BfK 14+ Secondary/Adult continued
teenage zits to a doggedly committed boyfriend who won’t stay dumped, no matter how hard Channy tries. Eventually, all the strands of the narrative combine to produce a happy ending, but not before Channy learns a great deal about internet safety, family love and relationships.
The book is entertaining, with a lot to laugh about. However, the ease with which Channy was traced on Facebook and the amount of information that her fictional abductor obtained are the result of the author’s factual research. She chose a person at random, following friend’s links to build a profile. So the novel is a pertinent warning to set security levels appropriately. It requires a mature teenage reader to perceive the seriousness of the issues beneath the humour.
GR In Darkness HHHH
Nick Lake, Bloomsbury, 352pp, 978 1 4088 1994 4, £12.99 hbk, 978 1 4088 1995 1, £6.99 pbk
Haitians. It is also an extremely tough book to get through. Horrors abound, and while this is inevitable in any novel set in Haiti, past or present, there was for me a considerable feeling of relief at the last page and not just because Shorty survives against the odds. Nick Lake deserves congratulations for his achievement and every right to expect many readers, hopefully less squeamish than this one.
NT The Song of Achilles HHHHH
Madeleine Miller, Bloomsbury, 368pp, 978 1 4088 1603 5, £18.99 hbk
Madeline Miller trained in classical languages in her native America and her scholarship informs this fine first novel, which revisits the story of Achilles. Her choice of Patroclus as her narrator is daring, lending the old tale a moving intimacy. In life, Patroclus is Achilles’ friend and lover; his death draws the proud warrior from his tent, first to fire the Greeks, then to butcher Hector and finally, to meet his own fate. This Patroclus bears little kinship to the ‘effeminate man’ of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, ridiculed by Thersites as Achilles’ ‘male varlet’, his ‘masculine whore’. In his actions, Miller’s Patroclus is much closer to Homer’s steadfast friend, with little taste for battle until, wearing his comrade’s armour, he cuts swathes through the Trojan ranks, crazed by the shedding of blood, before meeting his own death at the hand of Hector. Miller is faithful to the events of The Iliad, but then she adds a 21st century insight not available to the ancient poet.
relationship between Patroclus and Achilles – and to the devious Greek generals as well as the gentle and constant slave Briseis, here more devoted to Patroclus than Achilles. For his part, Achilles’ concern for his own reputation leads to the sacrifice of his beloved; a concern very like a modern political leader’s obsession with ‘legacy’. Alongside her treatment of personality, Miller remarkably includes Achilles’ mother, the goddess Thetis, as a major player in the drama – and we are even aware of the rest of Them bickering away in the background. Thetis’ possessive jealousy dogs Patroclus to the day of his death.
Although published on a list for young readers, this book will be read with great pleasure by many adults. Bloomsbury have given the novel the kind of hardback packaging we expect from a high quality American production, though this volume is typeset and printed in the UK, with generous dimensions, margins and line spacing, a gold ribbon page-marker, black endpapers and a black and gold dust jacket. There is also an e-book version. If this is a young reader’s first step onto the plain before Troy, let it be by way of these ivory pages rather than on the cold screen of Kindle.
GF A Witch in Winter HHHH
Ruth Warburton, Hodder Children’s Books, 368pp, 978 1 4449 0469 7, £6.99, pbk
Imagine Anna’s surprise when the very next day the school heartthrob Seth Waters ‘possibly the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen’ dumps his girlfriend for her!
This is just the beginning of Anna’s trials. As the reader has known from the beginning, Winter hides all sorts of secrets, and there’s more to Anna then she ever suspected too. By the end of the book she will have saved Seth’s life, led her side in a bloody battle between good and bad witches, died, come back to life and found true love.
If this makes the book sound like one of the many supernatural potboilers filling the bookshelves at the moment, it’s absolutely not. Author Ruth Warburton, who studied Old English and Middle English texts at University, has created a taut, engaging story full of genuine suspense that builds to a thrilling and satisfying climax. Anna is an engaging and entertaining heroine, with a nice line in caustic humour. The setting is spot on (Winter is based on the town of Lewes apparently) and there are lots of original touches amongst the supernatural – Seth uses a distress flare to put paid to a demon, you wouldn’t get that in Middle Earth! The scene is set for a sequel or two, and Warburton has cleverly seeded storylines to be developed in later books.
This is a very enjoyable read, and an impressive debut novel.
The Catastrophic History of You and Me
Jess Rothenberg, Razorbill, 400pp, 978 0 1413 3447 9, £6.99 pbk
This is a weird book, excessively long and very far from an easy read.
This hugely ambitious novel, set in Haiti, has two main characters. One is Toussaint l’Ouver ture, the famous eighteenth century former slave who briefly freed his island and people from foreign oppressors. The other is Shorty, a trapped fifteen-year-old gang leader who recounts his tragic life story to himself while awaiting rescue from the terrible ear thquake of 2010. Both stories are told in parallel, and each is connected by supernatural forces involving not just voodoo but the whole apparatus of primitive faith systems still believed in today as they were two hundred years ago. The result is a novel dark in every sense of the world, from Shorty’s incarceration deep in the rubble to the endemic violence thrown up by the struggle for existence in Haiti that still continues. Published in two editions, one for the YA market and the other for adults, this novel is truly impressive, rich in detail including many examples – with translation – of the patois spoken between native
Everything looks wonderful for Aubrie Elizabeth Egan, known as Brie. She is at high school. Her father is a renowned cardiac surgeon. Her parents are still together. Her boyfriend Jacob Fischer is an athletics star. But at the age of fifteen, Brie suddenly dies of heart disease. Most of the narrative of this book is situated in Brie’s afterlife. This reader required a period of adjustment to become accustomed to this posthumous narrative.
In a parallel universe inhabited by the recently deceased, Brie frequents a pizza parlour named Slice, where she meets Nintendo kid, someone she calls Lady Gothga and Patrick Darling, who becomes her approximation to a boyfriend in the world of the dead.
Seventeen-year-old Anna and her Dad have left Notting Hill for the tiny coastal town of Winter, and Wicker House in particular.
Beginning with their shared boyhood, she delicately traces the growth of the love of two gay – or bisexual – men into a bond so powerful and enduring that Patroclus is willing to die for the love of his life. (How Ms Miller retains Patroclus as her narrator after his mor tal death could not be more consistent with classical belief.) The modern
psychological complexity to the 30 Books for Keeps No.192 January 2012 perspective lends
Wicker House is everything you’d expect from a supernatural thriller: dark, creepy, home to hundreds of crows. Anna’s new Winter friends are both impressed and scared when she tells them she’s living in ‘The Witch’s House’. When the electricity fails during a Cava-fuelled sleepover, and Anna uses a bit of a strange old book she’s found to light the candle, before you can say Friday 13th the friends are holding hands in a circle and reciting a spell to bind an object of desire.
Communication is possible between the dead world and the living. Brie can witness some of the catastrophic consequences of her own death, including her father’s guilt at being unable to save her, his consequent misbehaviour, her mother’s grief, and the way one of her close friends at school takes advantage of her absence to grab Jacob. The story now unfolds to show how Brie and Patrick bring the narrative of their deaths to a less destructive conclusion.
relationship between Brie and her friends is beautifully described. We understand why she hates having had to leave them. Her relationship with her
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