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reviews 14+Secondary/Adult continued


that threatens to drown us all” stops Ned. I was as surprised by this dual assault as Gottie, since I’d thought that she and her friend Thomas – more of him in a moment - had been the only sympathetic main characters in the novel. It was all the others who seemed utterly


including Gottie’s grandfather, Grey, who may have died a year earlier, but is a living presence shadowing every page.


summer. Gottie has finished exams, presumably at the end of Year 12, since the school is issuing her with UCAS documents.


class – has been ever since Grey’s death. But her empathetic Physics teacher, Ms Adewunmi, knows Gottie’s a genius. She can think, talk and write about Physics at a level that – despite accompanying diagrams – most of us will struggle to grasp; this matters here since Quantum Physics, Shrödinger’s Cat et al, are essential to the plot. Incidentally, given the Science, the characters’ ages, their life-styles and relationships including some crucial off-page sex, it is surprising that Macmillan suggest the book’s suitability for readers of 12+. Gotte’s home life is unconventional. In his ineffectual way, her widower ‘Papa’ – the family is of German stock – is more of a child than Ned and Gotte. Grey is the dominant figure; he’s ‘a supersize Gandalf’, a bear of a man who runs a chaotic Barn crammed with second-hand books, drives ‘a crappy old VW Beetle’ and still calls everyone ‘man’ or ‘dude’. His thinking is time- warped somewhere in the late Sixties. Characteristically, one


around a family camp-fire, he roars ‘“I want to die like a Viking!....Burn me on a pyre, push me out to the waves!”’ Hippie-thinking was liberating and adventurous, letting in gales of fresh or strangely scented air; but when the world’s work and its sadnesses had to be faced, that thinking too often fled ever inwards to Me and My Feelings. Here, we’re told, family and friends are still grieving for Grey and his wisdom; as Sof says, “He was like, all our dads, or something.” For this element of the plot to work for readers, we need to share Gotte’s view of Grey; for me, he became the most self-indulgent of the lot, an alienating presence. Meanwhile, Gotte is discovering her


growing sexuality, exploring different kinds of love, even deciding what to do next with her life. To these ends, she


to moments in her past, by way of a mixture of Quantum Physics and magic (or maybe voyages of the mind through dream and memory – I wasn’t sure and neither is Gotte). Her best support in this is Thomas, her inseparable friend in childhood, who emigrated to Canada years ago but is back for the summer, sensing he and Gotte might have more to find in that deep-rooted kinship. This plot strand is written with attractive sensitivity, and indeed the writing has a tireless, excited energy throughout. It will need readers able to bring a comparable energy to the text – or those whose own intensity could


journeys through ‘wormholes’ tipsy night She’s quiet in Back to the beginning of


be sparked by the writing. For them, this will be a memorable read. GF


Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah HHH self-absorbed,


Erin Lange, Faber & Faber, 368pp, 978-0-5713-1456-0, £6.99 pbk


In many ways this starts out feeling like a cliché of a teen book. Four disparate teens are thrown together when a party in the woods is raided by the police. Desperate to get away they steal a police car, are shot at by the police and accidentally hit an officer. For various reasons they don’t


feel that they can turn themselves in. The narrator Sam is the one who has most contact with the police; her mother is a substance abuser and former country and western singer. Andi was once one of the mean girls but now she has dropped out, wears dreadlocks and has tattoos.


the car is York a jock and a bully and his younger brother Boston who is academically gifted and desperate to get to Ivy League college.


are heightened when they realise that there is a large amount of drugs in the car and that the men shooting at them are either not the police or corrupt. On the run their preconceptions of


each other break down and they do become friends but at no point does it become sentimental or as clichéd as you might fear at first. Each has a reason to be the way they are and slowly prejudice and preconceptions are challenged as the truth of their lives is revealed. It is a taught thriller that keeps the pages turning and populated with characters most teens will identify from their school on either side of the Atlantic. Whilst most of their stories will not end with a shootout and a prison cell the lessons of empathy are well made. CD


The Bombs the Brought Us Together


Brian Conaghan, Bloombsury Children’s Books, 368pp, 978-1-4088-5574-4, £12.99 hbk


The bombs come in the first chapter of Brian Conaghan’s fine novel, raining down on the


Little Town, while our hero 14 year old Charlie Law, squashed up with his mother and father, hides under a duvet, their only protection. It’s a vivid scene, tense, frightening, but also, as described by Charlie, funny too. It sets the tone for the whole book. Charlie has always lived in Little


residents of HHHH Tensions Also in


Hanneke to undertake a dangerous mission. A young Jewish girl, Mirijam Roodvelt, was hidden in a secret room under Mrs Jansen’s protection, in the manner of Anne Frank. But now she too has disappeared. Mrs Jansen begs Hanneke to try to find her. So Hanneke sets out on a dangerous mission. The great merit of this book is the accuracy with which it shows just how complex and threatening life becomes under military occupation. Hanneke’s search for Mirijam is fraught with threatening episodes and frustrating obstacles such as misidentification. The narrative skill with which Hesse outlines the life of the Netherlands under Nazi rule is utterly convincing. At times the reader feels herself to be under the heel of the oppressor and the Dutch collaborators. The text conveys a genuine sense of fear. Hanneke’s father was severely


hospitals, a proper army, but it’s just as repressive and particularly dangerous for anyone who speaks out


inhabitants of Little Town knew that at some point Old Country would attack. Charlie’s life changes when he


frightening attacks on them, first by Rascals late one night, then at school where Pav is badly beaten up by the school bullies. He and Pav quickly become friends however, forming a kind of relaxed, jokey friendship that feels utterly real. Pav has a lot less regard for laws than Charlie, but then the bombs come, swiftly followed by invading forces from Old Country, and everything changes anyway. Almost before he knows it, Charlies is in debt to the terrifying Big Man, and ordered to repay it in a truly terrible way. While it has echoes


dystopian novels, 1984 for example, or Maggot Moon, and explores what it is like to live under war, invasion or oppression – sadly there children all over


of other


would understand Charlie’s situation perfectly – nonetheless this is a book we haven’t read before. Charlie is an extraordinary central character, his outlook, his adolescent hopes and aspirations, and his relationship with Pav hold the book together and despite the bleakness of setting and events, give it a sense of real hope and sometimes even joy. MMa


The Girl in the Blue Coat HHHHH


Town which has become a grim place to be. The government – the Regime – enforce strict rules, which make any form of association, or having fun it would seem, illegal. Charlie knows all the rules and follows them to the letter to avoid getting into trouble with the Rascals, a kind of secret illegal police. The Rascals, or people like them, control the lucrative black market jobs,


hard to come by in Little Town, unless you’re prepared to deal with criminals. Things are different next door in Old Country. They have buckets of money,


too: most things – money, food, medicine – are pretty


Monica Hesse, Macmillan Children’s Books, 320pp, 978-1-4472-9501-3, £7.99pbk


The


Hanneke Bakker is eighteen years old. She works in a funeral undertaker’s business. But she has an extra-curricular task locating black market goods such as lipstick, cigarettes and chocolate for her undertaker boss and delivering the contraband to his customers. Hanneke delivers goods


Jansen, an old lady whose husband ran a furniture shop. He has now disappeared, probably held by the Nazi


invaders. Mrs Jansen asks to Mrs scene is Amsterdam, 1943. the world who are two against the government. The


meets Pav, who has come from Old Country with his parents as refugees. The family are not welcomed in Little Town and Charlie witnesses


wounded in World War I and is now partially paralysed. He refers to himself as ‘an invalid’. It is not possible to guess from the text whether he is simply yielding to an irritating self- pity or whether he is mocking his own impairment. This kind of subtlety adds another dimension to Hesse’s text. RB


Highly Illogical Behaviour HHH


John Corey Whaley, Faber & Faber, 256pp, 978-0-5713-3044-7, £7.99 pbk


Lisa Prayter is a model student at a Californian high school, getting top grades and playing an active part in school life. She is set on gaining admission to Woodlawn University, which has an excellent course in psychology. To enter Woodlawn, Lisa needs a


scholarship. To win the scholarship she needs to write an outstanding essay under


experience of mental illness. An appropriate subject is at hand. Some years earlier a boy named


the heading of her


Solomon Reed had a panic attack and immersed himself in the school fountain. Thereafter Solomon left school and was educated at home, relying heavily on the Internet to teach himself. Lisa determines to find Solomon and use him as the topic for her essay. Crucially, Solomon is not to be told why Lisa has an interest in him or how she plans to use him. Whaley’s novel, told from two


contrasting viewpoints, now becomes the story of a triangular relationship involving Lisa, Solomon and Clark, who is Lisa’s boyfriend. The reader also learns that Solomon has become agoraphobic. Will he learn to venture into the world? I do have a serious problem with


the ethical stance adopted by Lisa. Though she is superficially a kind and thoughtful person, she is shown as exploiting Solomon as a research subject in a manner that is cold and self- centred. Any university ethics manual will tell a researcher that obtaining the


absolutely mandatory, not a matter for tactical debate. Is no teacher available to supervise her research? I fear that as presented, young readers may be led to believe that Lisa’s stratagem is merely of questionable morality. It is not. It is a flagrant violation of the researcher’s code and should have been signalled as such. RB


Books for Keeps No.218 May 2016 31 subject’s informed consent is


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