YA Fiction

The Double Shadow – Sally Gardner

Posted in Proofs, YA Fiction on August 31st, 2011 by admin – 3 Comments

The Double Shadow is Sally Gardner’s latest novel, targeted at older teens and one of the first releases from Orion’s new young adult imprint, Indigo.  I’ve read and loved most of Sally’s previous books including the excellent I, Coriander and The Silver Blade as well as her wonderful books for younger children which are reread frequently in our household.   This new novel is a new venture for Sally as it is aimed at an older age group and is, in the author’s own words, ” a family sci-fi saga”.

Our story begins in 1937 with Amaryllis Ruben, an impetuous, spoilt, almost 17 yr old, being expelled from yet another school.  Her father, widowed millionaire Arnold Ruben, hopes to atone for past errors and neglect by bestowing on his only child the “memory machine” which should erase all painful memories and preserve himself and Amaryllis in an alternate world safe from the impending war.  However this gift ends up  being more of a poisoned chalice and there are nefarious plots afoot to use the device for evil ends.

Sally Gardner has a wondrous almost wizardly way with words, using simple prose infused with touch of magic.  Her characters are so vividly present, you can appreciate her talent as an illustrator complementing her skills as a storyteller.  The result is a very special novel which sounds like it’s very much set in the 1930s yet remains accessible to modern readers.  It’s a story about relationships, between father and daughter, mother and son, man and wife.  It’s about love in all its shapes and forms.  It’s also about memories and how they can both comfort and haunt us, having a life of their own as a double shadow of our own reality.

If you want a novel which eschews current trends in YA literature, no zombies, nor vampires nor post-apocalyptic plains, then you will relish The Double Shadow, a compelling read which will hook you from the opening pages.  If you haven’t already read any of Sally’s other books, I would highly recommend I, Coriander The Red Necklace and The Silver Blade  .

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Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys

Posted in YA Fiction on August 20th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

In recent times I have read quite a few books set during WWII and some have had a more profound effect than others.  Between Shades of Gray is one  of the stayers, one of those books which will stand the test of time and endure and survive.

Based on  first-hand accounts from those who experienced the harsh rule of Stalin, this novel is a fictional account of the experiences of a middle class Lithuanian family who are ripped from their comfortable home one night in 1941 and forced to commence an agonising journey to the desolate wastes of Siberia.  Our narrator, fifteen year old Lina, vows to document their experiences through the medium of her drawings and writing, also hoping that she can communicate with her father who is in another prison camp.  What follows is a hard-hitting narrative, all the more powerful thanks to the simplicity of the prose and the viewpoint of a young teenager who is bewildered by the inhumanity of the Russian secret police, the NKVD.   Lina’s mother Elena is a very strong character, doing everything she can to keep her family together whilst still considering the needs of other prisoners. 

Ruta Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee and her proximity to the real life experiences of those persecuted by Stalin is evident in her detailed descriptions of the horrors faced by the deportees – bitter cold, starvation, disease.  This is an unflinching account of man’s inhumanity to man but it somehow clings to hope for the future as Ruta states in her Author’s Note at the conclusion of the novel -

Some wars are about bombing.  For the people of the Baltics, this war was about believing.  In 1991, after fifty years of brutal occupation, the three Baltic countries regained their independence, peacefully and with dignity.  They chose hope over hate and showed the world that even through the darkest night, there is light.

Between Shades of Gray will make you appreciate your freedom, something which we take for granted.  It will also make you realise the power of  the human spirit to endure, to survive and to aspire to a better future.   A Young Adult novel which will engage all ages and hopefully become a modern classic.

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Fifty Fifty by S L Powell

Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on June 29th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

Fifty Fifty is S L Powell’s first novel and a very impressive debut it is – it’s a thriller, probably targeted at age 12-16 but it is an equally engaging read for those of a “slightly” older age range including my own good self!

Told in the third-person, our story opens with thirteen year old Gil embarking on a typically teenage row with his parents involving the usual triggers – “your room is a tip”, “I want a mobile phone”, “I’m old enough to look after myself” etc etc…  Gil has had enough, he’s out-grown his once good friend Ben , his Mum seems to be in a dream world and his Dad is the scientist/drill master with no room for flexibility so it’s hardly surprising that Gil gets side-tracked.  Jude, the dynamic, magnetic animal-rights activist, the complete anthesis of Gil’s Dad, is a Messiah-like figure who lifts Gil out of the doldrums and provides the excitement and spark which this bored teen craves.

What follows is an action-packed adventure during which Gil is tested to the limit.  Bit by bit, the secret history of his family is revealed and he is forced to make extremely difficult decisions and obliged to grow up very quickly.   The reader feels his anguish as he is faced with one moral dilemma after another – this really is edge of your seat writing as you just can’t second-guess Gil’s next move.

As well as a gripping personal read, Fifty Fifty would be an excellent group read or school text as it raises so many intriguing questions about the genetic research versus animal rights debate and it presents both sides of the argument in a very balanced way.  However, don’t expect a dull, patronising read as it works equally well as a fast paced,compelling  thriller.  Highly recommended for any young adult with an enquiring mind and perhaps also for we “oldies” who become so engrossed in our own little bubbles that we forget to ask the big questions.

PS – not a zombie/vampire in sight (not even a genetically modified one, hurrah!)

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The Truth about Celia Frost – Paula Rawsthorne

Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on June 10th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

Celia Frost lives her life in constant fear of bleeding to death.  Born with a rare blood disorder, the slightest scratch could have fatal consequences and Celia leads a hermit-like existence, her only company being her over-protective mother, Janice.  They have led a nomadic life but, following a knife attack on Celia, they suddenly flee to Bluebell Estate (not quite the rural idyll the name implies) and Celia embarks on a quest for the truth about her condition, with devastating consequences.

This debut novel is sure to engage young teens with its gripping storyline and feisty heroine.  It’s refreshing to read a gritty, realistic story for Young Adults with not a vampire or dystopian landscape within spitting distance.  The many twists and turns in the plot will keep readers captivated until the very last page – highly recommended for young fans of  fast-paced, realistic narratives.

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A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Posted in YA Fiction on June 9th, 2011 by admin – 7 Comments

I have experienced equal quantities of dread and delight whilst anticipating A Monster Calls, a novel which is the joint venture of two highly acclaimed authors of YA fiction.  I’ve been dreading it as it will be my last experience of the wonderful writing of Siobhan Dowd who died in 2007 aged 47.  Siobhan was the author of four brilliant novels, two of which were published posthumously and she had penned some notes for a new book which culiminated in Patrick Ness taking the baton and producing the thing of beauty which is A Monster Calls.

So was it to be a Dowd or a Ness novel, whose influence would be felt the most?  To tell the truth, it’s different from anything either author has produced before.  Yes,  I felt Siobhan’s touch at times but this really feels like a one-off, an original masterpiece.  In just over 200 pages, Patrick Ness weaves the tale of Conor O’Malley, a 13 year old only child who has a battle on his hands.  His single mother is nearing the end of her fight with cancer and Conor has a well meaning grandmother whose good intentions only end up estranging him further.  His father has remarried, now living in the US and is in the clutches of a jealous new wife complete with new baby and he hardly wants the added troubles of his teenage son.  Meanwhile, at school, the only people who really notice Conor are the bullies – everyone else is busily tip-toeing around the elephant in the room/playground.  If that wasn’t enough, a monster comes a-calling, in the shape of a yew tree – yew trees are symbolic of everlasting life and healing but this particular specimen doesn’t seem very friendly.

This is one of the most powerful, compelling books I have ever read.  If you have ever experienced bereavement or even have the slightest human interest in other folks’ emotions, you will adore A Monster Calls.  Its simplicity and lyricism is perfectly balanced by the stark black and white illustrations by Jim Kay.  You must get the “real” hard back edition, not the “pretend” e book version, this is a book which has to be caressed and treasured.  It’s a harrowing read, brutal in its honesty, never veering into mawkishness.  I have a feeling that Siobhan’s novels will have a much deserved renaissance with a whole new influx of readers and I, in turn,  must pick up Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy which has languished on my bookshelves for long enough now…

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Revolution – Jennifer Donnelly

Posted in YA Fiction on March 20th, 2011 by admin – 3 Comments

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (13 Oct 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 1408801523
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408801529
  • Jennifer Donnelly’s first novel A Gathering Light , (US title A Northern Light), is one of my favourite YA/crossover novels so I was relishing the thought of getting my teeth into “Revolution” –  7 years is a long time to wait! 

    “Revolution” is a busy novel given that it encompasses so many ideas and themes – love, loss, family relationships, music (lots of music) and science including complex DNA testing.   To complicate matters there’s a dual time frame narrative with Andi, our 21st century Brooklyn girl and Alex(andrine) in 1790s Paris.  Andi is a troubled teen, struggling to maintain an interest in anything including her demanding timetable at St Anselm’s, an expensive private school with a cast of students who wouldn’t look out of place in Gossip Girl or Beverley Hills 90210 for those old enough to remember!  She and her parents are still traumatised by the death of Andi’s younger brother Truman.  Andi is removed to Paris by her father in an effort to encourage her to complete an outline for her senior thesis.  The discovery of Alexandrine’s diary, written in the 1790s,  sets in motion a series of events which push present-day Andi to the brink.

    Revolution is well written, it’s very ambitious, the scenes from revolution-torn Paris are extremely vivid and the author has clearly done her research but…for me, it just didn’t come together as a coherent story.  Andi is teenage angst personified and has very few endearing qualities – yes, I know likeable characters aren’t compulsory but somehow she didn’t ring true for me.  I loved Alexandrine and her account of the travails she and her family faced, her friendship with the young dauphin, her encounters with the intimidating Duc d’Orleansand all the sights and sounds of revolutionary Paris are there for the reader to savour.   However, I found the section where Andi and Alexandrine’s worlds collide a step too far on the suspension bridge of disbelief and things went progressively downhill thereafter.

    Revolution will appeal to teenagers with its pop culture references but it didn’t hit the spot for me as an adult reader.  I also suspect that teen readers don’t need plot devices and gimmicks in order to tie up narratives in neat little packages.

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    Century by Sarah Singleton

    Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on March 4th, 2011 by admin – 4 Comments

    I have read and enjoyed one other novel by Sarah Singleton, Heretic,  so I looked forward to Century.   It’s a short, very readable novel targeted at young teens but also suitable for adults who enjoy a sprinkling of magic and fantasy in their reading.

    Mercy and her younger sister Charity live in a world of darkness and mystery at their desolate home, Century.  They rise as the sun sets and sleep during the day in an environment which is permanently Winter.  Indeed it’s a bit like that film Groundhog Day at Century as each day is the same as the last with the girls having the same breakfast prepared by Aurelia, the housekeeper and then lessons with Galatea, their governess followed by a walk in the moonlit gardens.  The only other inhabitant of Century is their father Trajan who doesn’t figure much in the lives of his daughters, preferring to stay in the shadows of this already sombre abode.

    At first, I was slightly irked by the vagueness of Mercy’s circumstances, I was jumping to conclusions, thinking they must be vampires and almost tempted to abandon book but I soon realised that the cloudiness of the opening chapters mirrors the dreamlike state in which the characters exist, almost like Sleeping Beauty in her castle, waiting for a handsome prince to come and break the spell.  Could the mysterious Claudius be the prince who can rescue Mercy from the darkness and revive her forgotten memories?  Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out!

    There isn’t a great deal of character development as it’s a short book but the plot is extremely well crafted.  The descriptions of Century are eerily atmospheric and other-worldly and in Mercy we have a likeable, resourceful young heroine, determined to take control of her own destiny whatever dangers lie in her path.  I also loved the revelations of why Century is locked in perpetual Winter and how it fits in with the rest of the world.  I also enjoyed the parallels with Frankenstein.  All in all, a very enjoyable read which stirs the imagination and one I’ll be keeping for my daughter to read when she’s older.

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    The Thirteen Secrets by Michelle Harrison

    Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on February 8th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

    The Thirteen Secrets is the final instalment in Michelle Harrison’s wonderful trilogy involving the relationship between faeries and humans.  I adored her first two books, The Thirteen Treasures and The Thirteen Curses and I anticipated the latest novel with a mixture of sorrow, excitement and dread – sad because it was the signalling the end of my interaction with well-loved characters, excited to see how these characters would develop and the tiniest hint of dread that I might be disappointed.  Fear ye not as the author does a fabulous  job of bringing events at Elvesden Manor to a close whilst introducing us to some intriguing new characters.

    I don’t want to give away too much of the plot but suffice to say that you are in for a real treat.  Rowan (Red) is living at Elvesden Manor and she is doing her utmost to lead a “normal” life with Tanya, Fabian and co.   Of course “normality” is off the menu when you live in a fairy-infested house, fairies in the grandfather clock, a tea caddy brownie in the kitchen complete with walking stick and a drain dweller in the bathrooom whose belches smell like rotten eggs.  However, Rowan is haunted by nightmares from the past and it would appear that everyone, human and fairy alike, is harbouring some sort of secret, some of which have dreadful consequences.

    This is an even darker tale than the preceding novels, perhaps due to the increasing maturity of the characters who have already experienced the dark and light side of faeries.  We have already seen the malevolence of the Unseelie Court, the random removal of human children replaced by changelings, the vindictive nature of Tanya’s faerie guardian  but things take an even more sinister turn in this volume with the battle between good and evil becoming a fight between life and death.  Some scenes are reminiscent of the Chronicles of Narnia, especially the battle between Aslan’s followers and those of the White Witch – stirring stuff which doesn’t pander to those of an overly sensitive nature so expect tears amidst the smiles and rejoicing!

    So, the feeling of dread has vanished but there is still some residual sadness that the 13 series is over.  At least I will have the pleasure some day of reading the trilogy aloud to my daughter (who, at 7, is still at the Tinkerbell stage..)   I highly recommend this whole series to children of all ages (9-99) who believe in some sort of magic and who don’t automatically attribute those odd noises in the bathroom to faulty plumbing!

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    My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – Annabel Pitcher

    Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on February 3rd, 2011 by admin – 5 Comments

    It’s been a while since the mere title of a book has been enough to whet my literary appetite and to entice me into further investigation.  Such was the case with My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, the debut novel of 28 year old Annabel Pitcher, a former secondary school teacher of English.   So is it a case of “what’s in a name..” or is there plenty of substance to back up this beguiling title..

    Well, I can happily report that what lies beneath is a meaty, insightful, beautifully written account of family life today.  The voice of the narrator, 10 year old Jamie Matthews, is spot on – in him I can see the idiosyncrasies and hopes and dreams of my own 10 yr old son and his friends.  Jamie hasn’t had an easy time lately, ever since his sister Rose died, five years before, his family has gone into meltdown, escalating in his Mum leaving and his alcoholic Dad deciding to up sticks and move the family including Rose’s twin sister, Jasmine, from London to an isolated, rural area in the Lake District.  Jamie is a stoical figure, often wishing life were better but he holds onto the idea that his Mum will come back to them and that his parents will be able to move on after Rose’s death and that life can get back to normal again.  Not that he even remembers Rose that much but he knows not to say this aloud as his Dad tiptoes around the big issues, preserving Rose’s memories in boxes marked “Sacred” and keeping her ashes in an urn on the mantelpiece. 

    This is a corker of a children’s/YA novel as it examines grief and how it can tear families apart, it shows how hard it is to remain loyal to your family, in this case, your Dad when he is so focussed on his own grief and blind to the needs of his remaining living family.  Jamie has never really had friends other than Luke Branston who was is friend for four days…  However, things look hopeful when he makes friends with Sunya, who becomes a superhero counterpart, Girl M to his Spiderman.  They’re both outsiders, alienated by their fellow class-mates and one would hope that their friendship could be a refuge from the maelstrom that is Jamie’s family life.

    This novel will make you laugh and cry – Jamie is one of the most credible child narrators I have ever encountered and you feel drawn right into his world, warts and all.  It’s suitable for age 10+ but I think it will attract a large readership across all ages, if only to make you see life through a child’s eyes again.  Sometimes whenever a book gets so much early publicity, I tend to avoid it, fearing disappointment, but, for this novel, the buzz is justified.  I would say “hasten thee to the nearest bookshop” but it isn’t published until 1st March – believe me the wait will be well worth it!

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    The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham

    Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on February 3rd, 2011 by admin – 1 Comment

    In this, Ruth Eastham’s very impressive debut novel for children/young teenagers, she takes on a variety of “big” themes, all of which revolve around suppressed memories and the risks involved in unravelling them.

    Our narrator is young Alex (Alexandru) who was adopted by an English family, 6 years previously, having been orphaned during the Bosnian War.  It is clear that Alex has not come to terms with the trauma which preceeded his adoption and that this is hindered by his older sibling, Leonard who take great pleasure in bullying him, calling him “Bosnia Boy”" and “Charity Case”.  In the midst of all this, Alex and Leonard’s grandfather keeps on forgetting things and Alex has overheard his parents discussing putting William, the grandfather, into a home.  Alex takes on the mission of helping William to remember the past, especially events which took place during World War II, in the hope that, by remembering, William will avoid being taken away from the family.

    As the story unfolds, we gradually come closer and closer to the truth, both for William and Alex, and such revelations are destined to come at a high emotional cost for all the family members and indeed for friends and neighbours too.  I thought the characterisation was spot on.  Alex is a sensitive, young chap, who, on the surface, seems unscathed by past events.  The family dynamic is also portrayed very well with an array of siblings, all with their own distinct personalities and busy parents who are trying to hold everything together despite William’s obvious deterioration.  Alex assigns himself the daunting task of trying to “fix” things and, in so doing, uncovers a veritable nest of vipers but it quickly becomes evident that, in order to “heal”, the hurts of the past must be confronted.  Perhaps his investigations are part of a displacement technique to avoid confronting his own demons, but his heart is most definitely in the right place.

    I was extremely impressed by this debut novel which is on a par with Michael Morpurgo’s best work, high praise indeed in a market where many try to emulate the “master” but inevitably fail miserably.  I will be passing on my copy to my children and will highly recommend it to librarians and our local primary and secondary schools.  This is most definitely a classic in the making and  I will be keen to see what Ruth comes up with next!

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