village’s only hope is the Luck Uglies - a band of fearless warriors who are shrouded in mystery and hide behind masks. Rye’s relationship with this band of surreptitious swordsmen and their surrounding folklore is unclear, even to Rye herself – but she is determined to find out.
It is through such mystery that Durham succeeds in engaging his readers throughout. Slowly and surprisingly, secrets are revealed to Rye and her friends, usually just when she needs the answer most. However, not all questions are answered and, without the need for an inevitable or frustrating cliff-hanger, Durham manages to leave us eager to uncover more about the Luck Uglies and their legend. Thankfully, we will not have to wait long as the sequel is due for release in March 2015.
The Teenage Guide to Stress
Nicola Morgan, Walker, 978 1 4063 5314 3, 304pp, £7.99pbk
For level-headed commonsense advice you could not do better than to turn to Nicola Morgan, whose previous book Blame My Brain gave rise to this practical guide. In response to the many teachers and librarians who asked her to include something about stress in her talks, she dedicates this book ‘To every teenager who needs a bit of extra support,
understanding,’ adding ‘You are not alone’. The book is divided into three distinct parts, the first explaining what stress is and how it affects teenagers in particular. The second part deals with a huge range of issues that may give rise to worry, everything from social media and cyber-bullying to low self-esteem, exam pressure, sex and drugs. The third part looks as ways of dealing with the symptoms of stress with many practical strategies for ensuring healthy minds and bodies, from breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to mind exercises and visualisations. The final appendix lists resources and website addresses of organisations that can provide help and advice as well as specific treatments. Throughout the book quotes from real teenagers and adults keep it from ever feeling too abstract. Morgan writes with conviction about the science behind stress, awareness of which should help to ensure that young adults develop resilience and learn how to combat stress when they meet it in adult life. An extremely useful book, not just for teenagers but for their parents and teachers.
SU The Golden Day HHH
Ursula Dubosarsky, Walker Books, 978 1 4063 5114 9, 160pp, £6.99pbk
Set in a 1960s Australian school before the days of safeguarding, this is the story of one class of small girls taken out of school by their teacher in
the cause of outdoor learning. The story becomes increasingly threatening as the girls are led out of the public gardens where they normally work, onto the beach below and finally into a gloomy and forbidding cave. Scared by the dark and the unfamiliarity of it all, the girls flee back out into the light, but their teacher doesn’t follow. Bewildered and puzzled, the girls eventually return to school alone. As a Lost Person alert becomes a murder enquiry, the girls, with one exception, form a bond of silence which lasts throughout their childhood.
The greatest strength of this book is the unique quality of the prose. Rich in imagery, its ephemeral quality conveys things half understood as the girls watch and wonder, trying to make sense of what they glimpse. The narrative asks many more questions than it answers and leaves the reader with a strange sense of unease, struggling to explain things partly seen. Did Miss Renshaw really return, or did the ever-impressionable Bethany see a ghost? Who is Amanda and what is her relationship with Icara’s father? What really happens when Icara rows Cubby out onto the lake?
Bridging the gap between children’s and YA fiction, this book is suitable for 11+ readers and would be enjoyed by anyone who likes to read quirky books with more than a hint of psychological thriller about them. GR
The Baking Life of Amelie Day
Vanessa Curtis, illus Jane Eccles, Curious Fox, 176 pp, 978 1 78202 166 7, £6.99, pbk.
reached the quarter-final stage.
A brilliant feature of Curtis’s narrative is that Amelie’s recipes are included at various points in the story. Parents may be impressed when young readers express a new-found interest in working in the kitchen.
Not until the end of the third chapter does the reader learn, more or less incidentally, that Amelie has cystic fibrosis. The reader also gradually learns that Amelie’s health is declining, so much so that her mother feels she is not well enough to undertake the journey to London for the filming of the TV show. Curtis makes the mother’s viewpoint look reasonable (at least to an adult reader) by the meticulous depiction of Amelie’s medical needs. A young reader might urge Amelie to go for it anyway.
Amelie has a boyfriend at school. His name is Harry. She has known him since she was five. Harry encourages Amelie to try things which her mother would regard as too risky. He also loves the treats that Amelie bakes for him.
Amelie now faces a tricky choice. If she is to take part in the competition she will have to defy her mother and travel unauthorised to London. She daren’t ask Harry for his help. If she goes to London, how will she cope? What if it all goes wrong? From this point Curtis’s narrative unfolds with powerful inevitability and chilling consequences.
There is a paradox that surrounds everyone with a serious impairment, whether in fiction or in daily life. The impairment never goes away. It exerts a powerful influence every minute of every day. Yet the impaired person must cultivate other attributes that make it possible to lead a worthwhile life. This must be true of characters in fiction if they are to be multi-dimensional and credible. Curtis uses an authentic narrative voice and convincing medical details to create the context in which Amelie is as real and believable a character as any this reviewer has encountered in recent fiction. It is a triumph of creativity.
There is just one moment when Curtis’s skill deserts her. Amelie describes herself (page 30) as ‘suffering from’ cystic fibrosis. Such formulations project people with impairments into the status of victims. Someone as insightful as Amelie would know this and would avoid the term.
Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret
Amelie, Curtis’s first-person narrator, is aged thirteen. To say she is dedicated to the art of baking would be an understatement: she spends every hour she can baking, and works in a food shop where (at her own choice) she is paid in ingredients rather than in cash. A TV programme entitled Britain’s Best Teen Baker of the Year is a junior version of the Great British Bake-Off. Amelie has
D D Everest, Faber Children’s Books, 9780571309054, 320pp, £9.99 hbk
An orphaned 12 year old boy receives a mysterious message on his birthday. This leads to him embarking on a life of magic, so far hidden from him. Sound familiar? Of course, it’s Archie Greene.
It wasn’t fair to invite comparison to
Harry Potter, and whilst Harry and Archie are not chalk and cheese, he is still his own character. The plot follows the formula of many books for this age range. A serious threat to the school/workshop/museum looms and it is up a plucky band of friends to solve the mystery and save the day. This time it involves a cache of books that embody all of magic learning stored under the Bodleian library and accessed either through an old bookshop or a coffee shop run by a tattooed barista called Pink.
I don’t mean to sound dismissive, the plot moves along and it will entertain children of the appropriate age range. There are some lovely touches, I enjoyed the word play, Mrs. Foxe’s strange cake flavours, (chocolate and sardine, anyone?) and the coffee shop with a magic shaft of sunlight. There are black and white line illustrations throughout which match the story very well, just the right balance of realism and whimsy.
Children and some adults, particularly those who know Oxford, should get a lot of fun out of Archie and his adventures. You never know, Oxford could have a new literary fan trail on its hands.
CD The Watching Wood HHHH
Erika McGann, O’Brien Press, 272pp, 978-1847176820, £6.99 pbk
Erika McGann wastes no time in plunging her readers into action-packed, magical adventure in The Watching Wood, the latest of her books starring young friends and apprentice-wiccans Jenny, Rachel, Una, Adie, Grace and new recruit Delilah. Before you can say ‘Abracadabra’ the six of them have been sucked clean out of an evening training session in flame-running and dropped into a strange new world, and the middle of some serious Witch Trials: that’s Witch Trials in which witches compete with one another, rather than the other kind. It says a lot for McGann’s skill as a storyteller that within a couple of lines the reader will have accepted this completely and be engrossed in the girls’ new adventure. The world they’ve ended up in is a dangerous one, and getting back home is going to be a real challenge particularly when it’s discovered that the girls are human.
I’ve really enjoyed the previous books in this series, The Demon Notebook and The Broken Spell and once again, McGann has created a satisfying, entertaining page turner. The girls’ relationships with one another are fun and feel realistic; the dialogue sparkles; and the scariness is lightened with humour, without it lessening the tension. There are lessons within the story about loyalty, and seeing what’s really important, but they are lightly done. And the castles, dungeons, fairy creatures and magical wizardry match pretty much anything you’d come across in Hogwarts. How good it is too to see an all girl gang wielding the wands and taking centre stage.
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