BfK 14+ Secondary/Adult The Ghosts of Heaven HHHH
Marcus Sedgwick, Orion, 448pp, 978 1 78062 198 2, £10.99 hbk
Marcus Sedgwick remains a truly original voice at a time when too many other authors writing for the Young Adult market are opting for yet more of the same. In this novel, written in four separate parts which can be read in any order, he explores no less than the riddle of the universe. For his purposes this is located in an endlessly repeating spiral shape related to the Golden or Fibonacci Spiral, found throughout nature and underpinned by the Phi coefficient, a measure of association for two binary variables. This spiral shape plays a crucial role in all four stories, starting with a prehistoric female finding it scratched in a cave and ending with a space explorer discovering his mission to colonise a new world has been doomed from the start.
The least satisfying of the stories is the second, which re-visits already very well–trodden ground in its description of the arrest and prosecution of a beautiful 16th century young American woman accused of witchcraft. All the usual ingredients are there – a vicious and mendacious rival blighted in love, a sinister witch-finder and a weak, easily led populace. But the third story is a winner. Set in a grim mental hospital three centuries later, its account of a new physician trying to take on the cruel and corrupt regime in which he now finds himself is compelling from first to last.
And what about the spiral shape that seems to cause such damage in each tale but which also hints at a dark wisdom all would benefit from if only they could understand it? Sedgwick follows this theme through with great application, showering readers with facts and the odd mathematical formula in his determination to raise this quartet of stories into something of real significance. In this he mostly succeeds, although the journey of understanding required is a tangled one and not always easy to comprehend. But what a joy to read a novel demanding more rather than less from its readers from first page to last!
NT Trust Games HHHHH
Simon Packham, Piccadilly Press, 224pp, 978-1848123847, £6.99pbk
Trust Games is the fifth book by Simon Packham, set in the fictional St Thomas’s Community College. Packham is an extremely good writer who covers tricky subjects with a great lightness of touch. His books are deceptively simple quick reads with very gripping storylines, but they always manage to be immensely
thought provoking. This book is no exception.
We first meet Beth, the narrator, at her sixteenth birthday supper. It’s so depressing – comprising her, her dad and her oldest friend who she calls Grunt – that she resolves to improve her life. So when the charismatic young drama teacher, Mr Moore, announces a school production of Romeo and Juliet, Beth auditions. She gets the part of Juliet’s Nurse, and grows close to Hannah, who is Juliet. Beth is delighted to have a friend other than Grunt – and Hannah is really popular, and someone she can confide in. Beth also confides in Mr Moore, for whom she develops strong feelings … and who is married with a young child. The fact that there is an inappropriate teacher/pupil relationship came as no surprise to me – but the details were a real shock.
Packham is very good at depicting pupils’ interactions with each other and with their teachers, and very funny too. I also think his characterisation of Beth is particularly strong. Initially she comes across as icy and rather unappealing – and very dismissive of poor Grunt, who’s obviously hopelessly in love with her. But as she reveals more of herself and her sad past, and shows her wonderfully dry sense of humour, I grew to really like her, and I felt for her in the dilemma she faces at the end.
MMa The Jewel HHH
Amy Ewing, Walker Books, 9781406347494, 368pp, £6.99 pbk
Chosen to become a surrogate - one of the girls destined to bear a child for the royals to ensure the survival of that class, Violet is facing a life of unimaginable luxury. Or that is the story. But Violet is not sure - her status though privileged is that of a slave surrounded by secrets. It is a world of deceit, politics and danger. She must escape, but how?
Set in a dystopian imagined world in which the Royals - the founding families - live in the centre of a walled city; a bubble of luxury and a hotbed of intrigue. Inbreeding prevents them having children, they have to resort to surrogates. It is a clever idea and neatly handled. The structure of the imagined
well-established patterns while Violet is the traditional free spirited heroine determined to escape. Inevitably this will have a cost. Readers will have to wait until the next volume to learn how devastating this will be. Yes, it is the first in a trilogy and ends on a real cliff-hanger. It will certainly catch the attention of teen readers - especially girls - Violet is an attractive character, the plot intriguing. However, I found the author’s decision to present her tale both as first person and in the present tense a barrier to my
30 Books for Keeps No.208 September 2014
willingness to succumb to the storytelling; others may find this style less irritating.
FH Winterkill HHHH
Kate A. Boorman, Faber. 9780571313693, 352pp, £7.99 pbk
The Malmaci lurks beyond the stockade walls, a faceless, formless monster that has been taking people for generations. Only adherence to the rules and moral obedience can protect you, those who disobey are ‘Wayward’ and will be punished by death at the Crossroads, leaving a stain on the entire family for generations to come.
Simple things conveyed the claustrophobia of the settlement and its puritanical tyranny. I assumed that it was set in Canada with its mix of English, French and ‘First Peoples’ and that made the threat of oncoming winter even more terrifying.
Emmeline is ‘stained’ both by disability and the fact her grandmother died at the Crossroads, yet the woods speak to her and she is driven to explore further and further each day, but all this is a sign of her ‘waywardness’. It goes to show how a book cover does influence your expectations. I spent at least two thirds of the book waiting for her to take off on a long trek into the wilderness, simply because of the figure on the front of the book. She doesn’t but her journey is as long, winding and dangerous as any trek through the snow.
There has been a lot of discussion about dystopian fiction and what influence it has on young people. I think adults look at dystopias in the way they see the world, and teenagers use them to work out how they will see the world. This is an excellent addition to the genre. CD
Black Ice HHHHH
Becca Fitzpatrick, Simon and Schuster, 9781471118142, 400pp, £9.99 hdbk
Britt and her best friend Korbie are driving to Korbie’s family’s cabin in the Teton Mountains for a girls’-only wilderness experience. The fly in the ointment is Korbie’s brother Calvin - also Britt’s former boyfriend - who has been ordered to chaperone the two girls up in the mountains. However, the anticipated tensions and difficulties arrive much sooner than expected when the girls are forced to abandon their jeep in a snowstorm and seek refuge in the nearest habitation. The two occupants, Jude and Shaun, are on the run and take the girls hostage in order to have safe passage off the mountain.
Fitzpatrick toys skilfully with the readers’ sympathies and it is not until much later in the narrative that the
true heroes and villains emerge. Meanwhile, we are taken on a rollercoaster ride of fear, courage and betrayal, laced with acts of random violence from Shaun which serve as a sharp reminder of the extreme danger the girls are in. Britt is forced to guide the two men off the mountain whilst Korbie is left locked in a room without sufficient food or water.
A careful dance of attraction is choreographed between Jude and Britt, paralleled by Britt’s deepest conviction that she is betraying the memory of her former relationship with
then confounds the reader with irony by revealing Calvin as the real villain of the piece and Jude as the man determined to avenge his murdered sister, who died by Calvin’s hand.
The book contains a good deal of violence and threat and builds claustrophobic settings to increase tension. When Jude is revealed as the hero he did not at first appear to be, it only heightens the poignancy of the narrative, since he must effectively vanish until the police hunt is abandoned.
Had the ending been left with the distant hope that one day Jude and Britt would meet again, this would have chimed in beautifully with the tenor of their relationship - fused so dramatically and brought to fruition in the white heat of danger. However, Fitzpatrick has instead allowed the two to meet a year later and the subsequent rather saccharine ending belies the many strengths of the rest of the book.
VR My Second Life HHHHH
Faye Bird, Usborne, 978109578604, 288pp, £6.99 pbk
15 year old Ana Ross is living a second life. Her first was as Emma Trees, who died in 1994 at the age of 22.Sh
e believes she has returned because she killed a 6 year old girl when she herself was only 9 years old and now wants to learn the truth about what really happened on the fateful night when Catherine drowned. This is a startling premise and the narrative does it ample justice. Plotting is imaginative, yet not improbable and the family dysfunctions revealed in the course of the tightly-wound narrative are both tense and familiar.
Bird’s greatest achievement is to place herself firmly and unshakeably inside the mind of a teenage girl in an emotionally impossible situation without resorting to histrionics or shallowness. Close behind this success comes her handling of the situation where Ana meets her beloved former parents and all realise that a new beginning in their relationship cannot be achieved. The addition of a blossoming first love between Ana and her friend Jamie is
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