paradise. Each child is welcomed as if they were a very special sort of star, with everyone apparently knowing about all their particular strengths and ambitions. But there is something not quite right about the new society they are moving into, whose smiling outer face takes on a different and more sinister complexion should it ever be challenged. Teenage India, aged 14, still accepts everything there at face value, but her younger brother and clever infant sister soon smell a rat and try to make their escape. At this stage, every reader will realise that what is really happening here is a battle between life and giving in to easeful death in the intervening moments between the plane crashing and the children concerned struggling to survive in real life. Well written, sometimes eccentric, this strange story is not always easy to follow but is certainly worth the effort.
NT Where She Went HHHH
Gayle Forman, Doubleday, 272pp, 978 0857530288, £10.99 pbk
This is the sequel to Forman’s hugely successful (at least in the States) If I Stay, the story of teenager Mia Hall in a coma, deciding whether to choose life. And, from this next book, we learn that the lives that she and her boy friend Adam have chosen have turned out in some ways rather well. Adam is now a disillusioned, moody rock star; his band’s epoch making album based on the emotional devastation caused by his break up with Mia. She is a rising classical music star. After years of being out of touch but still in each other’s minds, they meet when he goes to her concert at Carnegie Hall. They spend the night and early morning going to ordinary places and doing ordinary things in New York, rake over the ashes of their love and rekindle it. So far, so predictable: but this is just the glossy packaging for an engrossing journey, switching back and forth in time and between Adam and Mia, through the emotional tangles of a relationship complicated by tragedy and the misunderstandings, resentments, jealousies, betrayals, unlooked-for sacrifices, and the rest of the baggage that every relationship can carry with it. Forman writes with conviction; and, if the milieu is glamorous, it is believable, even down to the calluses on Mia’s cello playing fingers. These are two extraordinarily talented and successful young people, as screwed-up as the rest of us. It could be a winning combination with young readers. CB
Cat Patrick, Egmont, 288pp, 978 1 4052 5361 1, £6.99 pbk
London Lane cannot remember the past. A near-fatal car crash after which she died and was revived causes her memory to reset itself daily at the time of her ‘death’. In addition to this problem she is also able to see into the future and it is the combination of these two states which provides the tension at the centre of a story which is
as much psychological drama as romance.
Memory can be both a blessing and a burden but to lose it is to lose a large part of what makes us who we are, what connects us to those around us. London is compelled to make copious and exhaustive notes at the end of each day in order to be able to bring some sense of order and progression to her life, especially her most intimate relationships, with her rather shallow best friend Jamie and her utterly perfect boyfriend, Luke.
She is troubled by the fact that she cannot see Luke in her future and is she is repeatedly visited by a disturbingly grim vision of a funeral which she cannot decipher. This takes her on a quest to find the father who disappeared when she was very young and to solve the mystery of the funeral. The end of the book is its weakest part – she unties the knot of the funeral too soon and too easily for readers to be convinced: the writing feels rushed, with a strained urgency.
However, the characters are credible, as are London’s relationships with her friends and family and the narrative cracks along, taking the reader with it. The film rights for the book have just been sold where it will come up against such movies as 50 First Dates, The Time-Traveler’s Wife and Memento. VR
Wintercraft: Blackwatch HHH
Jenna Burtenshaw, Headline, 288pp, 978 0 7553 7122 8, £6.99 pbk
Fans of Jenna Burtenshaw’s debut novel Wintercraft will now be able to renew their acquaintance with its fantasy landscapes and characters in her follow-up, Blackwatch. Once again, in terrains that are increasingly dark and macabre, we have the opportunity to pursue, in particular, two destinies, those of Kate Winters and Silas Dane, and to penetrate the many mazes (moral and otherwise) of the world known as Albion. The narrative is, for most of the time, quite gripping, though very close reading is necessary if all the subtleties of the twists and turns of friendship and loyalty are to be grasped: watch out for what develops in the relationship between Kate and her always trustworthy friend Edgar. With both of the main characters on the run from forces determined to capture them, the plot proceeds at a lively pace and the introduction of new characters, especially the enigmatic Dalliah Grey, ensures the reader’s continuing involvement. It must be said, though, that at times the novel’s depiction of the intricacies of its many power struggles becomes repetitive, as does its emphasis on the quasi-mystical ‘veil’ which separates the worlds of the living and the worlds of the dead. There is a denouement of sorts but by the novel’s end many outcomes have still to be clarified. As we leave Kate ‘completely and powerlessly alone’ on a ship ‘carrying her towards a fate laid down for her by her ancestors long ago’ we know that a third, concluding volume of Burtenshaw’s trilogy is on its way.
The Western Mysteries: The Case of the Deadly Desperadoes
Caroline Lawrence, ill. Richard Russell Lawrence, Orion, 288pp, 978 1 4440 0169 3, £9.99 hbk
This novel set in the 1860s begins with 12-year-old P K Pinkerton finding his foster father dead with an axe in his chest and his foster mother alive only long enough to whisper some instructions into his ear. Our hero shows little of the emotion one would normally expect from a child of 12 who encounters such a scenario. PK is guided by his belief in God but he has trouble telling whether people are genuine or not. His story is supposedly written on some ledger books found in Caroline
great-grandmother’s attic in California.
The reader readily enters the life of this resourceful and engaging young man as he goes on the run from Whittlin Walt who is in search of a letter which gives the bearer ownership of some land near Pleasant Town. This land is evidently worth a dollar or two as PK is chased to Virginia City, encountering Belle, the ‘Soiled Dove’ and the newspaper repor ter Sam Clemens, aka Mark Twain. Helped by a Chinese boy and a professional gambler who teaches him how to read people by watching their feet, PK evades Walt until the final pages when he is trapped down a mineshaft and writes his story on the ledger to be found later which is where we came in.
The text is full of clever jokes like PK’s description of the prostitute Belle as a ‘Soiled Dove’, or the exchanges on p.205 about the meaning of Mark Twain and the many misspellings of words like ‘hore’ for whore. These may appeal to an adult but would I fear pass over a child’s head. The story moves along at a pace, is very exciting and full of twists and turns and, if the reader can suspend the picture in his/her mind of the foster father with an axe in his chest, then it is a good read. To enjoy this Western genre reality has to take a back seat. This novel would read aloud very well and also probably make a good film.
JFi Ashes HHH
Kathryn Lasky, Puffin, 320pp, 978 0 14 241112 4, £5.99 pbk
The burning of books in Berlin in the 1930s is perhaps one of the lesser known atrocities of the Nazis. Many of the greatest writers in the world were considered not pure German and their works, therefore, were burnt in a great pyre in a square in Berlin. Today one can visit the site where it occurred, and see a glass window in the paving which is a memorial to this act of vandalism.
Kathryn Lasky takes the rise of Adolf Hitler and the increasing power of the Nazi Party leading to the book burning, as the background to the story of 13 year-old Gaby, second daughter of an eminent professor of astronomy and a music teacher. Her father is a friend of Albert Einstein. This novel is Gaby’s
witness to the events of the 1930s which involve even her beloved elder sister, Ulla.
Gaby is a great reader and each chapter is prefaced with extracts from some of her favourite books. The Call of the Wild by Jack London is one, and Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer another. There are also quotations from Erich Kastner, Ernest Hemingway, Heinrich Heine, and Schiller. Together with her friend Rosa, Gaby moves to the gymnasium (secondary) school and encounters Frau Hofstadt, a charismatic teacher of literature. The two girls slavish fans of this elegant woman, only becoming disillusioned when she asks them to join the girls’ division of the Hitler Youth Movement. Gaby then discovers that Frau Hofstadt is in fact Goebbel’s mistress. Around the same time Ulla becomes pregnant by Karl her boyfriend whom Gaby mistrusts but cannot pinpoint why. Slowly the hold that Hitler has on the German population becomes evident, with Jewish friends disappearing and some like Albert Einstein leaving for America, until in the end Gaby’s parents decide to leave Germany too. Even though they are not Jewish, but they have been marked as ‘white Jews’ and are therefore vulnerable.
The story starts slowly and there are some annoying Americanisms in the text which detract from its historical feel, but after this slow start it does build inexorably to the climax of the book burning. The extracts from the works of literature which preface every chapter do not entirely fulfil their purpose in that they are too long in some cases and spoil the flow of the narrative. This is, however, a story which will shine a light on a dark period of history and it should provoke some heated discussions about censorship. JFi
Malorie Blackman, Corgi, 360 pp, 978 055255 56 23, £5.99 pbk
This taut and exciting story, first published in 1995, successfully combines insight and imagination with a strong moral message. Twelve-year-old Lydia Henson has recently moved with her family from London to a small Yorkshire town. Already an outsider, she is victimised after being framed for the theft of a school cup. The story then takes an unexpected turn as she is transported 37 years into the future, and sees the far reaching consequences of this situation and the resentment that it causes. But can Lydia get back to her own time, and change the future?
Blackman por trays the unpleasant processes of social ostracism with painful realism, before launching into a science-fiction adventure with echoes of Orwell’s 1984 and Wells’s The Shape of Things to Come. Here, a local tyrant rules with the aid of visored guards, while a resistance movement operates through underground passages. This dystopian future, with flying cars and synthetic-meat sandwiches, is also close enough to the present to be populated by the
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