reviews 14+Secondary/Adult continued

for many years. (Children are brought up communally). Jaime has to marry a girl from the neighbouring island of Rasaay, in a deal that means that his tribe will get good weapons to defend themselves from the rumoured threat of the deamhain, who sound rather like Vikings. After the marriage, Jaime and his new young wife are set adrift to get to know each other, only to find that Agatha has smuggled herself aboard in an attempt to prevent the marriage that she knows Jaime does not want. On their return to the island they discover that the tribe has been betrayed, and the


people of Norveg, have killed the elders and captured the remaining people for slaves. They rescue an almost drowned Knutr, a Prince from Norveg, and determine to use him as a hostage to rescue the clan from captivity. He is dangerous and has to be kept tied up, but his knowledge is useful as they make their way to Norweg, across part of Scotia, where they encounter a friendly clan of Bo Riders

(Highland bulls) and later,

Nathara. Their adventures are scary, and characters do die, so this is definitely for Young Adults, and the blurb

recommends 12+. Some of

the dialogue is in an invented version of Old Norse, and this is as it would be when a person speaking one language meets a ‘foreigner’, but this adds to the authentic feel, and there is enough context to work out what is happening. This book ends at a pause in the longer story, but it is clear that there are loose ends to follow and more adventures to come. Joseph Elliott’s mother is a teacher

specializing in Special Educational Needs, the family provided respite care for some of the children, and he worked in a SEN playscheme as a holiday job before graduating and becoming a teacher at Westminster Special School. The

character of

Agatha was inspired by some of the children he worked with, and he hopes that readers will learn not to judge by first appearance, but to understand that, whatever a person’s strengths or weaknesses, they can achieve remarkable things. He writes well, and this is an absorbing story. DB

Yes No Maybe So HHHHH

Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed, Simon and Schuster, 440pp, 978-1471184666, £7.99 pbk

Jamie and Maya are two Americans aged seventeen. Jamie is Jewish. Maya is Muslim. They have known each other since they were children, but haven’t seen each other


several years. Jamie has the ambition one day to reach elected office. Jamie’s cousin Gabe is already active in the political world. He works for Jordan Rossum, an aspiring Democrat congressman. But for Jamie there is a snag. He detests public speaking. His sister Sophie is aged thirteen and

according to Jewish custom is about to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah. Jamie is under acute pressure from his mother and his grandmother to propose the toast at the ceremony, a prospect that fills him with dread. Meanwhile Maya’s life is in turmoil.

Her parents, who had always seemed well matched, have announced a trial separation. Her best

friend, Sara,

is about to depart for a university two hours away. Her parents want her to spend the summer vacation canvassing with Jamie on behalf of the Democrats. If she agrees, she will be rewarded with her own car. Albertalli and Saeed tell the story of how this political campaign unfolds and how the feelings of Jamie and Maya change. Plenty of older people believe that young people have no interest


politics. Or if they are interested, the complexity of political life is beyond their understanding. This book busts that myth wide open. Its depiction of the political process, of the way these two young people become involved in the process, of the moral and ethical issues raised by a political campaign and of the profound influence today of social media on political decision- making – all this makes a fascinating read. The publication of this book comes at a time when in different countries and in the world at large, forces for change are being driven by younger and younger people. RB


Brittney Morris, Hodder, 318pp, 978 1 444 95172 1, £7.99 pbk

‘By day, I’m an honours student at Jefferson Academy. At night, I turn into the Nubian goddess most people know as Emerald.’ The speaker of the novel’s opening lines is seventeen- year-old Kiera Johnson. She and her sister Steph are the only two Black girls

at the Academy in Bellevue,

Washington State. Kiera and her long- term boyfriend, Malcolm, transferred to Jefferson from Belmont, where 50% of the students were Black. Malcolm’s transfer was not voluntary - his lip still carries the scar from the fight that got him expelled from Belmont. Kiera’s doing well academically, has several college offers already and she and Malcolm plan to share a life in Atlanta during their college years, though they expect to enrol at different universities. Her Nubian night-time persona inhabits the hugely successful VR gaming world of SLAY, with half-a- million account holders worldwide. Even Steph, her parents, and her best friend Harper don’t know that for three years Kiera has been developing Emerald’s universe in partnership with ‘Cicada’, who lives in Paris. Kiera doesn’t know Cicada’s real life name – the two have never met outside SLAY. At the core of Brittney Morris’s novel, driving the story, there is a dilemma. SLAY is designed to be exclusively for

Black gamers. When Kiera speaks within the game as Emerald, she says, “We are here first and foremost to celebrate Black excellence in all its forms, from all parts of the globe.” That’s the principle on which Kiera developed SLAY; the game is for Black players only. No Whites allowed, and herein lies the conflict and, maybe, the catastrophe which challenges the game and Kiera herself. SLAY hits the international media when a teenager is murdered in Kansas City over an argument (concerning SLAY’s trading currency) arising within the game. Suddenly the media is all over Kiera’s project. Ethics Professors are invited onto TV chat shows to talk about whether excluding Whites is racist and, as the murder may demonstrate, dangerously discriminatory. Both of Kiera’s worlds explode into controversy and publicity. Before

long, she is

personally under threat from a troll. I need here to step away from any

attempt to reflect the narrative closely. The story is very tightly plotted – argued, even; which is remarkable in that Hodder’s blurb tells us that Morris wrote this 318 page book in eleven days. I couldn’t do the storyline justice in this reviewing space. In fact, I began to wonder, can I do the novel justice at all? You could say that implied readers of SLAY need to be sensitive to nuanced discussion of contemporary Afro-American matters – particularly in the experience of young people. Also, readers would surely take more from the text if they are familiar with VR Gaming, though a novice (such as myself) can learn something from the blow-by-blow accounts of duels in the SLAY world, where duelling is the main purpose of playing. My own reviewing position here

seems problematic, at least to me. Since the 1970s, many teachers and others interested in literature for young readers thought increasingly in terms of ‘what a reader brings to a book’ interplaying with what a book offers to a reader. (Subsequently, the National Curriculum, with its inappropriate need to measure and assess responses to literature, inhibited such an awareness when teaching literature.) Here, what I bring to this novel includes areas of ignorance, which do not limit my interest, but do raise concerns about fairness to the author

in reaching

any detailed evaluation of it. The questions SLAY raises are complex and difficult to resolve; and - to be just a little evaluative – embodied in an unconventional and arresting narrative. One aspect of the novel may serve as an example: for me, some of the duelling sequences were overlong - too detailed; perhaps we are used to the graphic speed of the visual in handling such action. Yet, as soon as I write that, I am unsure that I have a sense of how young readers used to gaming would judge those duels. In this instance, the five stars at

the head of this review are meant to indicate a strong recommendation that readers should try this unusual and passionate book. For its own sake - and also as a novel which (as

The task of adapting the masterwork

for a new readership is far from simple. For example, Landman has felt obliged to use language appropriate to the period in which the book is set. But at the same time the language must not strike young readers as hopelessly archaic and alien. The same is also true of the social conventions of the time. Young readers must be led to understand

such conventions and

appreciate how they are applied to the lives of the protagonists without the book resorting to a didactic tone – more a history lesson than a novel. There is of course a familiar

objection to literary creations of the type Landman has attempted. The criticism is that the work is unduly compressed. Some significant episodes in the original text are glossed over in one line. The same criticism always arises when favourite works are adapted for TV or the cinema. On the whole however it is important to recognise the innovatory courage Barrington Stoke has demonstrated launching what we hope will become a series. The publisher seems to have identified a significant market niche. This reviewer has her own favourites that might be included in the series catalogue. No doubt all readers of this review will have their own mental lists. RB

Books for Keeps No.240 January 2020 31

far as I know) will take UK readers into areas they are unused to finding in print. GF

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre:

a retelling by Tanya Landman HHHH

Tanya Landman, Barrington Stoke, 120pp, 978-1781129128, £7.99 pbk

Charlotte Brontë’s great work is of course present on many a school and college syllabus. It is widely read and studied by pupils at older levels. In this little Barrington Stoke book Landman has set out on a notable task – to make the famous work accessible to younger readers who may not have the literary expertise needed to tackle the story in its original form. Such young readers may still benefit from an understanding of the novel, its characters and its ideas.

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