BfK The children themselves riff on

their adventure as if they are aware of being in a story – not splitting up in the dead of night because it’s a classic ‘horror movie fail’ is one such example, bringing a wry smile to the reader, but also completely bearing out the characterisation of the children – they feel distinct and authentic. They are also, refreshingly, risk-takers. This is a brilliantly gripping novel,

pacey, funny and fresh. Haslam may excel at settings, but he’s obviously met some strange characters on his travels – because here


characterisation is excellent. A most impressive children’s debut. CZ

10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued Lalani of the Distant Sea


Erin Entrada Kelly, ill. Lian Cho, Piccadilly Press, 390pp, 9781848129153, £6.99 pbk

A lyrical and richly imagined literary fantasy drawn from Filipino folklore. Lalani lives in a village on the island

of Sangalita with her mother, bullying stepfather and stepbrother under the authoritarian rule of the village elder, the menyoro. Her mother is a village mender of nets and clothes, a skilled but dangerous job. Lalani adores listening to the stories told by her best friend, Veyda’s mother – stories about two mountains, one dark and fearful,

Hold Back the Tide HHHH

Melinda Salisbury, Scholastic, 300pp, 9781407180298, £7.99 pbk

This novel has one of the most striking opening pages I have read in a long time. Set in 1800s Scotland in a small community overseen by a greedy mill owner this is a searing tale of long- buried secrets, fear and ignorance. Alva is sure

murdered her mother although her body has never been found.

parallels with today’s climate change crisis and what could be unleashed if we do not heed the warnings in time. It has a gorgeous cover too. JC

Pretty Funny HHHH

Rebecca Elliott, Penguin, 336pp, 978-0241374627, £7.99 pb.

that her father He is

the guardian of the loch and Alva has learned early on to keep out of her father’s way and never to displease him. Now she has a chance to escape her claustrophobic life as she is the village scribe and has a job lined up in Thurso. But then everything starts to unravel. On her way home after a village dance Alva sees a strange tall white creature with no eyes standing near her front door and she hears terrible screams coming from the shed. Rescued by her father he forbids her to go out

but while

looking for a key to escape Alva finds mysterious logbooks hidden under a settle showing images of these strange creatures. So, they must be real, mustn’t they? It is Alva who realises there must be

some connection between the falling levels of water in the Loch to feed the mill and the uncovering of caves that have not seen the light of day for centuries and the appearance of the terrifying creatures. No one believes her tales of these mysterious beings until villagers start disappearing and some are found torn to pieces.


then it is far too late. Interwoven through this part

murder mystery, part horror story is the heart-breaking love story between the ruggedly attractive Ren and the feisty Alva. This is a page-turning and genuinely spooky story.

The setting

is highly visual and there is plenty of food for thought too as the story has

Haylah Swinton wants more than anything else to be a comedian. She calls herself

fat, though her

friends disagree. She chooses to go by the name of Pig, a name she has reclaimed from those who bullied her; if she self-identifies as Pig, the bullies are less likely to use it as a term of abuse. Haylah lives with her mother and her four-year old brother Noah. One day in assembly at school an older boy Leo Jackson performs a comedy routine. He is a good comedian. Haylah is attracted. There is a local competition designed to identify the best young comic. Is it possible for Haylah and Leo to team up and win the competition? Is it even possible that something unimaginably better may develop for Haylah? Despite the attractiveness of Leo

and his skill as a performer, the most appealing feature of this book is the depiction of the affection and understanding between Haylah and her younger brother. The relationship between the siblings is so silly and so vibrant that at times it leaps off the page. Haylah is a very likeable protagonist. excruciating

She makes tactical

love life.

as trying to intervene in her single mother’s

the other, full of light and goodness. Lalani’s village lies under the shadow of the dark mountain, Mount Kahna and

the so-called beast of the

mountain. Every year the strongest and most able men in the village sail off to look for Mount Isa to bring back some of its vitality and good fortune but no-one has ever returned. The village is in the grip of a

terrible drought so Lalani goes up the mountain in the hope of appeasing the beast even though it is forbidden to venture there. But she is tricked and when heavy rain and then a mudslide buries part of the village Lalani is blamed. She decides to take matters into herown hands, particularly as her mother is now gravely ill. She realises the only way she can hope to save the village is to set sail and look

14+ Secondary/Adult

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly


Danielle Jawando, Simon & Schuster,392pp, 978 1 4711 7877 1, £7.99 pbk

We’re in Wythenshawe, the huge

post-war council estate to the south of Manchester. Horizons for young people here in 2020 are grey and empty;

as though a smothering

gloom chokes the light. Maybe this is what it’s like to feel left behind. Except Al Bryant is different. He’s

intellectually voracious, a reader, a painter. He finds beauty even in these anonymous streets. He reads and talks and writes about his passion – the stars and their galaxies – with such joy, such energy. That’s why he takes his younger brother Nathan up to the roof of Jimmy Egan’s boxing gym, to gaze at those stars together. Later, he painted the two of them there – maybe his best work so far. Not that Nathan’s that interested. Al’s Art teacher feeds his talent; he’s hungry for more, heading off


Manchester to explore the galleries. Al’s seventeen, and there’s talk of a place at Cambridge. He seems strong, modest but confident and generous

spirited; everything’s to some

errors, such The contrast

between the common sense and decency Haylah demonstrates most of the time and her occasional lapses into genuine cruelty makes for an uneven response on the

part. But the overriding judgment on the novel must be positive. Here is a young person with ambition and drive. Bravo. RB

30 Books for Keeps No.241 March 2020

play for. Dad quit the family home a while ago. Oldest son Saul doesn’t say a lot, but he does his best to support Mum and the family – she’s barely holding things together and can’t help but reach for the bottle

too reader’s

often. At school, Al doesn’t mix with the crowd much; his haven is the Art Room, where he’s sometimes joined by Megan from his Art Class. Watching and talking with Al as they work encourages Megan to see that she has her own abilities. She needn’t spend so much time keeping in with her friend Tara and the other girls. Especially now Tara’s hanging out with Eli and his mates. Eli is cock

of the tawdry walk in Benchill, their district of Wythenshawe. As Eli sees it, Al is breaking the rules. Eli’s rules. Al’s different, and that means he’s a weirdo and weirdos need sorting. That’s how things stand. Until, one

day, Al calls Nate, says he needs to talk. Nate closes him down – too busy with stuff. When Nate gets back, the house is silent. Nate checks Al’s room. He’s killed himself. Hung by his school tie. There’s no way Nate can let it go –

it’s his fault. If only he’d listened, just for once, the way Al always listened to him. Nate’s soon joined by Megan; she

too needs to understand.

Nothing makes sense. They take turns with the chapters, allowing us different understandings of and of each other.

Al, Their narrative

voices contrast. Megan’s is the more gentle, more perceptive. Jawando finds a rough-edged idiom for Nate, somewhere between the spoken and written word. Often he is angry or confused, but then there are sudden moments of acute self-awareness; he’s growing closer to Al’s ways of thinking. This debut novel is long and much of the plot is carried through dialogue rather than action.

It may

seem to some readers, impatient for answers, as though the mystery of Al’s death unravels in real time. When the revelations come, they are savage in their violence. YA readers are familiar with the cruel ingenuity of bullying through social media; they may find here a mindless venom darker than anything they have met before, all too credible in our abrasive times. However, emerging from the tragedy of Al’s death, a relationship grows between Nathan and Megan, as they share their determination to keep Al’s memory – and his influence – alive. Jawando doesn’t hurry things; their awareness of their own feelings is delicately handled. Their courage and hope feed each other, guided by the beacon which Al’s life becomes

for Mount Isa. Her journey is one of extraordinary courage and she faces much peril and danger in her quest. Lalani is an intrepid and plucky

heroine, literally and figuratively paddling her

own canoe. There

is much to explore on the theme of kindness and compassion and standing up for what you believe in. The bond of friendship between Lalani and Veyda is central to the story and the magical animals are marvellously inventive. My only gripe is that the frequent stopping of the narrative

to explain the magical

animals and the background stories is a distraction and fractures the story somewhat. This beautiful tale would be more suitable for confident readers. JC

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