reviews 14+ Secondary/Adult continued

surrender to Milano’s fundamental concern: ‘ordinary people saving the world’. That way, readers may well become immersed in the reflective streams of the narrators’ thoughts as they revisit the horror of Ambereve even as they record the depth of the new relationships the night has brought. GF

Future Girl HHHHH

Asphyxia, author and illus., Allen & Unwin, 384pp, 978-1911679004, £10.99 pbk

Piper McBride is a sixteen year old girl in a near future Melbourne, Australia. She also happens to be deaf. In this imagined world everyone must eat what is called Recon, a nutritionally balanced chemical mix supposedly tailored to the nutritional needs of the consuming individual. It is possible to grow real food, known as ‘wild’ food. But to do so is considered radical and eccentric. Piper’s mother Irene McBride plays a key role in the regime. She is the chief research scientist at the company that manufactures Recon. In this book Piper grows into her deaf identity and learns to question what she thought she knew about the safety of Recon. The most striking feature


this book is that Piper is deaf. Her deafness does indeed have major impact on her life. But it is very far from the only thing the reader learns about Piper and it is far from being the dominant feature of her character in the novel. There

are certain

aspects of this story of a disabled character which a disabled reviewer recognises as the sign that


author shares the experience of an impairment. The range of emotions Piper feels in relation to her deafness is huge, and all these emotions are convincingly displayed. Two of the other characters in the book are also disabled. One is deaf and the other is a wheelchair user. They both exert a truly positive influence on Piper’s life. She has a boyfriend whose hearing is unimpaired. His mother however is deaf. She is the one who teaches Piper to between

sign. The relationship teacher

exquisitely portrayed.

and pupil is Asphxia’s

artwork is so potent that it almost becomes a character in its own right. The book will be read with profit and pleasure by all readers, whether or not disabled. RB

Game Changer HHH

Neal Shusterman, Walker, 396pp, 978 1 4063-9863-2, £7.99 pbk.

Ash is an American Football player who revels in the intense physicality of the game. As a lineman he ‘does the dirty work and gets no glory’ but his satisfaction comes from the knowledge that it is precisely these two qualities which underpin the success or failure of the team. His

tackles are well known both for their legality and for their fearsomeness and they were the reason for the many life-changing events


unfold in the book. After one of his legendary tackles

Ash experiences a feeling ‘like my blood had been replaced with ice water’ and it is this moment which causes a significant shift in the world around him. Driving a friend home, he jumps a light-because it is blue, not red as he expects it to be-and narrowly avoids what could have been a fatal

collision. Afterwards, on the

periphery of his vision, he sees a skateboarder. These are the dual threads which underpin the ensuing storyline.Ash has become the centre of the universe. Each of his tackles bumps the world into another reality and

the skateboarder the multiplies

each time. Their job is to guide Ash through

until, with luck and their training, a better world will be achieved. The skateboarders explain the

rational with dialogue which is often obtuse, and, as the changes to Ash’s world continue, the story becomes the province of skilled readers. The premise of the story is an interesting one,

ripe with possibilities, but

the speed of the world shifts the subsequent changes make it an almost whistle-stop tour of society’s problems. In the course of the book Shusterman raises racism, violence to women, disability, homosexuality, drug

dependency and

stereotypes. After one change Ash becomes a girl, after another he is a young man from a wealthy family who is dealing drugs, in another he is gay. This hectic pace of change does not allow a serious examination of any of these problems-instead, an awareness that the narrator is a white, middle-class male makes this cultural toe-dipping seem even more hollow.

Game Changer unfolds around

a clever idea but ultimately skims across too many possible concepts and fails to convince. VR

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town


Bonnie-Sue Hitchcook, Faber, 246pp, 9780571360421, £7.99 pbk

This, the publishers write on the back cover, is a novel like no other. They are right. While young adult fiction has grown increasingly tough over the years, it still usually ends up holding out at least some moments of hope for its readers. But not in this novel, written by an American author living in the same area described in her

story. Nine interlinked

stories, each one introducing new characters along the way, are set in and around the Wyoming and Alaskan countryside at its bleakest. Bored

teenagers, marooned in shifting dimensions

small communities, have to cope variously with a paedophile priest, a child abductor, terrifying forest fires, wandering bears and mountain lions and dangerously

sort of commitment or responsibility. In a summer camp, infants

optimism remains

during long winters. Their parents are often in full retreat

fatal accidents on an hourly basis. Friendships flicker but often die. Any occasional sense of contentment or general absent.

largely What stops all of this from going

well over the top is the quality of its writing. Each word counts, and there are no repetitions. There is also some black humour in its teenager banter, although this often hurts too. Tracing characters from one story to the next takes time and attention,


certainly meaning that this novel has to be read at least twice before all the connections become clear. But a map on the front cover, showing the neighbouring terrains and which characters live where helps out. And re-reading is also a pleasure. Despite its darkness, this book is a triumph of story-telling. The only indication that it is written principally for teenage rather than for adult readers is the fact that all its main characters are young. In every other way it is a story for all ages. NT

Smashed HHHHH

Andy Robb, uclanpublishing, 328pp,

gender 978 1 912979 40 0, £7.99 pbk

Robb hits the ground running in this stark, hard-hitting novel. Jamie is just about to turn sixteen-on the cusp of adulthood with a caring girlfriend, a loyal best friend in Adil and a 6 year old

could be better? For

sister who adores him. What Jamie,


answer to that question is easy: his Dad not punching his Mum. Since the night his father lost control again and left Jamie’s mum with a black eye and a determination to divorce him, Jamie has picked up the heavy burden of The Man Of The House. His interpretation of this fearsome role is stereotypical-he must protect and comfort his mother and sister and try to maintain a relationship with a self-obsessed father who has been irrevocably diminished in his eyes. To add fuel to the flames he wants to end the relationship with his girlfriend Nadia, whose attentions were initially flattering but now seem suffocating. He confides in no-one, seeks help from no-one. What supports


through these testing times is alcohol. As he comes to rely on it more and more his perceptions

of his own

behaviour are changed. He becomes Super Jim, entertaining, charismatic, hilarious, when in reality he is a sad drunk who doesn’t know where to turn for help. Robb’s narrative style illuminates

the book with black

humour, accurate descriptions of the interactions of family life and, most telling of all, Jamie’s unsteady internal

low temperatures from any risk

dialogue which rides waves of panic and excesses of drunkenness, shot through with feelings of isolation and worthlessness. Robb’s observations of character are spot on, involving the reader in wholly realistic scenarios. This is a bleak and moving book but with an injection of hope at the end: help is there if only you look to your friends. Jamie finds strength in his changed relationship with Nadia and his long friendship with Adil, realising that his problems are much less frightening if he shares them, opens up about his feelings-something his father simply cannot do. He becomes the adult he felt he had to be, but on his own terms. VR

Talking to Alaska HHHH

Anna Wolz, trans Laura Watkinson, Rock the Boat, 192pp, 978-1786075833, £6.99 pbk

Sven is a Dutch boy aged thirteen. In the previous year he was diagnosed with epilepsy, a finding he detests. Alaska is a female seizure alert dog whom he initially calls ‘the beast’ because she makes him noticeable while all he desires is to be seen as normal. Parker is a girl of the same age. Her family owns a shop. Also last violent

year Parker witnessed a robbery and has been left

traumatised. Parker’s

before assistance

she was dog.

family owned trained Parker


Alaska an


Alaska and deeply resents that she was obliged to give up the dog on account of her little brother’s canine allergy. Can Alaska bring Parker and Sven, her past and current owners, together? Can the two teenagers and the dog find the person who robbed Parker’s family’s shop? Woltz sets out in this book to demonstrate

bond between humans and animals may be. However


just how strong the she


shy away from the dark feelings Sven has towards his epilepsy and towards himself as its bearer. Woltz’s achievement is significant. Few writers depicting young characters with various impairments choose to depict the full range of emotions such characters feel. Woltz also highlights both sides of the phenomenon of social media, both its positive and its negative aspects. This reviewer


sentiment doubtful

value. only states

informing this book of Sven

one that

having an impairment that is not visible is much less easily understood by others than having one that is visible, such as one that involves the use of a wheelchair. This comment is allowed to pass unchallenged. In the experience of this reviewer such disabilities are different but neither is more nor less easily understood. To a non-reader of the Dutch original, Watkinson’s

translation feels

excellent, smooth and unmannered. RB

Books for Keeps No.247 March 2021 29

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