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Nominated for the Carnegie Medal | Set in the author’s native Wales during the dark days of the fifth century, Ellen Caldecott’s The Short Knife is an energetic, edge-of-your-seat page-turner with present-day resonance as 21st-century Britain - island of migrants - faces the challenge of forging an identity independent of continental Europe. With the Romans compelled to leave Britain after 400 years, the island is on the brink of collapse. Amidst this uncertainty and the chaos of Saxon invasion, thirteen-year-old Mai is cared for by her dad and sister (she lost her mam when she was three), and wrestling with her “anger at the people free to flee into the hills. Anger at all the world and everyone in it. I want to open my mouth and let the fire out, burn it all into blackness.” When Saxon warriors turn up at their farm, the family is forced to flee to the dangerous hills themselves. Mai must cross the threshold from childhood to adulthood if she’s to survive in a hostile world in which speaking in her mother tongue might turn out to be fatal. The cinematic scene-setting, first person narrative, and succinct, magnetically lyrical style make for a thrilling experience that will hook the most reluctant of readers. Recommended for fans of Caroline Lawrence and Damian Dibben’s The History Keepers series, this offers enlightening insights into British history with fresh flair, and through the eyes of a compelling main character.
A profound, powerful and moving collection of 100 letters from around the world responding to the climate crisis, introduced by Emma Thompson and lovingly illustrated by CILIP award winner Jackie Morris.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | Shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award 2019 | Empathetic, insightful and buzzing with drama, the brilliant Jenny Downham has done it again in this vital, true-to-life treasure about a young woman’s struggle to stand up to her bully-boy stepfather.“She threw things and slammed things and swore. She was clumsy and rude and had no friends. Her teachers thought her dim-witted. Her family despaired.” On the verge of turning sixteen, Lexi is a firework of frustration. Her furious outbursts are getting worse now John, her soon-to-be-stepdad, has taken over their family home, and his son – Lexi’s best friend (and long-time crush…) – has moved away to uni. On top of that, her younger half-sister is John’s favoured child, while she’s blamed for everything that goes wrong, including - most viciously of all - what happened to her beloved granddad. It’s no coincidence that the intensification of Lexi’s rage coincides with John’s increasingly coercive behaviour. Thanks to his constant criticism and angry desire to have everything exactly how he likes it, Lexi can see that her mum has become a shadow of herself. Trapped in this unbearable situation – one in which no one listens or believes her - what else can Lexi do but kick out?Interwoven with fairy tale motifs that combine to create a satisfying whole at the novel’s heartrending climax, this is a brilliantly exacting exposé of coercive control and emotional abuse, and a powerful portrayal of a young woman’s refusal to give in. Lexy is a dazzlingly-created character that readers will root for and empathise with. Her battle to break the abuse elicits much compassion and sympathetic fury, while her irrepressible wit provokes plenty of laughs.
February 2021 Book of the Month | Forna has taken her own experiences of sexism and racism that she experienced as a woman from Sierra Leone living in the US on which to base this novel. This has created a powerful depiction of the oppression and cruelty meted out to women who are different from a society’s accepted roles. Set in the patriarchal fantasy world of Otera, this is based in an ancient kingdom, where a woman’s worth is only as good as her proven purity. This purity is proven by the woman being made to bleed – in a brutal ceremony when they reach the age of 16. When Deka bleeds gold this is deemed the colour of impurity, and she is declared a demon. Not only is she thrust out of the home and society she has known since birth, but she is also subjected to unspeakable acts of brutality and violence by the ruling priesthood. The fact Deka does not die from all the brutality gives one hope she is different and may have some role in the future of Otera. This proves so – Deka is rescued and taken to a training ground for women where she finds a friendship and sisterhood amongst others also found to be impure. As they train the ‘impure’ girls are paired with soldiers from the Imperial jatu fighting force – and some form deep and lasting friendships with their partners. The characters here are hugely diverse with Black, Asian and Brown main, and minor characters, with a recognition of diverse sexuality too. The power of this novel is in the strong, horrifying but ultimately hopeful end of this story. There is much violence – in both punitive killing and re-killings of demons by the priests, but also in the violent backstories of some of the girls (including an instance of rape.) The book explores themes of feminist possibility whilst being based in a fantasy world taking inspiration from ancient West African culture. A powerful read, not for the faint-hearted but very definitely giving hope for the future, showing that there is a place to be whatever you wish to be – homemaker or fighter. This is a strong start to what promises to be a trilogy.
February 2021 Book of the Month | Renée Watson is one of my favourite contemporary YA writers and her latest novel, Love is a Revolution, embodies everything that makes her stories shine - it’s honest, relatable, driven by an inspiring Black girl, and sparkles with a self-empowerment vibe. Nala’s summer plans are sent reeling when she goes to an open mic night for her “cousin-sister-friend” Imani’s birthday, an event organised by the Harlem Inspire community project Imani is heavily involved with. Here Nala fall head-over-heels for committed activist Tye and finds herself telling little white lies to impress him - that she’s vegan, that she’s running a big project at her Jamaican Grandma’s Senior Living residence. Talking of Grandma, I especially loved the book’s beautiful portrayal of inter-generational relationships - the shared wisdom, the compassion and kindness, the sense of family and community, and Nala’s body positive exuberance is uplifting too. Her disorientation and self-doubt derive from elsewhere, like not knowing what she wants to do with her life, and feeling she’s not good enough, not quite worthy of Tye’s love. Though fireworks explode when Nala’s fibs are found out, after taking Grandma’s advice on-board to the empowering soundtrack of her favourite musician, she discovers that self-love and self-care are forms of revolution - they’re her route to transformative self-acceptance through embracing who she really is.
Chosen as our Guest Editor, Francesca Simon's Book of the Month | An extraordinary, powerful, and important book, based on the true story of how Liz Kessler’s father escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe thanks to a British couple his family had met once. But what elevates this book about three friends and their different fates in World War Two is the story of Max, the nice, ordinary boy who gradually becomes seduced into hatred and prejudice. The ringing question, ‘What would I do under these circumstances?’ echoes on every page. ~ Francesca Simon
This book is set 17 years before the action in Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give – showing how Star’s father in THUG became the man he is. Maverick is an average teenage boy in the Garden Heights area – selling drugs to help the budget at home as his father is in prison. His Mum works two and sometimes three jobs to try to make ends meet – and Maverick knows he needs to graduate High School to stand any chance of becoming the man he wants to be. That is, until he discovers he is a father, and the baby’s mother can’t cope and hands baby Seven (named after Maverick’s lucky number) to Maverick to care for. The difficulties of being a single parent, and the strong community who try to rally to Maverick’s aid are wonderfully depicted in this powerful exploration of what it is to be a teen parent. But, it is never so simple as the community pulling together, Maverick also has to turn away from his gang life, standalone – but then his cousin Dre, who was more like a brother, is killed in a gangland shooting and dies in Maverick’s arms. This is such a powerful book – totally honest in its appreciation of the difficulties of life, but so filled with humanity you cannot help but root for Maverick, even when you are scared what he might choose to do. This is one of those books that stay with you – that will change people’s thinking, highlighting as it does some of the social injustices of growing up young and black in today’s world. Read it, then read The Hate u Give – if you haven’t already read it!
So, so readable, Of Ants and Dinosaurs with the lightest and brightest of touches, made my brain itch with its creativity and klaxon alarm. Perfect for readers from young adult on, this sets itself as a “satirical fable, a political allegory and ecological warning”. In a time long long ago ants and dinosaurs joined forces to build a magnificent civilisation, when doom threatens will the dinosaurs listen to the ants? Cixin Liu is China’s number one science-fiction writer and his The Three-Body Problem was the first translated novel to win a Hugo award. I just love the cover, and the ants marching across the chapter pages had me smiling. As soon as I started to read my attention was well and truly caught. The prologue sets the scene with wonder and I read and believed without a moments doubt. While portraying the ant and dinosaur alliance, there is very much a warning to the human race here. Deceptively simple and brilliantly clever, I simply adored it.
Selected for The Book Box by LoveReading4Kids | From the author of Fall Out, Gut Feelings is a powerful autobiographical novel-in-verse charting a boy’s life-changing operation at the age of eleven through to his hopeful young adulthood as a gay man. Sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sarah Crossan and Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo, it’s both beautifully written and easy to read, with an impactful, unsentimental voice. There’s no self-pity here, despite the harrowing nature of what he endures. Diagnosed with FAP (Familial adenomatous polyposis, a rare genetic condition in which a person develops precancerous polyps in the large intestine), Chris must have a total colectomy. His state of fear, isolation and loneliness is palpable as he describes the enemas and bedsores, and the morphine which evaporates his “maelstrom of fears, failures, social pressures”. Recovering in hospital, well-meaning visitors “have no idea what it’s like/To be confined to this prison, Bars lining the windows, Double glazing boxing me in - These familiar faces have/No idea how to reach me”. Then, once home, he feels abandoned: “The surgery has fixed me - I’m no longer worthy/Of attention and support.” And this isn’t the first time Chris has experienced adversity, for alongside the direct, detached exposition of his present-day existence, we learn of Chris’s troubled background - the father who had a debilitating stroke, the school peers who bullied him. Then, in time, through the darkest of days, comes a turning point when he realises that “Some will accept me, Some will reject me/But I must learn to love myself Because I am done with fitting in” and he shifts towards renewal and hope - “I’ll keep writing, Keep learning/Until I am/Free to embrace Who I am.” Illuminating on living with chronic invisible illness, this story lingers long in the soul, and special mention must go to the book’s design and layout, with letters and words perfectly positioned as visual markers of emotional states.
Voiced by three unforgettable characters – Frankie, Jojo, and Ram, Frankie’s ex boyfriend - whose lives are inextricably bound by unexpected, life-changing circumstances, this impactful novel sparkles with heart, hope and a riveting storyline. Jojo and Frankie have been best friends since forever. Both promising actresses, their lives are on the brink of new horizons, so when Jojo doesn’t turn up to collect her GCSE results, Frankie is frantic with worry. Then, when she eventually hears from Jojo, and also hears a baby crying in the background, Frankie puts two and two together to get six. Could Jojo be responsible for the stolen baby that’s being reported on the local news? Fearing the worst, Frankie does what she must for her dear friend. She tracks her down and discovers an unimaginable truth that truly tests their relationship. Radiant with uplifting portrayals of friendship, and demonstrating that it’s possible to find a way through even the most seemingly impossible situations, this poignant page-turner packs a whole lot of punch in the author’s inimitably empathetic style. Of particular note is the way the novel shows that adults don’t always have the right answer, that life can be confusing no matter what your age, which demonstrates Williamson’s singular respect for her YA readers - she never talks down, and always writes in a spirit of openness.