reviews 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued

Emmie as she fights to understand why being a girl at school is so difficult. Emmie lives with her health-obsessed mum and very busy dad, both of whom are usually absent. She has only one friend and simply cannot bring herself to talk to or interact with any of her peers at school. Her stomach cramps up and her heart races when any of the other kids so much as look at her. When Emmie and her friend write secret, pretend love letters to popular boys at school, they think they are just having another private joke. They soon learn that nothing stays private at school for long! Emmie is, all of a sudden, not

as invisible as she’d like and she soon sinks into despair. Her plight is described in doodles, speech marks and thought bubbles, as well as a direct and brutally honest first person prose that brings the reader into Emmie’s confidence. The frankness of her account is impressive and deeply

connect with her. Alongside

affecting; readers will all Emmie’s

is a second narrative,

story there that

of a

perfect, popular girl – Katie – who has no problems and the amazing ability to make all the right decisions and get everyone to like her. This accompanying story is told as a comic book, and could be lifted straight from the pages of Emmie’s own notebook, as drawing is the only real thing that keeps her calm. When the two protagonists into a meeting, the

forced story

begins to take a new direction and powerful themes of hope and trust emerge. In order to overcome her own inhibitions, Emmie has to learn that she is not the only person at school with hidden depths. It’s refreshing to read a tale set in

an American school that is not filled with stereotypes. Each character, even those with smaller roles to play, are nuanced and believable and capable of surprising the reader on the next page. The honesty and authenticity of this book is a real strength and there are many children with whom it will strike a very familiar chord. SD

The Last Duchess HHHH

Laura Powell, Macmillan Children’s Books, 304pp, 978-1-5098-0890-8, £6.99 pbk

Meet Pattern – no first name, the orphanage

where she grew up

neglected to provide one. Thirteen years-old she is a graduate of Mrs Minchin’s Academy of Domestic Servitude and destined

to go far:

no-one darns like Pattern. Even so, there is great surprise when she is appointed lady’s maid to the Grand Duchess of Elffinberg, also thirteen. Pattern’s first impressions of her

new home are not good: the castle is untidy, the servants badly trained, and the Duchess herself haughty and spoiled. Then as the story unfolds,

Pattern discovers there’s something really rotten in the state of Elffinberg, and that the mysterious warning given to her by the Grand Duchess’s aunt: ‘Trust no-one’, is well worth heeding. When she realises her mistress is just as alone and isolated as she is, the two girls develop a real friendship. Can Pattern save the Duchess from her enemies, human, and not human, and the terrible danger that threatens her?

staying with the enigmatic lighthouse keeper Ephraim instead. Cliff make instant

friends with lighthouse

keeper’s dog and Olive soon becomes an indispensable gopher delivering parcels to the villagers. She is convinced something

secretive is going on with the locals and that her sister must somehow be involved. When Olive discovers a coded message in the lining of her mother’s coat, last worn by Sukie, she is thrilled but can make neither head nor tail of the code. This is a well-plotted mystery with intrigue and a satisfying

plenty of

ending. There is a lot packed in here as an underlying theme of prejudice is woven throughout; Esther turns out to be a Jewish refugee and when a German pilot’s plane crashes near the lighthouse it is Olive who stands up for the injured pilot as the villagers are too suspicious to help.

By the This story of upstairs downstairs are

mystery in a well-realised fairy-tale- ish world has lots goings for it. Pattern is a great heroine, quiet, overlooked by most people, but sharp as the pins she wields so neatly. There’s a great sense of the castle too, the two girls scurrying round its secret passages by night, and of the court intrigues and plotting. The story is finished in a dramatic and deadly contest,

that cleverly utilises both

real magic and cleaning fluids, but the true satisfaction for its readers is anyway closer to that provided by a well-folded linen drawer than a bloody fight with a dragon. Pattern it seems will be back in

more adventures – the final scene hints she’ll be swapping silver service for more secret service – and that is very good news indeed. LS

Letters From the Lighthouse HHHH

Emma Carroll, Faber, 282pp, 978-0-5713-2758-4, £6.99 pbk

When Olive and her little brother Cliff are taken to the cinema as a treat by their older sister Sukie they find themselves in the midst of an air-raid, and Sukie, last seen by Olive talking to a young man, has vanished. Olive escapes major injury but the siblings are promptly evacuated to Devon. At first they are billeted with their next- door neighbour‘s sister Queenie, the local postmistress, but when Queenie takes in an angry and prickly young girl named Esther whom Olive had already had an altercation with on the train, Olive and Cliff find themselves

end most of the village pull together to help a boatload of refugees. This is a heart-warming and affirming novel of the indomitableness of the human spirit and that compassion and family love can win through. The plight of the refugees is just as relevant today. Various differing points of view are aired but with subtlety and never over- cooked. In some ways Olive seems a little too knowing for her age but the characters are nevertheless believable and genuine. This is an excellent addition to the cannon of WW2 literature. JC

Defender of the Realm HHHH

Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, Scholastic, 344pp, 978 1 4071 8046 5, £6.99 pbk

This novel is set in a reimagined United Kingdom, where King Henry IX is on the throne, and his son Alfred, Prince of Wales, otherwise known as Alfie, is the heir. Fourteen-year-old Alfie is at Harrow School with his twin brother Richard, closely supervised by his bodyguard Brian. He would like nothing better than to throw off his royal status and lead a normal teenage life, but instead he finds himself unexpectedly propelled on to the throne by the death of his father. He finds that there is a lot more to being king than he could have ever conceived. With Brian, and the Lord Chancellor, by his side, he has to learn how to control supernatural powers in a world he didn’t know existed. Hayley is a young carer, looking

after her grandmother, who has a form of dementia. She gets caught up in the adventure when she takes her grandmother on a trip to see the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. Here they witness a violent attack from an other-worldly creature like a giant lizard, who defeats the UK’s superhero protector known as the Defender of the Realm. Hayley joins forces with Alfie to save crown and country. This is an exciting thriller with non-

stop action. I liked the combination of history and myth, with superheroes thrown in for good measure.

Young readers will identify well with the

characters. Alfie has to face up to all his insecurities and accept the mantle of

great responsibility that comes with being king. Hayley is a strong character who helps cement the story in contemporary times, bringing her technological know-how to improve the armoury of the Defender of the Realm. Her lack of deference to the British establishment is refreshing. The story is left with a twist at the end, setting it up for a next instalment. LT

The Guggenheim Mystery HHH

Robin Stevens, Puffin, 291pp, 978-0-1413-7702-5, £12.99 hbk

This story features Ted Spark, the young hero who previously came up with the solution to an unexplained disappearance that formed the core to Siobhan Dowd’s brilliant The London Mystery. Before she died Dowd had another idea for a Ted story, and this has now been turned into a sequel by Robin Stevens. Once again he is faced by a baffling problem which he eventually solves using his faultless memory and his unerring capacity for logic. But Ted also suffers from a form of autism, which means he sometimes panics in strange

situations and

cannot always follow other people’s speech when the language they use strays from the strictly literal. He is supported in this by sister

Kat and cousin Salim, both in awe of Ted’s powers of deduction but also driven to distraction by his inability to read social situations correctly. The problem he has to solve this time is a disappearing Kandinsky painting, with suspicion falling on Ted’s aunt, who works at the Guggenheim Museum. Ted decides to find out who really stole the painting, which he does chapter by chapter, meticulously reviewing all the facts as known up to that particular moment. He and his two helpers also dash about New York and the museum itself whenever they like, which makes it easier to for them finally to spot the culprit but stretches credibility to breaking point. They also faithfully follow the first rule of most children’s adventures stories involving crime: never involve the police

force even

when key evidence becomes available that should most certainly be shared. Robin Stevens conveys Ted’s

puzzlement well when others use metaphors he can’t understand. But his regular interrogations of the evidence available to him so far finally become wearisome, and throughout this novel the tone wobbles between catering both for younger readers as well as for older ones, ending up with something for both parties but perhaps not quite enough for either. NT

Never say Die HHHH

Anthony Horowitz, Walker, 384pp, 9781406377057, £12.99 hbk

Alex Rider is back and there is an army of fans who will be delighted by his return. At the end of Scorpia Rising it looked as if Alex had given up on his adventures after the death of a close

Books for Keeps No.225 July 2017 31

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