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Honour is one of those books.

The author comes from a Punjabi Sikh background. It would be all too easy to shy away from the issue of honour killing. Bali refuses to do that.

As he says in an interview on the Sugarscape website, the fact that

17,000 women every year are the victims of honour-related violence is not a cultural issue, as some misguided observers would have it. It is: ‘men exercising brute power over women.’ When Sat’s beloved sister Jas marries into the Atwal family her life becomes a descent into Hell. She disappears and Sat tries to find out what has happened to her. The Atwals allege that she has run off with her lover. Sat knows this is wrong. Shockingly, the other members of his family abandon their own daughter, forcing Sat to rethink his whole value system.

This is a fierce, angry book and all the better for it. As Bali says in the interview: ‘If I took the anger out of it, it wouldn’t be right.’ (12+)

Damian Kelleher, journalist and writer

A Monster Calls Patrick Ness & Siobhan Dowd, ill. Jim Kay, Walker, 216pp, 978 1 4063 1152 5, £12.99 hbk

I’ve always liked pictures as well as words in my books; I can think of plenty of children’s stories that would benefit from a few exquisite illustrations. Parents are always so keen to move their children on to ‘chapter books’, but isn’t it a little sad to wave goodbye too soon?

That’s part of the reason why I love A Monster Calls. It’s a grown-up book with pictures for teenage readers. It deals with Big Issues with Big Capital Letters. Terminal Cancer. Bullying. Absent Parents. These aren’t unique in YA fiction, but they are handled in a mature and engaging way by Patrick Ness. Still, what makes this book fly is the monster that stomps into Conor’s room at night, leaving its trail of yew needles. Jim Kay’s spiky, inky drawings with their textures and threats drag us into a dark, dangerous parallel world. As the monster relates stories to Conor, it allows him to make sense of his situation. Kay’s illustrations thrill us every bit as much as Ness’s text; the two complement each other, wrapping the reader up in the story, and squeezing until the tears come rolling down. And wouldn’t Siobhan Dowd have loved it? (12+)

Na’ima B. Robert, children’s writer

Being Billy Phil Earle, Puffin, 272pp, 978 0 1413 3135 5, £6.99 pbk

Being Billy’ tells the story of Billy Finn, a ‘lifer’ who has spent eight years in a care home, getting into trouble, skipping school, while remaining fiercely protective of his twin brother and sister. When we first meet Billy, he has broken into the home of his former foster parents, just to be able to get a decent night’s sleep. This is the paradox that is Billy: a rough-edged teenager who himself needs to cuddle up in a familiar bed just to get some rest.

At times, the book is hard to read, Billy difficult to relate to, but this is, after all, reality. There are thousands of children just like Billy in our care system. I feel it is important for young readers to understand and empathise with the experiences of other young people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves on

6 Books for Keeps No.192 January 2012

the harsh side of life.

Tough, realistic and unflinching, Being Billy is not a ‘nice’ book. Billy himself is not a ‘nice’ kid. But the sensitivity of Phil Earle’s writing allows us to see the fear, uncertainty and tenderness that lie beneath his hardened exterior and maybe makes us less likely to judge those whose experiences we have little chance of understanding fully. (14+)

Keren David, journalist and children’s writer

Bumped Megan McCafferty, Corgi, 336pp, 978 0 5525 6539 4, £6.99 pbk

My favourite YA book of 2011 tackles weighty subjects like teenage sex, religion and economics, with exquisite wit and exuberant inventiveness.

In Bumped, Megan McCafferty imagines a world where a virus has made all adults infertile. Only teenagers can conceive and bear babies, and they are encouraged to do so. Main character, Melody lives in a world where teens ‘bump’ either professionally, with lucrative contracts from adoptive parents, or as amateurs, getting pregnant and then selling their babies. Her estranged twin sister Harmony lives in a religious community which encourages teens to marry and breed very young. Melody’s fertility has been well and truly exploited by her adoptive parents, and she’s set to ‘bump’ with celebrity stud, Johndoe. Harmony’s on the run from her marriage. When the girls meet, their plans go awry in ways that are unexpected, hilarious and ultimately moving.

In a year when dystopia was all the rage, Bumped avoided the grim dreariness that so often comes with the genre. Instead Megan McCafferty holds up a satirical mirror to contemporary America’s confusion around sex, religion, pregnancy and celebrity. The result is clever, entertaining and memorable. The sequel, Thumped, is due in 2012. (14+)

Nicolette Jones, journalist and writer

Life: An Unexploded Diagram Mal Peet, Walker, 416pp, 978 1 8442 8100 8, £7.99 pbk

Surely the most remarkable young adult book of the year, this is a comic, touching, satirical coming-of-age story set in Norfolk, interspersed with an electrifying behind-the-scenes account of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the opening paragraph, during the War, a Hurricane startles Clem Ackroyd’s mother into giving birth early by shooting her chimney pot to bits (“‘I was expectun’, she’d often say, over the years, ‘But I wunt expectun that.’”). From this first explosion onwards, this chronicle of Clem’s life is irresistible. As a sixth former he falls in love with Frankie, the local landowner’s daughter, and their compelling, illicit and compulsive relationship gives the story its focus, but in fact every detail of Clem’s family history, back through two generations, of the mad machinations of American warmongers, and of the Norfolk way of life is riveting. The tale builds to a heart-stopping climax and a poignant resolution, which lingers. The book has indignation, passion, wisdom, humour, surprise and an exhilarating choice of words. This, for instance: Clem’s desires are contemplated in “fingery darkness like woodlice under a brick”. Readers will love it, writers will wish they had written it, and, if there is any justice, prize judges will recognise it. (14+) n

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