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reviews 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued


reviewers ready for a story providing such unaffected enjoyment rather than offering yet another trip down the road to dystopia.


NT The Wrong Train HHHH


Jeremy de Quidt, David Fickling Books, 224pp, 978 1 910200 81 0, £10.99 hbk


There are not that many collections of short horror stories for teenagers, despite the abiding appetite in the young audience for the disturbing and the grotesque. In the past, in some of its most accomplished writers, the ghost and horror story had an affinity with the short story form, giving just enough space to leave everyday reality, develop an anxious situation,


and spring a disturbing ending. Yet perhaps it is a difficult trick to sustain over a collection. Here Jeremy De Quint does well, with eight stories presented in a portmanteau format in which a teenage boy is stranded on an unfamiliar deserted railway station at night with only a teasing sinister old man for company who insists on telling him tales that terrorise. Some of the tales use familiar horror devices: the house or car with a murderous past, the fluidity of dream and reality, and the danger of invoking the power of the unknown. But they are all freshly disturbing, based in everyday experiences like moving house, baby sitting, or break-time silly games. One of the most ingenious is about lights that unaccountably switch on during a power cut. Some stories grow out of or exploit the real vulnerabilities and anxieties of young people. In the


dismaying feature of Richard’s inability to escape from a recurring dream is the revelation that his mother doesn’t love him as much as she does his absent brother; and, in ‘Nanny’s Little Candle’, Cassie’s failure to accept her new baby step-brother anticipates the replaying of a historical tragedy. Maybe not bedtime reading, the collection is inventive, with the right level of fright for the early teens and a good gender balance of protagonists.


CB The Bone Sparrow HHHHH


Zana Fraillon, Orion Children’s Books, 234pp, 978 1 5101 0154 8, £12.99 hbk


Inside the front cover of the review copy is a note to her readers from Zana Fraillon; she reminds us that ‘there are currently more than 59.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world, more than at any other time in human history’. Over a crowded summer, the desperate sea crossings, the mud or dust of the camps, the hollowed eyes, have faded into yesterday’s news. But then, what else is there to say? Fraillon’s anger and compassion


story “Dead Molly” the most ratchet up the tension


decision to publish is to be admired, alongside their plan to work with Book Aid International (as reported on the web) to ‘put a book into the hands of a refugee child for every copy of The Bone Sparrow sold’. Subhi tells his own story – or


rather, the many stories whirling in his restless brain: about his father, still somewhere


homeland of Myanmar; his internal conversations with a sardonic rubber duck, one of his few possessions; his adventures with Eli, his older, camp- wise friend; his dreams when the Night Seas come, washing truths and treasures into his sleeping mind. His own history is at once dramatic and monotonous – he was born in the camp where, some ten years later, he still lives with his Maa and older sister Queeny. They are Rohingya people, an ethnic Muslim minority who, says Fraillon, are being hunted into extinction by the Myanmar government.


Prisoner-of-War Camp than Reception Centre


tops the chain link fences, guarded each night by glaring lights. Order is enforced by uniformed ‘Jackets’. A few show occasional


to the children – it was one of the Jackets,


Subhi’s talkative rubber duck, along with an inflatable pool for the kids when the searing heat was at its most ferocious. At the other extreme is Beaver, a brutal officer who thinks nothing of kicking the inmates or tipping the meagre rations of Subhi’s ailing mother into the dirt where she must grovel to retrieve it ‘covered with grit and all’. Not far beyond the wire lives 10


year old Jimmie, with her Dad and brother; her mum’s been dead for three


by Australian


have plenty to say. Although her setting is a camp on the remote North Coast of her native Australia, she argues that her story is equally relevant to Europe or the States. This is not an easy teenage read in content or telling; Orion’s


everything’s relative alongside life in the camp. Jimmie needs stories too, but school’s an hour away by bus and she often doesn’t get there, so she’s never learned to read; and that means she can’t explore the legacy her mum has left in an old leather notebook. If only she could read her mother’s words, she’d know the story of her own family, and so who she is; and maybe also something about The Bone Sparrow which hangs from the necklace her mum slipped round her neck when she knew death was not far away. Subhi, on the other hand, has read every book he can get his hands on. When Jimmie’s curiosity prompts her to find a way through the fence (far more plausibly than the intruder in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) she meets Subhi; as their friendship grows, he reveals to Jimmie the secrets of that notebook. The novel begins slowly, perhaps necessarily so if the unchanging drift of camp life is to be tasted. Then the pace intensifies and violence inevitably erupts. No easy answers emerge, though in a final poetic moment of revelation, Subhi finds renewed strength. Fraillon’s fierce Afterword wishes ‘we lived in a world where hope and humanity can


years. Her family are standards,


though poor Harvey, who brought


kindness in


for refugees. Razor


is more wire


His home in the family’s


triumph over the self-serving policies of governments worldwide who are content to imprison those who are simply struggling to survive.’ She can offer no more than ‘Perhaps we will, Someday’; but in the meantime, she has provided a way-in for young readers to a crisis overwhelming in its complexity and suffering.


GF The Creeping Shadow HHHHH


Jonathan Stroud, Penguin, 546pp, 978 0 562 57315 3 £7.99 pbk


This is the fourth title in Jonathan Stroud’s fabulous series about those intrepid ghost-hunters, Lockwood & Co. As before, honest entertainment is the aim here, unburdened by any self-improving agenda.


young Lucy Carlyle, who tells the story, continues to wrestle with her love for Lockwood himself, the dashing young founder of the firm. These feelings while never exactly unrequited provide her with occasional heart- ache in between moments of hectic action often against what seem like impossibly long odds as legions of malevolent ghosts still have to be neutralised. Her story is set in a version of


outbreak of would-be siege from


with a curfew bell ringing every night warning honest citizens to go home and stay safe. Kate Adams’s creepy pencil chapter headings render once innocent places like the old Vauxhall Tube station darkly sinister. There is less humour than before in the text, although Lucy’s strange companion, a talking skull carried around in her rucksack, is as wickedly chirpy as ever. But Lucy just about has the upper hand elsewhere, given that in this series only the young have the skills to detect the various ghosts all around them. This is not a Young Adult novel,


though many readers in this category would surely enjoy its nostalgic return to a time when pre-adolescents were still offered a fairly cut-down version of adult life rather than anything like the full Monty. Lucy may feel love for Lockwood, but thoughts or even the existence of sex never get a mention. When dining before a hard night’s ghost-hunting, the team drink lemonade by way of preparation. While there are plenty of genuine thrills there is also never any doubt that this little band of heroes will see off the villains in their way, both living and supernatural. The story ends happily with an Enid Blyton-type celebratory meal. But in the final novel in this series, to be published next year, Stroud will have to deal with Lucy’s conviction, following a disturbing vision, that she will one day be responsible for Lockwood’s demise. Will the prevailing good humour of all these stories finally come to an end? We will see. But for the moment while there


gruesome horror, overall the abiding atmosphere in this beautifully written story is one of enduring positivity as well as continual excitement as Lucy and her friends stay brave heroes in a world where darkness constantly threatens but never quite prevails. NT


are occasional moments of


a continuing fatal


spirits, Instead, Through the Mirror Door HHHH


Sarah Baker, Catnip, 297pp, 9781910611036, £6.99 pbk


Angela has been moved around from one Children’s Home to since her parents died.


happen again when, out of the blue, her aunt and uncle decide to invite her on holiday with their family with a view to keeping her with them. The venue for the trip is a rundown manor house in France with the mysterious owner called Armuth. The house itself has many secrets and things take a surprising turn when Angela meets a sick boy called Julien who is in a room at the top of the house; but then she discovers that he is living in 1898, so she has travelled back in time. How their stories are linked and they resolve the various problems that the both face makes for a fascinating and heart wrenching story at times.


more or less contemporary London under


about the real meaning of family and friendship. The heroine is obviously still suffering stress after being the only survivor in a house fire. Given that she lost her parents and brother it is no wonder that she has the behavioural problems that cause so much trouble for her. The aunt and uncle, with their two daughters, are less than sympathetic characters and Aunt Cece turns out to be a rather nasty piece of work. There are actually two separate stories taking place, but separated by over 100 years; it is only at the end that we get to see the relationship.


woven these strands together but the joining together is so gradual that we don’t fully appreciate the importance of some of the clues until quite late in the story.


element for me is the lack of support given to Angela after her parents’ death. In this day and age it would be natural to have a bereavement counsellor and her behaviour would be seen as part of the whole process of loss that she is going through. Despite


it a very moving story and would thoroughly recommend it to both children and school staff.


MP Where Monsters Lie HHHH


Polly Ho-Yen, Corgi Books, 267pp, 978 0 552 56917 0, £6.99 pbk


Ten-year-old Effie narrates this unusual and atmospheric story set in the small loch-side


the ‘Oldies’ maintain their tradition of throwing a food parcel offering into the loch to appease the monsters who may entice local children into the water.


have grown up with the legend of the monsters but only the older people seem to really believe in them. Until, that is, a sequence of strange events begins when Effie’s rabbit, Buster, escapes from a locked hutch.


The families of Mivtown village of Mivtown where that reservation I found Perhaps the weakest The author has This is a beautifully told story It is about to another


after, Effie’s Mum disappears without trace, right after she and Effie have had an argument, and then hordes of slugs keep infesting Effie’s home. Could all these bizarre and unsettling events have anything to do with the legend? Effie and her best friend Finn decide to find out.


Books for Keeps No.220 September 2016 27


Soon


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