action has been played out has this apparently shy young woman come to feel herself responsible for, as she expresses it, ‘three deaths, a disappearance and a serial killer with a crush on me’? There are some extremely murky goings-on, some extremely repellent characters and friendship is shown to take some
extremely devious turns, though perceptive young readers will almost certainly have identified the villain of the piece long before the final moment of revelation. The best of Grant’s writing is to be found in her depiction of atmosphere, especially evident in the way in which contemporary events are always shown to be occurring in the
shadow of ancient bigotries and bloodshed. At times, however, the tone becomes too self-consciously melodramatic, displayed in an over-fondness for simile and metaphor. There is, for example, a sequence where Steffi finds herself having to fend off the predatory intentions of the ghastly Achim: within a few lines, ‘He
14+ Secondary/Adult The Fall HHH
Anthony McGowan, Barrington Stoke, 72pp, 978 1 84299 486 3, £6.99 pbk
A teenage boy, Mog, reflects on his schooldays and gang relationships following news of the death of a classmate. The story is one of hero worship, wanting to belong, of pride and jealousy. It shows too how actions have consequences and they are seldom the ones we expected. McGowan, who is an award winner for teen fiction, tells it with an authentic, uncompromising teen voice and with a tone of well-tuned regret that doesn’t veer into the maudlin.
Designed to be dyslexia friendly, this short novel is billed as for reading age 8+ and interest age 14+. Readers who struggle with reading will find the narrative sensitive to their needs but might be a bit perplexed at the slightly enigmatic ending. It’ll certainly give them something to reflect on and demonstrates that good stories aren’t all about plot alone.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Yasutaka Tsutsui, trans. David Karashima, Alma Books, 200pp, 978 1 84688 134 3, £7.99 pbk
Kazuko, Goro and Kazuo are in their last year in Junior High School. Strange goings-on in the Science Lab lead Kazuko into a series of replayed but slightly different experiences as she leaps backwards and forwards over just a few days; Groundhog Day without the laughs. She’ll find herself in a Maths lesson asked to solve a problem she believes she had dealt with the day before, only to find her class-mates have no memory of it. Notes she wrote in her exercise book one day have disappeared because she has slipped back 24 hours. One night, she sees a fire near Goro’s house and even talks with Kazuo as they watch the blaze. But in the morning, the others know nothing of the fire or the conversation. So the three friends go to their science teacher who tells them of mysterious instances of telepor tation. The explanation of Kazuko’s bewildering experiences, when it comes, belongs at once to teenage romance and science fiction.
The book has dated over the forty-odd years it has waited for a translation into English. Some of the sense of time gone by lies in the detail – a teacher
The Grasshopper’s Run HHHH
Siddhartha Sarma, Bloomsbury, 208pp, 978 1 4088 0940 2, £6.99 pbk
After many decades when Ruskin Bond was the only well known writer in the field, Indian children’s fiction written in English is beginning to attract attention. Penguin India and Scholastic India alongside smaller publishers are publishing more titles for young readers and now one of India’s most important literary prizes, the Vodafone Crossword Book Awards has instigated a new prize category for children’s literature. Siddhartha Sarma’s debut novel, The Grasshopper’s Run, was its first winner.
Set in North East India in 1944, this
lighting up a cigarette, the decorum of the young people’s friendships, a narrative style innocent of the streetwise idiom which now marks most YA writing. Some of this otherness may stem from a cultural difference, but the distancing also comes from slight oddities in the translation: ‘Together they jumped for joy at Goro’s lucky escape’ or ‘Mr Fukushima ran off the pavement and shouted, “Run! There’s a steel beam falling!”’
The novella may well seem rather naïve to readers used to the computer-generated, wise-cracking universe of Doctor Who. The publishers’ note that this is one of Tsutsui’s ‘most popular works in his native Japan’, but their claim that Kazuko must ‘push the boundaries of space and time, and challenge the notions of dream and reality’ seems inflated. There is certainly an attractive playfulness at times in the plotting, but this translation may have reached us too late in the day to be more than a literary curiosity.
A second novella, suited to rather younger readers, The Stuff that Nightmares are made of, completes the book. Here, Masuko, just started at secondary school, makes use of everyday experiences to explore memories which lie beneath anxieties suffered by herself and her little brother, Yoshio. It is a kindly series of
powerful historical novel starts with a gruesome massacre when an ambitious Japanese colonel, convinced that British troops are hiding in a village of an Ao Naga tribe, orders an attack. No British are found but all the villagers are killed, including Uti, the chief’s grandson who has bravely resisted the invaders. The narrative moves to Calcutta where Uti’s best friend Gojen is at school. Gojen vows revenge and as the war continues, takes an active role in fighting the enemy as part of his mission to seek out the colonel responsible.
The novel is densely written and perhaps a little overloaded with the weight of the historical research its author has conducted although there are some nail-biting battle scenes. Sarma’s emphasis is on action rather than characterisation but Gojen is a stalwart hero. What fascinated this reader is the insight this novel provides from an Indian perspective on an area that was to become a major theatre of WW11.
stories, but over-neat to contemporary eyes. 1967 seems another country where, indeed, they do things differently. Yoshio’s mother tells him, ‘You’re a boy, Yoshio! You need to start acting like one….You know they pick on you because you’re always playing with girls. Why don’t you join in with the boys and play their games?
A Small Free Kiss in the Dark HHHH
Glenda Millard, Templar, 216pp, 978 1 84877 027 0, £6.99 pbk
What happens to a 12-year-old boy who hates his school and who is lodged with the latest in a series of unsatisfactory foster parents? The answer is – run away from both. Skip becomes a street urchin.
So far so realistic: but Millard now slips her characters into a world that is subtly but decisively alien. Skip meets a war veteran named Billy: we are not told which war. A pseudo-paternal relationship springs up between Skip and Billy. Skip is a gifted painter, whom Billy encourages to study art history in the books of a handy library.
Somehow this world comes under aerial bombardment. Billy, Skip and an orphaned six year old named Max Montgomery end up living in the ruins of the bombed library. Their next residence is an abandoned funfair,
which has more than a passing resemblance to Luna Park in Melbourne, the capital of Millard’s home state. There they meet a 15-year-old unmarried mother Tia and her child, whom they name Sixpence.
This dramatic narrative serves to illustrate a number of themes including the importance of family ties, the futility of war, the psychological trauma of conflict, and the powerful driving force of dire necessity. The survivors steal their food and Tia prostitutes herself to feed her child. Millard’s intent is clearly to emphasise how close to the surface of civilized life we find the primeval instincts necessary to survive, and how swiftly issues about survival and humanity are linked when society begins to feel itself menaced.
Glenda Millard’s narrative technique is tight and meticulous, reminding this reviewer of her fellow-Australian Maurice Gleitzman’s style in the trilogy Once, Then and Now. She recounts momentous changes through the eyes of an impressionable child, noting the apparently tiny details that mark epochal events. By coincidence, but significantly, this review was written on the anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.
RBu The Kissing Game HHHHH
Aidan Chambers, Bodley Head, 224pp, 978 0 370 33197 3, £10.99 hbk
In a BfK Authorgraph (September 2001), Aidan Chambers says, ‘You have to risk dealing with the material inside yourself you’d rather not face or, certainly, not have other people face. Only in the act of writing do I declare myself.’ That comment is exemplified, you might well think, in this collection of shor t stories and brief dramatic dialogues. Some are published for the first time, others are gathered from anthologies or magazines over the last 20 or more years. The last piece in the book, begun when Chambers was 15 and two more years in the crafting, reflects a mind already using the experience of his grandfather’s death to search himself: ‘There was nothing about me at that moment that I did not know. And the knowledge was an unbearable pain.’
Such self-awareness and the pain that goes with it recur in this collection, even on the rare occasions when the register is comic – a tale told by a girl doing a summer job in a kangaroo suit at an amusement park, for example, or in some of the park-bench conversation playlets. It is because Chambers has
Books for Keeps No.189 July 2011 29
reeled me in like a fish’... ‘the slobbery kiss that was being aimed at me with the soggy gracelessness of a water bomb’... ‘I felt as though I had walked through the back room in a butcher’s shop and a whole side of beef had fallen off its hook and landed on me’... And there is a lot more like this to come.
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