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BfK 14+ Secondary/Adult

disappeared that night. All of this opens the door for a sequel which begins with a chapter called ‘Willem’s Journey’. This could all have been so glibly sentimental but partly through the echoes of Shakespeare, there is substance in the characterisation here. After all, that old teenage tension – breaking free from patterns woven by possessive parents – is at least as old as Juliet’s issues with Mom and Dad Capulet.

GF The day I met Suzie HHH

Chris Higgins, Hodder Children’s Books, 368pp, 978 0 340 99702 4, £6.99 pbk.

It’s been ‘a summer of love’ for F.E. College students Indie and Rick. She’s learning the trade at the Herr Cutz salon and he’s fixing cars at the garage – both are enjoying the work. In the evenings, time drifts happily by with young love-making, either out in Rick’s latest old banger, or among the sand-dunes, dreaming dreams of life together.

First day back at College and things start to go wrong. Rick’s nicked for speeding but far worse (as it turns out), Indie meets Suzie, an insignificant, needy girl who says she’s had a rough deal from Life, especially at the hands of a recent boy friend. Indie has always had a warm heart for a lame duck, and hardly notices how Suzie insinuates herself into Indie’s life, alienating her from her college friends, distancing her from Rick. Suzie even manipulates her way into moving in with Indie’s family, and then transforms her own appearance until people take the two for sisters. Suzie – or Scarlett as she calls her reinvented self – embroils Indie and Rick in a scam which sucks them into debt upon debt and the hands of a threatening loan shark, and consequently into crime and the threat of a jail sentence.

The novel initially plunges its reader into the middle of this mess with a desperate Indie on the ‘phone to the Samaritans. Gently, her listener persuades Indie to tell her (and us) the whole story. Eventually the narrative catches up with that conversation and the Samaritan is able to provide some factual information which begins to turn things around. Scarlett and her accomplice (the loan shark) are defeated, though there is a price to be paid. To avoid involving the police, since Indie and Rick have broken the law, they have to lie and scheme themselves. Indie’s a sadder and a wiser woman by the time she gets her second chance.

As so often with Teenlit, a reader needs to accept, or ignore, some implausible narrative devices. The Indie who talks wildly, even abusively, with the Samaritan listener, speaks in language we can believe; but the sustained story she tells between the snatches of telephone conversations is written in the accomplished prose of fictional narrative, not through a broken, anxious teenage voice. Nevertheless,

Chris Higgins is an experienced writer in the genre, twice nominated for the Queen of Teen Award, and her readers probably will not be deflected by such a quibble as they coast swiftly through this tale of F.E. angst with its edge of danger and violence.

GF By Any Other Name HHHHH

Laura Jarratt, Electric Monkey Books, 368pp, 978 1 4052 5673 5, £6.99, pbk.

Holly Latham is over fifteen years old. Until a few days before the book starts, she was Louisa Drummond. Because of something she saw – we are not told what – she has had to move to a new home and a new identity. However, the disguise is imperfect. Holly has a sister Katie, who can’t be asked to support a new name and identity because she has autism.

The new life is far from easy. Because of her special needs, Katie has brought her school records with her, her old school details redacted. Holly however can have no records and must pretend to have been taught at home. In her old life Louisa was a pupil at an independent school for girls. She had musical talent, was a regular social media user and was popular. But the rules of new identity dictate that Holly can have no link with the past. In her new existence she attends a fairly depressing comprehensive school and must live in a village buried in the countryside. The only advantage of the new location is that there is a special school for Katie nearby, which comforts Holly not in the least.

The first part of Jarratt’s book recounts the turmoil as the Latham family struggle to adapt to being different people. At school Holly has been told by her Witness Protection Officer that she must maintain a low profile, aspiring to be more or less invisible. For a while she complies but then two boys puncture her pose. The school glamour boy is Fraser. Holly becomes his girlfriend, though she finds herself oddly unconnected to him. The other boy is Joe, whom she calls Emo-boy. With his pierced eyebrow and ear, Joe is a compulsive loner. Which boy will remain close to her? Where will the friendship lead? Meanwhile Holly has endless nightmares about the experience that caused her to be exiled from her old life, but the reader learns only little by little what that experience was.

In this book Jarratt pulls off three unusual achievements. First, in a text that is readily accessible to young readers, she poses genuinely existential questions: who am I? What is most precious about my identity? How would it feel to lose it all? Second she convincingly explains the working of a witness protection programme. And third, she comes to grips with the issue of disability. In the new Latham family the only one who is allowed to remain the same is the one who started off being different, autistic Katie. Referencing children’s literature, Jarratt

30 Books for Keeps No.199 March 2013

shows that she understands the images of disability conveyed in some of the most enduring novels about the disabled – images constructed from values we today find repellent. All in all this is a remarkable novel, one I can hardly recommend too warmly.

RB The Bunker Diary HHHH

Kevin Brooks, Puffin, 260pp, 978 0 14132612 2, £7.99 pbk

Kevin Brooks is always an edgy writer, close to violence and despair in his fiction while rarely offering any clear way towards better outcomes. And in this latest story he has excelled himself; if there was a prize for the most nihilistic novel of the year, this would surely be a strong contender. Like John Fowles’s chilling and in some way prescient The Collector, the main plot concerns a demented villain, never met over the entire novel, who kidnaps various people this time for no apparent reason and then keeps them imprisoned in an underground bunker. The story is told by eighteen year-old Linus, the first captive. He is a decent person who tries to make the best of things as he is joined by an increasingly dysfunctional group of other adults and one child. It is a gripping story, well told and hard to forget. But it is also oh so depressing, with Linus’s attempts at self-analysis becoming less and less coherent as his situation worsens. At the finish however much one is impressed by Brooks’s skill and powers of invention two questions still remain: why and so what?

NT The Tragedy Paper HH

Elizabeth Laban, Random House, 305pp, 978 0 857 53301 2, £12.99 hbk

This literate novel promises much but finally delivers little more than a damp squib. It is set in one of those American private boarding schools designed to provoke British readers into paroxysms of envy, what with the abundant and delicious locally sourced food, the massive wardrobe every pupil possesses and the easy acceptance of extreme affluence as a normal way of life. Into this co-ed paradise, though curiously enough sexual relations between pupils never seem much of an issue, comes Tim, an albino adolescent who never for one moment lets up in silent self-denigration. He falls for Vanessa, a pleasant and pretty pupil who is attached to classmate Patrick, who looks as if he should be the villain of the piece but fades away in the last few pages. Tim leaves his story behind on discs for another pupil, Duncan, to read one year later. It had ended in tragedy, leaving Duncan determined to make better use of his time there than poor Tim ever managed.

The air of masochism hanging over this story soon becomes oppressive. There is also almost no questioning of the school itself and the acceptability of all the self-imposed conventions that make it so great in pupils’ eyes but which to an outsider seem more than a little questionable. The author writes

well, but ultimately her young characters need to stop moaning and enjoy the life of privilege that they are lucky enough to have in contrast to so many others of their age in America and elsewhere.


Sarah Mussi, Hodder Children’s Books, 320pp, 9781444910087, £10.99 hbk

This is a searingly exciting book with a par ticularly gripping opening and ending. Leah Jackson is a student of the future - a future in which children from impecunious and troubled families are isolated in Youth Opportunity (You Op)Academies and essentially denied the benefits of higher education and social mobility. The narrative voice is Jackson’s and the vernacular she uses throughout adds authenticity and immediacy, allowing readers to experience events and her reactions to them in a raw and unfiltered way.

We are plunged immediately into a siege - students calling themselves The Eternal Knights rampage through the school, now in irreversible lockdown, killing indiscriminately and taking both staff and students as hostages. This is graphic writing and not for the faint-hearted: Mussi does not indulge in gratuitous horror but instead allows us both to see at first hand the results of equipping disaffected and unstable teenage boys with guns, and Leah’s attempts to cope with the outcomes in a practical or even pragmatic way.

First and foremost, Leah is determined to survive but as her moral compass extends she tries to save her friends. Mussi avoids bathos and instead drives Leah on by means of a primeval sense of self-preservation and the desire to continue to care for her wayward brother, even though he has become a member of The Eternal Knights. Her relationship with another You Op, Anton, also sustains her and this is delicately played out, the more affecting for it.

At the book’s climax, a government conspiracy to destroy the school - and the You Op infrastructure - is revealed. This comes as no real shock to the reader, since Leah has been working this out for herself - Mussi cleverly planting the seeds of the betrayal throughout the story. However, the poignancy of Leah’s realisation that she must try to save others and her determination that her school should succeed, makes the government’s cynical actions all the more sickening.

The ending of the book is a master stroke: unexpected, chillingly stark and, like the rest of the book, utterly memorable.

VR Butter HHHH

Erin Lange, Faber & Faber, 352pp, 978 0 571 294411, £7.99, pbk

Butter, or Marshall to give his real name, is a junior in a high school in Scotsdale, Arizona, a vir tuoso saxophonist. Marshall is also 423

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