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Out of this World NON-FICTION


Clive Gifford, ill. Andrew Pinder, Buster Books, 128pp, 978 1 90715194 1, £7.99 hbk

A cheerful and brisk introduction to space and the universe, full of gee-whiz facts and ‘would-you-believe-its’. Text is regularly broken up by headings, and cartoon line drawings liven up the pages throughout. Author Clive Gifford takes a matey tone, but his text is well pitched for the age group and there is plenty of good detail on living in space and the important business of eating, sleeping and going to the loo in a space suit or space station. A chapter is included on stargazing, but apart from a handful of diagrams of constellations like the Big Dipper/Plough and Orion, there are no pictures that would help you navigate your way around the night sky. For children who like the ‘Horrible History’ black-and-white only approach, this could fit the bill, but those who want to marvel over images of distant

galaxies and star birth must turn to more colourful volumes.

SU Psychosilly HHH

Alan Murphy, AvantCard Publications, 68pp, 978 0 9561 7341 6, £10.99 pbk

Alan Murphy is a collage artist as well as a poet and self-publisher. Most of the 32 poems in this collection from Ireland might be seen as word collages. Murphy is not much interested here in linear narratives and only sometimes in rhythm. He is interested in rhyme – and often cheerfully reaches quite hard for one. He is definitely interested in mucking about with words, arranging them within his verses and pages in surprising, even whimsical ways, echoed by the colourful visual collages which accompany each poem.

I am not entirely sure how interested he is in children as readers. If you use as the epigraph in a book for children Henri Bergson’s observation,

‘Intelligence is characterised by a natural incomprehension of life’, you do invite speculation about who the intended reader might be. Mr Murphy’s bio-note talks of him giving ‘many public readings of his poems’ and maybe he is chiefly concerned with children as listeners. To make the most of his playful language, you might do well to read them aloud to a class – and leave it at that; or ask them to play with a poem in a pair or group before sharing a reading with others. These are verses to be experienced rather than analysed - the language needs tasting on the tongue. Perhaps they are also not for use as starting points for young writers, since the wackiness,


to-hell-with-logic-winsomeness might well invite mere imitation rather than originality and invention.

An attempt to give an account of these extremely various verses is impossible, so I’ll offer a selection of titles to give the flavour of the whole: ‘In Praise Of Buttocks’, ‘Step Out Of Your Skin’, ‘Buttons And Puddles And Mud And Chairs’ and ‘The Pig And The Parasol’.

14+ Secondary/Adult

Code Name Verity HHHH

Elizabeth Wein, Electric Monkey, 288pp, 978 1 4052 5821 0, £7.99 pbk

Narrated by the protagonists, this story has a distinct young person’s tone but the tale it tells is definitely an adult one. Set against the background of the Second World War it is a story of friendship, one so strong that in the end it results in death but not perhaps as one would perceive at the outset. It is told in two parts, firstly by Julia and then by Maddie. These two young women meet up during the war. Julia is a Scottish aristocrat, Maddie from a working class home, but they become firm friends. By chance Maddie then flies her friend to France to work there for Special Operations Executive (SOE). Things go awry and the plane crash lands after Julia has parachuted out. Maddie is found by the Resistance but Julia is caught by making a fatal mistake, that of looking the wrong way for traffic. The story starts with Julia confessing, having revealed the codes for the eleven wireless sets, the wreckage of which are found in the burnt out plane. Or is she? The ‘confession’ is in the form of a first person narrative telling of her friendship with Maddie and the difficulties she has with the German interrogator and his assistant, Frau Engel. Maddie picks up the story in the second part of the book, but this time it is told from a different angle. Julia’s story is shown to be part of an attempt to give information to the Resistance to destroy the Gestapo headquar ters where she is being held. The Resistance carry out a daring raid on a convoy taking Julia and other prisoners to a concentration camp, but this goes disastrously wrong and in a chilling

episode Julia is killed by her best friend, seemingly at her own request.

This book takes it time to unravel the story, slowly gripping the reader who wonders if Julia is really the traitor she seems, and until the denouement there is no hint of the truth. Maddie’s predicament when her friend calls out to her is heartbreaking and while a bit incredible makes for a rattling good story. Both young women are strong characters, and the class divide is credibly drawn as a result of war bringing together disparate people. The war time background is convincing, catching the ephemeral nature of life at that time, and the whole makes for an unputdownable book.

JF Virtuosity HHHH

Jessica Martinez, Simon & Schuster, 304pp, 978 0 8570 7284 9, £6.99 pbk

A seventeen-year-old prodigy, Carmen is all about


the violin. Her runs


home-schooled life, which is insular, eerily stable and entirely focused on her being the best she can be. Carmen has never considered that life could be any different, and has never wanted it to be; with the crucial Guarneri competition coming up, ultimate success and prestige beckon.

The one thing standing in her way is Jeremy King, the only competitor who might just beat her. Temptation leads her to sneak out and see him play and while she was afraid that he might be better than her, the reality is a whole lot worse: she sees someone who might just be the only person to understand her. But even what might be love can’t change the fact they both are desperate to win, and that a dream come true for one will mean the utter

downfall of the other. There’s a reason why these people are called soloists – when life is stretched as taut as a string on a Stradivarius, obsession bites harder, betrayal cuts deeper, and secrets refuse to be contained.

This meeting marks the star t of Carmen’s emergence from a numbing cocoon into the sprawling mess of a wider life, complete with its choices, emotions and pitfalls, as the hairline fractures in Carmen’s outlook that have been plastered over with medication and dedication threaten to crack wide open.

The forbidden love here is thought-provoking rather than gritty and melancholic and you don’t have to like classical music to appreciate the themes of addiction, control and freedom. The brisk plot keeps you on your toes, and this novel would be brilliant for teens questioning what they want in life, affirming that while change, growth and emotion come with a price, some things have to break in order to be reformed into something better.

MH India Dark H

Kirsty Murray, Templar, 336pp, 978 1 8487 7210 6, £6.99 pbk

There is an unsettling feeling emanating from this novel; it is difficult to pin down but I think it is the menace in the story of abuse both physical and possibly sexual. Based on a true story, it tells of a group of Australian child actors and performers in 1910 who travel with a Mr Arthur through Asia from Australia. To Posey it is a glamorous escape from factory work, but it soon turns out that there is much discord amongst the group. Told in two voices, those of Tilly and Posey (which are not different enough to make it

clear who is writing) the text follows the young people across Asia, through Manila to India. Money is tight and two small girls have to hide under the railway seats when travelling to avoid paying fares. Money is not sent home by Mr Arthur as promised and the older girls rebel at his violent restriction of them. One, Eliza, is already his mistress. The young people sell photographs of themselves to stage door admirers, while Mr Arthur repels all suitors for the older girls. In the end there is a strike and an adult is told of the abuse and steps are taken to halt it.

Because of the two voices of the narrative which are not distinct enough, and the muddled picture the reader receives of what is going on, this is a story which leaves the reader unsatisfied, aware of things unsaid and unresolved.


Knowing Me, Knowing You HHH

Helen Bailey, Hodder, 336pp, 978 1 4449 0085 9, £6.99 pbk

Some really serious issues are woven into this teenage novel, including pregnancy resulting from a one night stand, adoption, deception, internet grooming via Facebook, kidnap and gay marriage. The central character, Channy, who grows up feeling that she is something of a misfit in her family, discovers by chance that her Dad is not her biological father. This unleashes a series of events which lead to her kidnap as she embarks on a dangerous internet quest to discover her real father.

Humour is a backdrop for every scene of the book (even Channy’s kidnap) from her cringingly embarrassing parents who are half of an Abba tribute band, via the occupational hazard of

Books for Keeps No.192 January 2012 29

And a couple of examples of opening lines:

Rhyme is the reason that hot air balloons

Dishevel the sky just like ‘not there’ cartoons…


Have you ever seen a vampire playing golf?

Or a ghoul from a sarcophagus called Rolf?

Have you ever drank a cup of cyanide

With a tasty chocolate biscuit on the side?

Lear and Carroll maintained a kind of inner logic in their Nonsense Verses. Sometimes Mr Murphy does; and sometimes he don’t.


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