readable story with characters that you care about and some that you really don’t like. The plot moves along with a central love story to leaven the gritty hospital scenes.
The story ends with Poppy asking to be sent to Flanders, where I suspect a few of the other characters will turn up as well. We have only reached Christmas 1915 so I am expecting much more from our brave and beautiful heroine. CD
Girl With a White Dog HHH
Anne Booth, Catnip, 208pp, 978 184647 181 0, £6.99 pbk
‘We stared at each other, fairy tale magic unfolding around us,’ reports Year 9 narrator Jessie, some ten pages before her story ends, though we’re not talking Fairy Tale Happy Endings here. Mr Hunter, (‘the nearest thing to a handsome prince we have at school’ and Jessie loves his after-shave too) has been introducing the class to Unhappy Endings by way of the Grimms’ gory The Robber Bride. The novel began with an early draft of Jessie’s response to Mr H’s assignment: Write a Modern Fairy Tale. Nuanced and darker warnings characterise her final version which closes the narrative.
Things start manageably enough. Times are hard for the family financially, but Jessie has loving parents, though she misses her Dad who has been forced to leave the village to find work in France. She is very close to her Gran, as she had been to her cousin Fran, though things are a bit tense between them at the moment. She also has a close friend in campaigning Kate, whose disability – she is in a wheelchair – is perhaps one of the driving reasons for her energy. Kate is already winning national honours in her age group in the sitting volleyball squad.
Several events set the story in motion. Gran buys a puppy – a white German Shepherd - but soon afterwards she begins to make anxious, irrational comments which alarm her family. Jessie rather likes a lad at school called Ben who shares her love for animals. She also likes Yasmin, an Afghan refugee in her class. There are foreign fruit pickers in the village and clearly they are responsible – say some – for the brick which crashes through the window of Mr Gupta’s shop and for the ugly treatment of a young gardener with Down’s Syndrome. In school, alongside the fairy tale project, they’re doing the Nazis in History; this leads to the plot’s major catalyst, the arrival from the States of Ben’s grandmother who shares her experiences as a concentration camp survivor in a History lesson. She warns, It mustn’t happen again. To emphasise the point, the book’s cover asks, below the title, Is what happened then happening now?
Gran and her white puppy in the present day are, it turns out, closely linked to events in wartime Dachau and, dramatically,
grandmother. The coincidences required to make this connection, it has to be said, might cause a Victorian novelist to hesitate; but maybe that’s where we must allow for that ‘fairy tale magic’. Anne Booth sets the brutal practices of the Nazis alongside contemporary prejudices towards immigrants, asylum seekers, the disabled, anyone weaker or less popular than yourself in school. Her Author’s Note confirms, “I was very
aware that it is very difficult to stand up to bullies, especially when they are in power”.
There is an evangelical earnestness here which might not attract some readers. The cast of characters may seem to be too carefully chosen to point a moral; and the plot – especially its coincidences - contrived to serve the author’s didactic ends. The overt message may well be self-defeating for some, for shifts in adolescent thinking are usually best discovered obliquely. For other younger readers, the strongly felt, direct message may very well make its impact.
Daughters of Time: an Anthology from The History Girls
Mary Hoffman, Editor, Templar, 352pp, 9781848771697, £7.99, pbk.
From Boudicca to the Greenham Common Women this anthology of stories about women in history remind us of the women who down the years have fought to be considered as equal to men and as such this anthology will speak to today’s young girls who need to know their freedom was hard won. It is an interesting idea to do this through fiction, as each author, some of whom are better known than others, write a snapshot of their heroines showing how they fought their battles, some like Boudicca, literally.
Each story is followed by the reason the author chose that girl/woman and then by a true brief history. Among the less usual heroines are Julian of Norwich about whom this reviewer knew little and the brief glimpse of her life by Katherine Langrish left me wanting to read more – the true point of such a book. The poignant story of Emily Davison Wilding’s last hours are seen through a girl travelling on the train with her to Ascot, Aphra Behn, a playwright in the seventeenth century about whom I knew nothing is seen through the eyes of her god-daughter in a story by Adele Geras. Each woman is chosen well and the stories move through time to the Greenham Common Women. There is a list at the back of other women whose stories the reader could investigate.
Anthologies do not appeal to all readers. But if this is introduced and does not languish on the shelves of the school or teenage library many girls and maybe some boys would find heroines to admire.
JF The Tin Snail HHHH
Cameron McAllister, Jonathan Cape Books, 388pp, 978 0 857 55129 0, £12.99 hbk
There’s a story here worth telling. In 1995, in a barn not far from Paris, three prototypes of a legendary French car were discovered: the much-loved 2CV, the ‘Deux Chevaux’. Half a century earlier, two young engineers had hidden them, disobeying orders to break them up to prevent their secrets falling into the hands of the advancing Nazis, who would have swiftly passed them to Citroen’s German rivals. For Cameron McAllister, that discovery was the origin of The Tin Snail which, say Jonathan Cape, is ‘loosely inspired by real events’.
In McAllister’s account, Luca Fabrizzi, father of 12 year old narrator Angelo, is a brilliant Italian designer of luxury motors for the affluent French. His boss, Bertrand Hipaux, is a man of
New Talent Bone Jack
Sara Crowe, Andersen Press, 304pp, 978-1783440054, £6.99 pbk
Sara Crowe’s excellent debut novel, while firmly set in the here and now, feels somehow timeless, a characteristic it shares with the very best fantasy writing for children, from Alan Garner to Susan Cooper.
Fifteen year old Ash is taking part in the annual Stag Chase, a wild race through the countryside in which one boy, the ‘stag’, is chased by a pack of human ‘hounds’. The land he runs through on his training sessions is parched and dry, the effects of the foot and mouth crisis still painfully clear to the locals. That damage to the land is echoed in the people around Ash: his best friend Mark’s father has committed suicide; his own father, a soldier just returned from a war zone, is suffering the effects of PTSD. While out on his runs, Ash is harrassed by the ghosts of long dead hounds and haunted by the death of a previous stag boy. He also comes up against Bone Jack, a strange and frightening figure, part shapeshifter and part Green Man, whose job it seems is to keep watch over the borders between this world and the next. The Stag Chase is bringing all sorts of things to a head and Mark,
vision and integrity. Luca and Bertrand are worried: Mercedes have produced a ‘Goliath’ of a limo to speed along Hitler’s new Autobahns, and there’s a whisper of a new ‘People’s Car’ from Ferdinand Porsche. Everything depends on success for their new design at the imminent Paris Motor Show of 1938. Luca’s marriage as well as his career is on the edge. Angelo desperately wants to help, but in trying to attract attention to the splendours of his father’s model at the show, he inadvertently starts the car and drives off the stand, causing carnage all around.
Their hopes dashed, Luca, Bertrand and Angelo decamp to South-West France to Bertrand’s crumbling chateau on the edge of a village which, you might think, is not a million kms from Clochemerle. Here, prompted by one of Angelo’s bright ideas, the team begins the development of an affordable car for the working folk of rural France – knocking up prototypes in no time at all, working in makeshift iron sheds, with a little help from the local blacksmith. Bertrand insists that the car must be able to convey a tray of eggs (unbroken) and a flagon of wine (unspilt) across a rutted field as if on the way to the market. (This was indeed a criterion applied during the 2CV’s development.) Several test drives, one of them aboard a converted sit-on mower, end up in rivers or spectacular crashes or both; the strong visual appeal of these episodes no doubt reflects Mr McAllister’s career as a tv scriptwriter.
Then the Nazis arrive, they’re a threatening bunch who are looking for the prototypes - especially the blueprints of the suspension - to send back to the makers of The People’s
suffering his own sort of PTSD and living wild in the woods, understands this totally. It’s not a race he says, ‘It’s about the old ways. About life and death and the past and the land’. The narrative is alternately dreamy and urgent, but becomes increasingly tense as the day of the race draws near. Mark’s belief that only a human sacrifice will make things right feels horribly plausible, and inevitable.
What a rich and rewarding read, involving and compelling from start to finish. Crowe takes her inspiration from old legend, but has created a myth of her own with a story that feels fresh and relevant, and a delight in the dangerous wildness of nature that should send readers out into the woods!
Car in Germany. And here the book has some problems. The increasing menace of the invaders sits uneasily alongside the high-spirited melange of banter and rivalries, village politics and even schoolboy romance. The illustrations reinforce this light-hearted tone, for they have something of Quentin Blake’s insouciance about them. Some stylistic choices may also detract
from what remains,
nevertheless, an engaging story. Direct speech is supported by ‘he hissed/grimaced/gasped/snarled/hol lered’ and so on, rather than the dialogue itself doing the work. An expression as noticeable as ‘a sly dig’ recurs within a few pages, eyes ‘bulge’ too often, while the emphatic ‘crushed’ is employed three times in 16 lines. The description of Angelo’s rival in love as ‘built like a brick outhouse’ seems to my ear not only dated (the text’s idiom is pretty much that of our own day) but also foreign to rural France. And does the line on the book’s cover ‘The little car that won a war’ mean anything?
GF Scarlet Ibis HHHHH
Gill Lewis, Oxford University Press, 224pp, 978-0-19-279355-3, £8.99 pbk
Scarlet and Red dream of going to see the Scarlet Ibis in the Caroni Swamp in Trinidad. Scarlet looks after her younger autistic half-brother Red because her mother is not well. Together they are following the progress of a pigeon chick in a nest on the windowsill of their tower block flat. Scarlet thinks that things are going OK, but then disaster strikes. Her mother has a breakdown and
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