BfK 14+ Secondary/Adult Lifted HHHHH
Hilary Freeman, Piccadilly, 224pp, 978 1 84812 068 6, &#xA3;6.99 pbk
Learning to Scream HHH
Beate Teresa Hanika, trans. Katy Derbyshire, Andersen, 208pp, 978 1 84939 060 6, &#xA3;6.99 pbk
&#x2018;Can you get Tippex for thoughts? And for feelings? Someone ought to invent it.&#x2019; A prize-winner in the author&#x2019;s native Germany, this young adult novel in translation is the stark story of a young girl who is being sexually abused by her grandfather. Malvina is rising 14 and increasingly at loggerheads with her parents and sister. An abandoned villa takes on the role of comfort zone, from which she and her best friend Lizzy spend the whole summer waging war on a group of boys from the nearby estate. By the following Easter, however, Lizzy has gone away, and Malvina&#x2019;s feelings for one boy in particular are changing. But she cannot begin to imagine trusting him with the dark secret of what her Granddad does to her when they are alone. Somehow she needs to find the courage to tell it: and loudly.
This is a dark tale indeed; not only in terms of Malvina&#x2019;s abuse at the hands of her grandfather, but in the extent to which she is failed by the adults around her. Wrapped up in their own concerns, her parents show a tragic lack of insight and awareness, leaving their daughter ensnared in a web of emotional blackmail she cannot escape, particularly after the death of her grandmother. And even she has been horrifically complicit in the abuse during her final illness. Only her grandfather&#x2019;s neighbour,
eccentric Mrs Bitschek, has a notion of what is going on and tries to save Malvina. It is the boy, Screwy, and Lizzy who finally give her the courage to scream.
Malvina&#x2019;s 13-year-old voice is convincingly conveyed by both writing and translation here, and her grim story is lifted above the &#x2018;misery&#x2019; dimension by the author&#x2019;s light and occasionally even lyrical touch. CS
This contemporary story evolves from a study of teenage relationships to a serious satire of consumerism, celebrity and the power of the internet, with more than a dash of Ealing comedy. On impulse, 15-year-old Ruby steals a pair of tights from a shop and feels &#x2018;lifted&#x2019; by the experience. She then takes up shoplifting on a regular basis. Like the other items that she subsequently steals, the tights are taken to a charity-shop. Before long, with the help of her childhood friend, Noah, she is recounting her experiences on a blog under the name, &#x2018;Robyn Hood&#x2019;. In this guise, she becomes a national sensation, commented on in the media and by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Others try to assume Robyn&#x2019;s identity and, when Ruby insists that she is &#x2018;Robyn&#x2019;, she isn&#x2019;t believed.
Freeman provides a recognisable background of family life and the process of growing up in this well written and enthralling tale about a girl worried about being &#x2018;average&#x2019;. The experience of shoplifting makes Ruby feel &#x2018;eight feet tall&#x2019;, and she likens it to being in a fairground queue &#x2018;for the biggest, scariest ride there is&#x2019;: the morning after, she experiences a &#x2018;shoplifting hangover&#x2019;. Shop assistants and managers are consistently portrayed as stupid or unpleasant, selling &#x2018;over-priced rubbish&#x2019; which goes for a lot less in the charity shop. In a situation where The X Factor is a recurring reference point, Ruby relishes her sudden celebrity as &#x2018;Robyn Hood&#x2019;, and resents the attempts that are made to steal her &#x2018;brand&#x2019;. Meanwhile, her gossipy school friends, Hanni and Amanda, are amazed at her developing relationship with Noah, apparently a &#x2018;computer geek&#x2019; who ultimately demonstrates a nobility which enthrals Ruby.
Young readers will need a firm moral compass to negotiate the exhilarating scenes of shoplifting (which include a vir tual instruction manual) and the alluring description of celebrity, before Nemesis strikes. Ruby&#x2019;s actions are always understandable and explained in her point-of-view narrative and the extracts from her blog. Nevertheless, she is well named &#x2013; this is a gem of a novel which should appeal to mature readers of all ages (apart, that is, from members of the retail trade).
RT Being Billy HHHHH
Phil Earle, Penguin, 272pp, 978 0 14 133135 5, &#xA3;6.99 pbk
On the face of it Phil Earle has created a very unsympathetic character right from the onset. Billy may be in care and we want to feel sorry for him, but that&#x2019;s exactly what he doesn&#x2019;t want. No, Billy wants us to see him as a
32 Books for Keeps No.186 January 2011
street-savvy hard case, an angry lifer in care, who only has regard and love for his twin siblings, in the same institution with him; the rest of you can take a jump, especially authority figures and his mum, the lush.
Then a new girl in class enters the scene and Billy&#x2019;s life as he wants it starts to unravel, his carapace begins to shred. What finally emerges is a very different Billy, whom we can start to like and who is beginning to be more honest with himself and his emotions and far easier on those around him, who respond accordingly.
Earle has used his own experiences to create a ver y convincing main character and narrator in Billy and handles the roller coaster ride with subtlety and honesty. Supporting characters are also convincing and one can&#x2019;t help but feel empathy both with the mother and Billy&#x2019;s sworn enemy the Care Home Leader, The Colonel.
A cosy read it isn&#x2019;t. An accomplished debut novel it is! Also worth pushing under the nose of anyone with an interest in pastoral care or associated social issues.
DB iBoy HHH
Kevin Brooks, Penguin, 304pp, 978 0 14 132610 8, &#xA3;6.99 pbk
Brooks&#x2019; reputation for edgy fiction with a cerebral tinge will be reinforced by iBoy. Herein the cerebral aspect is literal: the book opens as 16-year-old Kevin&#x2019;s skull is penetrated by an exploding iPhone flung at him from the top of the south London tower block he is about to enter. When he emerges from his coma, it is to discover that the girl he is fond of was being gang- raped in the block at the time of his injury, and that his brain has grafted itself around the iPhone shrapnel, affording him direct access to all the information in cyberspace. He has also been granted a protective force-field, the ability to throw taser-like thunderbolts, and a superhero livery that he can will his skin to switch on and off. The rest of this thoroughly unputdownable novel concerns Kevin&#x2019;s struggles to balance the demands of vengeance and forgiveness while hiding his secret powers from his traumatised girlfriend and from the powerful grandma who has reared him. He also has to protect his mind from rupturing under the onslaught of knowing everything, and his body from the truly terrifying gangsters striving to seek and destroy him.
iBoy is both hectic and reflective. Violence, some of it sexual and/or sadistic, is wreathed in toiling meditations on moral relativism and the nature of free will and consciousness; as in a frenetic computer game, the warfare wreaked amongst
Boys Don&#x2019;t Cry HHHH
Malorie Blackman, Doubleday, 320pp, 978 0 385 60479 6, &#xA3;12.99 hbk
Malorie Blackman&#x2019;s writing has always ventured fearlessly into contentious issues and Boys Don&#x2019;t Cry is no exception. 17-year-old Dante is precociously intelligent. Certain to achieve outstanding results at A- level, he is looking forward to beginning university a year early. His emotional intelligence does not quite match his academic achievement, however, and he has all the typical self-centred preoccupations of a boy of his age.
the stairwells and
wastelands of iBoy&#x2019;s territory also rages inside his own head. The story culminates in a nerve-straining climax,
As a result , when his ex-girlfriend Melanie breaks a two-year silence and visits him with a baby in tow, it does not occur to him for a moment that the child is his &#x2013; the product of a brief and unsatis- factor y drunken fumble at a friend&#x2019;s par ty. Melanie, unable to cope with the continuing respon- sibility, leaves their daughter with him. His determination to go to university and rid himself of this burden, immediately spurs him to research the possibility of having her adopted or taken into care. The baby is simply an impediment to his ambit ions, a nuisance to be dealt with.
The metamorphosis from repugnance
then an almost Jackiesque coda incorporating a fairly jarring sequelising chord. I found these latter aspects particularly troubling in so compulsive a book. The world in which girls are raped by thugs to punish their disobedient brothers, and children like Damilola Taylor are murdered in sordid corners, is all too real, all too here and now, to be soothed by romantic tropes or redeemed by the return of a superhero.
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