Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Island by M.A. Bennett

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Extract:

It was actually John Donne, not my Dad, who said:

‘No man is an island, entire of itself.’ 

I say:

If John Donne said that, then John Donne didn’t know about English schools.

(The Island by M.A. Bennett. P38.)

 

 

Synopsis:

Only one thing matters at Osney School. Sport. New boy Link finds it impossible to settle in after he is ranked lowest in a school-wide challenge. A single aspect of the curriculum defines Link’s place in the school society. He is the bag-carrier. The butt of every joke. Not a single person dares to befriend him.

Link decides he is not going back to school. Then the plane crashes.

Link and six classmates are stranded on a remote island. Will their social roles remain fixed away from Osney?

 

Review:

The Breakfast Club meets Lord Of The Flies in this chilling and intelligent novel. Following on from STAGs was always going to be a challenge but MA Bennett has confirmed herself as a great storyteller. The Island is darker. Those are the last words I expected to say when STAGs was about teenagers chasing each-other as blood sports. However, in STAGs we followed the three good guys. The victims were blameless and heroic. The Island is more complex.

At school, Link is bullied, ostracised and shunned. His experience lasts for years and is traumatic. Does that make him a saint? Does it heck. This novel examines teenage psychology in more depth than any novel I have read. The high school experience of cliques and gangs defines us and destroys many people’s confidence. This is the overriding theme of the novel. To what extent does your place in one society define your character?

It is the sort of intelligent which raises goosebumps.

Aside from the iPhones, the other major difference between Lord Of The Flies and The Island is the presence of girls. MA Bennett gets right under the skin of patriarchal societies and attitudes, looking at how the behaviour of individual males has led to male-dominance.

MA Bennet examines her themes in depth and is the master of character-creation. She is one of the most exciting new voices in YA fiction and I look forward to seeing what she writes next.

 

Thank you to ReadersFirst and Hot Key Books for my copy of The Island. Opinions my own.

 

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Middle Grade Reviews · Young Adult Reviews

Review: Jinxed by Amy McCulloch (Amy Alward)

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Extract:

I think about Companioneers Crescent, the road we would have moved into if my dad had not … disappeared. If I’d gotten into Profectus, I could have guaranteed a good life for Mum and myself. A big house. A good job for life. Life-long benefits. But once I graduate St Agnes I will have to leave Monchaville, or else get a Moncha job suitable for a beetle baku owner.

(Jinxed by Amy McCulloch.)  birdSynopsis:

Lacey Chu dreams of working for Moncha, the technology company responsible for creating baku. Baku are like pets, except they also function as a smart-phone. Nearly all employees at Moncha came through Profectus Academy. When Lacey receives a rejection it seems like the end of the world. She’ll be stuck at St Agnes school with a low-level baku. Her future is over.

Then Lacey finds and repairs a cat baku and her life starts to change. First she receives a notification that the rejection was a mistake. Lacey is off to Profectus with an extraordinary baku.

What is Jinx? Is he an ordinary robotic pet or does he have a secret? Could that secret endager everything Lacey has worked for?

birdReview:

An action-packed adventure from the creators of The Potion Diary. Jinxed is the first book in an exciting new series. We’re all addicted to our smart-phones. Sometimes this comes at the expense of interaction with other people and with the world around us. Jinxed takes this truth and builds on it. What if someone found a way for our smart-phones to behave like real animal companions?

Profectus is a great setting. It is an anti-Hogwarts. Instead of arriving and finding the house where you belong, students at Profectus are constantly pitted against each other to prove themselves number one. This competitive environment and the elite nature of the school made some interesting commentary on social advantage. This theme is continued with the bakus – to achieve anything in life, people need a level 3 baku but this is out of reach on most salaries. I will be interested to see whether this theme returns later in the series because it has been set-up as something of an undercurrent to the main action.

Lacey is a believable character. Lots of her story centres around her conflict. She is so driven to achieve her single dream that it sometimes overshadows other areas of her life. Moving to a new school separates her from her long-time friend and school-life quickly takes over. Students at Profectus are forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement – they swear not to reveal anything they are taught about Moncha. There are secrets at Moncha which certain people would rather keep under wraps.

Jinx is nothing like other baku. He refuses to follow commands and is always ready with a smart answer. Some interesting questions are raised about artificial intelligence. At what point does simulated life become real life? That Jinx is a robotic cat is perfect – cats are independent-minded.

An excellent story and a wonderful start to a series. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK Children’s Books for my ARC. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews · Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Trilogy Of Two by Juman Malouf

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Extract: 

‘…Kats von Stralen is stealing children’s talents. He’s found a way to detach a Talent from a child’s heart before the two become one – using the Felis Catus.’

(The Trilogy Of Two by Juman Malouf. P70.)

birdSynopsis:

Identical twins Sonja and Charlotte are musical prodigies. Music is their gift and it is the most important part of their life. The girls have never known about their birth parents – they were found one night by Tatty the Tattooed Lady who brought them to the circus and raised them as her own.

Then mysterious things start to happen when the girls play their instruments. These movements and vibrations put them on the radar of the Enforcers. Forced to run, the girls set off on a journey through the Seven Edens – perilous magical lands which turn out to be real. They must learn the secrets of their past if they hope to play their music again.birdReview:

The Trilogy Of Two is an enigmatic and unusual book. If you liked the slightly kooky ensembles and events in A Series Of Unfortunate Events you will love the setting in The Trilogy Of Two. Spooky Twins on the run from outlandish baddies. This is enhanced by illustrations of the strange and unexpected. I imagine a number of people will by the book for the design and art alone. It is a beautiful thing.

The girls’ magic is stolen and they must journey into the Seven Edens for a solution.  Antagonists are established – the seriously creepy Kats Von Stralen and the Enforcers. The set-up was my favourite part. The journey through the Seven Edens is whimsical and imaginative but I found the story slower in this part. If you enjoy books which take in the scenery you will love this part. 

Charlotte and Sonja’s relationship as twins is well-explored – the friction between wanting to be together and wanting separate identities. I also loved their relationship with Tatty, the woman who raised them like a mother.

The idea of a world in which children’s artistic talents are stolen in favour of them working in factories was depressingly familiar and communicated something which happens in our world. If we fight against magical baddies who steal children’s talents, why don’t we fight government ministers who make cuts to the arts? Juman Malouf’s fairytale may be whimsical but it is rooted in real sentiments.

 

Thanks to Pushkin Press for my copy of The Trilogy Of Two. Opinions my own.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews · Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Cradle Of All Worlds (The Jane Doe Chronicles) by Jeremy Lachlan

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Extract:

‘…Your future had obviously been set in stone long before you fell through the Manor doors. It was as if you were destined to be held accountable for the Night of All Catastrophes.’ 

(The Cradle Of All Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan. P80.)

birdSynopsis:

Fourteen years ago Jane Doe and her father arrived in Bluehaven on the steps of the Manor – the entrance to a labyrinth which connects many worlds. On the same night, the earthquakes started. Bluehaven has been torn apart and Jane and her father have been despised ever since.

When Jane’s life is endangered, the strongest quake ever hits and the Manor is reopened. Adventurer Winifred Robin takes Jane to the entrance to the labyrinth and tells her to run. There is only one problem – once Jane is in the labyrinth there is no guarantee she will get out. Doors to Otherworlds aren’t wide open and the labyrinth has been colonised by a terrible villain and his army. Jane’s quest begins – she must learn about her past, find her father and save all the worlds.

birdReview:

You need to read this book.

Sometimes a book comes along and you think ‘this is going to be something’. I felt that way when I read Abi Elphinstone’s first novel and I feel this way now. Every part of the adventure kept me hooked and the worldbuilding is stunning.

Did you ever read The Magician’s Nephew? In this old classic the children jump into new worlds through pools of water. The worlds are connected by The Wood Between The Worlds – one of the most memorable yet underexplored settings in fantasy. The Labyrinth in The Cradle Of All Worlds is a similar place – it connects multiple worlds – yet Lachlan has understood its potential as a setting in its own right. Making the doors to the Otherworlds difficult to access turned this setting into something extraordinary. Potentially it is a gateway to anywhere but it is also a trap. Throughout the novel we want to know where Jane will end up. How.

There is a trio of main characters, as in many stories, but the relationships between these characters are not the easily-made friendships which are more usual in children’s fantasy. It is common for a little friction to lead to a deep and trusting bond. Jeremy Lachlan’s characters? There’s friction until the very last page and it works. While friendships are wonderful, I found these frenemies fascinating. We don’t always get along with people in life but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together. I always wondered how this would play out in a saving-the-universe situation.

There is a hint at future F/F romance between two of the lead characters. Yep, a hint. Not explored. Not analysed. Set-up like any romance in any trilogy. It is glorious. I’m rooting for them all the way.

Fantasy villains run the risk of becoming pantomime characters, popping up at random and not really scaring anyone. Roth isn’t like that. He has powers to rival a hundred dementors, powers which hold his villains in a psychological prison. People sense him before they see him. A burn in the throat. An itch on the skin. Bile. The scent of rancid meat. He conceals his real face behind a shiny white mask. If you want a villain who genuinely sends a shiver down your spine, this is the book for you.

When we learn about the creation of this world – no spoilers – it is one of the most compelling creation myths ever written. The past is integral to the future of this story, from the story of creation to the books written by people who have adventured through the Labyrinth and into Otherworlds.

The Jane Doe Chronicles is a masterpiece. An original word, a compelling adventure and a creation story to blow your mind. Prepare to read into the night.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Floored (collaborative)

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Review – Floored (Collaborative)

Synopsis: 

The swot. The fraud. The dutiful daughter. The child star. The fangirl. The asshole. Six teenagers are at the scene when a man collapses in a lift. None of them have the skills necessary to save his life. Although the teenagers come from totally different worlds – and have different aspirations – they recognise the significance of the moment and keep in touch via social media.

The group meets every year on the anniversary of the man’s death. Romances are formed and broken, lives change and change again and the group becomes a larger part of their lives with every passing year.

One Day meets YA-literature in this explosive collaboration.

birdReview:

Floored is one of the most highly anticipated UKYA novel of the year. Written between seven YA authors, the question buzzing around the bookish community is which author wrote which character? Six characters and a narrator. We know that it is one author to one voice. The rest is secret. The buzz this has caused is publicity-gold.

The story follows a group of young people across five years. They come from different walks of life but they discover similarities as well as differences. 

One of the things I liked about Floored was its current-day themes. In the wake of Brexit social divisions have become more apparent. Politicians and national publications fail to understand anyone outside the metropolitan elite. Floored captures these attitudes and gives them faces. Joe, who wants to distance himself from the town where aspiration means becoming a supervisor. Hugo, who thinks people without money are lazy scroungers. Floored is a book of its time and it challenges its readers to see past those divisions. 

To clarify – this is not a political book. It is not about Brexit or Trump or left VS right. It is a book about people. It is about young people in Britain today.

All of the voices are distinctive. I particularly enjoyed the introduction, where we saw how each character had become entrenched in one way of thinking. Joe wants to escape his hometown. Sasha wants her father’s approval. Hugo doesn’t want anything to change – he just wants to trog through the system until he too has a high-flying job. I loved how the characters bounced off one-another, changing each other’s outlook and self-perception. 

I have said for years that UKYA needs more books aimed at the oldest end of its (target/marketing) audience. This gap seems to have been noticed and Floored is one of the books which fills that space. It looks at the transition from teenager to young adulthood and the different routes journeys people take. 

Did I have strong feelings about the relationships in the novel? I was more interested in the friendships and the trajectories of the individual characters. Dawson’s relationships interested me most because they were so much a part of his self-discovery.

A story about young people redefining themselves. Redefining each-other. I recommend this if you enjoy character-driven fiction or contemporary stories with a large cast.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Bookshop Girl by Chloe Coles

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Extract:

…if Bennett’s Greysworth were to go, then we’d have to get a train to the nearest bookshop. And I wouldn’t get a staff discount or first dibs on any of those books. I wouldn’t be able to sit behind the counter in those bookshops, pretending to enjoy coffee, and dipping into a book that makes me look sophisticated and intellectual. 

(Bookshop Girl by Chloe Coles. PP. 21 – 22.) 

birdSynopsis:

Bennett’s bookshop has been Paige’s refuge for as long as she can remember. It gave her a place to escape the dull prospects of her hometown, it introduced her to other worlds and it gave her a Saturday job. Now the bookshop is due to close. Soon there will be nothing left on the high-street except cheap shoes and buskers.

Paige and her friend Holly vow to fight. They start an online petition to save the bookshop. Meanwhile, Paige is dealing with a major crush on art-school student Blaine Henderson. Will his belief in anarchy make or break the protest?

birdReview:

A contemporary novel perfect for fans of The Exact Opposite Of OK and It Only Happens In The Movies. A witty and wise-cracking protagonist faces up to situations which highlight modern issues.

The major theme is the affect high-street closures have on a town. The story looks particularly at easy access to books – Paige’s local library cuts its hours at the same time that Bennett’s announces its closure. Cutting access to books – access for everyone, because what the middle classes often forget is not everyone has the internet – affects literacy and aspiration. Paige lives in an area of low employment. Reading can open doors. It shows people other worlds. Beyond that, reading allows us to face our own insecurities. It dares us to change our lives and to believe in ourselves.

Blaine Henderson is an interesting character. He comes in like the typical boyfriend in a YA romance – boy walks in, girl experiences palpitations and can’t stop thinking about said boy. His character develops in a way which is more interesting than typical YA boyfriends. Blaine is an artist. He believes in anarchy, in the total freedom of the individual. Without any spoilers, the big question is whether his beliefs might save Bennett’s.

A  chatty, laugh-out-loud novel packed with contemporary references. It is lovely to see a YA novel which celebrates bookshops and bookish culture. With a second installment already in the works, Paige Turner (yes, really) is your new YA BFF.  

 

Thanks to ReadersFirst and Hot Key Books for my copy of Bookshop Girl. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Q&A: Author Melvin Burgess

Q&A: YA Author Melvin Burgess answers some questions. 

51ffcqken9l-_sx323_bo1204203200_I am delighted to welcome Melvin Burgess to my blog. His title – the Godfather of young adult fiction – is justly earned. Burgess’s fiction approached subjects and styles which appealed to a young adult audience years before YA was recognised as a category. Burgess is one of the most versatile YA authors. He has written about drugs, Vikings, WW2 and virginity. His forthcoming novel – The Lost Witch – is a fantasy about a young woman with visions who doesn’t know who to trust. Should she believe her parents, who tell her she is hallucinating, or the mysterious strangers who tell her she has the power of a witch. 

NYALitFest – The Supernatural And The Strange

Melvin Burgess will appear at NYALitFest – The Supernatural And The Strange on Saturday 21st July. Regular readers will remember how impressed I was with the first NYALitFest earlier this year. The line-up for the forthcoming event is equally impressive and I can’t wait to hear more. Tickets are still available here. 

A big thanks to Melvin Burgess for your time. 

bird

Interview with Melvin Burgess

Q: Bea is a skater. What made you think of a skater-witch?
A: I always think of skating as an alt hobby – little bit different,
little bit left of field. How else would a witch spend their spare time? My
witches have a relationship with the spirit world, that’s where they
get their magic from. But if they were the storybook kind with spells
and black cat, I reckon they’d have replaced their brooms with a
skateboard by now.
 
Q: Your story is set in the modern day, yet it is a story of
ancient powers. Why did you decide to set it in the modern day?
 
A: The past has already happened, it’s safe. the future isn’t even here
yet – but the present is right where you are. I like my stories to have
an edge – I like it so that you never really know what’ll happen next.
Yes- the present is definitely my favourite tense.
– Being disbelieved by her parents is as frightening to Bea as
being hunted. 
 
Q: Can you tell us more about the psychological story?
A: In that first part of the book, it’s all about who Bea is are, who
she belongs to, who she belongs with. As you grow up you gradually find
your parents play a smaller role in your life, but to be taken away from
too soon is a very scary and dangerous thing. Bea is a loving person –
she can’t help it, that’s just the way she is – and the idea that she’s
turning into something that her parents can’t understand, or that she
could even be dangerous to them, is a dreadful thing for her to cope with.
Q: If you could choose a magical power, what would it be and why?
A: I’d choose the power to make to make friends – which answers your
next question as well! But if I could have a power without losing my
friends, I’d pick one of the powers witches have – to have my spirit
enter the body of any creature I chose, and to share their life for
a while.
 
Q: Would you rather have friends and no powers, or magic and no
friends?
A: Friends any time.
Thanks to Melvin Burgess for your answers and to Hazel Holmes for arranging the interview. Melvin Burgess will be at NYALitFest – The Supernatural and The Fantastical on 21st July.