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reviews 14+ Secondary/Adult Crusade HH

Linda Press Wulf, Bloomsbury, 250pp, 978 1 4088 0484 1, £6.99 pbk

The very 20th-century looking girl on its jacket does not accurately portray the heroine of this novel set in 13th- century France. Georgette is a devout Catholic, and that strong faith runs deeply through this story. She and her difficult brother leave their father’s home to join what is now known as the Children’s Crusade in the summer of 1212. The other main character is Robert, a foundling who has been raised and educated by the Abbot of the monastery where he was left, and who also feels he has been called to join the Crusade, which is led by the charismatic Stephen (who according to history was 12 but seems much older in this story). As the Crusade travels its way across France to Marseilles where Stephen has promised the sea will part so that they can walk to Jerusalem, many children die, including Georgette’s brother Gregor, and the feeding of so many children brings difficulties for the villages through which they pass. Stephen may be charismatic and able to deliver stirring sermons to his followers and the villagers, but he is surrounded by his cronies and they drink and take the prettier of the girls off into the woods. Robert, who can recite the offices of the Catholic Church from memory, is drawn into this circle but finds it not to his liking at all, and saves Georgette from cer tain rape. When the Crusade arrives at Marseilles, the children find that the sea has not parted for them, Stephen then disappears and the children are left at the mercy of slave traffickers. Georgette is rejected to sail on the ships for what she thinks is a certain path to Jerusalem, as is Rober t. The two are thus drawn together, gradually fall in love and plan to marry. They end up in Paris, married and after Robert speaks for tolerance of other religions, they flee to Lyons. This last part of the story is rather rushed and would perhaps have made a sequel allowing the author to develop the issues involved.

The Church is also a central plank of the story, and the prose, which at times is rather dry, tries to convey the strong faith of the young people involved that led them to leave their families and homes to follow Stephen in his crusade. In this respect the story is less than satisfying. The subject matter will not appeal to many young people which is a pity as stories that deal with faith of whatever sort are not often written, yet faith was at the heart of people’s lives for a good par t of histor y. An earlier novel covering the same Crusade in France is Henr y Treece’s The Children’s Crusade published in 1958 and long out of print.

JFi ensure that Alex keeps quiet.

The other narrator is a sensitive, gifted ar tist Kyle, who, with his friend Gareth, becomes the focus of Alex’s mounting frustrations that spill into sadistic, psychopathic behaviour and a catastrophic clash of values.

A fateful mistake brings the three boys into an uneasy friendship and Alex realises that he must do the right thing to try to rectify the mess that threatens any hope for his future and for the other two boys. This is a first novel. It creaks a bit in places but it is definitely a gripping, suspenseful read. Read it before you recommend it. DB

sense of a ghostly well-wisher who manifests herself through a gentle touch, but remains unseen – could it be Meriel’s mother?

Illicit walks in the London streets, with Sally’s connivance, lead to an encounter with the raffish Mrs Jolly – an Indian acquaintance of Meriel’s father – and through her, into the netherworld of mediumship. Attending a séance with Mrs Quinn and her strangely subdued young assistant, Miss Casson, gives Meriel hope that she can communicate with her mother, but what transpires is completely unexpected. Soon Meriel is on a journey into the backstreets of London to uncover the mystery attached to her bir th, which seems to be linked to the two locks of her hair in her mother’s necklace.

Fallout HHHH

Sandra Glover, Andersen, 256pp, 978 1 84270 994 8, £6.99 pbk

In her parents’ absence a wild, impromptu party at Hannah’s home gets out of hand and ends disastrously. Drink and drugs blur the memor y of what has actually happened but it quickly becomes clear that a wrecked house and robbery are the least of the protagonist’s worries. The fallout from the party will affect forever the lives of all the teenagers involved and their families and friends as accusations begin to fly and rumours circulate from outsiders as well as those directly involved. Hannah initially can’t or doesn’t want to remember what happened but as the story evolves we are asked to look at what refusal and consent actually mean by seeing the events from a range of viewpoints. This is a raw and emotional stor y por traying the confusion and disbelief of the young people involved and clearly showing the impact on relationships within a peer group and also within families. It isn’t a book that comes to a clear conclusion and the reader is left having to make up their own mind about what really happened.

DF Clash HHH

Colin Mulhern, Catnip, 288pp, 978 1 846471 16 2, £6.99 pbk

Written as a dual narrative, this is an uncompromisingly gritty reflection of modern society. As such it comes with an adult content warning.

On the one hand there is hard-man Alex from a gangster-connected family, where the mother is a lush and the father’s punch bag. This same father is willing to involve his young son in illegal cage fighting and to profit from placing bets on him to lose. When the father’s violence spills into murder he needs to use any means possible to

This is a glorious romp of a book which gains momentum and gravitas as the story progresses. Yes, at times, the young heroine seems remarkably modern for a ‘Victorian Miss’ – perhaps a function of the resolutely non-archaic register, which only falters when Eagland uses housemaid cockney or nineteenth-century slang. And, yes, a book which dips into a ragbag of contemporar y obsessions from mediumship to eugenics, employing an equally Victorian array of plot devices: coincidences, revelations by letter and diary, a long-lost twin – while Meriel’s hopes of a theatrical career seem par ticularly anachronistic.

Whisper My Name HHHH

Jane Eagland, Macmillan, 416pp, 978 0 330 51139 1, £6.99 pbk

Jane Eagland’s earlier book for young adults, Wildthorn, saw its young heroine confined to a Victorian asylum as the penalty for difference from contemporary norms.

Whisper My Name returns to the Victorian era and another young woman set on self-determination in the face of society’s expectations, embodied in her crusty, uncom- municative grandfather, Sir Osber t Swann.

Following her mother’s death, Meriel has been sent from the warmth and comparative freedoms of an ar tistic household to Sir Osber t’s chilly Kensington town house. Meriel misses her father, who has remained in India, while she has only a few treasured mementoes of her mother, including a locket.

In London, she is subjected to a stifling routine with her mousy governess, as well as periodic unexplained measurements of her physique and tests of her mental ‘capacities’ by her grandfather, who seems to be obsessed with questions of heredity. Her only consolation in the household is a friendship with Sally, the young housemaid, and a fleeting

However, the story is told with huge energy and warmth; and, while some of the minor characters, like the foppish Mr Utterby, are broad-brush comic creations, the three main female protagonists are drawn with great empathy. The book’s real strength lies in its female characters: the depiction of Sophie’s growing maturity, as she learns to empathise with others’ difficulties, is particularly sensitive and Whisper My Name will find enthusiastic female readers. It would make a terrific springboard into Wilkie Collins and Dickens.



Rama and Sita: Path of Flames (see p.23)

Hunefer and his Book of the Dead (see p.26)

The Complete Book of the Dead of Hunefer (see p.26)

Books for Keeps No.187 March 2011 31

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