reviews 14+Secondary/Adult continued Far From The Tree HHHH

Robin Benway, Simon and Schuster, 374pp, 978-1-4711-6433-0, £7.99 pbk

Grace is 16 years old, pregnant and adopted. Her adoptive parents advise her to give up her baby and she is happy that the couple who are taking her will give her a good life. However, she holds her baby briefly after the birth and then is unable to alleviate the pain of giving her away. She makes the decision to find her biological mother in an attempt to be `tethered again.’ The search yields a surprising discovery-a brother and sister, Joaquin and Maya-of whose existence she was unaware. Both have their own troubles-Maya

is volatile and restless, adopted but with a sister conceived after


adoption. Joaquin has been fostered for 17 years and is convinced that he cannot allow himself to be loved, as he feels he is not worthy of such commitment. As a result, he tries to shatter the two relationships which mean most to him-with his girlfriend Birdie and his current foster parents, Mark and Linda, who want to adopt him.

Thus far, the book observed and is entirely

convincing-characters are alive, fully formed and dialogue is particularly well

created. and her friend

particularly emotional

skilfully challenges

handled are


developing relationship between Grace

Rafe is and


memorably and honestly described. However, when Maya and Joaquin agree to join Grace in her search for their biological mother, plot lines begin to be far too neatly tied. Their mother’s details are discovered, her house visited but they are met by her sister, with news of their mother’s death many years earlier and her unwavering love for them all. All other relationship

problems are solved,

happiness prevails and the end of the book reads rather like the script for a saccharine movie - a disappointment after such a careful exploration of some very difficult issues. VR

Love, Hate and Other Filters HHHH

Samira Ahmed, Hot Key Books, 272pp, 9781471407147, £7.99pbk

Maya Aziz is a seventeen year old Indian-American

Muslim living in

Illinois. Her parents are loving and respectable, dentists by profession. Maya is an amateur film maker. She loves her camcorder and admits to herself lens

that she hides behind its to distance herself

turmoil from the of the outside world. She

hopes to attend film school in New York. Her parents have other ideas, thinking of her film-making as just a teenage hobby. She’ll soon grow out of it. They want her to attend the nearby university of Chicago and study medicine or the law, this as a

preliminary to marrying a nice young Indian man and providing charming grandchildren. Maya’s

only supporter is her

maternal aunt Hina, who lives alone in Chicago and works as a graphic designer. Will Maya get her wish? And if so at what cost to her, her family and her community? To make matters more complex, the narrative is disrupted by a terrorist incident. Ahmed provides the reader with

a rare and valuable insight into the life and problems of a young person living at the confluence of three traditions. She also compels non- Muslim readers to scrutinise their own prejudices towards those of the Muslim faith, a most valuable service. For this reviewer it was a weakness that Maya’s parents were quite so oppressive, not

to say tyrannical.

Ahmed gives a dispiriting picture of first-generation Indian migrants to the USA. One can only hope they are not typical. RB

Landscape With Invisible Hand HHHH

M.T. Anderson, Walker, 176pp, 978 0 7636 9723 5, £6.99 pbk

Set in a dystopian future America where

traded jobs in exchange for the advanced alien technology

colonising vuvv race, this Y.A. novel presents

a bleak picture

rich business elites have of of

effects of automation and technology on a struggling population.

the the The

story is told from the point of view of Adam, a teen artist, who paints his harsh, day to day world of lost jobs, no money for food, disease-ridden water and unaffordable healthcare. Adam and his girlfriend Chloe sell their love to earn desperately needed money for their families by recording 1950s-style dates for the alien vuvv who crave “classic” Earth culture. Adam and Chloe soon learn


effects of turning love and art into a commodity as they begin to hate each other more with every episode. When Adam is entered into a galactic art competition he has to decide how much of his soul and integrity he is willing to sacrifice when he chooses whether

to submit the still lives

beloved of the vuvv or his own bleak depictions of the real world. This short, satirical novel is

presented in brief, readable chapters headed

by the titles of Adam’s

paintings and, for all its brevity, it achieves a sharp, powerful impact. It provides a realistic and coruscating social commentary on such present day problems and conflicts as the rich-poor divide, the exploitation of resources, the impossibility of any but the super-rich and

the complete

of all those left struggling to survive while the elites inhabit the skies above in their floating apartments. M.T. Anderson has written a timely, hard-hitting, blackly comic satire on

the dangers of a complete disconnect between the super-rich, technological elite and everyone else.

The bleak

end results of elevating money over human

values and emotions is

personalised in the sympathetic and believable character of Adam who provides a human focus throughout a novel that will leave teen readers with much to consider and discuss. SR

Someone to Love HHHH

Melissa de la Cruz, Harlequin Teen, 389pp, 978-0373212361, £14.99

Olivia Blakely, known as Liv, is aged sixteen living in Los Angeles. She is the youngest of three children to a father Congressman Colin Blakely and her mother who is a lawyer. Liv is a talented artist. Her ambition is to attend art school and make a career as a painter. But her parents have other ideas. They want her to attend an Ivy League university and study for some kind of professional degree. Her father, as the story begins,

makes a momentous decision: he is to become a candidate for the governorship of

California. The

conflicting ambitions within the family circle generate a level of tension that is more or less intolerable. Reading de la Cruz’s story, the reader witnesses Liv’s slow but torturous descent into bulimia. The narrative centres on the questions whether Liv can recover her mental health and what chance she has of realising her dream of an artistic career. There are two problems with this

novel. The first 150 pages move at such a slow pace that readers other than dedicated

reviewers might

give the book up. It would be a pity if many readers did abandon the book, since after the first 150 pages the pace picks up and momentum is developed. It is thereafter a story worth the telling, No doubt de la Cruz has paced the

build-up of

her text to the moment when Liv’s eating disorder is revealed. But the development is simply too slow. This reviewer also found some instances where the author seems unaware of modern conventions concerning terminology. Frieda Kahlo, who has polio, is referred to as a ‘cripple’. And when Liv damages an ankle, one of her friends calls her a ‘gimp’. Although in real life young people may sometimes use such expressions, using them

without authorial

comment in a novel for young readers is not helpful in mounting challenges to stereotypes. RB

My Sweet Orange Tree HHH

José Mauro de Vasconcelos, Pushkin Press, 192pp, 978 1782691532, £10.99 hbk

A Brazilian classic first published in 1968 this autobiographical


gives a snapshot of the world of an underprivileged yet imaginative boy growing up in the shanty towns of Rio de Janeiro. ZeZé aged five has already decided he wants to be a poet with a bow-tie when he grows up. He lives in his own make-believe world often taking his younger brother Luis to the zoo in the back yard where the chickens are tigers and panthers and the back yard becomes the countries of the world. He even befriends an orange tree at their new house and has long conversations tree he names Pinkie.

with the

beyond his years asking all sorts of enterprising questions who will listen.

He is wise to

anyone Then Zezé amazes

everyone by learning to read fluently. He is sent to school a year early where a kind teacher notices his precocious ability but also feeds him when she sees he doesn’t bring a snack to school. At school he is ‘an angel’ but it is a different story at home. He is brought up by his older siblings as his mother works and his father is unemployed so he is largely left his own devices.

to He loves to play

tricks on his family and neighbours and is constantly getting into dreadful scrapes and then beaten harshly for his misdemeanours. Zezé

is also a sensitive and

extremely kind-hearted boy; in a heart-breaking scene he goes out on Christmas Day to shine shoes so he can bring back a present of cigarettes for his father whom he realises must feel terrible that he has not been able to provide his children with any Christmas gifts. His family, particularly his older sister Gloria, try to do the best they can in dreadful circumstances but Zezé often bears the brunt of their misery. Then at last Zezé finds a real friend. At first, he is beaten for taking a ride on the back tyre of a rich Portuguese man’s car but grudgingly they come to accept one another on each other’s terms and soon become firm friends. Zezé blossoms with the tender care the older man Valadares gives his young friend. And then tragedy strikes. Told in the first person this story

is full of zest and vigour yet is gut- wrenching sad in places. The brutality of the beatings would be shocking to modern day children.

Zezé is a

affording healthcare demoralisation

bright child who craves affection and misbehaves accordingly – more of a Brazilian Just William than a devil- child. Despite the undeniable charm of the irrepressible Zezé this is not the easiest book for a child to get stuck into.

rather than flowing and demands a certain maturity.

thoughtful older readers but perhaps more for classroom discussion than cosy bedtime reading. JC

Books for Keeps No.228 January 2018 31

The narrative is episodic A special book for

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