BfK 14+Secondary/Adult continued

Mireille is astute enough to get coverage from a local journalist, and the Piglettes’ journey becomes a real hit on social media. Everywhere they go, they meet journalists and well- wishers, with online commentary - both positive and offensive – following their exploits. The point of the novel is that the girls have risen above their persecutors and have set out to do what they want to, never taking no for an answer. They support

each other through

every stage of the journey, meeting every hardship with determination, and making the most of every opportunity to have fun. This book is full of humour, and very uplifting. It’s light-hearted and silly, but the underlying political and social criticism is clear to see. It would be great as a starting point for a book group discussion, with young people of 14+. LT

Goodnight, Boy HHHH

Nikki Sheehan, Rock the Boat, 346pp, 978-1-7860-7210-8, £7.99, pbk

Jean Caleb is in the doghouse. In every sense. His loving adoptive mother, Melanie, is away from home, and JC has no idea when she’ll be back. In her absence, her increasingly deranged partner locks JC up inside a kennel, along with the family dog, Boy. Their captor feeds and waters them when the mood takes him. They are at the mercy of a crazed, violent man. With no-one else for comfort or

company, JC begins an inevitably one- sided conversation with Boy which lasts throughout the novel. JC’s life story emerges in fragments, beginning in Riverbed, his village home in what feels like Haiti (the poverty, an earthquake). He and his brother are deftly kidnapped by travelling traders who separate the two, depositing JC in The Sweet Angelic Orphanage, a front for the sale of stolen children as slave labour on farms or, if they are luckier, to wealthy Americans looking to

adopt. JC avoids slavery only

because farmers don’t want a weak kid covered in infectious spots; he’s dumped in a hospital (for years) until one day the earth explodes, and the building sighs and groans and folds inwards on itself and its patients. Earthquake. Cholera. No safety nets here. That is JC’s terrifying start to life. The arrival of Melanie, a foreign

aid doctor working in the aftermath of the disaster must surely be a turning point for him; she is determined to take him back to a family life with her and her partner in the States. Getting him out of the country and through immigration involves


and risk, though here and there he meets with kindness along the way. When he makes it to the US, JC finds he is to share his new home with Boy, himself a refugee from cruelty; and also, it turns out, with the pervasive memory of Jake, the son of Melanie

and her partner. Jake’s been killed in a head-on car-crash caused by his father; each day, he is achingly missed by his parents. There is no way JC is going to replace Jake – his bedroom is a shrine; Jake’s father will never forgive JC for not being Jake and each day his resentment colours all his dealings with JC. When Melanie leaves for JC’s homeland to sort out his legal adoption, searching first for his birth family, she will have to be away for as long as it takes. In her absence, JC and Boy have no defence against the sadism of JC’s adoptive father culminating in their imprisonment within the dog pen in the yard, and then confinement inside the doghouse itself. The story makes dark but

compelling reading, heightened by the naive incomprehension of JC’s narrative.

There’s relief at in the relationship between

times boy

and Boy, though almost inevitably interest in the one-sided narrative slackens at times over the 346 pages. Despite his limited education (and what seems to be his dyslexia), JC is sometimes given a surprisingly literary turn of phrase, especially as the assumption is that we’re listening in to his spoken words: ‘laughing as his anger blew dust in their faces...’, ‘wood that had been shaken loose by the angry ground and thrown into toppling piles’. What will retain the interest of readers able to surrender to


will not only be the relationship of JC and Boy, but the slowly revealed pain and consequent madness of the bereaved father contrasted with the courage of Melanie, struggling to fill her own void through love rather than hatred. We’re asked to believe these two adults once loved each other – occasionally we’re told they did - but it’s hard to glimpse any vestige or likelihood of that love here. This might stretch


now embark on a quest to find the missing card. She also discovers a letter written by her sister. It is a letter signalling the end of a relationship. But the name of the recipient is not stated. Who was Camilla’s mysterious ex-partner? Israel presents a picture of grief which is more

convincing than

many fictional presentations of that emotion. Juniper’s grief spills out in messy eruptions. Her former best friend gives her up, unable to cope. Her mother declines to discuss the bereavement. Her father discusses it but only in unconvincing clichés. Over all hangs the image of the departed sister. Juniper’s hunt for the truth leads her to rummage through the school garbage, an occupation that brings her into contact


Brand Sayers, a typical school misfit with whom against the odds she establishes a firm relationship. The narrative ends with at least one

major question unanswered. While such an ending lends the story verisimilitude, it may also prove frustrating, as it did for this reviewer. RB

Beyond the Bright Sea HHHHH

Lauren Wolk, Corgi, 283pp, 9780552574303, £6.99, pbk

unique narrative structure readers’ credulity;

though others could decide that the loss of a child, especially when one of the adults is guilty of the death, could well produce such an abyss. GF

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index


Julie Israel, 352pp, 978-0-1413-7642-4, £7.99 pbk

Juniper Lemon is a high-school junior in the USA. She has recently lost her sister Camilla in a road accident. Before

her death Camilla, the

successful older sister, invented what she called her Happiness Index. Every day she would enter on cards reasons to be cheerful. Juniper followed suit except that on

her cards she entered both positive and negative factors. After Camilla’s death instead of entering the date on her cards she enters the days that have passed since her sister’s death. Then card number 65 goes missing. Juniper, while grieving, must

34 Books for Keeps No.225 July 2017

Lauren Wolk is a born writer, and this second novel is in the same league of excellence as its predecessor Wolf Hollow. Her sentences come in an unforced, natural flow and she has an eye for striking detail. In this story, she draws on her own intimate knowledge of having lived on the Atlantic Ocean for most of her life. Her main character, simply known as Crow, is a twelve- year-old girl, whom some in the island village where she lives suspect of being a so far undiagnosed leper. The year is 1925, and ancient prejudices still run deep. But she is looked after by two ruggedly stalwart characters: Osh, a lone fisherman who took her in when she appeared on the island as an abandoned baby, and Miss Maggie, a no-nonsense neighbour who looks after her education and other things besides. For the most part, Crow and her two supporters continue to live a reasonably contented existence of the type that Robinson Crusoe could well have recognised from his own experience. There is however plenty of action,

some violent, still to come. But this is so rooted in Crow’s account of her everyday living that it seems like one more extra detail rather than any sort of contrived unlikelihood. In between setting lobster pots, harvesting sea weed, picking plants to create the colours that Osh needs for his part- time painting, Crow finally explores Pekinese,

the nearby island she

originally came from, formerly home to a leper colony now abandoned. After she does, buried jewels, a search for a long lost brother and threats from a maddened treasure-hunter all follow. With some of the detail here taken from events that actually did once take place on Penikese, there

is never any danger of this fine novel lapsing into melodrama tense

the action turns. concentration continues

however Its main to be on

Crow’s search for a sense of her true identity in surroundings far from the lives of most modern young readers today and for that reason additionally fascinating. NT

Spellbook of the Lost and Found


Moira Fowley-Doyle, Corgi Books, 380pp, 978 0 552 57131 9, £7.99, pbk

We’re in rural Ireland; the small town of Balmallen, County Mayo. It’s 2017 – or we think it is, but later it turns out that at times we were in the 1990s. Beyond that, things are less certain. There are three narrators: Olive,

Hazel and Laurel. Olive and Hazel divide 30 or so chapters between them, while Laurel contributes nine. Olive lives in a secure family with an affectionate

father who strides about the house declaiming favourite poets

male, as his feminist daughter notes). He’s lovingly tolerated by her mother who occasionally

utters sentences

which come from nowhere, but sound ominous; and then she pretends she’s said something else.


best friend is Rose – they’re both around 17. Hazel’s domestic set-up is far less secure. She and Rowan, her twin brother, and their lifelong friend Ivy, are squatting in “a ghost housing estate”. Over their lifetimes, the twins have


poetry professor (mostly


repeatedly by their mother when in hopeless pursuit of her husband who treats her wretchedly. Now it’s Hazel and Rowan who have abandoned their parents,

living from hand-to-

mouth – a bit of bar work, a spot of shoplifting. Before long, their lives become entwined

with Olive and

Rose. Laurel’s chapters stand apart for most of the novel, reporting a sequence of intense experiences with her friends Ash and Holly; all three are strongly drawn to Jude, a strange and beautiful boy who materialises only in the nearby forest. Alert BfK readers will by now have spotted a tree motif linking these names. References to the trees recur in the ingredients of a powerful spell – a ‘Calling for the Lost to be Found’ – written in an ancient book which falls into the hands of the young people at different points throughout the plot. The spell also requires ‘a glass bottle filled with the waters of Lethe’ – though poteen will do - and human blood. I should come clean. So dense

is the plot that I cannot offer here more than a suggestion of the wild, whirling magic which crowds this unique novel. In a Q & A afterword, Moira

Fowley-Doyle writes: ‘I’ve

loved magic realism since before I knew what it was. I read everything by David Almond as a child and the way he melded fact and fantasy felt truer to life to me than ordinary contemporary fiction’. In Balmallen, we inhabit the everyday world


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