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Hitting rock bottom, hanging on, and coming back from the edge. Brian Conaghan has an incredible talent for telling it like it is. His characters are authentic and absorbing; flawed underdogs with serious troubles, like 17-year-old Maggie whose dad “drank his liver into a spreadable pâté”, and whose laid-off dinner lady mum is “gifted in the art of attracting pure dickheads”. And Maggie? Maggie’s “an island: the way I dress; the music I listen to; the patter my brain discharges; everything”. Maggie’s struggling to deal with the tragic loss of her best friend Moya whose death she feels excruciatingly guilty about. Moya was a “mad riot” of a girl, but as Maggie “couldn’t be arsed with all the love-struck vom” Moya was spewing, because she didn’t speak out against the Internet trolls, she believes she was a “failure friend”. Alongside her grief, guilt and self-harm, Maggie struggles with her mother’s severe depression, but also tingles with the hope that comes from starting art college: “now’s the time to make something of myself.” Indeed, she soon forms a band with new friends. Throughout, Maggie’s love of bands like The Smiths looms large, as does her relationship with her depressed mother. Maggie’s rage at her mother’s condition derives entirely from her primal love for her. She’s desperate for Mum to be happy, and her scheme to help her find happiness is heart-achingly poignant. Grief, depression, self-harm, online abuse, this novel is no walk in the park, yet it never drags the reader down. On the contrary. It’s sensitive, insightful, funny (Maggie is a master of biting one-liners), and genuinely uplifting as Maggie and Mum begin to find their way back to the world, with glinting prospects of love and new life.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month August 2019 | Temper tantrums are brilliantly visualised in this witty story about how Ravi deals with his. Poor Ravi! The youngest and smallest in the family he is always the slowest and the shortest and the last one to get what he wants. It makes him feel terrible! And when Ravi feels terrible he ROARS. His face goes red, he grows two furry ears, sharp teeth and a stripey tail. Now he can get what he wants but there is a price to pay: will anyone want to play with him? Tom Percival’s illustrations keep the message light hearted without trivialising it.
A stunningly original ocean adventure by a one-of-a-kind author whose work defies convention and abounds with a purity of ideas and execution. Kel was “always running away from something”, seeking escape “from the world she inhabited within and the world that bullied her from the outside”. She’s a swamper, born oceans apart from the wealthy tower people who live in the same Cornish coastal community. She’s also an unforgettable heroine, a girl with danger in her eyes, a baby to care for and “a stupid heart that beat wrong and was shaped wrong and had wrongness stretched clean through it”. Kel “didn’t want what the tower people had; she only wanted two things, a heart she could rely on and freedom from kin”, which is why she kidnaps Rose, the daughter of a cargo ship captain. Kel plans to use her ill-gotten gains to travel to South America to have a heart operation, because in the UK “swamp folk don’t get operations”. Aboard the ship Kel tracks down Rose and forces her to board a smaller vessel, soon running into trouble when the engine fails amidst scenes of devastation on the mainland. Steering clear of well-worn clichés, Carthew’s stories cut to the heart of human experience, often portraying and championing life’s underdogs and outsiders. What a thrilling, thought-provoking novel this is, brimming with perilous encounters, and the rawness of real-life relationships.
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.
Fast-paced and brimming with earthy atmosphere, this flavorsome feast follows the high-stakes quest of Lann and Astrid in their Viking-esque kingdom. It serves up a satisfying, easy-to-digest banquet that will be devoured by younger teens and reluctant readers who love high fantasy, but struggle with huge casts of characters and excessively complicated worlds. Lann is a foundling whose father turns on him following the death of his wife: “A curse, left by evil spirits to bring us misery!” he accuses. After encountering a terrifying wolf-man hybrid and losing his sight, Lann is taken-in by Fleya, a powerful witch to whom he has a close connection. Soon after, Lann takes-up the Dreadblade, one of the kingdom’s Swords of Destiny, which has been “woken from its torpor and desires to go about its work again”. His sight restored by the sword, Lann and the Dreadblade are now bound by fate. Meanwhile, across the kingdom, Astrid’s father, the king, has been murdered and she must find his killer before her brother is blamed for the crime. When Astrid’s life entwines with Lann’s, it falls to them to save the kingdom from the stirring evil. Alongside the thrill of monsters, witches and warring gods, the main characters have great appeal. Astrid is a fabulous, fiercely-minded young woman, and the loving, protective relationship between Fleya and Lann is brilliantly evoked.
August 2019 Debut YA Book of the Month | This unique, incisive novel is an emotionally engrossing road-trip reinvention of Moby Dick with female characters, and a gripping mystery about what main protagonist Dinah is running from to find her place to call home. Seventeen-year-old Dinah has lived her whole life on a commune and now feels compelled to flee everything she’s ever known. After being home-schooled, a recent period in mainstream schooling has turned her world upside-down, as has turbulent upheavals at home, and then there’s the mystery of what happened between Dinah and new friend Queenie. She shaves off her hair, adopts a new name and flees, illegally driving a VW campervan (her version of Moby Dick’s Pequod ship) with a cantankerous one-legged neighbour for company. While driving, Dinah confronts her many demons, most of which stem from her confusing sense of identity. She’s mixed race, but feels neither black nor white, and she’s attracted to boys and girls. The road is bumpy, with many revelations and confrontations along the way. Eventually, though, Dinah realises that “the road that took you away has led you all the way back home”. This is a smartly-crafted novel with real resonance, a story that honestly and empathetically imparts an uplifting message to “Always be yourself first…find yourself and be yourself”.
David Solomons is utterly brilliant, and My Cousin is a Time Traveller is a work of comedy genius. It’s full of pitch-perfect observational humour, with a plot that magnifies real fears (machines taking over the world) to ridiculous and hilarious levels (led by toasters and a washer-dryer*); and it packs more and better superhero in-jokes into one chapter than the Marvel film franchise has managed in its entire oeuvre. And there’s a terrifically exciting story too. Simply the best entertainment to be had between two covers. *after all, there’s more technology in the average washing machine than there was in the Apollo space programme that sent a rocket to the Moon.
What a luminously life-enhancing read this is. The story of ADHD afflicted underdog Felix, who “can’t concentrate or keep still”. His East German Granddad now (embarrassingly) drives the pink car that used to belong to his deceased Grandma, whose death has hit them all hard. Felix and Granddad’s grief is laid bare with heart-wrenching authenticity, but theirs is a complex relationship: “I love my granddad and I think he loves me, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.” After an altercation, Felix and Granddad forge an understanding, and look forward to a “neuangfang” (new start) that begins with a list of “Ten things I’d like to teach Felix”. Unfortunately, in Felix’s eyes Granddad’s list comprises the “ten more boring things in the world”, but Felix works through it until only the most dreaded activity remains - playing chess. He tries to wriggle out of it, but “crafty” Granddad has been surreptitiously teaching Felix chess skills and he’s soon hooked by the game, with unexpected positive side effects. A thrilling team tournament is followed waves of pulse-quickening twists that will thrust readers to the edge of their seats, heart in mouth. Throughout, the rollercoaster ride of primary school life - fallings out, friendship, fear of not fitting in - is explored in all its intense and comic complexity, and the representation of working class realisms is spot-on too. Felix’s mum and dad have both been “working stacks since Dad’s plumbing business went bust last year”. But, best of all, the magic of the relationship between children and their grandparents is dazzlingly conjured. I adored it.
July 2019 Book of the Month | It’s more than 150 years since the publication of Alice in Wonderland and it is delighting today’s readers as much as it ever has. Both a tribute to and a celebration of Lewis Carroll’s story, this collection includes new adventures by eleven favourite contemporary children’s authors, each of whom has been inspired by Alice. With such an extraordinary set of characters and scenes to take as starting points, the stories are wonderfully varied. Pamela Butchart chooses to write about the Queen of Hearts in a follow up story, while Swapna Haddow picks the Mock Turtle. There’s an environmental message in Lauren St John’s lively story ‘Plum Cakes at Dawn’, while Robin Stevens puts the real Alice into her Oxford set story. Together they make for a sparkling collection, one well worth tumbling back down the rabbit hole to enjoy.
Tilly loves stories and has firm favourites among their characters. She can so easily imagine conversations with Anne from Anne of Green Gables or Alice from Wonderland. But she never expects to actually meet them! When Tilly finds that she has entered the story herself – and particularly when she takes her friend Oskar with her too – she knows that something very strange indeed is happening. Can a trip to the wonderful Underlibrary sited deep in the British Library itself illuminate just what is happening to Tilly and how her beloved grandparents are involved too? Anna James weaves a richly invented story with great skill and makes every passionate reader’s greatest dream of being able to hang out with their favourite characters come true.
Being the person you want to be, proving detractors wrong, overcoming fears, and revealing the importance of seeing beyond stereotypes - beauty vlogger and dictionary-lover Tulip does all this and more in this hugely entertaining novel. While she’s frequently dismissed for being “stupid, vain and self-obsessed”, Tulip knows there’s no friction between being having a brain and being a successful vlogger. She adores the metamorphic magic of make-up, the fact you “can transform yourself ” and “make every day beautiful.” As Tulip points out to handsome posh boy Harvey when he belittles her passion, her vlog represents “creativity and hard work and self-expression.” Keen to prove that Harvey’s got her wrong, Tulip takes a place on his dad’s Bear Grylls-esque survival show. With Harvey as her team leader and her fellow contestants expecting her to fail, Tulip digs deep and surprises everyone with her resourcefulness and team-spirited outlook, but not before many comic mishaps, terrifying challenges and conflicted swirls of romance. Funny, gripping and with an inspirational feel-good feminist theme, this will have readers rooting for Tulip every step of the way.