BfK 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued

believe it is even harder for writers from minority backgrounds. In response to the publisher’s “call for work from unpublished and unagented writers”, there were over 100 submissions, from which four stories were selected. In their effort to encourage diversity in publishing, Stripes also provided a placement for a “talented future editor to get real experience of the book-publishing process”. Aa’Ishah Hawton worked alongside Editorial Director Ruth Bennett throughout the process, from the selection and editing of manuscripts to the production of the final book. The range of

the writers’ family

origins (included in notes about the authors) is more interestingly diverse than the acronym BAME can reflect: “...born in North London to Nigerian parents”; “her dad was from Jamaica and her mum was Welsh”; “her mother was Guyanese and her

father was

Irish”; “born in Leicester to an Indian father and Pakistani mother”; “part Indian and part Jewish”. The poet Musa Okwonga “was born in London to Ugandan parents and is now based in Berlin”, but most of the writers seem to live in London or elsewhere in Southern

England; there is no

reference within the stories to Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic experiences in the industrial areas of the North or the rest of the UK. That’s more a regret than a criticism, since there is much to admire in the anthology’s quality of content and narrative styles. With the sense of responsibility characteristic of this book’s creation, Stripes include a final page which lists topics covered along with resources for any reader who might be “worried about coming across something that is particularly upsetting to you”. I’ll use that list to indicate the range of issues the stories implicitly address: bereavement, Islamophobia, Obsessive

Compulsive Disorder,

racism, refugees, sexuality, terrorism. The list could also have included Brexit and immigration, for that issue destroys a best-friendship in Nikesh Shukla’s “We Who?”

Since Change is at the

core of the collection, it’s not surprising that the settings explore past, present and future: Catherine Johnson’s tale involves circus performers in the early 19th Century (based on a historical character); there are stories from our own times set in Nigeria, the Calais Jungle and Hackney and dystopias from Irfan Master and Patrice Lawrence. In his Foreword, Darren Chetty,

drawing on his 20 years’ service in London classrooms, notes that “the range of books for children is still too narrow and doesn’t reflect the country or the world in which we live. But, although it’s been a long time coming, this is beginning to change.” He mentions a child in his class who thought “stories have to be about white shift

people”. This book should such a perspective but

difficulty lies, as BfK readers know, in persuading teachers and librarians


to use their limited funds and time to introduce non-BAME readers to such an anthology. Since the book is intended to be a means of Change in itself, Stripes and their contributors deserve every success. GF

Thornhill HHH

Pam Smy, David Fickling Books, 978-1-9102-0061-2, 544pp, £14.99 hbk

There is a mystery attached to Thornhill, the bleak, dark, deserted house next door. Who is the girl in the window? Why are there dolls in the garden? Thornhill does indeed have a history – but you need to read to find out... This is a double narrative – a story

set in the past (though not such a distant past) and the present. The difference, one story is told through the

words; the second through

the illustrations. This is not a new format but it carries dangers; will the two stories work together? Here Smy creates a dark and satisfying narrative that is full of tension, and far from cosy. In the past we meet Mary Baines, a young girl in care – for that is what Thornhill is – a care home for children – unloved, selectively mute and bullied. In the present there is Ella, also alone, her father away working for long hours. This is not an original scenario. But Smy draws the reader in. Mary tells her own story; we read it as a diary, direct, unadorned. Ella we meet through Smy’s artwork, full page black and white images punctuated by stark black double spreads. The story builds slowly – unusual, perhaps, for readers accustomed to the action of the graphic novel – but gripping. The author has given us a stark read with an uncomfortable ending – and a question. This is not for the faint- hearted – the sheer size of the book might be daunting – but it will certainly reward those who dare climb through the barbed wire of the end-pages. FH

The Murderer’s Ape HHHHH

Jakob Wegelius, trans. Peter Graves, Pushkin, 648pp, 978 1 7826 9161 7, £16.99 hbk

It’s unlikely that you will otherwise ever come across a female gorilla as the narrator of a story. Especially a story which begins in Portugal sometime in an imaginary nineteen twenties

or among other

the tale remarkable are its characters, nearly all given individual black and white portraits by its Swedish author and illustrator before the start, and developed so carefully in the telling that, like people in your own life, you feel that you know them and can still be surprised by them. Sally, of course, is the most remarkable of them and the only one not to be pictured initially (although she is later). Her status uncertain in the human world, without a speaking voice to make her feelings known, although she can write, of course, she relies on the friendship of people who can recognise her intelligence,

her manual dexterity,

her gentleness, and, above all, her own capacity for friendship. Perhaps, in some sense, she represents the outsider and the misunderstood in all of us. Almost certainly, she makes an attractive heroine and observer for a child audience. In its scope and its ability to create a world that is based in historical reality but full of adventure and touched with fantasy, the story reminds me of the work of another recently

translated author,

Timothée de Fombelle. It’s a real pleasure to have them both available now for those of us who can read confidently only in English. Long may the trend continue. CB

The Boy with One Name HHHH

J.R.Wallis, Simon & Schuster, 320pp, 9781471157929, £6.99, pbk

This is the story of what happens when two young people from widely differing worlds are thrown together in an epic battle against monsters that we usually read about in books. Ruby is running away from yet another foster home when she is caught up in a shootout with an Ogre. Jones is an apprentice ‘Badlander’ being trained to hunt down monsters in order to protect the human world and during this latest encounter his master is killed. Ruby decides that she would love to be a ‘Badlander’ and be able to do magic, while Jones just wants to find his real parents and live the life of a normal boy; together they might achieve their ambitions. The problem is that there is a truly wicked Witch living in their area of London and they will have to free Jones’ parents from her spell, if they are to find a happy ending. Can they do this? What a great adventure with two

thirties, and involves, episodes, a murder

that isn’t, a miscarriage of justice, a kidnapping at sea, the friendship of an undiscovered prima donna of traditional

sojourn for our heroine as the aide of an Indian Rajah. The story unwinds at a leisurely pace but, with so many mysteries to be solved, rescues and escapes to be made, and the ground constantly shifting under Sally Jones’s gorilla feet, it’s a story that confidently holds you in its comfortable grip and keeps you turning the pages. There are incidents enough but what makes

28 Books for Keeps No.226 September 2017 song, and an enforced

very engaging main characters plus a talking gun! That last phrase helps explain the quirky nature of the book and the strange world that the author has created. Whilst it is basically our own environment there is also this parallel, magical world which is solid and dark rather than light and airy. This will appeal to both boys and girls and both Ruby and Jones are full of energy and willing to get stuck in to all of the action. The story is told in the third person, which makes switching between perspectives so much easier. All of the main characters have issues that they are trying to resolve and the author uses the plot to give them the chance to find solutions. It is

all about family (and what that can mean) as well as about friendship and also being able to reach your own potential, even if the rules say it is not possible. This was a really enjoyable story for the 9+ age group and I look forward to seeing more adventures from these characters. MP

Love From Lexie HHHH

Cathy Cassidy, illus Erin Keen, Puffin, 336pp, 978 0 141 37968 5, £12.99 hbk

Abandoned by her mother, Lexie feels lost despite living with kindly foster parents and a feisty foster


Bex who takes her under her wing. She still hopes to find her mother and often writes to her, the letters remaining unanswered. After finding a lost tortoise in her realises she is drawn

street Lexie

towards helping other lost souls and noticing there are many children who don’t quite fit in at school decides to set up a club together with her friend Happi and Bex as she understands how her friends have helped her. They arrange the meeting in the local library as the friendly librarian, Miss Walker, has offered them the space and Lexie has used the library as a refuge in the past. But when the school troublemaker turns up with his friends under the misapprehension that they are there to audition for a band - Lost and Found - everything turns on its head and Lexie soon realises a band might be a great way to pull everyone in.

Lexie discovers

she has a talent for song writing and the disparate group of misfits find they have musical talents aplenty. Lexie also begins to fall for


notorious lead guitarist, Marley, even though she knows he is bad news. Just when the group are beginning to find their feet the library is threatened with closure and they all rally round as a team to fight the decision enlisting the help of a charismatic local painter Miss Winter to fight their cause. Touching on issues

such as

mental health, bullying and domestic violence in a light handed and never didactic way this is a story bursting with positivity and the power friendship.

of Lexie is a wonderfully

drawn character, by turns vulnerable yet with an inner strength that comes to the fore in activating the community sprit needed to fight the library closures. She has a real heart of gold despite her traumatic start in life and you cannot help but root for her. This is a perfectly pitched feel- good novel that is also a paean to libraries and librarians everywhere. JC

The Starman and Me HHHH

Sharon Cohen, Quercus, 326pp, 9781786540089, £6.99 pbk

What do you do when you spot a ‘caveman’ hiding on a local roundabout? Well Kofi decides he wants to find out who it is and where they came from. The character speaks an odd form of English and says his name is Rorty Thrutch but cannot

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