BfK 14+ Secondary/Adult continued

opinion of Queen Adelaide Sophie      ruler. She is too kind and too soft hearted. Rulers must be ruthless, says the queen.

The princess must be dealt with.

Adelaide instructs her huntsmen to escort Sophie into the perilous Dark Wood and there to cut out her too gentle heart. The queen delivers Sophie’s heart to Corvus, another evil soul who is known as the King of Crows. Against all the odds, even with her heart removed Sophie survives. She meets seven men (in this version they are men of average growth) who fashion her a mechanical heart and undertake to care for her. Even in a fairy tale it transpires

that technology may provide only a temporary solution. The mechanical heart will have a limited life. To survive in the long-term Sophie must regain her own natural heart and have it reinserted and rebooted. She must then regain the crown to which she was entitled. The remainder of the novel is a quest narrative describing her attempts to attain these ambitious goals.

The strengths of Donnelly’s novel

     between Sophie and the seven men with their servants. The spider Webber is a particularly striking ally. The second focus of the novel is a powerful feminist message as Sophie gains mental strength and determination from her vicissitudes. Donnelly also makes a serious job of explaining why Queen Adelaide’s life experience has led her to become the monster she is. There is however no sign of the wicked queen being redeemed. In the opinion of this reviewer the

       with many quest stories its pace  steps along the path to redemption. RB

Breathless 

Jennifer Niven, Penguin Books, 390pp, 978 0 241 37192 3, £7.99, pbk

Claude (as in Claudine) must write her story. For her own sake. One day, what is happening now will be  feelings, the amazing times, the  recorded. In lines which precede her   don’t want to forget you. But most of all, I don’t want to forget me.’ Jennifer Niven’s post-tex ‘Acknowledgements’ (more about those shortly) conclude by urging her readers (‘dear lovelies’) to ‘... go out there and write your life’. Perhaps adolescence, for many

of us BfK readers, is now a foreign country; they do things differently since we lived there. Certainly, I never came across books charged with the explicit intensity of this one. But Claude’s relentless concentration on ‘me’ will, I would guess, coincide with the hungry preoccupations of many

current YA readers, especially as Niven writes in such closely observed           Claude’s narrative is soon in acutely painful territory. She’s 18, living in smallish town Mary Grove, Ohio, with her Mom and Dad. She’s just graduating High School, she’s bright,  awaiting exploration. She’s looking forward to sharing a road-trip with absolute best-ever friend Saz. There’s a boy she’s liked for a while from a     too. After the long summer, there’s the brave new world of college. Then it all collapses. Dad leaves the family, smashing everything. Saz says she’s fallen in love. With Yvonne. No road trip. Instead, Claude and Mom head off, along with the family cat, to a mosquito-plagued, sparsely populated island off the coast of Georgia, where Mom’s family has old roots. What happens there, in terms of dramatic incident, is not very much. There are low-key ‘adventures’; walking the beaches, biking the beaten earth roads, watching loggerhead turtles, skinny-dipping, collecting shark teeth and shells, helping Mom sort documents in the island’s tiny  herself. More important than any incident is the talk. Talk with the young people who help out in the island’s small tourist business during the summer, talk with older people who love the island and know its power to show you new truths. Talking, talking, talking. Most

        Jeremiah Crew. He and Claude fall in love swiftly, effortlessly, absolutely. They begin the exploration of each         both must leave the island. After the novel come those

Acknowledgements. Niven reveals that when she was 18, her Dad suddenly left home and everything

34 Books for Keeps No.245 November 2020

  has used repeatedly throughout the novel. Like Claude, Niven took off with her Mom for the summer. In 2018, she tells us, she too went to        begin work on Breathless. Except she met ‘the real-life Jeremiah Crew’; Claude’s experiences in the book, Niven reports, very

closely mirror

her own. Now she and the original Jeremiah are married and continue ‘to write our love story every day since.’ The couple’s good fortune is clearly to be celebrated, but this information perhaps belongs to social media or the author’s Home Page. Its inclusion immediately after the narrative readers have only just read - and which, in a sense, they may well      a reading of a novel is the result of the unique interplay of the text and an individual reader, then additional input of this kind from the author inevitably re-shapes that reading. The novel becomes, if you like, a GF

Love Frankie 

Jacqueline Wilson, 432pp, 978- 0857535894, Doubleday, £12.99 hbk

Francesca Bennett (Frankie) is aged thirteen and the middle of three sisters. The oldest, Zara, at age fourteen is fashion conscious. Rowena is the youngest, aged seven. She adores Sylvanian families. The three girls live with their mother, a primary school teacher who has multiple sclerosis. The girls see their father quite regularly but since he abandoned their mother after she was diagnosed, Frankie feels very bitter about him. Frankie has a best friend named Sam. He and Frankie have been best friends since they were children. At Frankie’s secondary school there

      Initially as a result of the remarks Sally makes about Frankie’s mother and her illness she and Frankie become enemies. The narrative of Wilson’s book unfolds around the change in the relationship between Frankie and Sally, and the impact that change has upon Frankie’s search for her sexual identity. As might be expected with a Wilson

novel, the characterisation of the book’s protagonists is clear and the bonds between them strong. The novel describes in the most convincing manner the details of Mrs Bennett’s illness and its gradual encroachment on her life and capability. It also gives an accurate account of her struggle to cope with the increasing burden of her impairment. It is still something of a rarity to encounter a parent with a chronic illness in YA literature. What then is the sexual identity that emerges from Frankie’s experience in this book? Wilson leaves the issue unresolved. For a reviewer it is easily possible to understand      ending delivering something short of complete satisfaction.

Incidentally the Bennett family’s canine companion, Bear, offers top quality comedic value and threatens to walk off with the book. RB

The Deep Blue Between 

Ayesha Harruna Attah, Pushkin Children’s Books, 256pp, 978 1 78269 266 9, £7.99 pbk

It’s 1892. 10-year-old Hassana and Husseina are twins, living in Botu, West Africa. Their shoemaker father goes to sell his wares in a nearby town; he doesn’t return. Raiders crisp their village to the ground. No idea what happened to mother or grandmother. Brother is stolen, maybe, by a passing human caravan, leaving the twins and their older sister in the grasp of a vicious slave trader. This is certainly a book to add deeper roots to a YA reader’s understanding of BLM. The story tracks the twins’ separate

fortunes over six or seven years in alternating chapters; Hassana tells her own story, while Husseina’s is reported in a more distanced third person narrative, offering interestingly different perspectives for the reader. The two are soon separated. Hassana remains in the West African Gold Coast where she spends time in a Protestant mission and then lodges for a while with a Muslim couple until the soldier husband goes off         Wars and returns with life-shattering PTSD. Husseina’s story leads her ever deeper into the Afro-Brazilian religion, Candomble. Her new faith and the welcome she receives from its adherents take her over the ocean to Bahia, an earlier destination for many enslaved West Africans. A single thread still connects the twins, expressed in short italicised sections punctuating both narratives; their dreams. For Hassana, those dreams are often of blue skies and         experience, that she is convinced she is being visited by her sister’s dreams. Neither girl loses the impulse to search for the other; the need for wholeness remains, despite the passing years.

That’s the intriguing structure. I

 query; given that each twin’s growth is shaped by

powerful cultural

experiences in unfamiliar territories, how much explanation might a young reader need? To take just a couple of illustrations; food and religion. Since there are numerous shifts in geographical settings and communities, food features regularly        pages, we come across tuo, fufu, kola nuts, nkotomire stew, cocoyam leaf sauce, tilapia. I had no idea what I was reading about in terms of sight or taste. Then again, the     the girls encounter. Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant), Islam and Candomblé, including a convincingly detailed account of an initiation ceremony where humans and spirits fuse. The array of gods and spirits

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