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BfK Middle/Secondary continued


of their own in which Olia has various adventures. Sophie Anderson’s imagination is wide-ranging and      and this is a real page-turner. DB


The Ghost of Gosswater 


Lucy Strange, Chicken House, 304pp, 9781911077848, £6.99 pbk


It was very cold in the winter of 1899 and that chill permeates this story. Lady Agatha is turned out of the home she thought was hers after her father’s death, by her wicked cousin Clarence. He sends her to live with her ‘new father’ a taciturn worker on the estate. Agatha is determined          funeral of her father she meets Bryn, who lives with a truly terrifying old man on the island where the family         out the secret. There are some very frightening moments including that when Agatha is shut in Rose’s tomb, but gradually the secret is revealed,      Clarence gets his just deserts and all is well.


This is a Gothic story, very well told, with a beautiful and brave heroine, a villain, tombs, a missing opal, a huge  is humour, especially in the character of Susan the goose. Most of all there is love in Thomas, Agatha’s ‘new’ father whose tragic past she reveals and Bryn’s devotion despite his own appalling life, and that makes this a very rounded story which will appeal. Lucy Strange is going from strength to strength with her stories, each one very different, but very, very readable. JF


Boy, Everywhere 


A.M. Dassu, Old Barn Books, 288pp, 978 1 91064 664 9, £7.99 pbk


One day 13 year-old Sami al-Hafez is at school in Damascus, chatting with his best friend, Joseph, about the next day’s English test and looking forward to wearing his new Adidas Predators in the crucial football trial after school. Only a few days later, confused and frightened, he’s driving with his Dad, Mum and little sister Sara en route for Lebanon and Beirut Airport, with just a few belongings crammed into his backpack. They’ve  surgeon father and school principal mother worked hard to create. Men in overalls have carried the marble dining table and the big TV out of the house, while most of their stuff has been packed up in boxes. The maid, the gardener, the driver have all gone. His home has been sold. Through her wailing tears, Sami’s grandmother, his beloved Jadda, has insisted on staying.


Sami knows what people are saying, at least in private, about the


32 Books for Keeps No.245 November 2020


President and his tactics. He’s seen on the news what’s happened in cities such as Aleppo. But that was never going to happen in Damascus. Except it does, when a bomb explodes in the Cham City Centre shopping mall. His Mum and Sara had been there, and Sami knows it’s his fault they were; he’d pestered his busy mother to pick up those new football boots from the store so that he could wear them in the trial. Mercifully, his mother and sister are both still alive, though Sara hasn’t spoken a word since the explosion; she remains mute throughout the novel, a constant reminder lodged in Sami’s conscience. That’s why they’ve packed up


and left. Dassu takes them through Beirut to Istanbul where they spend       holding house. Sami meets 16 year- old Aadam, a lone refugee whose  perspective on how desperate things are for so many others. Then  Greece. The voyage spares the reader nothing, not least when Sami sees a large rubber dinghy capsize nearby; children screaming, drowning limbs  been a loving family comes close to breaking point. More grim days of       takes them to Manchester. There’s a cold welcome here; the bureaucratic detention centre reduces the family to the anonymity of prisoners and Sami’s father is viciously assaulted by another detainee. Even when they are able to move in with a Syrian family in Stockport, the mother and teenage son make it clear they resent the intrusion into their home. Sami’s early days in his new school are acutely miserable until he makes one really good friend.


Dassu hopes her book will challenge stereotypes and break down barriers of misunderstanding. It may well also disturb the helpless remoteness we may feel as we watch images of the camps and bombed ruins from our settees. There is no room for humour in Sami’s story. But events are all the more powerful since they are reported without melodrama; and the detail of Sami’s narrative often carries sensory impact which will command readers’ attention. As he wades ashore in Greece, utterly exhausted, his soaking jeans are ‘stiff and heavy’ on the legs of a boy as used to physical comfort as most of his readers will be. The smell of a hostel in Manchester is ‘like a dirty toilet with bleach mixed in’. Then there’s the loneliness throughout      time in his life, are preoccupied and overwhelmed by anxieties.Not a book to forget. GF


The Haunting of Aveline Jones





Phil Hickes, Usborne, 224pp, 9781474972147, £6.99, pbk


Aveline Jones is taken to stay for a few days with her Aunt Lilian in late October, after her mother leaves to visit Aveline’s sick grandma. Aunt Lilian lives in a small coastal village where the weather appears to be unremittingly bad, from squally winds to relentless rain, and frightening towering stormy waves. When Aveline picks out a ghost story anthology in the local second-hand bookshop, she        belonged to a girl who went missing thirty years earlier on Halloween. But why did she cross out the last story in the book, and what’s the connection  appear in town? What’s more, there are some very creepy noises at night. Phil Hickes has written a scintillating


and quite terrifying ghost story for the age group, with a phenomenal build of suspense and foreboding. He juxtaposes the normal everyday of cheese toasties and holiday boredom with a quite phenomenal degree of spookiness and eeriness, which makes for a manipulative read. Most effective, is the way in which he invokes the darkness and cold of the season against the backdrop of a deserted seaside town and the perils of the sea. Icy winds blow from the book into the reader’s mind, and the salty bite of sea air and loathsome smells of wet seaweed permeate the nostrils long after closing the book. But again, this is set nicely against visions of snuggling down in front of  of a cosy bookshop, and so the reader is constantly alert to their senses and the tension of the story. Ghost stories work best when


they set the supernatural against the down-to-earth, and Hickes   humour, references to modern day life including tutoring, mobile phones, and chips, but also the tropes of supernatural horror from a handprint on a window, to footsteps in an empty room above. Using a raft of different media including diary entries and newspaper reports, as well as a story within a story,


Hickes weaves history with


present day to link a community in togetherness as well as in ancient superstitions. The clever use of       readers can have with the written  protagonist and the diary writer in the book mirroring the intimacy between the reader and Aveline. This is a well-crafted clever novel, with a strong female protagonist who is both brave and intrepid, and secondary characters who are  understands the sweet relationship between children of upper-primary school age, and their ability to


forge new friendships, as well as to occasionally feel a little alone, especially those with extra vivid imaginations.


Illustrations and sprinkled spooky


quotations throughout add to the escapism, and the challenging use of vocabulary and metaphor is well incorporated within the text, leading to an atmospheric piece of prose. Phil Hickes has pitched this book


well for the readership, with enough spookiness to scare, but not too much goriness to terrify. It reads with a freshness and vitality. Along with Crater Lake, it seems horror for this age group is coming back into fashion, and this is a great entry point for reading under the covers at night. There’s a second novel featuring Aveline Jones to come if readers haven’t scared themselves silly with CZ


The Lost Spells 


Robert Macfarlane, ill. Jackie Morris, 200pp, 9780241444641, £14.99 hbk


Described as the little sister of their previous The Lost Words, this new book by


that super-talented pair


Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris     spells that succeeds in being spell- binding in its own right. Morris has always been a peerless illustrator of wildlife, and Macfarlane must now be recognised as a major poet. His descriptions of nature reach back into folklore while remaining open to modern comparisons, be they the high caw of a jackdaw ‘cutting like a hacksaw,’ swifts described as ‘handbrake-turners’ or how the egret ‘out-gleams ice,       moths and insects, each poem sharing space with Jackie Morris’s luminously colourful paintings. The Lost Words can now be found in the majority of primary schools and all hospices, thanks to the generosity of community campaigns backed up by


crowd-funding. This book cries


out for the same inspired promotion. Smaller size this time and beautifully      on glossy paper that brings out to the detail of Morris’s work to perfection, it already feels like a true classic. Books celebrating wildlife tend quite properly to issue warnings about its survival at the same time. But the birds,      and illustrated here all come over as tough survivors, glorying in their freedom and propelled by a logic older than humans. Buy one copy for yourself and any others for as many children as you can afford. Neither party should regret it. NT


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