reviews 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued

she has in store for us. Our view of Clara, her friends, her uncle up the hill – all shift dramatically as facts emerge. A gentle story of rural life on a Caribbean island is suddenly taut with uncertainty. Happily, the story evolves into one of

healing; not only for Clara, but for her parents, her uncle, for old and young throughout the community. Pushkin’s declared aim is ‘to share tales from different languages and cultures with younger readers and to open the door to the wide, colourful worlds these stories offer’. This tale is deceptively demanding, but for readers who enjoy unpacking its different levels, it offers an unusual, thoughtful read. GF

Small Town Hero HHHHH

Patrick Neate, Andersen Press, 272pp, 9781783449675, £7.99, pbk

Children’s books are best when they tell you how to think rather than what to think, and thinking is definitely required when reading Patrick Neate’s latest novel for young adults. Gabe, 13 years and grieving for his father, finds that he can navigate the world in a non-linear and fairly illogical way by broaching the fence of this world and appearing in another. This genetically-inherited ability to sample the many worlds or multiverse theory only comes to light after his father’s funeral, and leads him down a path of self-discovery as well as familial discovery. Gabe’s voice is startingly modern, outspoken, reaching

fresh and

directly to the target audience and sucking them in with as much power as a black hole. His interests include football and gaming, and navigating the normal teenage world of social media, friendship and limitations imposed by the adults in his world(s). He is, in fact, so authentic, exploring his feelings, fears and motivations whilst at the same time constantly trying to decipher the emotions of the adults around him, that any doubts about the scientific theories that underpin the plot are swiftly eliminated, and the reader is compelled to believe that not only does Gabe’s favourite video game, Small Town Hero, exist, but so does the idea of a multi-universe. The non- linear timeframe takes a little thought and concentration from the reader, but it is the ability to learn and digest the theories at the same time as Gabe, to be with him and will him to win at his game, as well as at life, that makes the book compulsive and compelling. The book is reminiscent


Christopher Edge’s The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, but for an older reader, and is smart and involving. Sly touches remind a much older reader of Back to the Future, and this is an awesome addition to narratives that play with time-bending and choices. The invigorating tone of the narrator shakes up the young teen genre nicely. This is an excellent read that touches the heart whilst also probing

the head of its readership. CZ Macbeth United


Michael Rosen, ill. Tony Ross, Scholastic, 288pp, 978-1407188584, £6.99 pbk

This is a very original way of retelling the Bard’s Scottish tragedy to a young audience of football fans. Macbeth is a member of the successful youth football team, Shotfield, but he harbours ambitions of reaching a much higher level. With the help of his disturbingly creepy mum, he finds a variety of ways to remove his rivals for the coveted position of player coach, and battles many inner demons along the way, too. Certainly, readers will enjoy this

story the most if they also have some familiarity with Shakespeare’s play. All the key themes from the play are present: Macbeth fights his battles on the football field and spills the blood of an opponent with a match-winning tackle;

there is an eerie meeting

with three mystifying strangers who forecast his future; and his mother has to do some serious kit-washing to tackle some ominous stains! There is also much to enjoy for

readers who do not already know the story of Macbeth. There is a great deal of intrigue to enjoy as the story unfolds, and children will recognise the friendship-fallouts and resulting chaos

suffer. Moreover, the football scenes are

that Macbeth’s dramatically


teammates and

include the types of unsavoury foul play that would normally be omitted from children’s stories. Children simply looking for a fun

story about football will be surprised by the twists and turns in the story of Macbeth United and will question why the main character is willing to go to such extreme lengths just to be the captain. The book is a very good way to encourage readers to try something a little different and is an enjoyably original way of sharing Shakespeare’s work with children. SD

The Unadoptables HHHH

Hana Tooke, illus Ayesha L. Rubio Puffin, 400pp, 978-0241417461, £12.99 hbk

The Little Tulip Orphanage in

Amsterdam has strict rules for baby abandonment. All of them are broken by the five babies abandoned there in 1880, none of whom are wrapped in a cotton blanket, placed in a wicker basket or deposited on the topmost step; it’s no wonder that the five, designated rebels, become firm friends. Fast forward twelve years and, despite the best efforts of their ghastly matron Elinora Gassbeek (Milou thinks she has ‘the brutal sneer of a gargoyle’), Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou are still living in the grim orphanage, unadopted and seemingly unadoptable.

Enter Meneer Rotman,

find her “Ark of Ideas”; however there are only 10 days in which to solve all the challenges. Everyone at the school is determined to find the treasure and Kip desperately wants to succeed as it might be a way to help his mother, who has been in a care home after being struck by lightning a few years previously.

The problem is that not

everyone has good intentions and the group of friends find themselves up against a dark and threatening opponent

as they undertake their

task. The question of whether they will succeed has us sitting on the edge of our seats as the adventure unfolds at a tremendous speed. This is a real roller coaster of a

merchant and ship-owner, who

declares himself willing to adopt them all. Four of the orphans are filled with hope, but Milou, the leader of their little group, has real misgivings, her strange fifth sense alert to something deeply sinister about the man. She’s proved right, and the five flee that night, their one hope to find Milou’s family who may be puppeteers. After

this irresistible opening,

the story continues as the children make their way into the world alone, ending up in a gorgeous windmill, that also has its own, fully equipped puppet theatre. There are adventures galore – they face more dangerous encounters with the wicked Rotman, dices with death and vicious dogs, and receive help from unexpected quarters. No matter how difficult the challenges they face, this strange little their

family sticks together, pooling various

talents and always

buoyed by the hope of finding a place they can call home. Puppet shows play a crucial part

in the climax, and in many ways the whole

story is a wonderful bit of

guignol, with larger than life villains and hints of the supernatural, while 19th century Amsterdam provides spectacular backdrops. Tooke controls her characters and the plot very well and this is unputdownable. MMa

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith


Loris Owen, Firefly Press, 352pp, 9781913102319, £6.99 pbk

Kip Bramley receives a very cryptic message that invites him to try and solve a riddle; this in turn brings an invitation to become a student at the Quicksmiths College of Strange Energy. The school is full of wonderfully eccentric staff and students and Kip feels far more at home there than he did at his previous school. He and his new friends Albert, Leela and Timmi soon find themselves embroiled in an adventure. The founder of the school Eartha Quicksmith, who lived during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, has left a message in which she reveals that the Earth will face a tremendous danger unless someone can solve a sequence of 10 hidden riddles and

The Children of Swallow Fell HHHHH

Julia Green, OUP, 978-0192771582, 256pp, £6.99 pbk

Julia Green’s new novel will resonate with readers in ways she can’t have envisaged while she was writing it. Isabella lives in Italy with her parents, a normal life full of ordinary happiness, often shared with her best friend, Marta. All changes suddenly and forever when bombs explode in her city. ‘They’ – we never know who – are targeting transport hubs, bridges, historic monuments, ‘wiping out the

Books for Keeps No.244 September 2020 29

ride, where people are not always what they appear to be and where having good friends becomes more important than Kip has ever realized. At the heart of the story is Kip’s desire to help his mother and bring his family back to the way it was when he was a small child. At Quicksmiths he finds a world where science and magic seem to combine and he hopes that he can channel his ‘strange energy’ into a way to help his family. The school seems to be a mix of Hogwarts and Back to the Future, with hoverboards called Skimmis and wonderful pets such as the Mowl and Kip’s own Pinky (possibly a hamster of gerbil). There is a lot of humour, masses of puzzles and a mystery that they just have to solve.

I am looking forward

to the next adventure for this group of heroes and also to finding out more of the secrets at Quicksmiths. MP

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