adult versions of Lydia’s fellow-pupils, now approaching 50. This enables an immediate link to be established between the realism of the first few chapters and the science-fiction that follows.
10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued Six Days
Philip Webb, Chicken House, 384pp, 978 1 906427 62 7, £6.99 pbk
Although not all the elements from the future are resolved (is Britain still going to break up into rival principalities?), the corrosive and destructive effects of ‘bitterness and pain and overwhelming hatred’ are graphically demonstrated. This is the real core of the book, presented with an ingenious combination of school-story and science-fiction which makes it a meaningful and salutary read
Lula does the Hula HHHHH
Samantha Macintosh, Egmont, 384pp, 978 1 4052 5653 7, £5.99, pbk
Tallulah Bird is as off-beat a character as her name suggests. Her ex-alcoholic musician father, deceased white-witch grandmother and eccentric sisters provide a vivid backdrop for her energetic adventures. Add to this eclectic collection a delectable boyfriend and a motley crew of larger than life friends and you have...th
e Georgia Nicholson
Commendably, Mackintosh makes the mix very much her own, nodding to Louise Rennison’s hugely popular series but standing very firmly on her own narrative feet.
Humour resonates throughout,
generated both by plot and character. There is a healthy por tion of laugh-out-loud farce, substantiated by a lively wit and sharp comic timing. This is skilful writing, poised on the edge of cheerful chaos but never falling into it and it provides an excellent foil for the darker moments in the book.Ru
mours dog Tallulah, generated by the legacy she has supposedly inherited from her witch grandmother and are fuelled by the sort of coincidences which can add up to a superficially convincing jinx on any unfortunate male who gets too close to her. In addition, Tallulah’s journalist boyfriend Jack, unfortunately aided by the manipulative and conveniently gorgeous Jazz, are investigating a mystery at Frey’s Dam, a local beauty spot and when Tallulah and her friends step in to help, they get much more than they bargained for.
Lula does the Hula is an intriguing and engaging tapestry of sub plots, entertaining characters and thoughtful asides about the problems that beset teenage girls. It’s fresh, without pretension and thoroughly entertaining. The break-neck pace of the narrative carries the reader along but is never used as an excuse to trivialise the story. The jacket conveys perfectly the frivolous elements of the narrative but doesn’t suggest the more serious intricacies and tension which are expertly woven in to the narrative. VR
Post-apocalyptic fiction for young adults has now been with us in sufficient quantity for it to have acquired its own stock of recurring themes and stereotypes: the challenge for a new entrant to the genre is to avoid the formulaic and, in the process, to express a futuristic vision which, to some credible extent, bears some relevance to the world which its readers actually inhabit. Judged by these criteria, Philip Webb’s debut novel deserves high praise. The setting is an often scarifying London of the future, at a period when ‘The Empire of New Russia’ has become ‘the conquerors of the world’, the ‘Empire’ having its public face in the form of ‘the Vlads’, the ‘lords and masters’ of what remains of ordinary humanity. The latter is largely represented in the novel by a group of young people, principally sister and brother Cass and Wilbur, subsequently joined by two others, Peyto and Erin, who have arrived from a far distant world: it has taken them a billion years to reach London. The enterprise in which all of these become engaged revolves around their urgent necessity to discover a long buried ‘ar tefact’ which, when found, may stave off a final catastrophe. The characterisation of the four young people is strong and attractive, the opposing forces supplying quite a gallery of the sinister and sadistic. Once battle is joined, Webb exploits every opportunity of twist and turn to create a narrative which will keep a young audience involved. His insights into parental-child relationships, explored at several levels in various contexts, results in an additional, rich dimension.
RD The Thirteen Secrets HHHH
Michelle Harrison, Simon & Schuster, 400pp, 978 0 85707 089 0, £6.99 pbk
This is the third and final volume in ‘The Thirteen’ trilogy, following on from The Thirteen Treasures and The Thirteen Curses and it has teenage Rowan living a conventional life. But she has a secret. Under the name of Red she used to be an agent whose job was to rescue changelings. A girl named Suki starts reminding Rowan of her past, calling her by her trade name Red.
Rowan has made an enemy. While rescuing her brother James she was once imprisoned in a cellar with a man named Eldritch. She learned that Eldritch knew where James was, but chose not to tell her. When she escaped from the cellar she left Eldritch to die. Not unnaturally Eldritch is now in search of revenge.
An undercover agent who is desperate to retire but who is persuaded to undertake just one last mission is not a new theme. The last mission always
28 Books for Keeps No.189 July 2011
turns out to be the most complex and dangerous. Now Rowan must undertake one last case, but finds that in this instance it is the mother who has been stolen and substituted. Her friends Fabian and Tanya are her helpmates.
Although The Thirteen Secrets can be read alone, it is a definite advantage to be familiar with its substantial back story. The characters of Rowan, Fabian and Tanya are lively and convincing. The sympathy and enthusiasm of the reader are mobilised by their plans and actions. But the show is stolen (at least for me) by Tanya’s dog Oberon. His closeness to and understanding of his human partner remind us of Pullman’s daemons. In the course of the book Oberon’s loyalty is put to a severe test. But he is named after the king of the fairies and he survives intact.
There is a symbolic weakness in the characterisations. Critics such as Pinsent and Keith have pointed out that in traditional children’s literature, disabled characters were too often depicted as predestined victims or sinister stereotypical
The Iraq War NON-FICTION
Simon Adams, Franklin Watts ‘Secret History’, 48pp, 978 0 7496 8228 6, £12.99 hbk
The man I feel sorry for is Hans Blix – sweating like a pig in his shiny grey suit, he bent over backwards to try to convince the arrogant Bush/Blair axis that Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. The total disregard of his professional expertise led to one of the most shocking and awful states of unrest in today’s world. Simon Adams’ admirable objectivity, however, makes his book a very interesting study of this lamentable – and still continuing – episode.
Contemporary authors have moved away from these unreflective tropes. But a fairy who has had polio starts filling a useful function – and then dies. And Eldritch loses a hand escaping from his cellar, becoming the archetypal malformed figure. It is a pity that this otherwise uniformly excellent book is marred in a way that could have been easily avoided.
RBu Duty Calls: Dunkirk HHHH
James Holland, Puffin, 416pp, 978 0 14 133219 2, £6.99 pbk
This chunky novel is the first for young readers by the well-known historian James Holland. He convincingly and evocatively describes life for the troops, rather than that of the High Command and politicians, in the days leading up to the evacuation from Dunkirk. Through the eyes of Private Hawke, who faked his age to join up, we learn how he had ‘thought only of excitement and Glory… No one mentioned how exhausting it was fighting a war, or how filthy a soldier became. Or that it wasn’t really very glamorous at all.’
As you might expect, Holland achieves a high level of realism in the many battle scenes and the degree of fine detail is impressive, even if gory. So too is the depiction of the close bonds between the Tommies and with their Sergeant, who happens to be Hawke’s future brother-in-law. Even amidst the appalling carnage these young men look to a future and to realise their dreams. Notably the enemy is not vilified and Holland portrays them as being essentially the same as the Brits, only on the other side.
This may be about WWII but it has a lot to say about any war at any time, which conveys much that is relevant for our young men in the 21st century. Good for any competent reader, especially if they are into war and army, or, better still, studying the 1940s.
We see that the US was gunning for Iraq long before 9/11 (and possibly provoking that event) – spy planes and satellites, secret air bases were all at it. After the unhorsing of the Saddam regime (hatred of which had united the country) it became open season on any one faction for any of the others – multifaceted civil war. And G W Bush announced ‘Mission Accomplished’. Now, after years of accident and insurgency, Iraq appears to be returning to self-control, albeit with American forces still on the ground. But is Iraq at peace? Is the war over? Remains (and there are lots of them) to be seen. Adams wisely skirts round the issue of oil but you have to ask yourself whether, if Iraq were the world’s beetroot capital, would anyone give a toss?
TP Wish Me Dead HHH
Helen Grant, Penguin, 448pp, 978 0 14 133770 8, £7.99 pbk
Echoes of Germanic folklore and fairy tale abound in Helen Grant’s novel, the third in a series which focuses on the historical and mythical past of Germany’s Eifel region and, in par ticular, on the town of Bad Munstereifel. The contemporary setting, centering on a bakery business owned by the Nett family, is conveyed in attractive and mouth-watering detail, even to the extent that many readers may end up feeling that they have more knowledge of German bread and pastries than they will probably ever require. It is on teenager Steffi Nett and five of her friends that the novel concentrates: how, by the time the
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