reviews 14+ Secondary/Adult continued

toys with repetition and poses many questions, causing the reader

itself, to

empathise with Will’s confusion, and finally to question themselves too. The reader is sucked into the environment of the elevator

feeling both

Will’s suffocation under the grip of grief, and yet also the liberation of having moral choice. CZ

from believing everything that she has been brought up with, to being someone who questions the society she

lives in and whether the being

different is always a bad thing. I have to mention the absolutely stunning cover of the book; it gives us a real sense of

strength that Deka

shows and brings a feeling that we are in a very different culture to our own. Altogether this is probably going to be one of my favourite books this year and it is highly recommended for the YA audience. MP

All Our Hidden Gifts HHHH

Caroline O’Donoghue, Walker Books, 400pp, 978 1 4063 9933 2, £7.99 pbk

It all begins with Maeve Chambers chucking her shoe at a teacher – he’d called her stupid

for not

knowing her Italian verbs. She gets four hours of detention, cleaning out smelly storage rooms in the school basement. Almost 400 pages later, the novel moves towards its end with a chanted ritual spell, knife wounds, three

central The Gilded Ones HHHHH

Namina Forna, ill. Johnny Tarajosu, Usborne, 416pp, 9781474959575, £8.99 pbk

Deka has grown up in a highly rigid and patriarchal society, which sees women as being ‘pure’ or ‘impure’. At the age of 16 years, girls are tested by spilling their blood; if their blood runs gold, they are impure and called ‘demons’, meaning they are liable to be killed. Deka is saved by a strange woman, who she calls White Hands and taken to the capital city to become part of an elite group of women fighters; they are almost immortal and the emperor wants them as his advance guard in a forthcoming war. Deka gradually becomes aware that things are not as straightforward as she had been brought up to believe and her ability to understand the enemy ‘deathshrieks’ is part of the mystery, but also something that will be useful in explaining who she is. This is a brilliantly original story uses mythology and African


heritage to create a world that is both strange and familiar. The male dominated society is one that we can recognize, but which makes us want to cringe with the unfairness of the behaviour. What is really concerning is that this treatment of women is not a thing of the past, it is very much in evidence in many cultures and groups throughout the world. This is one of those books that makes you want to keep reading to the end; I had that constant feeling that I will read ‘just one more chapter’, something that is not a common event.


development of Deka as a character is very well done and we see her move

characters private school all in

hospital, Spring-time and a reunion (of sorts). St Bernadette’s is a Catholic all-girls

in Ireland,

housing 400 students. Maeve’s four older siblings were bright enough to make it through state schools unaided; but she’s always struggled which is why, despite the hefty fees, her parents have sent her to St Bernadette’s.

She’s all too aware

of her place in the family ranking order: “I’m not dyslexic, or blind, or deaf. Unfortunately for


I’m just thick”. Of course, she isn’t; and as the story unfolds, she comes to see that she does indeed own the ‘hidden gifts’ of the title. It’s when she’s sorting out the

Chokey, a long, deep cupboard in the basement, that she finds the tarot cards. Or, possibly, they find her. She soon discovers, with a little help from a tarot expert on You-Tube, that she has an uncanny understanding of what the cards reveal for her classmates. She’s suddenly in demand, treated with respect. Through the cards, she makes a friend in Fiona, herself an outsider, though in her case it’s her preoccupation with her Saturday stage school, her friends there, and her ambition to work in theatre which set her apart. That and her family’s Filipino origins. Fiona prompts Maeve to set up a profitable lunchtime business; two euros for ten minutes with the cards. Friendship is a problem for Maeve. Lily had been her best friend since primary school and she’s still around in the same year as Maeve at St. Bernadette’s. They are sixteen now and in Maeve’s attempts to get in with a particular

clique, Lily had

been an embarrassment. One day, Maeve cruelly dumped Lily, and now when Lily asks for a tarot reading, that episode flares up again in

front of everyone. The next day, Lily disappears. Maeve, Fiona, the absent Lily and Lily’s older brother Rory (who prefers to be known as Roe) comprise the central cast of the novel. Other adult characters play important, but brief roles, such as the proprietor of a crystals shop dealing in all things magical, or an American guy who leads an aggressively fundamentalist protest group. But it’s the interplay between Maeve, Fiona and Roe (whom Maeve finds increasingly attractive), as they urgently try to track down Lily, that drives the story. The intensity

of O’Donoghue’s

writing is relentless, not least in her accounts of the dark, sharp-edged dreams which haunt both Maeve and Rory – at times, they even seem to have access to the other’s dream life. The cards appear and disappear, out of Maeve’s control. Sometimes an extra card (not in the standard pack) turns up, named The Housekeeper, which Maeve senses is powerfully malign in its intent; The Housekeeper may well be a fatal threat to Lily, wherever she is hidden. The narrative is so

taut and

twisting that it will demand the full concentration of an able reader. Towards its end, Maeve realises that she is a ‘sensitive’ with the ability to cast spells; and that if she is to bring Lily back, she must use her powers, even though they carry huge responsibility and might well have fatal consequences for herself.


of this is only occasionally relieved by moments of humour within the dialogue;

and described while the feelings

of Maeve and Rory for each other are

with tenderness,

the course of their love does not run smooth given the supernatural pressures upon them – and, for good measure, the added dimension of Rory’s bi-sexuality. The finale does not compromise; no easy endings here. GF

India Smythe in Love? HHHH

Sarah Govett, Marotte Books, 243pp, 978-1916152649, £7.99 pbk

India Smythe is aged fourteen. She is in year ten in an English school. In the first volume of Govett’s duology India is striving to acquire a boyfriend. In this volume she has succeeded in doing so. Her boyfriend Rich Evans is a musician and a boy of marked sensitivity. Can she maintain the relationship? How enduring will it prove to be? At first glance this novel is a story of

conventional teenage

relationships. India lurches from one disaster to another. The question is how she will deal with one disaster and prepare for the next. Recognition of

familiar disastrous scenarios

caused this reviewer more than once to laugh out loud. The book however scores a notable first. It is the first YA book that has come to this reviewer’s notice which reflects the realities of the Corona virus pandemic. Young readers will find it interesting to learn how the pandemic affects the

lives of these fictional characters. Readers in the future will benefit from the opportunity to look through eyes contemporary with the infection, as it recedes into history. RB

The Game Weavers HHHH

Rebecca Zahabi, ZunTold, 326pp, 9781916204225, £9.99 pbk

This futuristic novel for young adults tells the story of a famous gamer. Seo is training hard to become the youngest

ever champion of

world’s smash hit game, but he is battling much more than just

the his

fellow gamers. As his feelings towards a young man called Jack become stronger and stronger, Seo struggles to accept his own sexuality, and faces harmful discrimination from his fans and even his family. Because

of his talent for the

game Twine, Seo is adopted as a child by Sir Neil, and moved from his home in Korea to England. His little brother, Minjun, is also adopted, and is Seo’s only link to his familial past. The pair are inseparable, and Seo is very much Minjun’s father figure. It is a responsibility that Seo relishes until Minjun inadvertently

tells the

world about Seo’s relationships with men. At first, Seo’s distress at being exposed seems to stem from his very private and reserved character. However, at his next Twine match, the fans in the stadium shower him in abuse, and it becomes clear that this story is set in a world where, despite the futuristic setting, homosexuality is not universally accepted and evokes dangerous reactions from many. The way that discrimination and vilification are carried out in this novel are often brutal, even from close family members, and descriptions are visceral and frank. As well as Seo’s sexuality, gender-based discrimination is rife in the Twine world and close- minded fans fail to acknowledge the skills of the current world champion, with whom Seo has much in common, despite their rivalry. Sir Neil exercises complete control

of Seo because of his managerial as well as parental role, and forces him to begin a relationship with a woman and prove his heterosexuality to the world. His fake girlfriend’s name is Penelope and, unlike other characters in the novel, she is rather inauthentic, and written with less agency and less authenticity than other characters. Seo feels trapped and doesn’t want to hurt anyone. In a tense finale, Seo’s only chance to win his freedom and make his own romantic decisions is to win the world championship for himself. The Twine matches are described in dramatic fashion: gamers create their own pawns (different animals and creatures)

using threads a genuinely of

‘twine’, who fight one another on an imagined battlefield. Zahabi has envisioned


believable, futuristic computer game, which adds an effective balance of pace and action to a novel that is also full of emotional turmoil. SD

Books for Keeps No.246 January 2021 35

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