighting skills as a samurai and has also studied meditation and prayer. He leaves to return to his lord’s castle where he discovers that the lord’s daughter, the Lady Takeko with whom Jimmu is in love, has been kidnapped by Lord Sabura. Jimmu takes it upon himself to rescue the Lady, but on meeting Ryu, a Ninja, realises that he needs help. Riyu’s Ninja group agree to help him. The moral and ethical background to sixteenth-centur y Japan is clearly depicted which gives this somewhat violent story some depth. The violent killing of opponents, with heads, arms
28 Books for Keeps No.185 November 2010 Trash HHH
Andy Mulligan, David Fickling Books, 224pp, 978 0 385 61901 1, £10.99 hbk
Three slum lads who eke out their living on the largest rubbish tip in Manila make a find that actually looks worth something – a small leather bag. But what it contains brings a mystery to unravel, extreme danger and revelations about the authorities and their ruthless representatives which reveal who are the real trash of society and what motivates them.
‘There are values and vir tues and morals; there are relationships and trust and love – and all of that is important. Money, however, is more
and legs being sliced off, is somewhat glossed over. It is dealt with in a rather matter of fact way which does make it unimpor tant and such violent incidents may attract reluctant boy readers. This is a well written story with a good feel for the period and society in which Jimmu lives, and where his realisation that his love for the Lady Takeko can never be, seems the right thing to happen.
‘Enjoy’ is not a word you use about a novel like this. It challenges us personally; it exposes to us some un- appetising facts and truths and the injustices it lays bare enrage us. Here is a novel that actually takes its readers on a ver y impor tant and revealing journey. It is a shame the publishers did not include a note on how the reader might follow up their reactions to the predicament of trash kids worldwide.
DB The Dead HH
David Gatward, Hodder, 240pp, 978 0 340 99969 1, £5.99 pbk
The back of the proof copy of this book gives the game away, even if you missed the grinning demon and the blood dripping from the title on the cover. This is Hodder’s answer to Darren Shan and will be accompanied by a ‘guerrilla marketing campaign’ to ‘position against’ the master of teenage gore. I don’t know what that will involve. Will someone pop up on Shan’s website waving an I Love David Gatward placard? But it will take a guerrilla marketer with the genius and stamina of Mao to threaten Shan now. Gatward’s publicity photo looks the kind of man a father could trust to take his daughter to a heavy metal gig rather than the OFSTED employee he was most recently. He’s done a decent enough job of stepping into Shan’s very far from dead shoes by conjuring and then exploding in spectacular and messy ways, the usual vile, rotting, deformed, slimy, treacherous denizens of the circles of hell that have this time disturbed the quiet life of nearly 16- year-old Lazarus (who might have asked some questions about the significance of his name before now). If Shan’s books themselves are already a deathly exercise in going through the motions, then here the motions have become creepily zombie-like. Could the smell of rotting flesh be the smell of long expired material exhumed one too many times? There are two more books in this series to come. By then, it will be clear whether the Shan regime is in any danger of succumbing to this assault from the Shades of Shan.
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