|The tragedy of this book is that it feels so contemporary. Set during the civil war that Lebanon appeared to have put behind it, last summer�s military stand off between Israel and Hezbollah gives it a very �now� feel.
Oranges In No Man�s Land tells the tale of Ayesha, a young girl whose mother was killed in the war and now lives in a crowded squat along with a host of other fugitives from the fighting.
With her father abroad trying to find work, the key figure in her life is her granny. But when granny�s medicine starts to run out with serious implications, Ayesha has to visit the doctors to restock her supplies.
The problem is that the doctor who supplied them lives on the other side of town, in enemy territory.
This is a book that portrays well the bravery required by those who live in such tragic circumstances and the quick wittedness needed to stay out of trouble.
For adults who grew up on the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew this book redefines those adventures as the stuff of comics. For the target audience it puts any complaints that �life�s not fair� into their real perspective.
There�s been a fair bit of comment about teen books that portray the darker side of life but this book brings the reality of war and displacement home to a much younger audience.
|Suzanne Fisher Staples|
| As every storyteller knows, it is the tales of individual people which bring real events to life. The sanitised vocabulary and politicised angles of the news can make the realities and complexities of recent world events difficult for young adults to access.
Set in Afghanistan in the months following September 11th and endorsed by Amnesty International, here is a book to contribute to a better understanding. Alternate chapters give us the stories of two heroines. Najmah, an Afghan girl, sees her father and brother conscripted to the Taliban, and her mother and baby brother killed in an American air raid. Lost and alone, she begins the dangerous journey through the mountains to Pakistan, where she hopes to find her family again. Elaine, an American woman, is also alone. Living in Pakistan after converting to Islam and marrying an Afghan doctor, she has not heard from him since he left to establish a hospital. Whilst she waits she teaches refugee children under the persimmon tree in her garden.
The two different viewpoints work well. From Najmah we get a picture of everyday life in rural Afghanistan. Staples draws on her experiences as a UPI reporter in Afghanistan and Pakistan to paint a picture of day-to-day life rich in fascinating and evocative details. Set against this normality the accounts of the death of Najmah�s mother and baby brother are particularly powerful and moving. From Elaine (known as Nusrat) we get a view of the contrasts between Western and Middle Eastern culture. By giving us an insight into two hearts and minds Staples also shows us the similarities, in a wonderful celebration of our common humanity.
When at last Najmah and Nusrat do find each other, their shared feelings of anxiety and loss, plus their shared interest in the stars, gives them the comfort and strength they need. Don�t expect a happy ending, Staples is a realist. But she shows that hard truths can be accepted, with courage and dignity.
|House of Spies|
|The madness that can grip communities in times of strife, real or imagined, is fertile ground.
Griselda Gifford�s latest book visits a troubled community battling with the very real challenges of wartime. With German invasion a threat and families split up by the demands of military service, the focus of the story is on Pip and Harry, two young girls who are growing up fast.
And while it contains all the classic elements of horses, rival gangs and nasty adults it also adds a darker edge � the locals� antipathy to an elderly couple that they believe might be German spies.
The suspense is slowly ratcheted up as Pip and Harry become involved with Max � the grandson of the elderly couple � who is trying to run away. The threat of an adult lynch mob builds cleverly through the book as it heads towards its conclusion.
Interwoven with the main story, the reality of living with the war � Pip and her mother are evacuees � and the uncertainty of life and relationships when you literally are under attack is well illustrated.
The relationship between Pip and Harry has a real intensity but the book also ends with an insightful ambivalence about the way in which the girls' friendship might develop. This may be a girls' adventure but it�s not all jolly hockey sticks.
|Oxford University Press|
|Adult books have often addressed the issue of how the history of the Second World War could have been very different. Robert Harris�s Fatherland is a classic of the genre while Philip Roth�s more recent The Plot Against America gives a US perspective.
Michael Cronin has used this idea in Against The Day, Through The Night and now the final part of the trilogy In The Morning. His premise is that Britain was invaded in 1940 and the new book follows Frank and Leslie�s battle for survival in the dying days of the regime. Thanks to American and Soviet success on the continent, the occupiers are being forced to withdraw.
The pair are now experienced guerrilla fighters and the book recounts their attempts to hamper German efforts to depart quickly and efficiently. Along the way they meet a cracking cast of secondary characters including a double-crossing actor, collaborating policemen and British Nazis.
At the heart of the book is the story of the resistance�s attempt to stop the German commander Gauleiter M�ller escaping to Germany. The climax comes with Frank held captive by the Careys, a family of rich British Nazis, in Wiltshire and Leslie working with a local guerrilla group who are trying to foil the commander's plans.
Having not read the first two books in the trilogy some of what follows may be unfair. However, In The Morning is being promoted as a standalone novel as well as the concluding part of the story so it�s fair to point out that it feels to this reader as if there are too many loose ends being tied, marring an otherwise enjoyable plot.
The plus points are a succession of fast-paced events that start immediately on Page 1 when partisans blow up a train. If you�ve read the first two books you�ll probably race through it. If not, it might be best to start at the beginning.
I've just done that thing you do when you turn the last page on an exceptionally good book. Close the back cover, stare gormlessly at the jacket illustration and make a cross between a sniff and a sigh. The sniff for appreciation of great work done, the sigh of regret that a story you've savoured has finished.
Mal Peet's first novel, Keeper, was a miracle. A novel that finally revealed to me - a cricket lover - the poetry and magic in the game of soccer. Second novels are often disappointments, and when the author himself told me (at a summer party) that he was working on a novel set in Holland during the war, I confess I felt disappointment was on the cards.
How wrong. This is an outstanding novel. Outstanding in every regard. It establishes Peet as a novelist of immense gift and versatility, for no two novels could be more different than Keeper and Tamar and yet be so equally brilliant.
The two principal characters in Tamar are undercover operators working in Nazi-occupied Holland in support of the resistance. There is many an episode of nailbiting excitement in the book, but for much of the time the undercover agents have to cope with the boredom of waiting and watching, and with the interpersonal tension of loving the same woman.
Parallel to this is a more contemporary narrative, set in 1995, which is properly subservient to the war story, and yet utterly convincing.
Throughout the book the writing is of the highest order, crisply figurative description falling from Peet's pen with apparent ease: "the mud had solidified into frost-capped peaks and ripples that looked like mountain ranges seen from the cockpit of an aircraft" or "the sky was the colour on old knife" to give just two examples.
Published by Walker Books as a Young Adult novel, Tamar is a novel worthy of standing with the very best of contemporary British fiction.