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June 2021 Debut of the Month | A compelling, incendiary, and unputdownable thriller with a shocking twist, Faridah Abike-Iyimide delves deep into the heart of institutionalized racism with this compulsive debut. *** Find a must-read letter from Faridah to her readers, attached to the extract.
In a spare, poetic text, Nicola Davies shows how easy it is to label someone as ‘different’ and how easy it is to treat them badly once that has been done. But she also shows how a new child can turn that hostility round by introducing the special things from her own life. Cathy Fisher’s illustrations capture the powerful but understated point of the story perfectly making this apparently quiet book speak volumes.
Boyce in renowned for the humour and empathy in his novels – and this latest is definitely one of the most entertaining, engaging and just plain fun stories. Noah accidently ends up stowing away on his big sister’s school geography field trip. The trip was planned to visit the Orinoco Wonder Warehouse in Letterkenny but, due to the teacher (Mr Merriman) programming the satnav wrongly, the mini-bus he’s driving ends up on an island – and what appears to be an uninhabited island at that! Mr Merriman eventually appears to notice the island they are on is not the trips original destination – and leaves the children on the minibus at the top of a cliff whilst he goes to investigate. Unfortunately, he forgets to apply the handbrake properly! Happily, children being children, they have descended from the minibus just before it falls over the cliff… Having set this wonderful scene we hear how the children survive through a series of amusing letters from Noah to his parents – which he posts in a letterbox on the island. Strangely – as there never appears to be a collection – he gets replies. Whilst on the island it appears that Noah has broken the internet, and no-one has a phone connection – so the children are thrown back on their own ingenuity to survive. Noah also finds a treasure map and they all set off in search of the treasure having adventures along the way. With such a complex plot, with so many threads, it would be so easy for any lesser novelist to lose control of some elements, but Cottrell-Boyce has no such worries and keeps the reader engaged at all times. The humour is laugh out loud funny, with a heart-warming group of characters who develop throughout the story. Highly recommended – an engaging read that will keep readers spellbound.
May 2021 Book of the Month | Honest, authentic and (ultimately) uplifting, Holly Bourne’s The Yearbook will strike a powerful chord with young women on the brink of leaving secondary school. Realistically raw in its portrayal of toxic relationships (from poisonous school peers to abusive partners), with an underdog protagonist readers will wholeheartedly root for, and a sweet, slow-burning romance that will melt the most cynical of hearts, this is classic contemporary YA. Budding journalist Paige lives a lonely, isolated life - “the undeniable truth was that I was invisible as well as unlovable. Nobody could see me see me at all, let alone look at me and see the potential to store their heart there. People don’t fall in love with wallpaper. Or silence.” At the same time, her parents’ marriage shows the jeopardies of falling in love with the wrong person. She and her mum walk on eggshells around her erratic, coercively controlling dad who flips from jolly joker to enraged monster over the tiniest thing. At least Paige has the school newspaper to keep her occupied - until it’s hijacked by malicious narcissists from the official Leavers’ Committee who want to create a yearbook. As Paige’s family life disintegrates, she realises that the infiltrators steering the yearbook are re-writing history. The same goes for Paige’s dad and his ilk - people who think “they’re the hero of their own story, but, actually, in the pursuit of being so important, they’re often the villain of everyone else’s”. Thankfully, though, hope comes in the form of her independent-minded aunt Polly (“she seemed to genuinely care for me”) and soul-lifting Elijah, who supports Paige’s quest to find her voice and speak the truth after they meet through a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.
A group of children get together to turn a patch of waste ground into a playground. But their big plans are knocked off course when big feelings get in the way. What to do? ‘Talk it out, talk it through’ of course. After some straight talking, and some ‘sorrys’ the smiles are back and the kids are working together again. ‘Whatever we’re feeling, we’re never alone’ the story concludes and its message of empathy and problem-solving comes over loud and clear. The story works particularly well because the gang of children – different in every way – are so lively, appealing and real, and the playground they created a terrific reward for their hard work. This is a great book to inspire discussions around feelings, and the importance of listening and working together. Tom Percival’s Big Bright Feelings series is equally good for starting such discussions.
10-year-old Joy’s family have always travelled the world – Mum working as a nurse, Dad as a chef with Claude and Joy – sisters but totally different characters – until now. They have returned to the UK and are all crammed into Grandad’s house where normality reigns supreme! Both girls have to go to school – for the first time ever – and find it difficult to settle and find life as engaging as it used to be. Joy has always looked for silver-linings but at the moment she finds it incredibly hard to find any, until she meets Benny who becomes a firm friend. She and Benny met beneath an ancient tree in the school grounds – but then the local authority plans to tear the tree down. Can Joy find her silver-lining in such an awful plan? She and Benny start a fight for what they believe in – the future of the ancient tree. Written with all Valentine’s usual skill and empathy we are drawn into the world of Joy and her difficult transition to life without the globe-trotting. The characters are clearly drawn, with an authentic family dynamic. The perfect length for readers enjoying a longer read as their next step. This promises to be the first in a series, and I am sure Joy and her family, with their resilience and courage will have many fans.
May 2021 Book of the Month | Ten-year-old Billie Upton Green opens up her doodle diary to readers, and what a treat it proves: a fabulously lively and idiosyncratic record of an eventful couple of weeks in her life. When a new girl joins her class, Billie is determined to make her feel welcome, even though Janey seems a bit of a show-off. She’s disconcerted that Janey doesn’t know what it means to be adopted, like Billie, or that you can have two mums, also like Billie. It gets harder to like Janey though when it appears she’s stealing Billie’s best friend, Layla. This also seems, to Billie, to put Janey in the frame for a sudden spate of thefts at their school, but the culprit is someone else altogether and by the end of the book, Billie, Layla and Janey are firm friends, the three of them performing a special dance at Billie’s mums’ wedding. Readers will love Billie’s adventures, and her funny, doodle-filled way of sharing them, as much as they love the Dork Diaries or Wimpy Kid stories, and it’s great too to see such a warm celebration of diverse family life.
Fresh-voiced and thought-provoking contemporary YA exploring friendship, trust, messing up and trying to do the right thing in the aftermath of a teen girl going on the run with a teacher. Fabulously forthright Eden has always been the kind of student teachers “call ‘spirited’ when they're trying to be nice and 'disruptive' when they're not”. The last thing anyone expected was for her level-headed, flute-playing, star student bestie Bonnie to run off with the school music teacher, but that's exactly what happens, right before they're due to sit their GCSES, and Eden is the only one who knows where Bonnie is. She knows this is wrong, that Bonnie should come home, but she’s promised not to tell, and she can’t betray her friend. Bonnie was the one who made Eden feel at home in a new school when she was placed with a new foster family. Until Bonnie, Eden hadn't had a proper friend. And exploring friendship - how it feels, what it means, the joys, the obligations, the codes of loyalty - is at the heart of this involving novel. No one believes Eden when she says Bonnie hasn't been in touch, but how long can she keep lying? And what price will be paid for her loyalty, when she knows Bonnie is making a massive mistake? Alongside Eden’s struggle, understanding why Bonnie left is also thoughtfully explored - the pressures she put on herself to perform at school, the weight of expectation, the fears and doubts that made her more susceptible to grooming, the desire to feel understood. This novel tackles serious issues head-on, and with tremendous empathy, never shirking from the complexities of both Eden and Bonnie’s predicaments. Eden’s adoptive parents are a delight, as is her relationship with super-sweet boyfriend, Connor. They’re true friends, and the very model of a healthy relationship: loving, supportive and respectful of each other. Sara Bernard has done it again.
In Destination Anywhere, Sara Barnard explores love, life and friendship in this exquisite tale of the lengths one girl will go to to change her story. Peyton is pushed to the limit. She’s been bullied mercilessly at school. At sixth form college all she wants it to have friends like everyone else. But it seems that for her having friends comes at a cost. When those friends let her down in the worst possible way she decides to leave everything behind. She buys a one-way ticket to Vancouver on her dad’s credit card and sets off with her sketchpad and backpack to find happiness. But is escaping to Canada going to bring her friends – or just loneliness?
Sonny is playing in the sandpit when he finds a little pink bunny, so soft, so cute, so cuddly. Meemo the dog notices but Sonny won’t share Bub-Bun with anyone, so when we discover on the next page that Bun-Bun is actually Boo’s much loved Suki, what will Sonny do? Fortunately for all concerned – and in a useful lesson for readers – it’s the right thing, though it does take a while …. Caryl Hart’s story is a wonderfully accurate and very funny depiction of toddler behaviour and Zachariah Ohora’s illustrations capture the various emotions on display perfectly.
From the agonising loneliness of grief, to the wonders of new friendships and a newfound father-son bond, Cath Howe’s How to be Me will stir readers to joy as it steers through Lucas’s profound sadness. His pitch-perfect narration is sublimely child-centred, with fine details that raise smiles and tug the heart. Tender and thoughtful, what a warm beam of a book this is, with the transformative, restorative power of music (and cats) threaded throughout. “Vanessa’s going to be your new mum, Lukie. You could at least look a bit excited about it.” Lucas’s dad’s words strike him to the core - his mum died three years ago, and Vanessa is nothing like her, while his wealthy banker dad is hardly ever around. Dad is a bluster of confidence, busyness, and quick fixes, which is why he sends Lucas to drama club - Dad thinks this will fix Lucas’s reluctance to speak up in public, but Lucas is horrified: “Why hadn’t Dad asked me? Why did he never ask me?” But that’s the thing about Dad - he always thinks he knows best, though he doesn’t know Lucas at all. Thankfully, the horrors of drama class shrink when Lucas befriends Keely and her beautiful, bighearted family. Keely is a delight - straight-talking, observant, funny, caring. Life also looks up also when his drama teacher realises he’s an incredible pianist. With an enthralling finale that builds in beautiful waves, and an inclusive, readable style, I adored every word of this treasure.