BfK 14+ Secondary/Adult for everyone, particularly teenagers

about the same age as Mav. How good it would be if as many of them as

themselves. NT When the World Was Ours


Liz Kessler, Simon & Schuster, 320pp, 9781471196805, £12.99 hbk

For Holocaust survivors, their survival often hinged upon a small


of luck, a singular twist of fate. For Liz Kessler’s serendipitous

ancestors it was a moment, a chance

meeting that enabled a visa to a place of sanctuary, England. Tying her fictionalised story with a photograph from a

Concrete Rose HHHHH

Angie Thomas, Walker, 323pp, 9781406384444, £7.99 pbk

This story is written as if by Maverick ‘Mav’ Carter, a 17-year-old boy living in Gordon Heights, a predominately black and often deprived area outside New York. His father is locked away for drug-offences and his heroic mother just about keeps the home going, though money is scarce. But Mav has already started his own relatively modest drug-dealing and is anxious to get into the big time. He is also a gang member, with school a low priority. The time is 1998 and his future seems assured: easy money while it lasts and after that either prison or an early death. But there is still something intrinsically good about Mav. He really

loves and respects

his mother and also his bright and outspoken girl-friend Lisa. But when he finds out he is going to be a father first with a girl he never particularly liked and then once again with Lisa all in the same year, everything changes. To write a compelling story about a

teenager unexpectedly encountering fatherhood and actually making a success of it takes a particular talent, and Angie Thomas succeeds here superbly. With this novel, a prequel to her best-selling The Hate U Give, later successfully filmed, she once more comes up with a work that is urgent,

topical and crackling whatever the with

energy. Fluent in the language of the streets, Mav is always an entertaining presence


facing him. Things so nearly go wrong, but his redemption is well-earned with the help of hard work and a still active conscience. And much of that hard work is to do with looking after Seven, his first child, with changing diapers at night a particular chore. Sometimes he too ends up ‘sobbing like a baby as if I ain’t got a baby sobbing for me.’ There is so much in this brilliant story

chance meeting, Kessler

presents a particularly rare graphic account of the events leading up to a genocide in her portrayal of three children during the Holocaust, and their ensuing, sometime devastating fate.

Leo, Elsa and Max are best friends in Vienna, 1936. Celebrating Max’s ninth birthday, they take a ride on the Riesenrad with Leo’s genial father, and have a chance meeting with an English couple, who then accompany them home for sachertorte. But this event is the last happy memory. Soon, Max’s father prevents his relationship with the others, Elsa’s family flees, and Leo’s father is arrested. Elsa and Leo are Jews, and peril awaits in Nazi- occupied Europe. Although

the children are

separated, Kessler weaves together the threads of the three children’s stories

to create a tapestry of

events and coincidental encounters, exploring their emotional responses to individual situations: being forced into a ghetto, working as a guard at

a concentration camp, being

incarcerated in one, or simply escape to safer lands and the survivors’ guilt that comes with it. Kessler’s fictional account may

seem contrived at times, as she seeks to bring in many of the changes the Nazis made to Jews’ lives before the outbreak of war, and the horror during the war, but the children’s reactions are so heartfelt and authentic, and genuinely devastating, that it is essential reading. The reader is invested in their fates, and yet will be disturbed at the distinctive cruelty and evil of the Nazis, at first just discriminating against, but gradually making life unbearable for Jewish people, before carrying out the ‘final solution’ – the extermination of all Jews. Told from each child’s point of view,

Kessler cleverly chooses her tense and voice to suit the narrative. Elsa is present tense first person and the horrors of her situation are immediate and stark. Leo too is first person, although his story is told


back, and it is with him that the story ends. Max is removed from the reader

34 Books for Keeps No.246 January 2021 possible come to read it for

– his Nazi youth status is told from a third person perspective, although the reader is made to understand some of his base motivation for his collaboration in the persecution and dehumanisation of Jews. His chapters are no less powerful for this distance, but in contrast with the others the reader may feel strong distaste in the absorption. Overall, this is a hard read, even

for an adult knowledgeable about the Holocaust. For a young Jewish reader, some of the details may be distressing. But the book is both compelling and necessary. Fiction on the Holocaust is a tricky Although reams are written


(mainly for adults), usually the horrors are kept removed. It is hard to write such unbearable truths. Yet Kessler has managed to present this historical truth, all the while creating authentic empathetic fictional characters in her dramatic rendering, particularly poignant for the children’s innocent views of events. Kessler manages to get to the heart of the issue, showing the true nature of Nazi terror whilst engaging the modern reader. CZ

Love is a Revolution HHH

Renée Watson, Bloomsbury, 298pp., 9781526616821, £7.99 pbk

Nala is 17, about to enter senior year, the final school year in the American system, and, because of a dispute with her Mom, has lived with an aunt and uncle and her


friend’, Imani, for four years as the story starts at the beginning of the summer vacation. Imani has chosen to celebrate her birthday by going to a talent show, and there Nala falls for the young MC, Tye. Imani and Tye, and other friends, volunteer for ‘Inspire Harlem’, and are vegetarian, healthy and keen. Nala is persuaded to become a volunteer and becomes more active and changes her eating in public, in spite of her longing for bacon and a movie-night with a tub of ice-cream. As her relationship with Tye deepens, the lies she has to tell become more complicated. For example, her visits to her Grandma in a retirement home and help with a jigsaw are exaggerated into a project whereby she says she runs an activity programme for the home, but


course the truth emerges, and she feels she should break up with Tye. Nala is big, and comfortable in her own skin but, under family pressure to apply for college, she realises that she has to work out who she is and what she wants to do with her life. Her relationships with Imani and with her Mum also need to be sorted out, and the revolution of the title refers to her finding her true self and being able to love it. Only then can she approach Tye, to see if their relationship can be restored.

This loving family of Jamaican

origin comes across strongly, and the food and clothes are important, but hair and how to style it is even more so: braiding or straightening take a long time, with opportunity for chatting. There are several romantic relationships in this book, but none of them seem to get further than kissing, so this is safe reading for young people. DB

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel


Jason Reynolds, ill. Danica Novgorodoff, Faber, 208pp, 9780571366019, £9.99 pbk

Long Way Down was Jason Reynold’s first book to be published in the UK, a free verse novel that took on urban violence and probed its emotion and complexity. Now released as a graphic novel with illustrator Danica Novgorodoff, this new format of the action gives rise to further thought and draws in a new cohort of readers, reluctant and fluent. Reynolds’ gift is in the ability to

write how children think. Readers relate because the protagonist feels like one of them, in this case, a young boy called Will. When his brother, Shawn, is gunned down in front of him, Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. He takes his brother’s gun, gets in the elevator and prepares to go take his vengeance. Except, in the sixty seconds and seven floors it takes to get down to the ground floor, Will is joined by people from his past. Dead people. And Will has to question everything he’s ever been taught. Novgorodoff’s ink and watercolour illustrations lend a softness to the faces, giving an empathetic glow to their expressions, which contrasts bittersweetly with the violence


the text, and the depiction of the darker shadowy side of bullets and guns. Yet also, there is a chaos to the graphics, as they break out from their

lines and boxes, bordering

occasionally on the abstract, and this serves to complement the succinct yet powerfully emotive text


Reynolds. The emotions swerve from surprise to relief, from confusion to love to grief. Sometimes full pages are left with a single image for the reader

to contemplate, investing

time in the power of the story, and understanding that the plot unfolding in the elevator spreads its message beyond – mirroring Novogorodoff’s breaking out from the constraints of borders. The colour choices are wise too – Will’s stark yellow top against a dark blue/grey exploration of the other images, and the very real violence of splashes of red when it is used. And yet the images don’t diminish Reynolds’ careful word play, which

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