BfK 14+Secondary/Adult continued

more closely linked than either of them realised. He has his own pressures to face: his dad’s building company collapsed during Ireland’s financial crash and his father is determined Liam will train as a Quantity Surveyor, though Liam himself dreams of studying music. As their relationship develops,

Liam and Em find that when they are together, they can both be who they really are, and the happiness and release that comes when you find someone who really gets you is the book’s dominant note. Orlagh Collins describes first love with a memorable

intensity, and

readers will be rapt by this story of Emerald and Liam and their summer. There

are various moments when

their happiness seems under threat and indeed they are revealed to be star-crossed, but in this story warring families are reconciled through their children’s love and honesty. In fact, we never really feel that these two young lovers will be separated, and the story is all the better for that. Characters, setting and emotions are finely described and this is recommended reading for the romantically inclined LS

Forgetting Foster HHHH

Dianne Touchell, Allen & Unwin, 240pp, 978-1-7433-6899-2, £6.99 pbk

Dianne Touchell’s fine novel A Small Madness described

the terrible

consequences of keeping secrets, of a family failing to be honest, and in Forgetting Foster her subject is also a family experiencing bewildering and traumatic breakdown, and struggling to find the words to talk about it. The story is told from the viewpoint

of seven-year-old Foster. His dad has always been a hero to Foster, whether in his business suit, confidently conducting

negotiations over the

telephone, or when he comes in to school to spellbind the children as a storyteller. Telling stories has always been something the two have shared: when Foster’s mum was very poorly in hospital, his dad made sense of it for his son through invented stories, mum becoming a princess in her own fairytale. But when his dad begins to change, first becoming forgetful, then confused and angry, no-one has the time to explain to Foster what is happening, not his increasingly tense and exhausted mother, or his aunty, or


regular visitors to the house. Instead, watching and eavesdropping, he’s left to make up his own stories to explain what is happening to his father and his family. Touchell describes the onset and

development of Alzheimer’s disease with a precision that is both exact and

lyrical. Readers understand

completely the awful sense of loss and grief that both Mum and Foster

feel, and their sense of betrayal too, as though the man they both love has somehow chosen to leave them. It makes for harrowing reading – the deliberate spite of Foster’s next-door neighbour is particularly shocking – and a story such as this can have no happy ending. Nonetheless, there’s a sense that the stories we carry within us will sustain us. Foster likes the squeaky sounds his dad takes to making, which he compares to fairy language: ‘the thrum of wings spinning around dragon eyelashes. It meant Dad was still telling stories on the inside.’ Original and well-written this powerful

novel is well-worth seeking out. AR A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars


Yaba Badoe, Zephyr, 298pp, 978 1 786 69548 2, £10.99 hbk

Sante can juggle, sing and dance, walk on a wire, turn somersaults, do back flips on her stallion, Taj Mahal. That’s not the half of it. Her birth name was Asantewaa, an Ashanti from Ghana. As a baby she survived when a trawler carrying refugees to Europe was

deliberately and sunk. She is also a ‘mind-

whisperer’, able to tune in to other people’s thoughts; “catching the fizz and whirl of what’s deep inside ‘em is what I do best,” she says. She whispers into the mind of Priss, a golden eagle who watches over her, and she even whispers to the spirits of the unquiet dead drowned that day in the Mediterranean, revisiting those desperate moments night after night in her dreams. Sometimes she’s close to her infant self, launched clear of the carnage in her sea-chest cradle; sometimes she looks down, riding the gales on Priss’s back, sharing her eagle’s eye view.

British-Ghanaian writer Yaba Badoe

may well be drawing on storytelling roots nurtured well beyond Europe. She’s wild and daring in the risks she takes in her frequent images – yet unselfconscious:

driven North by climate change and its consequences. Sante finds them in her dreams, dwelling outside time in a spiritual otherworld; she needs to draw strength and love from them to tackle the perils back in her own time. And the plot? All those circus skills


were hard-won through disciplined training, for when Sante was cast ashore, she was found by Priss and also by Mama Rose, Redwood the Harvard

graduate, Midget Man,

Bizzie Lizzie and their friends who travel the roads of Southern Europe, living “off the grid” beyond the grasp of Authority, performing as Mama Rose’s Family Circus. Sante’s 14 now and she, Cobra and his snakes - ever responsive to his mystical summons - and Cat with her flashing knives are the stars of the show. It’s a good life, not

least because Sante’s certain “suddenly, the

love-shine in him beams from his face and licks mine”; “he steps slow as a parson on the highway to hell”. She needs her darker images, for the evil threading through this adventure drives

not care-workers who become only the murderous

shipwreck, but also the sex-trafficking of teenagers reduced to helpless prey for human vultures – rich old men and cackling old women. Readers need to be alert to judge what’s dream and what’s tangible, what’s spoken and what’s thought, for apart from Sante’s mind-whispering, her friends the twins Cobra and Cat also need no words to sense the other’s

thoughts or

that one day she’ll marry Cobra. Sure, the Young Ones are impatient with the Old Ones at times – and vice versa - but that’s Families for you. Tensions become serious when the teenagers help to rescue a strange red-headed English girl, Scarlett, who has walked naked into the Atlantic near Cadiz with no intention of coming back. The Old Ones are far from sure they want to take her in, but Cat and Scarlett have connected with a passion that brooks no challenge. So Scarlett stays. As Sante and her friends seek


Then there’s the only other survivor of the shipwreck; he too can summon up the restless drowned - but is he on her side? Among those victims were Sante’s mother and father, refugees

30 Books for Keeps No.226 September 2017

those who killed her parents and their fellow refugees in the shipwreck, her enemies are hunting her since they want their share of the treasures which were packed alongside her in the sea-chest cradle. In the violent climax, snakes and moths and a single dagger are lethal weapons as the unquiet spirits take a final revenge. There are no easy comic distractions. It’s breath-taking stuff, handled with the daring and pace demanded by the risks of such storytelling. Things don’t get much more original than this. GF

Everybody Hurts HHHH

Joanna Nadin and Anthony McGowan, Atom, 343pp, 978 0 349 00291 0, £7.99 pbk

If Lexy had been there, Sophia tells us, she’d have said, “This is totally like Romeo and Juliet”; and the annoying thing is that Sophia knows Lexy would have been right. Lexy is Sophia’s ICE friend (In Case of Emergency); she insists on taking the role, since she’s a drama queen and Sophia’s a walking life-or-death drama, given that she’s got a tumour the size of a tangerine

That tumour is the reason Sophia has

an appointment

growing in her brain. at


(aka St Michael’s Hospital, Leeds) where, out of nowhere and after a few witty exchanges, a boy she’s never met before kisses her. On the lips. Which is when Lexy’s comment would have come in, since the whole thing is not unlike Romeo’s first kiss with Juliet. It’s love at first sight. Not in Old Capulet’s hall crowded with Verona’s glitterati, but the canteen at Mickey’s where Matt – the unknown boy - has just used some fake coins to get a plate-load of trans fats at the McDonald’s counter. Matt and Sophia tell the tale in

alternating chapters which often race along in breathless stand-up comedy mode. Matt’s a novice at chatting up girls, let alone kissing them. Sophia’s more experienced, at least as far as the technical side of things goes. But neither has known anything of what they might call love; and even though page 1 of Everything Hurts lists 5 things Sophia doesn’t believe in and No.5 is “Love at first sight”, both Sophia and Matt long for subtleties and connections which go well beyond fumbling sex for sex’s sake. There are further echoes of R&J: a party when things are clearly going to go badly, a violent fight between rival gangs ending in a bloody stabbing - though here the feud is not between “two households, both alike in dignity”, so much as the cultures of two schools from different sides of the tracks, one private, one comp. Their narrative voices, however,

could hardly be less Shakespearian. A trawl of a few random pages produces: Fucknuts, wankers, knobhead, “he’s such a dick”, frick-fracking (Sophia’s favourite, as in “frick-fracking Jesus”), effing (as in Justin effing Bieber, effing baboon’s ARSE or Killimaneffingjaro). Yet at the same time, there might be references in Sophia’s chapters to Sartre, Joni, Leonard Cohen and – frequently – The Great Gatsby; while Matt reveals an old-fashioned decency and an honesty about what he’s finding out about himself. In the privacy of their writing, both couple intelligence with reflection. Much of

their narration thinks

through their feelings for each other. Nadin and McGowan may employ elements which are very familiar to experienced YA readers:

the serious illness, the catastrophic party, the

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