inspired by an old Victorian graveyard. As a baby, Bod Owens escapes a murderer by crawling into a cemetery where he is adopted by ghosts,

Running on Empty S E Durrant, Nosy Crow, 978- 0857637406, £6.99 pbk

gradually growing

up and pushing the boundaries of his existence. It feels so real and I still step back whenever I meet someone called Jack.

AJ wants to be a runner. He’d been in the stadium when Usain Bolt triumphed during the 2020 Olympics. But when AJ’s grandpa dies,

life becomes complicated. AJ’s

I Will Not Be Erased by gal-dem, Walker Books, 978-1406386370, £7.99 pbk

The gal-dem collective is only five years old. It’s an online magazine written by women and non-binary writers of colour. It is also so much more, a movement that explores a multiplicity of voices and experiences. Fourteen writers give advice to their younger selves. It’s a rope hurled towards the young people who are struggling now, offering strength and safety until times are less

turbulent. This is the book I would have loved when I was growing up believing that everything about me was wrong. I was the first in my family to be born in the UK. I thought I was English, but society had many ways of telling me I was not. I would have longed for a book that made me feel less alone and given me hope for the future.


Catherine Johnson, Scholastic, 978-1407185484, £4.99 pbk

It was hard to choose a favourite of Catherine’s books. Catherine uses fiction to challenge deeply embedded ideas about English history,

especially colonialism

and slavery. She literally places people of colour into history and gives them agency. Nat, an enslaved young man on a Jamaican plantation is forced to accompany the English slave owners back to London. The book challenges the ‘white saviour’

abolitionist narrative and explores England’s complicity with the brutality of slavery.

Patrice Lawrence’s debut YA novel, Orangeboy, published in 2016, won the Bookseller YA Prize and the Waterstones Prize for Older Children’s Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award. Since then she has written more YA novels as well as fiction and non-fiction for younger readers. Eight Pieces of Silva will be published in August.

grandpa not only supported AJ, but helped AJ’s parents, who have learning disabilities, keep on top of life’s challenges. Suddenly, he is trying to take his grandpa’s place while starting secondary school and fearing

that he will be taken into care if his circumstances are discovered. And, then of course, how do you run if you can’t afford trainers? This is a story about grief, dreams, empathy, warmth and family love.

I am Thunder Muhammad Khan, Macmillan Children’s Books, 978-1509874057, £7.99 pbk

Even as I write, debates about ‘cultural appropriation’ rumble on.

and ‘writer censorship’ I certainly don’t believe that

writers should stick within their own experiences. I would be a hypocrite if I did. However, sometimes so-called own voices writers can provide a depth and insight that outsiders can’t. In 2015, Muhammad was a teacher in a south London secondary

school when three fifteen-year-old girls, Amira Abase, Shamima Begum and Kadiza Sultana left east London to join the Islamic State. We know now that it is a tale with a tragic ending. The Muslim students in Muhammad’s school wanted to try and make sense of what happened. This book is the response, unpicking how a modern young Londoner can become radicalised. It is also a book about trying to carve out an identity that is our own.

Pig Heart Boy Malorie Blackman, Corgi, 978-0552555616, £6.99 pbk

I found out about this book – and Malorie – via the BBC adaptation in 1999. I was shocked to see a series about a black family that wasn’t The Fresh Prince of Bel Air or about crime. Cameron is dying of a heart condition. His only chance of survival is a transplanted pig’s heart. Whatever he decides, there will be consequences. Last

year, I mentioned this book at a school event in Hong Kong. A wave of excitement went round the room – they were reading it in class. It has universal appeal and can provoke so much debate. It’s about friendship, families and life-or-death decisions. As I said earlier, as children and young people we are often faced with challenges in our lives. Books can help us find ourselves.

Books for Keeps No.241 March 2020 5

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