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A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month September 2019 | | Sally Nicholls has a rare ability to tell a story from the past by making it both of its time and also accessible for today’s readers. Her characters are always credible people facing up to the great challenges of the day while her details of the period make her settings authentic too. Here, she takes a moment in history when the world was completely changed because of the number of people who died: 1349, the year of the Black Death. Thirteen year old Isobel tells her story, shying away from no details as she describes what she sees as the Plague strikes her family and the whole tight knit community of the Yorkshire village where she lives. Sally Nicholls pulls no punches in her telling of this dramatic story.
Jason Reynolds is the master of giving voice to children and teenagers who exist - and often struggle - on the margins of society. Against tough competition, this exceptional novel might be his finest yet. Matt has recently lost his beloved mom and feels excruciatingly lonely in his grief. By page two, when Matt comes home to a house that was “totally silent. And it had no smell,” the author encapsulates the raw invisibility of grief with visceral power. Haunted by how his mom made him feel “like the luckiest kid in the world...like I was somebody important”, and needing something to occupy his mind (and some cash), Matt takes a job helping family friend and funeral director Mr Ray, and unexpectedly finds that attending funerals and witnessing the grief of others makes him feel less alone. With his dad otherwise disposed after seeking solace in whiskey, Mr Ray is heart-meltingly supportive, reaching out to Matt while his “old man is getting himself together”. It’s at one of his work funerals that Matt begins to form a beautiful bond with Lovey, a young woman who’s experienced more pain and loss than even Matt can imagine. As Lovey opens Matt’s world and heart, they discover that they’re also bonded by a tragic moment that shaped both their lives. Readers will hope with all their hearts that Lovey and Matt’s futures are presaged by Bob Marley’s “every little thing gonna be alright” lyrics that ring out during a momentous shared taxi ride. Boldly honest and bathed in empathy, Matt’s all-consuming, touching tale possesses a rare power to leave a lasting imprint.
Aoife Walsh excels at creating stories about sprawling, blended contemporary families, exploring the tensions and love that hold them together with a sensitivity that is still always clear-eyed. Dallas’s family are all struggling after the death of her mother in an accident, the arrival of her impetuous aunt from Texas only adds to the stress. Dallas’s best friends Aiza and Ruby have their own issues to cope with too, but the three provide each other with real support. The campaign against the possible closure of the local library, loved by Dallas and her mum, provides a focus for her energy and allows her to work out what she wants. A poignant, convincing story with wonderful moments of humour and by the end Dallas and her family will feel like real friends.
June 2019 Debut of the Month | Children who like reading will love this gentle story. Milly’s favourite thing is story time at her local bookshop. She’s been going since she was very little and the shop owner Mrs Minty can always recommend the perfect book. Milly likes helping in the shop too and she notices it’s looking older and shabbier than it used to. When the bookshop suddenly closes, Milly can’t bear the thought it might not reopen, and her response prompts other people to make their feelings known too. With gorgeous atmospheric full colour illustrations, the story is warm and reassuring and a testament to the power of stories and the importance of community. A lovely book to share.
April 2018 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: Falling Angels | Rising Hope | Falling in Love Compelling magic realist debut in which a fallen angel named Teacake helps heal a teen girl’s grief. Across the world angel-like Beings are falling from the sky. Their winged bodies seep golden blood on impact with the earth, and then they die. In the aftermath of the first sightings, the world exploded in an apocalyptic frenzy, yielding religious cults and angel-exploiting money-makers. Alongside this, Jaya is also dealing with a personal apocalypse – the sudden death of her mother. While Jaya struggles with her guilt-ridden grief, and with losing contact with Leah, the best friend who might also have been her girlfriend, she’s also irritated by her dad’s fanatical angel-chasing. But, as things turn out, it’s Jaya who’s there when an angel falls, and, for the first time, this angel survives. Angels don’t exist in Jaya’s mum’s Hindi religion so she pushes aside any thoughts that this is somehow a sign. But amidst the frenzy of the Edinburgh festival and the aggressive fanaticism of the Standing Fallen cult, Jaya does everything she can to protect this shimmering rose-gold Being from harm. The angels are never explained, or fully understood, but that isn’t necessary, for this isn’t about hard scientific facts, this is about matters of the soul. It’s a charming debut, radiant with humanity and heart. ~ Joanne Owen
Longlisted for the UKLA 2018 Book Award | | Susin Nielsen puts her protagonists through the most terrible situations, but always manages to keep the tone of her novels light, positive and ultimately uplifting. Teenager Petula’s little sister died in tragic circumstances and the effect on the family has been shattering: her parents are both coping in their own way, but growing further apart, while Petula sees danger and threats in everything. Because of her terrible anxiety she’s been signed up to a youth art therapy group which is where she meets Jacob. Jacob has his own tragedy to deal with, but his arrival changes the dynamics of the group and helps all the different members to move on in one way or another. He and Petula become a couple, but there’s a growing realisation for her and readers that he’s not been completely honest. Readers will be gripped by Petula’s story and the way she tells it; Nielsen gives her a totally authentic teen voice, loaded with cynicism, sarcasm, humour and flashes of hope. Recommended for readers who enjoy Nielsen’s poignant, sensitive novels is I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloane.
January 2018 Debut of the Month High school student Dill knows what it is to feel “the crushing weight of destiny”. His granddad went mad after a copperhead viper killed his daughter, and his dad, a fanatical Pentecostal minister, makes his congregation handle deadly serpents to prove their faith. While his father is now in prison for a terrible crime, Dill feels shackled by these family demons, and also by poverty, bullying and a fiercely religious mum who blames Dill for his father’s imprisonment. Dill also knows he’s lucky to have friends like Travis and Lydia. While staff-wielding Travis finds sanctuary from his violent drunk of a dad in fantasy books, Lydia is an energetic fashion blogger from the right side of the tracks. But everything shifts as the three friends embark on their last year of high school. Lydia is all set to study journalism in New York, Travis is excited about his burgeoning relationship with a fellow fantasy geek, but Dill has no hope for his future. He’s terrified of losing Lydia, and terrified that he’s already been poisoned by his family’s legacy. He finds some solace in song-writing but, when tragedy strikes, Dill descends to a very dark place and it takes supreme strength and love to untangle himself from the strangling grip of grief and despair. This southern gothic story about small-town small-mindedness, religious fanaticism, wrestling family demons and the redemptive power of friendship really is an exquisite gem; an unforgettably haunting tale that imprints itself on your heart. ~ Joanne Owen
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month January 2018 An eye-opening book, The Girl Who Saw Lions (originally published as Abela) is the touching and profound story of two girls who apparently have nothing in common. The two girls tell their own stories. Abela, growing up in Tanzania, is surrounded by suffering. Her father has already died and now her mother and her baby sister are desperately ill. When they die too, Abela is sent off to England and an uncertain future as an illegal immigrant. Rosa, growing up in England, has everything she could possibly want. There is no reason why these two should become sisters. Their individual stories and the story of how they come together through adoption make a beautiful, satisfying and complete story. ~ Julia Eccleshare Julia Eccleshare's Picks of the Month for January 2018 Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by by Mem Fox Words and Your Heart by Kate Jane Neal Emmeline and the Plucky Pup by Megan Rix Whatever Next! by Jill Murphy The Girl Who Saw Lions by Berlie Doherty The Poesy Ring by Bob Graham
AND THEN THERE WERE SHOTS. Everybody ran, ducked, hid, tucked themselves tight. Pressed our lips to the pavement and prayed the boom, followed by the buzz of a bullet, didn't meet us. After Will's brother is shot in a gang crime, he knows the next steps. Don't cry. Don't snitch. Get revenge. So he gets in the lift with Shawn's gun, determined to follow The Rules. Only when the lift door opens, Buck walks in, Will's friend who died years ago. And Dani, who was shot years before that. As more people from his past arrive, Will has to ask himself if he really knows what he's doing. This haunting, lyrical, powerful verse novel will blow you away.
In a nutshell: dark, spellbinding fantasy from a master of the form Holly Black’s new series stars a girl caught between the human and the Faerie worlds. Jude was just a child when she witnessed the murder of her parents by Madoc, a Faerie lord. Madoc took Jude and her sisters back to Elfhame with him and brought them up as his own. Jude is reminded constantly of her position as an outsider and a rivalry with the arrogant Prince Cardan seems to offer the means to prove herself as she desperately wants; instead it leads her into a deadly court intrigue. Jude is a fascinating character, stubborn, brave, defined by her powerlessness and her obsession with finding power, and this is fantasy adventure at its brilliant, intelligent, thought-provoking best. Readers who enjoy The Cruel Prince must also read Philip Reeve’s Railhead books and Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series. ~ Andrea Reece
Longlisted for the UKLA 2018 Book Award In a nutshell: the unbeatable power of the imagination | Piers Torday’s beautifully written book is an extraordinary allegory, a story of courage and love, and of the life-affirming importance of stories. It’s Christmas Eve and Mouse, his sisters and mum are driving across the snowy moors to his grandparents’ house when their car plunges off the road. Thrown clear Mouse begins a journey for help, but as a knight in one of the fantasy stories that mean so much to him in real life. It’s an epic journey too, full of strange characters, friends and enemies alike, and despite the dreamlike atmosphere the reader is never in any doubt as to how dangerous it is, or how much depends on Mouse reaching the castle. Not many books change readers’ views of the world, this might be one of them. ~ Andrea Reece
June 2017 Debut of the Month | In a Nutshell: Love, loss, friendship and secrets A tear-jerking, soul-stirring, heart-warming debut about losing a sister, and the ensuing aftermath of grief and mystery. Sixty-five days have passed since Juniper’s effervescent big sister, Camilla, was killed in a car crash on their way home from a party. Since that devastating event, she’s been holding herself together by rating each day on cards in her Happiness Index. No wonder then, that losing one of the cards throws Juniper into further turmoil, especially when this particular card reveals a secret she’d rather no one knew. While frantically searching for the missing card - befriending bad-boy Brad as she does so - Juniper is also determined to discover the identity of her sister’s secret love. The mystery surrounding Juniper’s missing card untangles compellingly, as do the personal revelations (sometimes hard-coated bad boys have the softest of centres). While the novel doesn’t shirk from showing the shattering effects of loss, Juniper’s desire to help others, her zesty, sardonic outlook, and the friendships she forms, are hugely uplifting. The characters feel poignantly true-to-life, making this a richly rewarding must-read for fans of Jandy Nelson and aficionados of authentically-voiced contemporary YA. ~ Joanne Owen