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reviews 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued


Mirin loves the skeleton, who she calls Princy, as he makes her laugh. Stanley is intrigued by him, but fearful, especially when Jaxon tells him all about the tales of the grim reaper. In one of their photos, the boys can see a scythe at the skeleton’s feet. Stanley thinks in order to save his sister, he needs to keep her away from Princy’s clutches, but it isn’t quite as simple as that. The book is about courage and coming to terms with loss in a family. The magical element adds a delicious other-worldly dimension to the story. The skeleton is unsettling and scary when it first appears, but its antics make Mirin laugh, and gradually Stanley comes to accept the part it plays. There are many issues to discuss in this well-crafted debut novel, and the originality of its images and ideas stay with you. LT


& co is firmly on the case despite every effort


to halt their enquiries.


Its members still remain perennially young at heart as well as body despite all the travails they have experienced in the past and will go on to meet in this final volume. 500+ pages makes for a long read but Stroud’s many fans here and abroad will only wish this story was even longer. And does Lucy finally manage to declare herself to her cheerfully Byronic boss Lockwood, the undeclared love of her life? Read on, find out and enjoy. NT


Skeleton Tree HHHHH


Kim Ventrella, Macmillan Children’s Books, 228pp, 978-1-5098-2869-2, £8.99 pbk


Emmie the Invisible is not really The Skeleton Tree starts out as a bony finger growing out of the earth in twelve-year-old


Stanley’s backyard.


Stanley is struggling to deal with all the tension in his household; his father left ten months ago with no explanation, his mother is working long hours, trying to cope on her own, and his young has a chronic illness.


sister Mirin Mostly he’s


coping well, distracting himself with his favourite video game Skatepark Zombie Death Bash, and spending time with his best friend Jaxon. When he’s stressed, he imagines a zombie character called Slurpy can devour all his problems, so he can continue to be helpful and supportive to his mum, his sister and the neighbour who minds them, Ms. Francine. The skeleton continues to grow out


of the ground, and Stanley and Jaxon try to take photos of it, so they can enter a science competition. Stanley thinks that if he can win, he can get his dad to come back home again, and the prize money can help pay the hospital bills.


refuses to co-operate. emerged,


appearing at he’s strangely unpredictable


and only visible to children and a few adults such as Ms. Francine.


Roller Girl HHHH


Victoria Jamieson, Puffin, 240pp, 978 0 141 37899 2, £7.99 pb


This American graphic novel combines an action-packed sports story with a coming of age tale as it depicts the summer ‘tween-ager’ Astrid becomes totally smitten with the sport of roller derby whilst having to start


high


school and re-negotiate friendships. When Astrid’s Mom, who likes to make sure her daughter has varied cultural experiences, takes Astrid and her best friend, Nicole, to see a roller derby game Astrid instantly falls in love with the sport and signs up for summer camp expecting Nicole to follow suit. Nicole, however, chooses ballet camp and a new friend instead and so Astrid begins a tough and confusing summer of learning a new sport, discovering what, and who, really matters to her, admitting to her own mistakes and making some difficult choices. This is a funny, poignant, warm- graphic novel which conveys Astrid’s


hearted expressively


confusion and uncertainty as her familiar world changes around her. The graphic format is perfect


for


depicting the fast-paced, physical, girl-power world of roller derby with its fearsome body art and intimidating names. Victoria Jamieson is both an illustrator and a roller derby player herself so the setting feels completely authentic and the


fact perseverance that and this


contact sport is probably not very well known in the UK does not really matter as it is Astrid’s steep learning curve,


self-


But the skeleton Having fully elusive, times


discovery that form the heart of this Newbery Honor Award winning book. At once humorous and perceptive this novel is one to recommend to young people who may also be facing the difficulties of changing friendships and finding their place in an unfamiliar adolescent world. SR


All the Things That Could Go Wrong


HHHH


Stewart Foster, Simon and Schuster, 316pp, 978 1 4711 4542 1, £8.99 pbk


Alex has OCD. His hands are cracked and


sore from compulsive hand-


washing, and his rituals make it difficult for him to leave the house. His behaviour, and the fact that he has to wear gloves to protect his hands, make him a target for bullying at his new secondary school. The bullying is nasty; intimidating and degrading. Although popular student Dan doesn’t really want to join in, he is feeling angry and confused due to problems at home, and he finds he can’t stop himself. The story is told through the two view, presented in


boys’ points of


alternate chapters. The first thing we read from Alex is his List of Worries. Writing out ‘all the things that can go wrong’ is one of the coping mechanisms suggested by his psychologist.


wants to become more independent and to make new friends. When Laila manages to track down her Nana Josie’s Protest Book and discovers more about her dead grandmother’s life as an activist a change of spirit is sparked in Laila herself. She begins to work out her place in the world, to discover what she really believes is important, to make new friends and to find her voice in defending the rights of others, just as her Nana Josie did many years before. This is a powerful, moving, multi-


layered and deeply satisfying story of young people finding their path in a confusing, frightening world by standing up for what they feel is right and taking action.


new friendships, with Kez, whose Bat


Mitzvah preparations


Laila’s old and form a


This gives us a great


insight into how Alex thinks and feels, and it’s impressive how he manages to keep going, with all the anxiety he faces every day.


At the same time,


Dan is struggling with his feelings, missing his brother Ben who has been sent to a detention centre after getting into serious trouble with the police. He writes to Ben frequently, and gets to visit him at the centre, where he finds his brother subdued and intimidated by his environment. Dan and Alex’s mothers know each


other and suggest that the boys spend time together in the holidays. Although initially horrified, they can’t get out of it, and Alex has to spend afternoons and days at Dan’s workshop near the beach, where they build a raft designed by Ben. Gradually they get to know each other, and the story races to a satisfying conclusion. This is an exceptionally


novel showing the importance understanding


differences accepting people as they are.


good of


and It


highlights the acute misery caused by bullying, and helps young people empathise with those dealing with difficult issues. Both characters are sympathetically portrayed. Dan is likeable and we can see why he behaves as he does, even if we can’t condone it.


Alex is especially


endearing, and his courage in trying to stop a tragedy from happening makes him a true hero. LT


Tender Earth HHHHH


Sita Brahmachari, Macmillan, 412pp, 9781509812516, £6.99 pbk


Sita Brahmachari returns to the world of Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies with this portrayal of Laila, the youngest member of the Levenson family, as she copes with a time of transition in her life.


siblings, Mira and Krish, depart


university just as Laila is about to start secondary school, leaving her feeling lonely and abandoned.


running moral core to the book, and with Pari, a Syrian refugee, develop and strengthen throughout as Laila grows in understanding and empathy. Themes of learning from the past and your own background whilst dealing with the realities of the world you live in build to the climax of Laila organising her own barefoot protest against local


anti-semitism. Laila


learns both to walk in other people’s shoes and to tread her own path. The author succeeds in portraying


the normal ups and downs of family life and relationships in a warm and inspirational way.


Laila’s narrative


voice is believable and sympathetic and the world portrayed is multi-cultural, diverse and authentically inclusive. Readers of the previous titles will be happy to encounter familiar characters, but the book can stand alone.


In


her foreword the author urges young readers to work out what paths they will follow, what banners they will hold up and what words they will write on them. In a sometimes dark and divided world, it feels very important to be able to recommend a book full of such hope and positivity and to bring it to the attention of as many young people as possible. SR


A Change Is Gonna Come HHHHH


Edited by Ruth Bennett with Aa’Ishah Z. Hawton, Stripes Publishing, 978 1 84715 839 0, 315pp, £7.99 pbk


In 2016, Stripes (an imprint of the Little Tiger group), published I’ll be Home for Christmas, an anthology of new short stories and poetry on the theme of ‘Home’; £1 from every copy sold went to the charity Crisis. This year they have devised, with similar integrity and ingenuity, A Change Is Gonna Come. In a prefatory note, they say, “The purpose of this anthology is to give creative space to those who have historically had their thoughts, ideas and experiences oppressed.” Stripes had in mind Black, Asian


Laila’s older for


It doesn’t help that Laila’s best friend Kez also


and Minority Ethnic (BAME) writers of short


to


began by inviting eight established writers


stories and poems. They respond – free from


editorial constraints – to the theme of ‘Change’. They also wanted to give that “creative space” to new voices; getting published is hard enough, but Stripes


Books for Keeps No.226 September 2017 27


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