BfK 14+ Secondary/Adult continued

community stalwarts Ty and Pete, that other people, even Mr Brayker, have difficult lives too, is very moving. This edgy, contemporary story is

part of OUP and Barrington Stoke’s Super-Readable Rollercoasters series told in short, accessible chapters and produced with Barrington Stoke’s characteristic dyslexia-friendly font and layout. It is aimed at less-confident readers and the pages at the end include a ‘What do you think?’ section to help readers explore the issues raised in more depth. There is also interesting background information, a ‘who’s who’ of key characters, a short quiz, a book list, and a word guide. Readers will be most engaged though by the absorbing story of an angry, isolated, damaged boy who discovers the importance of kindness, community, and trust. SR

We Played With Fire HHHHH

Catherine Barter, Andersen Press, 336pp 978-1839130069, £7.99 pbk

‘Some people were beautiful, some people were intelligent. Maggie and Kate could crack their bones. You had to make the best of what you were given’. Catherine Barter’s second novel delves into the fascinating lives of mid- 19th century teenage mediums, the Fox Sisters, credited with originating the Spiritualist Movement. Were their séances mere

fakery, exploitative

parlour games which benefited from their talents as bone cruncher or did they tap in to something genuinely beyond their contemporaries’ rational understanding? The tension of this novel lies precisely in the author’s evasion of easy answers. Catherine wanted to re-cast the Fox Sisters as more complex figures than previous biographies would have them, and the result is a text which equivocates tantalisingly. Drawing on

the background in American

author’s Cultural

Studies, this fictionalised biography takes place against a landscape of mid-19th century radical politics, early suffrage and abolition in particular, as they intersected with the advent of Spiritualism. A fantastic array of secondary characters include real life radical Quakers, Amy and Isaac Post. The novel skips between Hydesville (New York), Rochester

and New

York, a speed matched by evocative passages on the period’s ‘rush’ of populations - from the arrival of Irish immigrants to those escaping from the South through the Underground Railroad to the gold seekers heading out to California. A truly exciting work of historical

fiction, We Played With Fire is also a genuinely chilling Gothic read. As with Catherine’s the

narrative is steered

debut, Troublemakers, through

the voice of a spirited teenage girl, Maggie Fox, living in the thrilling ‘now’ of her teenage years, coming in to her own, finding her voice and waking the

dead along the way… FC Firekeeper’s Daughter


Angeline Boulley, Rock The Boat, 496pp, 978 0 86154 079 2, £12.99 hbk

Daunis is 18 years old and of mixed heritage-part

Ojibwe Indian and

part American but committed to her First Nation community. When it is threatened she knows that despite the danger she must step up and try to save what is most dear to her, whatever the risk. After a single page of prophetic

high tension the first nine chapters of the book skilfully paint in the details of the town and of the community and lay the groundwork for characters and their

relationships. Boulley doesn’t

overwhelm the reader with detail but leads the way through the intricacies and connections – immersing, not superimposing. This is the reason why the events glimpsed in the first page come as such a shock – they are happening to people we have come to know and care about. Daunis’ best friend Lily is shot and killed in front of her by Travis, Lily’s ex-boyfriend, who is high on crystal meth and who immediately afterwards turns the gun on himself. The deaths plunge the community shock, its traditions

into and

behavioural codes violated. Daunis is offered the chance to help to put things right as part of a covert FBI operation to discover who is manufacturing and distributing the drugs which are

destroying young

lives. After two more of her friends die she agrees to help-her cover as the girlfriend of Jamie, an apparent member of a visiting ice-hockey team who is FBI and her knowledge from her aptitude in chemistry and her intimate

understanding of Ojibwe

traditional medicine. The plot weaves, ducks and dives,

but always convincingly and always a mixture of the beliefs and customs of the Ojibwe and of white American culture. The reader is detective and observer, placed at Daunis’

the heart of moral dilemmas and the

dangers she finds herself in. Her family and the closest members of her Ojibwe community-notably strong, fearless and good-hearted women- bring elements of sassy certainty and tribal wisdom. The poignancy of the story is the love which slowly grows between Jamie and Daunis and which can never be fully realised. When events are brought to their

shocking and unexpected conclusion Daunis can again concentrate


her own life and combine her love of chemistry and biology and of traditional medicine in a university course which will also allow her time to study with the

tribe’s healer, to become her

apprentice, to fight for ‘all the girls and women pushed into the abyss of expendability and invisibility.’ VR

28 Books for Keeps No.247 March 2021

The Girls I’ve Been HHHH

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

When Nora, her ex-boyfriend Wes

and her new love Iris visit the local bank they do not envisage finding themselves hostage to two gunmen, along with various other staff and customers. The story provides an almost minute by minute account of what goes on, how they cope and make plans to try and escape. As the story unfolds, we gradually come to understand that Nora has hidden depths from her past, which will help her and the others in their bid to survive their ordeal. Mixed in with this narrative are the back stories of Nora and also the other two characters, as all of them share specific traumas in their past. Nora’s mother is a con artist who forced her daughters to take part in her schemes; however, Nora escaped the life after being abused by a step-father and helping put him and her mother in to prison. She and her elder sister have been hiding for the past five years and this situation puts them at risk. The author takes us deep into the

past of her central character and it is as if we are gradually peeling back the layers of her life (rather like an onion). As we go back into the past, we learn of all the different names that she has been made to use over the years and also the different characters that her mother forced her to assume. This is a story about manipulation and power and it is horrifying to think that all of the situations with her mother happened by the time Nora was twelve years old. It is difficult for us to imagine that anyone would treat a child in this way, but it does happen and the story also connects Nora with her two friends as they have also shared abuse at home. This book is being made into a film for Netflix, so it will be fascinating to see if they are able to maintain the chilling atmosphere that pervades the story and keeps us driven to keep reading. MP

This Can Never Not Be Real HHHH

Sera Milano, Electric Monkey, 340pp, 978 0 7555 0033 8, £7.99 pbk

Not much happens in Amberside. Every year, the Ambereve Festival features the same local musicians, with ageing rock

star Eric Stone

headlining, a torchlight procession and a bonfire in the grounds of historic Hearne House. There’s spicey cider to be drunk and you might as well go since everyone does and it’s not as if there’s anything else to do. Most of the older students from Clifton Academy and Sefton College there, including our

are Ellie, Joe, Violet and Peaches.

four narrators; They

know each other by sight, the way you do in large schools; you get an impression of someone from hearsay and glimpses of guarded surfaces –

like those you’ve probably cultivated for yourself. As Ambereve draws towards the

fireworks finale, Hearne House and its park suddenly explode into a bloodied killing field as terrorist gunmen

launch age, race or a co-ordinated

assault on the crowd. No distinctions of

gender; death is

random. The narrators’ accounts of their movements, thoughts and words are detailed yet fragmentary, as they find and lose one another, hunting for safe havens in the dark of the house, the gardens and even the fast flowing autumnal river. Milano’s not interested in the identity or motivation of the murderers so much as the responses of ‘ordinary people’ to sustained terror. The gunmen remain anonymous; we know only that they are not Islamic. When we meet a fifth narrator, March – Majid El Kaissi – a recent Muslim arrival in the area with his hospital doctor parents from peaceful Morocco, his perspective is: ‘I’m not glad the terrorists weren’t of my religion. I think it’s a shame they were of my species.’ From the beginning, we know that

the narrators survive the killing, since the novel tells us their words are from ‘testimonies’ given to an Inquest. In truth, the language of the testimonies is informal, exploratory even, never suggesting

constrained self-aware and replies to

searching questions. These are highly articulate, literate teenagers, all of them


sensitive in their reactions to each other

during the attack. Often,

their accounts reflect the panicked confusion; a couple of lines from one narrator might be developed by another’s view of the same incident, maybe through a snatch of recalled dialogue. Milano does not offer a coherent description of the attack; we never learn, for example, how it was finally suppressed by the police. We come to know the narrators

through their own words, since no authorial voice introduces them to readers or intrudes with background or comment. We realise that each is self-conscious

about areas of

their own lives and yet, despite the danger, they all find the strength to reach out embarrassed

to others. Peaches, by her shape


weight, loathes her own body. The evening’s terror brings her close to Joe, who in turn is far less confident than his everyday image suggests; they become essential to each other. Ellie, envied by her peers as a magical dancer, a runner, a model, carries the physical and psychological scars of a major childhood illness. Violet is academically the most able of the four, but feels unsure of her place in the school community as one of the very few Black students. It may well be that

the most

rewarding way to be drawn into the ambition and tension of this novel, including the gathering power of its conclusion (largely narrated by the perceptive March) is to ignore the plot device of the Inquest and to

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