BfK 14+ Secondary/Adult Heart Burn HHHH
Anne Cassidy, Scholastic, 224pp, 978 1 407107 79 0, £6.99 pbk
This taut, edgy thriller about teenage life in East London evokes the spirit of Raymond Chandler. Anne Cassidy presents us with drug-dealing, debts owed to smooth gangsters who entrap their victims, criminal beatings and crooked policemen. The events unfold in December, when the shops’ ‘decorations and glitter seemed at odds with the grey streets’. Such descriptive passages establish a moody, dark ambiance which reflects a changing, restless city. Canar y Wharf is ‘half-a-dozen skyscrapers… like some futuristic castle’, glimpsed on a day that ‘was grey with dark puffy clouds’. In place of Philip Marlowe, we have a working-class sixth-former, Ashley (Ashe), whose investigations into the drug-dealing underworld are tempered by the need to avoid her parents and to complete her next school-assignment.
As Ashe investigates why her friend Tyler ended up in hospital after being beaten up and thrown into the canal, she thinks back 12 months, ‘with pleasure tinged with bitterness’, to her crazy three weeks as Tyler’s girl- friend. Tyler has left school but reads George Orwell: ‘If we’d done more stuff like that at school, I might have turned up.’ Ashe dropped Tyler because she thought he was dealing in drugs. But now Tyler gives Ashe an envelope containing various items, clues that will help the police arrest the gang. This is no fantasy- adventure, however – there is a ring of truth about the second-hand furniture- shop and mobile-phone business run by gang-members and their associates. Ashe may, at one point, be jokingly likened to Sherlock Holmes, but towards the end, her confidence crumbling, she ironically realises that she is ‘grasping at straws, imagining [her]self as some kind of hero-figure’.
Ashe is the kind of girl who sneaks drinks of vodka and who can go to bed ‘a little worse for the cans of beer (she’s) drunk’. Nevertheless, she is a strong, attractive heroine who dominates the weak male characters. The novel provides a contemporary, evocative and largely realistic version of the young person’s life. Although some of the denouements are too easily foreseen, the pace of the action and depth of descriptive detail make this a superior read for a wide range of young readers from 13 upwards. RT
Everybody Jam HHH
Ali Lewis, Andersen, 288pp, 978 1 84939 248 8, £6.99 pbk
Danny Dawson lives on a remote cattle station in the Australian outback. After the accidental death of his elder brother Jonny, which the
family seems to choose to blank out, Danny desperately seeks attention and approbation from his father by trying to prove he can be as good a stockman as his brother was. Danny is also angry because Sissy, his 14-year-old sister, is pregnant and won’t say who the father is. Things get worse when an inexperienced female Pommy backpacker arrives; she has been hired to help out as the Dawsons reach the month-long muster of their cattle from the desert.
The plot moves at a good pace as the drought plays havoc with the family fortunes and nothing happens without some pending catastrophe. Into the mix Lewis adds a cast of striking local characters and a convincing know- ledge of life in the outback. Strongest of all is the confused teenage narrator’s authentic young male voice.
This is a debut coming of age novel that exudes a raw reality reflected in the language and in prevailing attitudes to Aborigines, Pommies, women and what constitutes a real man - a very disparate culture to our own. It will well repay attention from male teen readers and makes Ali Lewis one to watch.
DB The Opposite of Amber HHHH
Gillian Philip, Bloomsbury, 320pp, 978 0 7475 9992 0, £6.99 pbk
Ruby loves her elder sister, Jinn. After all, Jinn has taken the place of her mother – literally since Lara’s death. Jinn is like a star; Ruby, herself, is very different, happy to live in Jinn’s shadow, seeing herself as an outsider. But life is all right, despite the tragic accident of Alex Jerrold – is it Ruby’s fault? And then there are the murdered girls. However, when Nathan Baird turns up, Jinn changes. Ruby finds herself neglected. How can she save her older sister? Then Jinn goes missing; will it be her body that is found floating in the sea?
This is a gritty, contemporary young 30 Books for Keeps No.188 May 2011
adult novel for those who are already reading Kevin Brooks, Melvin Burgess and Helen Grant. Borrowing motifs that will be familiar not just from the newspapers but from crime dramas currently shown on television, Gillian Philip combines them with the more traditional themes of the teen novel – relationships both within the family as well as between young people, growing up and the pressures faced by teenagers today. The result is rich fare – a novel crowded with incident, characters and content. Indeed, it might be considered overcrowded. However, Philip is an intelligent writer making intelligent demands of her reader, crossing genres with confidence. Her heroine, Ruby, is a character one wants to know, her situation familiar territory – but then there is the added menace of the crime novel bringing an extra edge to the whole. Recommended for older, mature readers.
FH A Beautiful Lie HHH
Irfan Master, Bloomsbury, 304pp, 978 1 4088 0575 6, £6.99 pbk
Set in India in 1947 just before par tition, this debut novel tells of teenager Bilal who is intent on hiding the truth about the impending disintegration to come from his dying, ever-idealistic father. Deeply affec- tionate towards his parent, Bilal also frets about living a lie, even going to the extent of printing a bogus newspaper for his father to read that puts an optimistic slant on events that are clearly doomed to go the other way. Initially supported by his friends, Bilal sees this group also starting to break up as religious hatreds grow and the voices of tolerance are drowned out. So much, so powerful, with the final pages crackling with the violence and hatred that were to kill so many. This stor y is well written bar a tendency towards repetition accom- panied by passages of over- explanation. Bilal’s many friends are
Between Shades of Gray HHHHH
Ruta Sepetys, Puffin, 352pp, 978 0 14 133588 9, £6.99 pbk
This searing novel, based on all too true real life events, starts with 15- year-old Lina, her mother and young brother given 20 minutes to leave their comfortable home in Lithuania. Their persecutors are the invading Soviet forces in 1941 and their crime is to be middle class. They never see their university teacher father again, and have to endure a terrible journey by cattle truck before ending up near the Arctic Circle in a forced labour camp. As Lina’s father once observed, Hitler and Stalin were indeed two devils who both wanted to rule in Hell. Criminally over-worked and underfed, more often than not freezing and treated pitilessly by oafish NKVD
not always clearly defined, but the boy and his father come over touchingly, sharing a loving physicality in their relationship unknown in our own more hands-off culture.
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