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BfK 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued

triggers that lead to episodes of depression, is a full time job. But Jo is determined to cope single-handed, without help from her grandma, without calling on their social worker. This is exhausting and a huge toll on Jo’s own life. She has no friends at school: her mother’s behaviour can be frightening, to adults and children alike; and there’s no way she can bring anyone home for tea. When she accepts an impromptu invitation to another girl’s house, the interruption to their routine sends her mum into such a manic state that she is hospitalised.

Things change when her psychologist suggests Jo spend her lunch hours helping in the school’s special needs section and she is assigned to a boy called Chris. Chris has cerebral palsy and is severely disabled: he can’t control many of his movements, he can’t speak. Though everyone believes Chris has brain damage too, Jo realises he understands all that is going on, knows what he wants as well as she does, but, like her, has chosen not to communicate. Together they work out a system that enables them to talk to one another. As her own home life becomes increasingly difficult, a visit to the centre where Chris lives convinces Jo that she must take him away. With no real plan in mind, she wheels him out of school and heads for her hideout. For a few heart-stopping chapters, it looks like they might both die. It’s only through luck, and Jo’s extraordinary bravery, that they don’t.

As a result of this, things improve for Jo and Chris, and both find their voices. She asks for help, acknowledging that she can’t cope alone; Chris is provided with a computer that enables him to say the things he wants to say.

Kim Hood has worked with people with disabilities and her book gives an honest, clear-eyed account of the challenges Chris and Jo have to deal with. Despite the uplifting ending, it is never sentimental; there’s no cure for what Jo’s mum has, Chris will always need round the clock care. This is much more than a book about disability though. It’s a gripping story, well told, with rounded and appealing characters. Jo’s loneliness at school is something a lot of young people will understand, and the importance of talking is a point well made. I will be recommending this to my book group and look forward to the lively discussion it will prompt.


The Girl Who Wasn’t There HHHH

Karen McCombie, Scholastic, 9781407138909, 256pp, £6.99 pbk

Moving house and school can be difficult at the best of times, but for Maisie it is a mixed blessing. She needs a new start, as does her father, the only member of the family not happy is her older sister Clem.

Maisie struggles to make new friends until she meets Kat, who like her

seems to be an outsider that the other students ignore. Together they decide to solve the mystery of the ghost in the art room window.

This is a story about mourning and moving on. Maisie’s mother died may years previously and Maisie clings to the notebook she left for her daughter, full of words of wisdom. Clem clings to her old house, her old life and her old friends and Kat …. well she has her own issues. It raises and deals with, thoughtfully, those big issues such as trust, acceptance, closure and moving on.

I enjoyed this book, it was entertaining and thought provoking and will speak to these tweenies who are still working through their friendship groups and forging the main relationships of their teens. CD

Evie Brooks in Central Park Showdown


Sheila Agnew, O’Brien Press, 240pp, 978-1847175595, £6.99 pbk

various sick animals – Scott’s now consultant vet to the Central Park Zoo so these include a depressed Red Panda, and pregnant Alpaca – the uncertainty of her future is a constant worry.

Evie remains a convincing and extremely appealing central character, and Sheila Agnew gets her teen voice just right. The book is a page turner alright, with never a dull moment let alone chapter, and not since My Family and Other Animals has a chorus of four-legged creatures provided such opportunities for humour or for insight into the relevant human’s condition. Underneath the action there are real emotions being explored: the showdown, when it comes, is proper Big Apple style and suitably dramatic, but it’s the quieter resolution – when Evie of her own accord decides to make contact with her father – that leaves the lasting impact. Evie still has more to find out about her mum, and herself, and there should be more Evie Brooks books to come. I’ll be looking forward to them.

MMa Ghost Soldier HHH

Theresa Breslin, Doubleday, 978 0 857 53305 0, 292pp, £12.99 hbk

Central Park Showdown is the second outing for Evie Brooks, and follows Marooned in Manhattan, published earlier this year and enthusiastically reviewed in Books for Keeps.

This new adventure takes up where Marooned in Manhattan left off: things seem to be sorted for Evie, very happily settled in New York with her uncle Scott, the ultra-eligible vet. But then, out of the blue, her father turns up and requests custody. Evie has never met her father and resents him for leaving her mother. She wants nothing to do with him, nor does Scott, and everything is placed in the hands of lawyers and child psychologists, as eccentric, and sharply described bunch of New Yorkers as you’re likely to come across in fiction. With the court process trundling on in the background, Evie’s day to day life carries on, at least on the surface. Despite the distractions of her new school, a sort-of boyfriend, and

28 Books for Keeps No.208 September 2014

Set in the lowlands of Scotland during the First World War, this story mixes graphic and moving descriptions of wounded soldiers returning home often to die with a plot-line so unbelievable that even Enid Blyton might have thought twice before going with it. Main characters twelve-year-old Rob and his younger sister Millie, aged seven, are determined to find out whether their father reported as missing in action may still be alive. To that end they keep a sharp eye on a hospital train running through nearby, and via several very fortuitous over-hearings eventually track their parent down. Other sub-plots involve a Belgian doctor thought to be a German spy and a local lad on sick leave driven mad by his experiences on the front. Rob and Millie manage to sort him out too, each talking and acting far more like responsible adults than the children they are supposed to be. There are memorable descriptions of life on the home front and the grief suffered by those finding out that their loved ones have been killed. But they are yoked here to a distinctly creaky overall story.


Ever After High: A Wonderlandiful World


Shannon Hale, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 336pp, 978-0-349-12417-9, £9.99 hbk

Lizzie Hearts is the Princess of Hearts. She goes to Ever After High, but she is finding it hard to fit in. She tries to emulate her mother’s behaviour, but it is very difficult being the daughter of the Queen of Hearts from Wonderland.

Lizzie has also noticed that there is

something strange happening at Ever After High. Raven Queen has refused to sign the Storybook of Legends. This is because she does not want to follow the same fairytale destiny as her parents – if she does, she will be evil. But other students are following her. This rebellion, and the breaking of the magic mirror has woken up the Jabberwock and it is going to attack Ever After High. To make matters worse, the school is threatened not only by the Jabberwock, but also by a strange magic that turns everything upside down. Can Lizzie Hearts overcome her own identity issues, and help her fellow students? First she must learn the meaning of true friendship.

This is the third book in the Ever After High series. At first, it is a little complicated to read as a stand-alone title because of the plethora of characters and references to certain events prior to this story, however, Shannon Hale is, as always, a very good writer and a consummate story-teller. Her clever and fast-paced writing make it easy to get caught up in the exciting events and to empathise with the strong female characters, including Madeline Hatter (the Mad Hatter’s daughter), Cedar (the next Pinocchio), and Apple White (Snow White’s daughter).

ARa The Luck Uglies HHHH

Paul Durham, Harper Collins, 425pp, 978-0-00-752690-1, £6.99 pbk

‘Sometimes only the bad guys can save you…’ and the residents of Village Drowning certainly need help. Ruled over by a megalomaniac dictator and struggling to make ends meet, the last thing they need is a visit from a Bog Noblin.

Riley O’Chanter is the book’s key heroine and she is a refreshing departure from typical children’s heroes. Armed with no special powers (except a curious necklace and a complete disability to do as she’s told) Riley - Rye for short - considers the filthy backstreets, gargoyled rooftops and mysterious swamplands of Drowning to be her own personal playground.

The story begins with Rye and her friends liberating a forbidden book in an attempt to discover more about the secrets surrounding their village and its sinister ruler, Lord Longchance. The friends hide in a not-so-secret hidden room in Rye’s house to read the forbidden text and to avoid Rye’s petulant (but adorable) baby sister. Such curiosity lands Rye in serious trouble throughout the book but the unbreakable bonds of family and friendship support her all the way and ensure that we are never truly fearful for her safety.

The denizens of Drowning adore rumour and storytelling and share myths about Bog Noblins and the Luck Uglies. When the hideous Bog Noblins finally confirm their existence by marauding through the village, they are described gruesomely in delicious detail, right down to the mucous dripping from their snarling faces! The

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