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BfK 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued


from the outbreak of war, women at war, the Holocaust to VE day and the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, with family and news photographs illustrating each page. The headings are in black typeface on a red/orange background which does make them very difficult to read. It has a very good cover with what looks like a propaganda poster. It does seem that there has been


Some are from grandparents and great-grandparents personal


interviewer concerned, and occupy just a page.


reactions of the give child the pages and are very adult memories of


some confusion as to the audience of this compilation, because of the different


Others run to several


levels of the memories. and


war, of fighting, seeing friends killed and with adult reactions to war and their experiences to end with. There is a memory of witnessing a man killing his own daughter because she was a collaborator and was about to blow up the soldier concerned. These memories are written by adults for adults. Because of this huge variation in the contributions this would be better used by teachers and adults in order to ensure the memories reach the correct audience. It is vital that these memories do


not die as the survivors of the war die and so this is an important book. It is just a shame that it is not as good as it could be; maybe it would have been better in two separate books. JF


Riverkeep HHH


Martin Stewart, PenguinRandom House, 368pp, 978-0-1413-6203-8, £7.99 pbk


This is an impressive debut. A richly imagined fantasy


presented with confidence, full of vivid detail and invention. Wulliam is the son of the


world that is


Riverkeeper. On his sixteenth birthday he will become the Riverkeeper in his turn. It is not a prospect he welcomes. When tragedy strikes and his father is possessed by dark spirit, Wulliam embarks on a journey fraught with incident and danger in a desperate attempt to find a cure. It is somewhat invidious to present


the reader with comparisons, and I would


those provided on the cover of this novel. However, the author


There is no attempt to describe it. The reader opens the first page to step into the world of the river complete with its own dialect and vocabulary. The plot is dense and complex, there are multiple narrators to draw all the strands together. Characters are eccentric and extraordinary, none more so than the homunculus Tillinghast, who will fast become the most memorable of them all, and whose realtionship with Wulliam is central to the story. It will be interesting to see if Martin


Stewart continues with this River world or moves on; a voice to listen for. FH


The Monstrous Child HHHHH


Francesca Simon, ill. Olivia Lomenach Gill, Faber, 320pp, 978-0-5713-3026-3, £9.99, hbk


‘Oddly billed on her website as the third in Simon’s Mortal Gods series, this remarkable first young adult novel, while also dealing with Norse mythology, goes somewhere a lot darker. It follows its


is presented complete. certainly take issue


certainly claim an association with the imagination of writers such as Philip Reeve or Frances Hardinge. His world


with can


heroine, Hel, from birth to the destruction of Asgard. Hel tells her own story in the tones of a modern adolescent, barely concealing her bitterness with sharp sarcasm and early onset world-weariness. She has much to be bitter about. The despised off-spring of giants and gods, she is the daughter of the trickster Loki, with a wolf and a snake for brothers, and the possessor of gangrenous ‘corpse legs’ which are in a state of suspended foul-smelling decay, an indication of her prophesied role as Queen of the dead and harbinger of Asgard’s downfall. After reluctantly accepting her fate, for there is no way out from that realm, she makes the most of it, presiding with a mixture of pride and disgust. It is not a tale packed with incident, although Hel does (precipitously and unwisely) fall in love, but what does take place is of apocalyptic proportions. The power of the novel is in its compelling evocation of the cruel and grotesque world of the Norse imagination seen through the eyes of a sly and revenging god who remains a deeply wounded child. The narrative voice is so unexpected that it jars somewhat for the first one or two chapters, but that quickly fades and the novel’s power is drawn from a mix of modern thought patterns and speech rhythms with the acrid language of desolation, including unobtrusive phrasing and word blending that recalls Anglo Saxon poetry: ‘carrion too rank for ravens’, ‘tomb-home’, ‘hurled me here’, ‘landing hard, hooves smashing rocks’, ‘raven-dark world’, and so on. The result is a novel in the service of a vision of a world that is utterly other but made breathtakingly immediate. It’s a stunning debut for an older audience. CB


Plain Jane HHHH


Kim Hood, O’Brien Press, 304pp, 978-1847177841, £6.99 pbk


Kim Hood’s debut novel Finding a Voice was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and won praise for its honest, clear-eyed account of the challenges of disability, and of living with someone suffering mental illness. Her new book, Plain Jane, is an equally thoughtful and truthful account of


30 Books for Keeps No.218 May 2016


Death or Ice Cream HHH


Gareth P. Jones, Hot Key Books, 256pp, 978-1-4714-0428-3, £6.99 pbk


Death or Ice Cream is a collection of short stories that interconnect and give us a picture of the surreal town Larkin Mills. They start with a mysterious visitor to Albert Dance and his domineering bedridden mother.


the business of buying anecdotes in exchange for a strange vial of purple liquid that he assures Albert will provide the ending to his story. One story leads into another until


The visitor is in


explains the origins of Larkin Mills in Roman Britain when an alien falls to Earth and may or may not have taken over the Roman Empire with the help of a British slave. The stories are funny and well


written, you actually believe in the rather


populate the pages. You begin to see how the mundane could be hiding a wholly different world beneath.


by the end we understand the nature of Larkin Mills. All are slightly surreal and a little bit creepy. Imagine a town where the public art talks to you, where the only hotel doubles as the funeral home, the only wax works in the museum are of local people.


14+ Secondary/Adult


for all that is wrong in the family, to


plans to save her sister from the pharmaceutical


decides are poisoning her. It leads to collapse and hospitalisation. For


described the book ends positively and on a note of real hope for the future. In Jane, Kim Hood has created a complex, fascinating character, whose experiences provide readers not just with an understanding of bi- polar disorder, or of serious illness, but insight


understanding of love, life, friendship and


ambitious and rewarding read. MMa even


into her own individual art. It’s an involving,


The Square Root of Summer HHHH


Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Macmillan, 322pp, 978-1-5098-0829-8, £12.99 hbk


mental illness, described as part of a dramatic story, and is deeply moving. The story is told by Jane, almost


sixteen, growing up in a very small town in Canada. Jane’s little sister Emma has cancer and has been in hospital almost continuously for the past three years. The effect on the family is devastating: visiting Emma in hospital, struggling to cope with the emotional and financial pressures takes up all the girls’ parents’ attention. Though she loves her sister very much, Jane can’t help but feel angry. With her parents’


elsewhere she skips school, avoids her old friends, and spends hours simply sitting with her boyfriend in his basement watching him play video games. An encounter with a young man called Farley seems to open up new possibilities,


will notice that Jane’s behaviour is getting wilder and more erratic. A deterioration in Emma’s condition brings things to a crisis point and prompts Jane to remember another shocking


she has kept hidden from herself. In a frightening episode, Jane swings from feeling invisible, but responsible


family tragedy, one that but readers attention


It’s a frequent plot device in Young Adult fiction – a cliché even - for things to come to a head at a party in the closing chapters. All the main players will be there. Drink flows, maybe drugs are passed around, the beat throbs on. Feelings surge, spill over into damaging words. Catastrophe is probable. I wished Harriet Reuter Hapgood


could have found a different truth- telling climax, for elsewhere this is an original debut novel. But it’s during an end-of-summer party that things fall apart for our narrator Gottie (Margot – okay?). Everyone’s more or less drunk. Her musician brother, Ned, is home from uni. Surrounded by the party debris in the kitchen, he has briefly put aside his guitar to attack a jammed and rusty tap with a spoon. Suddenly, he lays into Gottie for her selfish behaviour over recent weeks, concluding, “ ‘.... if you paid attention to anything other


Gottie is devastated, and even more so when her close friend Sof turns on her with “a hiss so low and furious I can barely hear the words, ‘....Gottie, you barely want me around! I can see it in your face every time I’m round here, and it sucks.’” Only the tap spurting out a “geyser of water


than yourself.’” all the trauma and pain


action, devising wild companies


she frenzied


the tales unfold you begin to realise that what drives the narrative is the age old struggle of good over evil, death or ice cream. Apart from the fascinating stories


it is fun to place some of the names from the obvious Dulwich West or to speculate as to why the alien is called Larkin? I don’t think Milton makes an appearance but he should be mentioned in passing. CD


As strange characters that


The clue comes in the story that


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