reviews 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued

the historical background which was very grim, but at the heart of which is a very human story, that of a girl wanting to find her only living close relative, homesick for her Granny in Scotland, but finding good friends, and also developing a real skill on the high wire!

A small thing, but Memsahib is

the term used for the mistress of the house not the master as stated on p27, and the use of the word lent on p247 should be leant? In the questions at the end of the

book, the author gives the background to his writing of the story and that too is fascinating as so much of it is based on true events. It will be very interesting to see where Robin Scott-Elliot goes to for his next story, for there surely must be another one, after Tzarist Russia, and the British in India! JF

The Witching Stone HHHH

Danny Weston, UCLan publishing, 336pp, 9781912979387, £7.99 pbk.

This is a totally bewitching story, in more than one sense. When the summer holidays come around, Alfie finds that he can either stay in Bristol alone, or go with his father to a small town in Lancashire, where his father is doing some IT work for a local estate agent. Having recently split with his girlfriend, Alfie decides that getting away might be a good idea. On his first day in Woodplumpton, he finds himself walking around the local graveyard, where he finds a local girl, Mia, who is making rubbings of gravestones, and he also comes across the memorial to a local ‘witch’ called Meg Skelton. When challenged to walk around the grave saying ‘I don’t believe in witches’, he does so; however, the result is not what he was expecting. What on earth is Alfie going to do with the spirit of a witch, who is determined to wreak vengeance on those who killed her and also stole her young son? It will take a lot of investigation for Alfie and Mia to find a solution and also give Meg the rest that she wants. The subplot in this story tells us

that Alfie’s ex-girlfriend discovers that she is pregnant, so he needs to think about whether he could be the father, or if it is her new boyfriend. This brings in the question of responsibility and what would be the right thing to do? This storyline links back to Meg’s circumstances, when her baby is kidnapped by the father and he then has her killed; however, Alfie has to work out for himself what is right, in his situation. The author has placed the story in the area around Preston and close to the scene of the Pendle Witch trials, which took place in 1612, nearly 100 years before Meg was accused of her crime. He has chosen a real character in that of Meg Shelton and there are quite a few references to her online, giving the reader a deeper sense of history and making the story more intense.

This story is

full of magic and mystery, with an edge of darkness that makes you shiver, but which keeps you reading avidly. Whilst Alfie is 16 years old, this story is suitable for the 12+ age group. Danny Weston is the pseudonym of Philip Caveney, so his many fans might like to give this book a try. MP

The Humiliations of Welton Blake


Alex Wheatle, Barrington Stoke, 138pp, 978-1-78112-949-4, £7.99 pbk

This feisty and entertaining book is a witty joy. Barrington Stoke have never compromised on quality and Wheatle, former

winner of the Guardian

Children’s Fiction Prize and awarded an MBE for his services to literature brings his skills to bear on a book which is as thought-provoking as it is hilarious. Welton is completely infatuated with Carmella McKenzie, the prettiest girl in school. He plucks up the courage to ask her out, exchanges phone numbers with her and then his phone dies, the first of a series of

misteps which punctuate the

high-speed narrative. Wheatle heaps humiliations on Welton but never reduces him to a cipher. There is a finely crafted character here, trying to come to terms with the upheaval of his parents’ fractured marriage and his Mum’s new boyfriend and his spoilt son moving in. Welton’s weapon of choice is his humour and his trade in crafting insults for his peers to inflict on their enemies gives him credibility-and sometimes unexpected trouble. Welton’s

inner dialogue is a

delight: a mix of patois and teenage preoccupations woven through with references to his beloved Star Wars. His observations of his peers will be instantly recognisable to young adult readers and there is a fine crop of striking similes to enrich the mix. Coral Chipglider, an entirely terrifying Goth who has decided that Welton is to be her boyfriend, is a particularly masterly creation. Poignancy comes in the shape

of Welton’s father, living in a seedy flat, alone and desperate to be reunited with his estranged wife. Wheatle gives Welton the adult role in this relationship and it is impossible to ignore the fact that this puts him under even more strain: having to grow up too quickly is both a sorrow and an embarrassment as his father is such a hopeless figure. Welton needs to regain his cool and

counteract the indignities of his life and he finds a saviour in basketball. His early attempts at the game end in a disastrous encounter with a wall but in a key match he saves the day. There will not be a reader who isn’t cheering him on. He wins the match for the team, he wins his girl and he defeats the school bully who has persecuted him for so long.

Barrington Stoke have made

this book user-friendly for reluctant readers and for those with dyslexia: the type face is crisp, clear and large enough to read easily without looking childish and the book is printed on an off-white background. VR

Blended HHH

Sharon M. Draper, Atheneum, 320pp, 978 1 4424 9501 2, £7.99 pbk

Her Dad is Black, her Mom is White; her best friend Imani is Black, her other best friend Heather is White; her school in Cincinnati has 50% Black students, 50% White. Her Mom calls her Izzy, her Dad insists on Isabella. Mom serves tables at Waffle House; her Dad is a hot shot lawyer. Her problem is, who is she? When she fills in forms at school, does she tick ‘Black’, ‘White’ or ‘Other’? (She settles on Black and is proud to do so.) When her parents split up and after a while make new relationships, her Mom is with a White guy who manages Scatterpin Lanes bowling alley, while her Dad is with a Black interior designer with high-end clients. Izzy likes both new partners, but she now has yet more balancing acts to learn, which is tough when you are 11 years old. Then there are the things people say: ‘you’re so exotic look so

unusual... but what are you really?’ And the stereotyping – a boy she thought she liked tells her, ‘Mixed kids are always pretty’. Sometimes, it’s like being caught in the crossfire in Nomansland and it’s never more of a battlefield than on a Sunday afternoon at the Mall for the weekly handover ritual. There’s a row if either side is late – each parent demands the full measure of her time.

The infantile

squabbles hit new depths when Dad arranges to re-marry on the same date that his ex has already chosen for her nuptials; he argues that the appointed hour falls during his week with Isabella, and he’s not budging. Izzy also faces difficult issues at

school. She usually enjoys lessons with that teen fiction standby, a caring, sensitive English teacher. Mr Kazilly is a vocab freak, introducing his class to such curiosities as ‘Gardyloo’. He’s also a poetry enthusiast who shares the likes of Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou with his kids before encouraging them to write poems themselves (which Izzy does, very well).

Then, one day, his

pastoral skills are tested to their limits when, after an honest, wide-ranging discussion sparked by the word ‘lynch’, including heartfelt comment by Imani, someone rigs up a noose in the latter’s locker. Not long after, at the Mall, Izzy and Imani feel the heavy hand of White authority when they’re checking out a new designer label outlet. ‘This store is probably not the best choice for you two,’ says a security guard, as he ushers them out. It may be that

Sharon Draper

has loaded her narrative with more conflicts than can be explored in one book; and that

in search of light relief she introduces overlong, more frivolous episodes, such as

Shopping Expeditions to the Mall to pick up the latest product from Slime Store or a T-shirt with a whimsical slogan. A UK reader might find the consumer culture alien, along with the extravagance of Daddy’s house with its 7 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, the Steinway in the music room and the new black Merc in the garage. Izzy’s anchor

throughout for forthcoming Pianopalooza

performance at the recital


storms is her music. She loves that Steinway and she also loves the utter freedom she finds in rehearsing a sonatina

under the strict but caring tutelage of Madame Rubenstein. Ultimately Izzy is the means of healing between the adults around her, but only by way of a climax which, given the novel’s date of publication, must have been a prescient foreshadowing of the killing of George Floyd. GF

Swan Song HHHHH

Gill Lewis, Barringon Stoke, 112pp, 978-1781129548, £6.99 pbk

Dylan is a boy halfway through year eight at a grammar school. The reader meets Dylan on the day he is permanently excluded from that school, for reasons initially unstated. Dylan and his lone parent mother decide to move in with his grandfather in Wales. Initially Dylan dislikes the idea. But on arrival in Wales he finds that his granddad extends a warm welcome and refrains from asking awkward questions about his school record. His grandad is a fisherman and owns his own fishing boat. A bond develops when the two of then take to the water. Grandad is also deeply passionate

about Whooper swans. There is a local area known as the Swan Fields where the swans nest over the winter. Dylan finds a swan with a fishing yarn twisted round her neck. He rescues her. Granddad and Dylan discover that

a local developer plans to

acquire the land at Swan Fields and turn it into a caravan Holiday Park. They resolve to save the land. An unexpected event has the unforeseen consequence of leaving Dylan and his mother in charge of the project. The question is whether the two of them can save Swan Fields. The first strength of Lewis’s novel is

her depiction of the relationship between Dylan and his grandfather, described in warm and convincing terms. The book’s second strength lies in its sympathetic and credible depiction of an angry teenager not in fulltime education. This reviewer found just one discordant element in the narrative. In relation to his proposed home schooling, Dylan conjectures that the local education authority in their home base will track him down. His mother expresses her confidence that the authority will not bother to investigate. Her assertion rings

false with the character Lewis

has established for her, though it plays a useful part in plot development. Her profession is that of a tax accountant. She is established as a respecter of law and order. RB

Books for Keeps No.246 January 2021 33

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36