May 2007 Archives

Ally Kennen

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Ally Kennen
Marion Lloyd Books
May 2007
Ally Kennen pens her novels with sheer adrenalin. �Berserk� is an incredibly fast-paced, taut thriller that will literally have readers teetering on the edges of their seats, breathless and hearts-pounding as they anticipate what is to follow�

Not so much a teenage miscreant as an individual for whom the education system and social structure around late childhood has failed to secure and keep safe, Chas, together with his best friend Devil indulges in joy-riding of the most extreme and immoderate variety when hot-wiring a heavy goods vehicle. Consequence of this night is the pair�s eventual placement in a remand home.

Running parallel to this, Chas has been writing to a prisoner on Death Row who has been accused of murdering a child. In order to be accepted onto the letter-writing programme, Chas pretends to be his mother, thereby concealing his age, a deception that later has dire consequences.

Throbbing at the heart of this gritty, urban tale is a wealth of ideas. It is the social interaction and the minutiae of power-dialectics amongst adolescent characters that Kennen observes with such accuracy.

Unlike with �Beast�, Kennen�s prodigious debut novel, the narrative and thrust of �Berserk� feels at times a little too out of check and control. The convoluted relationship between Lenny Darling and Chas and Devlin�s families, in addition to the obfuscated messages within the letters he sends when imprisoned stretches credibility to belief and beyond. Scale of many of images in the novel � the severed finger, the hedonistic consumptive feast on the lorry and the high-altitude climax � serve to eclipse many of the like-clockwork mechanics that underpin the narrative. This lends the work an air of many-a-Hollywood blockbuster, high-in-energy, huge-on-impact, yet ultimately disallowing the time and reflective space for its idea base to unfurl to the height of its potential.

The approach negates the careful teasing out of character and motivations that made �Beast� instantly so remarkable and refreshing. Its consequence is a legacy of discursive, high-impact images without the context, continuity or coherency that would have elevated this novel to being exceptional and, if addressed, will lead to Kennen�s becoming one of the most exciting new writers for the young adult market.

The Angel Collector

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Bali Rai
June 2007
Opening shortly after the disappearance of Sophie, �The Angel Collector� sees her boyfriend, Jit, and Sophie's parents paralysed by the uncertainty as to what fate might have befallen her. Need for a definite resolutions drives Jit to lead his own enquiries into his friend�s alleged abduction.

Bali Rai�s descriptions of the various dubious ideologies associated with the cult in the book, one of the prime suspects believed to have been implemented with the disappearance of Sophie, shows a clear understanding of the social instability caused by rhetoric and dogma that disassociates itself from even the most basic of humanist ideals. The politicised nature of the cult , a group of individuals forming an enclave of their own rigid and unquestioning beliefs, makes for a compelling, wholly convincing and engaging and thoroughly enraging narrative.

A surprise wholesale turn in narrative direction gives a highly unexpected twist in the tale. This device, however, is neither entirely satisfactory, nor presented in a manner that makes it credible within the story.

Ironically, the nature of prejudice that Rai�s prose incisively negotiates with regard to race is seemingly arbitrarily switched. Implication that the motivation for extreme behaviour carried out by one of the main characters is derived from a gender confusion that stems from infanthood is a facet of the novel that makes for a convenient explanation, but one whose superficial psychological depth succeeds only in making these passages emotionally cold, lacking in sympathy and slipping into the types of prejudice they have so skilfully manoeuvred where race is concerned.

As with Bali Rai�s previous fiction, this is a novel filled to capacity with action, pace and adventure. It is an admirably written and compelling thriller. Nonetheless, failure to engage with possible motivations for the anti-hero's extreme behaviour makes ethics overt, simplistic and unredeeming. The cumulative effect of this is corosion of the base of an incisive expose of prejudice through a stereotyped view of 'perversion' that endures long after the novel has been read undermining what otherwise might well have been exemplary.

Jamie and Angus Together

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Anne Fine
Walker Books
May 2007
Innocence and experience are juxtaposed and played off one another with expert brilliance in the relationship Anne Fine develops between Jamie and his favourite soft toy, Angus. Acting as a siphon for the turn of phrase and thoughts that predominate amongst the adults that surround him, Jamie assumes a paternalistic role over Angus, whom as a consequence of transference on the part of Jamie, affects the role and guise of child. Interplay between these shifting identities creates the dynamism and drive for the stories both in the original collection and in this new volume, �Jamie and Angus Together�.

Six new stories see Jamie struggling to protect Angus from the boisterous Bella, learning to paint, taking a post-Christmas, countryside ramble with Uncle Edward, deciding a means for organising his book collection � the one chosen incidentally will have librarians the length and breadth of the country curling their toes in anguish! � and ultimately growing older and the possibility of his feeling a little more distanced from Angus�

Character descriptions are swiftly sketched but are memorable and are tinged with the warmth of love and affection under which development flourishes and is best nurtured. A childhood idyll, these are perfect stories about a perfect friend and in whom mutual, unconditional trust and care is shared, perfect for reading aloud and sharing, perfect for young and old alike with their subtle observations on childhood, overall, just perfect!

The Boyhood of Burglar Bill

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Allan Ahlberg
Puffin Books
Mar 2007
�I had this bald, mouldy-looking tennis ball which I dribbled with on the way to school till it disappeared down a drain. I even had a ball that I�d made myself out of cut-up rings from an inner tube wrapped round a core of silver-paper sweet wrappers. It was hardly bigger than a golf ball and bounced about, all that rubber, like a live thing.�

Continuing the social history gleaned from Allan Ahlberg�s childhood that was begun in "My Brother�s Ghost�, this book is set in 1953, the Coronation year, the stimuli for the Coronation Cup, a football tournament local to Oldbury in which the young Ahlberg took part.

Childhood memories and recollections are vividly realised by Ahlberg who describes with verve and zeal anecdotes surrounding the football matches � stolen kits accidentally dyed purple, his mother�s dressing gown-clad nocturnal meanderings� Nostalgia figures highly in this deftly written account of a �50s childhood that succeeds in going beyond mere reminiscence to explore social setting, character motivation and childhood from the heightened standpoint of more matured experience and understanding.

Give Me Shelter

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ed. Tony Bradman
Francis Lincoln
Feb 2007
Composed of eleven individual stories extending from the reaches of the Democratic Republic of Congo to a more familiar London, �Give Me Shelter� provides admirable insight into the lives and struggles of those seeking asylum.

There are stories here outlining the reasons and motivations behind asylum; war, political unrest and instability, the promulgation of racist and prejudiced doctrines. Experiences of those seeking asylum is explored, displacement, cultural, religious and language barriers that impede integration, societal expectations of wholesale assimilation and familial fragmentation. These are juxtaposed against the opinions of nationals, this occurs most startlingly in Gaye Hicyilmaz� �A nice quiet girl�, based on her own feelings and experiences as a child.

Gradual movement towards understanding and towards compassion are the threads that unify each of these stories. Each of the authors contributing to the collection has written a brief introduction that gives context and colour to the stories allowing children to live vicariously the lives of peers whose childhoods have been disturbed and disrupted by adult conflicts in the world which they inhabit.

The Frances Lincoln list represents a veritable treasure trove of world views, belief systems and personalities. The crowning success of this in recent years has been their new fiction list and "Give Me Shelter" is the undisputed jewel within this crown. At a time when media reportage upon issues of asylum remains both polarised and parochial, the threads of humanity woven throughout a book like form the base of particularly strong moral bonds and the fabric of civilisation. Here is a book that should be made univesally available as a declaration of care and compassion in every bookshop, library, school and home across the land.


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Julie Bertagna
Young Picador
Feb 2007
�What if the world is all ocean� What if this is all there is? Ocean and ocean and ocean. I don�t like it Mara. I hate this wild world.�

Multiple narration and the three interwoven story threads within �Zenith� gives the novel a widened breadth of focus, an extension of influence, that lends it a power and scope far and beyond that of its already impressive predecessor, �Exodus�.

An increasingly desperate world climate � politically and geographically � forms the electric backdrop to 'Zenith'. Driven by the ardent belief that Greenland will have risen above the waters with the melting of the ice-caps, Mara sails a course of attempted salvation for herself and her people (the latter forming an increasingly insurgent crew).

Bertagna�s greatest skill as the author of this remarkable novel is successfully breathing a transcending sense of hope, courage and, over-arching, compassion out from the chaos, corruption and crisis that circumstances have engendered.

Bleakness of the world and the sheer desperation of the plights to salvage life through differentiated means of settlement and abode powered by an urgency for survival is belied by the power, lyricism and poetry of the author�s writing which stimulate thought and thoughtfulness. The ending leaves readers breathless in anticipation of a climax that must surely follow for this climate-change epic�?