Monthly Archives: July 2006

Sara’s Face

Melvin Burgess

Andersen Press


Jun 2006

‘When Bernardette first met Jonathan Heat, she thought of him as a kind of wounded saint, a man with the power to transform the lives of others, but tragically, never his own. Yet by the end, she’d come to believe that he’d led Sara into his own doom, deep into a mental illness, in the disguise of treatment; and finally to an extreme form of self harm, in which she was willing to sacrifice herself to feed his vanity.’

The ability of the media to mythologise the famous, renouncing notions of talent, value and of worth in favour of gratification that is instantaneous and immediately apparent lies at the heart of ‘Sara’s Face’. A caricaturised society is depicted where idiots are idolised and idols are made idiotic.
In Jonathan Heat, Melvin Burgess has penned the fatally flawed hero of a Gothic Romance, brilliantly transposing him upon the popular iconography of modernity. The story that surrounds Heat is one that is suffused with mystery and uncertainty. In a move that parallels the lives and levels of appropriation made common in the biographical detail of many an iconic star of our age, Burgess reveals in true tabloid-sensationalist-exclusive style the degrees to which the scourge of disposability and consumerist tendencies have infiltrated popular consciousness and indeed conscience. This is not so much one of Burgess’s alleged assaults on morals, but rather an assault on the types of assault morals have been assaulted by!
Within the context of comments on childhood arising through ‘children’s literature’ the novel challenges the manner in which the transition from childhood to adulthood is eroded and pushed back further and further by consumerist tendencies as market-forces have come to realise the weight and value of kid-coinage’ Sara’s currency is her youth itself and subtle reference to the sexualised relationship she shares with Heat make for a deeply disturbing read in which her trust is continually abused.
One of the most relevant and resonant novels for teenagers published this year, underpinning ‘Sara’s Face’ are explorations of identity, and of the mechanics via which self and society act individually, interact symbiotically and react against one another. This is a fascinating and intricate novel that holds up to repeated re-reading, revealing the complexity of its inner-workings through careful obfuscation and revelation, here is a book not to be taken at face value’

On the Summer House Steps

Anne Fine



Jun 2006

“Maybe I am the only person in the world who wants to be different from what I am.”

Anne Fine’s first two novels for children, ‘The Summer House Loon’ and ‘The Other Darker Ned’ are conflated with a brief bridging interlude under the new title ‘On the Summerhouse Steps’.
Fine’s narrative style in these first two novels remains as fresh and observant as it must have been on first publication in 1978 and 1979, it is reminiscent of the light-refracting sparkle and the musical tinkles as ice-drifts-against-glass in summer imbibes.
Structured in two parts the novel charts the ways in which Ione, the protagonist changes and develops. The concept of change – whether that be physical, emotional or change of beliefs, remains a central preoccupation in Fine’s body of writing. The first part of the novel sees Ione bring together her father, Professor Muffet’s, secretary Caroline and Ned Hump, one of his students with whom Ione forms an instant affinity whilst ‘on the summerhouse steps’. Ione presents as a slightly younger, less experienced take-on Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ in this first part of the novel, interested for the most part in the lives and concerns of others rather than fully aware of herself..
The second part sees Ione fall prey to the proverbial fate of the eavesdropper as she hears her father despair as to how his daughter is frittering her life away. Following this and a vision of a boy starving in India, with the help of Ned Hump, Ione sets about raising money for the famished. The development of philanthropic interests contrasts markedly here with Caroline’s self-interest and obsession.
During the re-setting of the novel, Anne Fine has taken the opportunity to edit and bring the books up-to-date. As the first books by an extraordinarily diverse and always socially relevant author, Anne Fine’s ‘On the Summerhouse Steps’ deserves a place on the shelves of everyone interested in the history and development of children’s literature.

Becoming Bindy Mackenzie

Jaclyn Moriarty

Macmillan Children’s Books


May 2006

‘So, basically, we read your whole life story, Bindy, and PLEASE DON’T BE MAD. We felt guilty, but you say in the introduction that it’s a FAD assignment, so we are actually FAD. We ARE your life raft, Bindy, so we thought the LIFE raft should read the LIFE story. In case it would help with all those issues you were telling us about tonight.’

Think of the laughs with Louise Rennison’ think of the angst in Jacqueline Wilson, then’ think again! Jaclyn Moriarty is endowed with an all-too-rare ability not only to write convincingly using the voices of teenagers with their curious mix of laconic wit and personal anguish, but also to weave around this devilish plots that keeps readers caught dually between delight and deduction’
Alarmingly intelligent and precocious in the extreme, Bindy Mackenzie is seen as something of a fearsome individual by her peers. Readers of Jaclyn’s first two novels for teenagers ‘Feeling Sorry for Celia’ and ‘Finding Cassie Crazy’ will be familiar with the setting, Ashbury High and will find herein a number of old friends from these novels.
Bindy’s story is told in the form of memos on personal stationery that Bindy herself has created, e-mails to her mother and father and numerous other epistolary forms. Looking at the type of response Bindy receives from her parents makes one realise the crushing importance of communication between parents and child and the lack of meaningful interaction that modern ICT methods provide as a substitute for one-on-one attention.
Under the instruction of one Try Montaine, a seemingly liberal, left-wing teacher, Ashbury High has developed a new strand of study skill session called ‘Friendship and Development’ (FAD for short). Initially sceptical of the lessons, Bindy writes several acerbic letters to the director of the Office of the board of studies, complaining that FAD distracts her from her studies.
FAD, however, is not all that it seems and is a clever subterfuge behind which a fiendish attempt on Bindy’s life is being made. In spite of this, the classes develop in Bindy and her classmates a real sense of union, care and understanding as each member of the group communicates themselves more fully and openly.
‘Becoming Bindy Mackenzie’ is life-affirming and touching without falling into the swampish grounds of sentimentality and didacticism. Jaclyn Moriarty has a wonderfully light, butterfly-touch that enables the consideration of deep and profound issues alongside points where the narrative flair is so witty that the book becomes almost too heavy to hold whilst laughing so loudly. This is a rollicking rollercoaster ride for the emotions, revel in it!

The Spook’s Secret

Joseph Delaney, ills. David Wyatt

The Bodley Head


Jul 2006

“It’s going to be a long, hard, cruel winter, son. All the signs are there… It’s going to be harsh and I don’t think any of us will come through it unchanged.”

Located firmly amidst the legend and lore of Lancashire, Joseph Delaney’s ‘The Wardstone Chronicles’ are curios amidst the trend for series fiction. Whilst each of the stories is inter-connected, sharing at heart a base of the same characters, a ‘local-to-Lancashire’ setting and the premise that the dark is growing in power, each story also very much stands on its own.
‘The Spook’s Secret’, the third book in the series sees Tom Ward learn more about his tutor, John Gregory and the types of personal experience with regards to love, life and trust that have served to influence his world-view. This is encapsulated in an epic struggle between the twin forces of good and evil as attempts are made to raise Golgoth, a pagan god of destruction.
It is the over-arching themes of the series that really cohere these books. The depiction of women and the types of cruelty that befall witches, the parallel constructs of child-development that explore issues of nurture versus nature focused on Tom Ward the seventh son of a seventh son who is apprenticed to be good and to banish malign influences from the county and upon Alice, a witch-child who forms an alliance with Tom and the types of person they will grow up to be as well as the flawed nature of the Spook himself and his prejudice gradually unfold throughout the series. It is interesting to track these through the books and to wonder how they will develop in future’


J. P. Stassen, Transl. Alexis Siegel

First Second


Jun 2006

“Another madman… All that’s left are corpses, madmen and dogs…”

Stassen beautifully captures the colour and the sense of calm of the Rwandan environs by day and by night in ‘Deogratias’. There is an appalling juxtaposition between this and the horrors perpetrated against the Tutsi as the Hutu vie for supremacy of the land in the aftermath of colonial ‘divide and rule’ tactics.
Told in the form of a graphic novel, ‘Deogratias’ follows a boy of the same name as he jointly wanders the streets of the present and achingly struggles, quite literally, to drown his sorrows through drinking Urwagwa, the banana beer that is traditional in his country.
Three depictions of Deogratias are presented within the book, the first sees him wide-eyed with horror, dressed in tattered clothing, the second as an immaculately presented young man, keen to impress the Tutsi young ladies Apollinaria and Benina. The third and most disturbing sees Deogratias take on the appearance and characteristics of a dog, the shocking reason for which becomes apparent as the story unfurls’
Essentially a story of love and of loss, what makes ‘Deogratias’ such a memorable, abhorrent and at once vitally important read is the central role Deogratias plays in the genocide of the Tutsi, the pack-mentality that he becomes a part of and the dog-eat-dog attributes that engulf him both physically and mentally following this. As readers we live our experiences vicariously alongside Deogratias, feel his anger, hurt, sorrow and pain.
Alexis Siegel, the translator provides a useful introduction that contextualises the history of the decimation of the Tutsi people. This grounds the novel in a realism that cannot easily be shed and which, by consequence, spreads a chill throughout the course of the book.
If the cry of ‘never again’ which followed the Holocaust is to have meaning, an understanding of the types of brutality exercised against a set of people, an awareness of the mechanics that drive conflict and that see difference only as threat needs to be located firmly into the consciousness of society. Creative works such as ‘Deogratias’ play a key role in achieving that by making one think and feel more, stimulating empathy, understanding and the deep-stirrings of compassion.

Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker

Megan McDonald ill. Peter H Reynolds

Walker Books


Jul 2006

“Once he started, Stink could not stop writing letters. He wrote a letter to Webster (the friend, not the dictionary). He wrote a letter to his other best friend, Elizabeth, who liked to be called Sophie of the Elves. He even wrote a letter to his teacher, telling her how great he was at writing letters.”

Megan McDonald, author of the perennially popular Judy Moody series, has created a spin-off featuring Judy’s brother Stink. In ‘Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker’, Stink is disappointed to find that the aforementioned jawbreaker in fact does nothing of the sort and that his jaw remains very firmly still in tact.
Stink sends a letter of complaint to the company and receives a mammoth box of complimentary sweets. From here-on-in he writes numerous letters and receives a good number of replies, unfortunately amidst this deluge of post one important piece of mail gets lost thereby threatening Stink’s friendship with Webster’ Can this be remedied?
This is a fun, easy-to-read novel that will appeal to boys, particularly those with sisters who are ardent fans of the Judy Moody titles. Peter H. Reynold’s illustrations really help to bring the book to life. Look out for another adventure featuring Stink ‘Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid’.

Tashi and the Forbidden Room

Anna and Barbara Fienberg ill. Kim Gamble

Allen and Unwin Children’s Books


May 2006

‘Now let’s look at this marvellous world of ours and think where we would most like to explore.’

The twelfth book in the series about Tashi, ‘Tashi and the Forbidden Room’ sees the hero regale his audience, within which readers become cleverly included, with two further tales from his time back in the village’
The first of these adventures is a rip-roaring, rollicking, re-telling of the legend of Bluebeard with Tashi firmly at the centre as the hero. Tashi confides in his best friend Jack that Bluebeard has been the most terrifying villain he has ever faced.
The second story ‘The Three Tasks’ re-introduces a familiar adversary, the Baron. The Baron’s peacock has gone missing and Pongo his dog is, alas, found with incriminating feathers around him and a mouth soaked in blood. The Baron threatens him with death, but allows opportunity for reprieve provided that Tashi is able to complete three tasks.
Firstly the Baron expects to hear Tashi but not to see him. Secondly Pongo must no longer bleed and his cuts must be healed. Finally, the peacock must be back in the garden alive.
Anna and Barbara Fienberg really bring stories to life in this series of novels that are perfect as introductions to reading and to the backdrop of mythic and legendary tales. Kim Gamble’s illustrations give an other-worldy aspect to the books making for beautifully packaged collections of stories that introduce new readers to the magic, wonder and endless possibilities of story-telling and reading.

Do Not Read or Else

Pat Moon ill. Sarah Naylor

Orchard Books


Jun 2006

The amorphous, ponderous style of Finch’s narration and its informal typography belie what is at heart a sophisticated instalment in the self-chronicled life of Finch Penny. As with the previous two novels in the series, ‘Do not read this book’ and ‘Do not read any further’, the novel is written in diary form with zany, child-like illustrations provided by Sarah Nayler.
With interspersed diversions in the form of sleepover parties, friendships and amorous intentions with her boyfriend Jay, the novel for the most part centres around Finch’s quest to find her father.
Finch’s irreverent style of writing and her vivacious take on life make it difficult not to be swept along by the narrative of this enjoyable novel. Great care with typography, design and illustration of the book help to lend an authentic air to the novel as a twelve-year-old’s diary. Orchard Books have placed the rights page at the end of the novel in order that it constitutes less of an intrusion to readers.
A cliff-hanger ending whereby Finch meets her father and his family but does not entirely see eye-to-eye with them leaves open a great chunk of her life-to-come a factor which might well influence any proposed fourth instalment to the series’?!


Cathy Cassidy

Puffin Books


Jun 2006

‘She’s the one with the choices, she’s the one calling the shots. I just get pushed around from place to place, like a bit of unwanted luggage.’

After the acrimonious separation of her mother and father, the eponymous Scarlett inherits the wrath and hurt her mother feels. She thereby disassociates herself from her father. This manifests itself in acts of rebellion and anger quite singular for a twelve-year-old child.
At the end of her tether, Scarlett’s mother, who after leaving her husband has become a high-flying professional, makes the decision that as a last, ‘last chance’ her daughter would be best placed with her father, his new partner and child. Furious that her own views and voice with regards to her future have been so much marginalised Scarlett treads a familiar path of self-destruction. However, meeting Kian a mysterious boy with a horse, allows Scarlett opportunity to reflect upon some of the hurt and pain in her life, which become the first steps in the long-walk toward healing.
There are many writers whose novels burst at the seams with their glut of grievances and ungracious depictions of the children they concern. Few writers explore ‘problems’ and ‘issues’, with the grace, warmth and sincerity with which Cathy Cassidy’s do. Her writing shows an awareness that it is subtlety of style and it is the small unobtrubsive details that makes for profundity and lasting imprints upon mind and memory of readers’

The Death Gene

Malcolm Rose

Simon and Schuster


Jun 2006

”all these amazing twists of fate couldn’t happen purely by chance. They were firm evidence of a God who was orchestrating everything. And that would convince them that the were carrying out His will. Karl believed more in bad luck than in God.’
The advancement of the sciences and of technology form the backdrop to Malcolm Rose’s novels. ‘The Death Gene’, his latest, looks at the frighteningly real possibility of synthesising life, the profound impacts this might cause and the types of usage and abusage for which such knowledge might be appropriated.
The work of biologist Eve Perry provides a grim insight into the way scientific development is able to be used to wield power by extremists’ whether political, military, religious or environmental in intent. The novel is split into two parts, the first sees Karl Stephenson and Finn Pallister entrusted with knowledge about bacterial synthesis, sees an outbreak of a new super-bug illness and the quest for its cure through utilising the bacteria’s ‘death gene’ a specially developed ‘self-destruct’ unit. The concluding part of the is novel an-against-the-clock race as an extremist scientist endeavours to destroy the ‘death gene’ thereby unleashing a deadly virus against humanity, a new, unseen weaponry.
“The Death Gene” is admirably wide in scope, it makes accessible the Nietzschean idea that ‘God is dead’, exploring the implications thereof to modern religion, to morality and the study of science and the need for an intrinsic set of ethics as part of that. The novel packs an uncompromising, and for many of its characters, an unforgiving emotional punch and is a potent reminder that scientific intelligence can only be utilised responsively by those with emotional intelligence…