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reviews 14+ Secondary/Adult


Crongton Knights soon to be televised, Alex Wheatle is a necessary author for our own times. Cane Warriors crackles with linguistic invention linked to an over-riding compassion and understanding for those who suffered so much in our colonial past. It does not make for comfortable reading, but how could it? NT


Just Another Little Lie 


Eve Ainsworth, Barrington Stoke, 112pp, 978-1781129111, £7.99 pbk


Cane Warriors 


Alex Wheatle, Andersen, 192pp, 978178344973, £12.99 hbk


This lacerating story is based on a true-life rebellion that erupted in Jamaica in 1760, when slaves rose against their appalling treatment, killing some of their cruel overseers and acquiring forty muskets. Led by the legendary Tacky, this story of courage and brutality is still comparatively unknown and therefor  visit to Jamaica, Alex Wheatle, born in Brixton of Jamaican parents, resolved to put this right and has now done so. No reader could forget this account of such savagery on both sides, with white settlers’ children also among the dead. The narrator, fourteen-year old Moa, lives to tell the tale, but his future is bleak.


Although Moa recounts this story in Standard English, the passages of dialogue revert to a rich patois which has its own fascination. Tears, and there are many of those, come over as eye-water, and experiencing fear             inside. This abundance of new idioms and expressions is a bonus in what could otherwise have been a universally painful read. References to old Gods and a world far away now converted into a vague Dreamland also mix with everyday detail about work, food and the seemingly endless punishments visited upon slaves regardless of gender. There is also open discussion of the routine sexual abuse young girl slaves could expect from their masters. The author compares slavery to the holocaust in his afterword, and this is fair comment. Willing the slaves to rise against their oppressors in this story is akin to celebrating those brave Jews who took on their concentration camp guards.


Already a frequent prize-winner, with a previous novel


Violet is aged fourteen. She lives with her mother and four year old brother Freddie. Violet does not know her own father and Freddie’s father Steve left the family some months before the story opens for reasons which will become clear. His departure saddened the whole family. Violet’s mother is a hairdresser and


very gregarious. In order to deal with the departure of Steve her drinking grew more uncontrolled. As the story opens the mother’s alcohol addiction has become problematic. Violet dare not stay out of the house after school       to leave her mother responsible for Freddie. The reader is now presented with two questions. Can Violet remain in control of her family’s affairs? And how long can she keep these secret from the world? In very few pages Ainsworth manages to lead the reader to a genuine concern about the fate of this  scenes, harrowing and convincing, which mirror just what someone in Violet’s situation might feel. After an alcoholic crisis Violet’s mother swears to take herself in hand. Violet is mildly optimistic. But disappointment hits her. As she is preparing to take Freddie to school, he notices that he hasn’t got his water bottle. Violet goes back. None of Freddie’s bottles remain in the fridge so she takes one of her mother’s water bottles. When Freddie drinks just one mouthful from the bottle we learn that it doesn’t contain water. Anyone who has lived with a person with a drink problem will recognise this kind of situation and may be comforted by the thought that others face it too. Those to whom this issue is unknown should read the book anyway, to gain understanding of a human plight. RB


The Wolf Road 


Richard Lambert, Everything with Words, 347pp, 978 1 911427 16 2, £8.99 pbk


‘The road ran through the summer  With the novel’s opening lines, we       the drive into town on a Saturday afternoon with his parents. A page


later, he’s trapped in the overturned car, Mum ‘hanging limp in her seatbelt above me’, blood dripping from her mouth. Dad lies crumpled against the driver’s window, ‘his head bent at an odd angle’. Both are dead.


Within days he’s on his way from a secure life in Somerset to share an isolated cottage in the Lake District with Nan, his guardian; he’s met her        therapist and that usually reliable character, the friendly English  his grief and hostility. Getting into a  of teachers or textbooks won’t string together to make sense. He’s violently bullied. At times, the language of Lucas’s narration is intense and original; this debut novelist, Richard Lambert, is a poet as well as an award-winning writer of short stories. But Lucas’s understanding of events and people is often restricted; his grief will not yet allow him to trust or share. To others, he can seem sullen and incommunicative. He is haunted by an image of


a wolf (or was it a wolf-like dog?) standing in the road before Dad had, fatally, swerved to avoid it. Lucas is in turmoil. When he strikes out on his own onto the fells, he knows the wolf is out there, waiting for him. There       media that a wolf is roaming the hills, slaughtering sheep. His loneliness is not easily relieved. Nan is a lawyer, angered by what Britain has become. Though her mind retains its keen edge, she is tired, unwell, often misunderstood. Sharing her entrenched ways with an abrasive  time, with no facile reconciliations or sentimentality, moments of contact are almost forced upon them. Then, importantly, there’s Debs, daughter of a neighbouring farmer, in Lucas’s year at the local comp. She too is a loner and a dreamer; and also a reader (Sylvia Plath, Emily Brontë, Ted Hughes). Lambert makes the growth of wary trust between them entirely credible. Lucas and Debs both believe in


the wolf. His belief is both literal and metaphorical; his relationship with the creature becomes inseparable from his own struggle with grief. Is he, like the wolf, a death-bringer? He’s become so negative, destructive. Encounters with the wolf on the hills lead him to fear that he is its chosen victim; maybe the only way forward is to kill or be killed. For Debs, the wolf must be protected from the guns of the farmers and police snipers. The wolf needs the wildness of the fells; and the fells need the wolf. Through his friendship with Debs, coupled with his own courage, Lucas begins


to cope with his desolate loss; and so to edge towards acceptance of his new life. Far from killing the wolf, he realises that he too needs to save it, if he is to save himself. The Wolf Road offers an uneven track which is not always easy to follow. Readers may at times be unsure of the way. They may need                5 Star rating above is intended as a grateful welcome to an intriguing and challenging voice. GF


The Bridge 


Bill Koningsberg, Scholastic, 400pp, 978-0702304293, £7.99 pbk


Aaron Boroff and Tillie Stanley are both seventeen-year-old Americans. They have never met until the day when both of them come to the George Washington Bridge with the intention of leaping into the Hudson River to their deaths. The rest of this dark and harrowing novel revolves around four       does indeed jump. Aaron’s subsequent story follows on, depicting the impact of the suicide on Aaron’s and Tillie’s families. The second scenario tells the same story in reverse, when Aaron alone meets his death and Tillie must cope. In the third scenario both Tillie and Aaron leap to their deaths. In the fourth scenario neither of them jumps. Instead they form a friendship stemming from their joint experience on the bridge. Koningsberg is a courageous writer and his book is vital and powerful.      processes which can lead an individual, even someone young and healthy,


to have suicidal thoughts.


Despite the progress that has been      YA books it is still true that suicide is a subject rarely addressed. This book, tackling such sensitive issues, pulls not a single punch. It is in truth a harrowing read, likely to have a profound effect on any reader. In the opinion of this reviewer it may be a mistake to hand this book to a young reader unless a sympathetic helper was available to guide the reader through the emotional turmoil reading the book will evoke. RB


Poisoned 


Jennifer Donnelly, Hot Key Books, 432pp, 978-1471408144, £7.99 pbk


Donnelly’s novel is a reimagining of the story of Snow White. Sophie is Princess of the Greenlands. Her stepmother Adelaide is a vicious ruler of those lands, Sophie’s father the benign monarch having died. At the age of sixteen Princess Sophie is intended by the monarchic convention to inherit the crown. However, in the


Books for Keeps No.245 November 2020 33


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