reviews 14+Secondary/Adult continued

school and teenage preoccupations, but we’re also flung into magical events where conventions of logic, time and place are repeatedly broken. Only in the closing chapters do some underpinning ‘rules’ emerge to clarify what we’ve witnessed. My notes, made during a necessary second reading,

include spidergrams how people connect, several of

including what’s Lost-and-Found, and reminders about who-is-who

lists, since

some names turn out to be nicknames and emerge some twenty years later in their conventional forms. The

novel begins and ends

with losing and finding; the Lost- and-Found list includes a pair of sunglasses, a charm bracelet, a St Anthony medal, a hair clip, a couple of tarnished teaspoons, and a few trinkets; but also someone’s virginity, innocence, and even a couple of boys who are lost but never found. There’s frequent

teenage drinking (with

consequences); the list here includes Tesco Value Vodka, Diet Coke, a fine single malt and quantities of poteen, distilled by Mags Maguire, a tough, seemingly ageless wise woman who runs the local pub, shows up at key moments but gives little away since she’s a woman of few words, though she’s

probably the only one who

understands what on earth is going on. There’s also swift attraction and subsequent sex, both hetero and gay, described in some detail with sensitivity and power. Storms rage to mirror action and wolves howl to echo magic at its most powerful. That’s my attempt to suggest the

nature of the novel. One reason for what may seem chaotic is that a reader needs to keep track of the multiple storylines, and that’s not helped by the narrative voices


Olive, Hazel and Laurel being so similar. I confess to both irritation and confusion during my first reading (but then I was also initially irritated by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whom Fowley-Doyle much admires).


readers might think the book anything from revelatory to alienating. Some might see it as one of the most exciting, original novels they’ve ever read and begin re-reading at once. Others may never finish it. The book could well win awards for its wild power and invention, its accounts of adolescent intensity. Adults interested in the YA field should not ignore it. GF

The Fallen Children HH

David Owen, 344pp, 978-0-3490- 0269-9, Atom Books, £7.99, pbk

Attempting to ignite a new story drawn from the embers of a previous classic is a risky business. David Owen tries this in his re-imagining of John Wyndham’s unforgettable

The Midwich Cuckoos. In his new version, spooky babies are born once again, this time to four different young mothers all living on a miserable inner-

city estate. Starting with a multiple rape and going on to often sickly descriptions of subsequent pregnancy and early infancy; this is not a story for the squeamish. To make matters worse, all the other occupants of the estate are uniformly horrible while the new children themselves, when they arrive in record time, are anything but loveable. Owen writes in a punchy style, and

the point he strives to make is a good one, suggesting that if the children had been shown any kindness and understanding instead of initial hostility things might eventually have worked out better. But his narrative is altogether too glum, with minor characters

competing in general

nastiness and all the affected parents of the teenagers concerned totally unable to cope from the start. As the plot develops so too does the level of violence, ending up in general mayhem. A sort of positive ending comes too late, since by that time sustaining any sort of belief in what is happening has become virtually impossible. Owen’s previous debut novel, Panther, also dealt with dark issues but more successfully. The best that can be said for this present ambitious but flawed story is that it might lead readers back to Wyndham’s own writing, where moments of horror are shared with at least a few characters offering a more hopeful view of humanity as it might exist in an otherwise scary sci-fi future. NT

Troublemakers HHHH

Catherine Barter, Andersen Press, 384pp, 978-1-7834-4524-0, £7.99 pbk

Set in the London of today, against a background of

terrorist Troublemakers threats

and dangerous populist politics, and posing real questions about personal responsibility,


both timely and unusual. The central character, fifteen-year-

old Alena has been brought up by her brother Danny and his partner Nick. Alena’s mother died when she was just a toddler and she has hardly any memories of her, something that bothers her more and more as she grows up. She – and readers – are conscious too of the sacrifices Danny has made bringing up his little sister, he was only eighteen when their mother died. Trying to find out more about her mother, Alena comes across a photo online

showing her at Greenham

Common, and can’t understand why it makes Danny so angry, or why he is so against her contacting her mother’s old friends. As the plot unfolds, it’s clear that Danny has been keeping secrets from Alena,

believing futuristic nightmare he

was protecting her. Meanwhile he takes a job orchestrating the election campaign for a local politician, who is not above using a spate of bomb attacks to his own advantage, stoking up the feelings of fear and suspicion they arouse. Nick is angry with

Danny for taking the job; he himself runs a coffee shop, somewhere that represents real security to Alena, but is itself the target for extremist attacks. Catherine Barter weaves the different

plotlines together with much skill and despite the complex subject matter Troublemakers is a real page-turner. Alena’s search to find out more about her mother drives the narrative, and the more she finds out, the more we realise that politics affects us all, not just because of the choices we make at the ballot box, but through the decisions we make every day in our own lives. Intelligent and thought-provoking, this is an absorbing novel, and a highly impressive debut. MMa

Girlhood HHHHH

Cat Clarke, Quercus, 384pp, 978-1-7849-2273-7, £7.99 pbk

Harper Kent is a British girl of seventeen. She was born with an identical twin sister but Jenna died two years earlier of anorexia, Harper suffers from the syndrome known as survivor’s guilt. Harper’s

parents are ordinary

working class people, her father a postman. Out of the blue they are rich, winning the

lottery. Harper

decides that she would like to attend an elite boarding school, Duncraggon Academy. Clarke’s narrative resumes in the first term of Harper’s last year at the Academy. By now she has formed a strong relationship with three friends, all female. A newcomer named

Kirsty Connors joins the

school. She has a strong initial bond with Harper, since Kirsty’s sister Rhiannon has also died. But Kirsty also has a secret which will affect her relationship with Harper and the other girls. This book merits serious attention two main reasons.

for First, it

examines with great precision and accuracy the emotional response of a bereaved teenager to the loss of her sibling. It would be impossible to read the story of Harper’s grief unmoved. But second, this is a school story. But it is as far from the conventional image of a girls’ school as it is possible

to be: this is no Malory Towers. All the girls have issues and struggle to find identity and equilibrium. At this posh school the reader will encounter profanity, alcohol and sex – though interestingly no drugs. At the heart of this unfolding

narrative is a huge deception, a lie told for an ulterior purpose and shattering in its impact when the truth emerges. The reader shares to the full the anguish generated when this untruth is exposed. One minor violation of credibility

threatens this otherwise convincing book. The Academy has a rifle range. The older pupils are allowed to shoot unsupervised and even have access to

the armoury. This reviewer’s

slender awareness of the rules at any school with a rifle range suggests that such laxity is improbable. This minor flaw should not detract from recognition of an important work of fiction. RB

Like Other Girls HHHHH

Claire Hennessy, Hot Key, 288pp, 978-1-4714-0634-8, £7.99pbk

St Agnes is an elite all-girls school in Ireland. One of the pupils is sixteen year old Lauren Carroll. We learn that

Lauren’s mother is also the

principal of St Agnes, her daughter’s head teacher. Lauren has a boyfriend Justin. But together with her long- time friend Stephanie, Lauren also attends an informal group of pupils for those who feel uncertain about their sexuality. Lauren is a good singer and dancer.

Yet in the school’s production of the musical The Boyfriend she is given only a subordinate role – much to her irritation. An upheaval in Lauren’s personal life leads her to deceive her mother, break the law and seek solace in alcohol. The rest of the narrative deals with Lauren’s attempt to cope with these difficulties. Hennessy’s

book conventionally enough, yet

begins soon

morphs into a complex of very different and more challenging contexts. A significant question about parenthood is posed: as a conscientious and dedicated

educationalist, Lauren’s

mother demonstrates awareness. But in relation to Lauren’s personal problems she seems to prefer looking away. We

unpleasant evidence, parents may prefer to ignore what confronts them. But is this example of such behaviour too extreme to be credible? An even trickier

situation arises when one

of the female pupils decides she is transgender. When she chooses to present herself as a boy, would she not be asked to leave an all-girl school? It is difficult to imagine a

more difficult authorial task than constructing a school story that also confronts issues such as sexual identity, moral

law, transgender

issues and parental responsibility. Yet somehow Hennessy has succeeded. High school librarians please take note. RB

Books for Keeps No.225 July 2017 35 know that faced with

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