September 2008 Archives

Mine's Bigger Than Yours!

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Jeanne Willis, ill. Adrian Reynolds
Andersen Press
September 2008

A big attention-grabbing title with Jeanne Willis's name underneath immediately put this picture book at the top of the waiting pile. The previous collaboration by this pair - Who's In The Loo? - won the Red House Picture Book Award and was overall winner of the Sheffield Children's Book Award. I'd be surprised if this had the same success. I found it rather disappointing. The repetitive narrative is formulaic and the punch-page, when it comes, left me feeling short-changed. The Scary Monster illustrations are great though.

The Ghost's Child

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Sonya Hartnett
May 2008

I really haven't much to say about this superb novel of remembrance, other than to urge you to read it. No book this author writes is in any essential sense a young adult novel or piece of teen fiction with a readership confined to adolescents.

Hartnett is the real thing.

Black Rabbit Summer

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Kevin Brooks
July 2008 in pk

So I've finally got round to reading Black Rabbit Summer by Kevin Brooks (now out in paperback).

Perhaps it was just me in the middle of being particularly negative, but I found Being, his first book for Penguin, a touch on the cold side. It was ambitious, different, page-turning, very good... but for me (at the time) it lacked that quintessential Brooks atmosphere that made those first few novels for Chicken House so memorable.

Black Rabbit Summer is back in the groove. Dialogue-driven but also occasionally poetic in its choice of epithet - 'soured silence' - Brooks' style is a joy. I cannot imagine his writing requires any sentence-level editing.

Brooks must remember his own adolescence well to be able to write about teenagers as he does. He remembers in particular how important terrain is. How young people have their own routes for getting from A to B. In particular, the off-road suburban terrain of footpaths, derelict areas, embankments, cut-throughs. He describes these so well. He writes about them as if he were still a 15-year-old himself, dashing through an alleyway.

He also remembers that for 15/16 year olds their 13/14 year old selves are an age away. There is emotional tension at the start of this book between the main character, Pete, and Nicole. They had been boy and girlfriend a couple of years ago, but not since. Meeting in a den before attending a local fairground the group of friends drink and smoke. The tension mounts.

Established early on is Pete's feeling for Raymond, a boy ostracised by everyone else. Raymond is a loner who spends much of his time out in the garden beside the hutch of his pet black rabbit.

Pete's father is a policeman and when people start to go missing following the night at the fair, Pete becomes both investigator and investigated. The second half of the novel is so well plotted and developed one hopes Penguin will have the sense to enter this book for a regular crime fiction award. It's a fantastic read, to be recommended for adoloscents and adults alike.