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BfK 14+ Secondary/Adult continued

never lost that adolescent vulnerability and openness that, now in his seventies, he still writes stories in which reflective adolescents will surely discover themselves. He is not concerned with the surface stuff of some teenage fiction – the aps and i-pods and wha’evers – though he is happy enough to have one female narrator record a lengthy spell in the cosmetics section of a department store having her first make-up make-over. He has always been concerned with outside-of-time matters; with tentative relationships, emerging sexuality, lack of confidence, trust and betrayal, violence and tenderness. Any of these might provoke sudden insights about the mess of living which disturb but move you on to somewhere else whether you like it or not. His publisher says that the experiences explored here are ‘unique to the teenage years’. But for Chambers, one may feel, that is not so. For him, ironically, such continuing awareness is itself evidence of a kind of maturity, of still being alive; and thus, ‘only in the act of writing do I declare myself’

GF Thin Ice HHHH

Mikael Engström, trans. Susan Beard, Little Island, 288pp, 978 1 908195 00 5, £7.99 pbk

Little Island, a new entrant to the world of Irish children’s publishing, has as one of its intentions, the provision of an outlet for children’s and young adult fiction in translation, thus allowing young Irish readers access to places beyond their own green fields or post-Celtic Tiger deprivation. It is to this initiative that we owe Thin Ice, translated from the Swedish by Susan Beard into English which is at once colloquial and fluid and always engaging. In essence, this is the story of 12-year-old Mik and how, with his mother dead, his father an alcoholic and an older brother concerned with making his own occasionally dubious way in the world, he finds himself very much a child of passage. He moves between social services, a benignly eccentric aunt and a far from benign family of dog breeders, with the last of whom he is made to suffer unspeakable degradation. Summarised in this way, it might seem that Engström’s novel takes its readers into the blackest recesses of the Scandinavian psyche and there are certainly moments when the wintry landscapes and darkening forests assume the role of moral wilderness, almost Beckettian in its bleakness. But there are some marvellously hear t-warming moments also, most apparent in the book’s picturesque assortment of minor characters, not least the totally delightful girl called Pi, with whom Mik is to experience the first very

tender intimations of

pre-adolescent love. But what finally sustains Mik as he precariously makes his way across the literal and metaphorical patches of ‘thin ice’ in his life is the picture he has in his head of the ‘home’ he feels he has always been

denied. How touching, then, it should be that ‘home’ is the word with which this captivating novel ends.


Martyn Bedford, Walker, 304pp, 978 1 4063 2989 6, £7.99 pbk

14-year-old Alex wakes up to find himself in a different body, with a different home and a different life to which he must get accustomed. Furthermore, he has ‘lost’ six months. He finds the process of adaptation painful and difficult. How can he reconcile his mind with the body and social scene belonging to Philip, or Flip, as he is significantly nick-named? Is there any way back? Eventually, Alex realises that his own ‘self’ is in a long-term coma, following a hit-and-run accident, and his psyche is now lodged in the body of a boy who was born on the same day as him, and in the same hospital.

Bedford has written a profound and moving novel on these themes. Far from being a body-swap comedy, this book is an examination, from Alex’s point of view, of the pain and anguish arising from a disconnection between mind and body. We get a penetrating study of what it is like to be a studious, thoughtful boy who suddenly finds that he has greater muscular strength and can attract the best-looking (but not the most intelligent) girls. On the way, the book subtly suggests the class and social differences between Alex and Flip’s families and confronts the issue of being true to oneself. Yet clearly Alex’s mind is the stronger of the two, despite Flip’s physicality and popularity. These themes are supported by the use of some arresting descriptions: school-work becomes ‘a foothold on the scary, insurmountable cliff-face of what had happened to him’, while the windows of the hospital where he was born resemble ‘rows of eyes whose make-up had streaked from too much weeping’. In addition, however, there are some Americanisms such as ‘snuck’ which seem anomalous in this English scene.

The book should appeal alike to boys and girls of 14 or over, who will appreciate its insights into the difficulties of finding one’s true self. The section which considers the relationship between the soul, psyche and mind requires some maturity, but the scene where Alex tracks down his condition on the Internet will seem familiar to many readers. This is an absorbing book which makes you think a little differently.

RT Aurora HHHH

Julie Bertagna, Macmillan, 320pp, 978 0330435642, £6.99 pbk

The third and final instalment in the trilogy that includes Exodus and Zenith, Aurora moves on in time fifteen years and centres on headstrong Lily – the daughter of the fearless Mara who led

30 Books for Keeps No.189 July 2011

her people from the drowned islands of a flooded Earth to the high lands of the north where they now live. Like most teenagers, Lily feels trapped and when she learns that her real father, Fox, lives across the ocean, she determines to have her own adventure and find him. The journey takes her through dangerous lands visited in previous books by her mother, but these territories have developed and changed from when she – and the reader – last heard about them. Now new people are in charge, with power struggles and challenges that threaten to prevent Lily finding Fox. Lily cannot know that Fox is about to begin a revolution he’s planned nearly all his life against the empire in the sky towers of people who live in luxury and ignores the plight of the other flood survivors. This revolution will change the way of life for everyone on the planet.

Lyrical narration switches between the new generation of children such as Lily and characters familiar from the previous books but now grown-up, deftly weaving their personal grudges, ambitions and perspectives together. The ambitious scope of the revolution spreads across a remarkable breadth of brilliantly imagined places and people – from the netherworld of the drowned ear th with its new sea-adapted species, across the deceptive fjordlands and mountains of the north full of people desperate to survive to the imperious empire of the sky cities towering over the oceans – let alone the virtual planes of the Weave and Noos where trade takes place and rebels hide behind their avatars.

This fantasy’s brisk pace and short chapters are exciting and interesting, if not always completely engaging, but it never loses itself in frivolous action, remaining focused on characters caught in fragile moments of great change, reminding us that history and futures are always created by people and the choices they make.

MH Killing Honour HHHH

Bali Rai, Corgi, 336pp, 978 0 552 56211 9, £6.99, pbk

Racially complicated Leicester here seethes with drugs, status cars, booze, bars and clubs, lust, wife-beating and murder. Not the easiest place for fifteen-year-old Satinder Kooner to grow up, especially as his Sikh family is scarred by contradictions and denials. When wealthy, shop-owning dad suspects his daughter Jaswinder of ‘seeing some Asian lad’ at college, his version of family honour prompts a swiftly arranged marriage to a rich club owner. Duty done, he ignores his daughter’s evident suffering, preferring the consolations of Chivas Regal. Sat isn’t buying into this hypocrisy and empty tradition. When Jas suddenly disappears, accused by his sadistic brother-in-law of running off with a lover, he knows he must search for her. Danger crowds on danger for Sat, distancing him from the normal adolescent pleasures and pains of the inter-racial world of his school friends. Instead, he is adrift in a vicious underworld which ranges from seedy Leicester back rooms to the fields of

the Punjab where a discarded woman is raped and slaughtered. Though there is to be no easy ending to his search, Sat eventually finds others willing to take on his murdering in-laws. Sat tells a journalist he meets to talk about the fate of abused wives: ‘The media call it “honour killing” or “honour-related abuse”, which is a joke. Those murders aren’t about honour – more like killing honour.’

Bali Rai mostly works with actions and sur faces. He’s strong on uncompromising violence and language. A machete killing is prefaced by multiple rape. As she quits a hated employer, a woman leaves on her screen, GOODBYE NEEDLE DICK. Sentences are clipped and urgent. BfK readers with long memories might worry that some episodes come close to gratuitous excitement, maybe remembering the salacious Skinhead or Boot Boys of the seventies. But the integrity of the writing here is very different. Leicester is Bali Rai’s home town, and there is an anger and directness driving the excitement which I think Young Adult readers will respect and trust.

GF Linger HHHH

Maggie Stiefvater, Scholastic, 432pp, 978 1 407121 08 6, £7.99 pbk

This is the second book in an eventual trilogy and follows Grace and Sam (he cured of werewolfism and she slowly succumbing to it) and Isabel and Cole (she brittle and brutally intelligent, he the ex-lead singer of Narcotika, desperate to lose himself in the body and mind of a wolf).

The stories skilfully interweave and say just as much about the human condition as they do about the world of the supernatural. Characters avoid stereotypical dialogue and responses as the emphasis is firmly on the human world rather than what lies beyond. The werewolf narrative illuminates the human story simply because it is not all-encompassing but a constant, subtle threat which enhances the reality of Sam and Grace’s relationship by foreshadowing its end.

Similarly, its physical and metaphorical elusiveness keeps Cole on the edge of what he most desires – an extinguishing of the misdemeanours of his past, an absolution from responsibility and damage. That’s not to say that the two worlds do not collide-sometimes


sometimes head-on – but hey do so in a way which reminds the reader of the struggle to make sense of the world around us, to establish identity and take emotional risks.

The story is compellingly readable, has its market clearly and consistently targeted and leaves the reader wanting more.

VR Department 19 HHH

Will Hill, HarperCollins, 496pp, 978 0 00 735445 0, £12.99 hbk

So you thought vampires were on their way out? You thought wrong. Will Hill’s

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