Fiction for younger people


We drank and threw our cups into the water. She leaned on the rail, her face half in the light, half in the shadow, as perfect as a statue. The ruby earring flared as the sun struck through it, and her white shirt billowed out in the freshening breeze. That is how I will remember her.

Set in the early part of the eighteenth century, this is the story of two young women escaping disaster by joining a pirate crew together. Nancy Kington is the 15 year old daughter of a Bristol trader on the brink of ruin. When he dies, her brothers ship her to Jamaica to be sold as the wife of a black-hearted man who makes her flesh crawl. Minerva Sharpe is a young house slave in Nancy’s Jamaican home, who becomes her friend and then finds herself in grave danger from the equally cruel overseer of the Kington sugar plantation. The story has everything – pirating, swashbuckling, treasure, danger – and the impossible search for a place to be: a place of safety, a place of dignity, a place to belong.

A great novel for young (and not so young) women, spoiled only by the author’s insistence on running the story through with heterosexual romance. Oh well…

Jacqueline Wilson, Girls in TearsIt’s good, of course. Dad’s always been great at painting, though he hasn’t worked properly on anything for ages. He’s painted himself with almost painful precision, putting in every line and grey hair. He’s emphasised his sagging tummy, his hunched stance, his worn old shoes.

In the portrait he’s standing at his easel, painting. He’s gazing intently at the picture on the easel. This is a portrait of a very different Dad. He looks much younger, with a trimmed beard and trendy haircut, a flat stomach and stylish black clothes. He seems to be at some art exhibition. Maybe it’s his own private view. He’s surrounded by admirers. There’s Anna, there’s me and Eggs, there’s a whole flock of pretty leggy girls raising their glasses of champagne to him, there are older men in suits writing in their cheque books, paying a fortune for each painting.

“Oh, Dad,” I say softly.

This is the fourth book in the “Girls in Love” series and fourteen-year-olds Ellie, Nadine and Magda spend most of it crying. Tears of sadness, loneliness, joy, despair and the general rollercoaster of emotions that is female puberty. The three of them seem to spend the whole time falling out with each other and having boyfriend trouble; Ellie’s family seems to be falling apart; and Magda has killed her hamster.

PS There is a happy ending, with tears.

Here is am Amazon link.
I have so many Jacqueline Wilson books I’ve lost count, and this is one of them.

Jacqueline Wilson, SleepoversAmy has bunk beds so Bella got to go on the top bunk above Amy. Amy’s mum had made up a mattress on most of Amy’s floor for two more girls.
“That’s fine for Emily and me,” said Chloe.

“It’s a very big mattress,” said Emily. “I’m sure there’s heaps of room for Daisy too.”
“No, it would be too much of a squash,” said Chloe, firmly. “Daisy had better have that camp bed thing in the corner.”

Four best friends – and the new girl Daisy. Daisy is lucky to be invited to their sleepovers at all – so surely it is too much to ask that one of them should ever be her best friend? Especially when Daisy is terrified about what they will make of her sister if she ever has the courage to invite them round to her house. Yet Daisy does want one of them to be her best friend, and Chloe seems determined to keep her out. Will she succeed?

Well, this feels a bit like blasphemy, especially loving Jacqueline Wilson as much as I do, but actually I’m a bit tired of stories where the young heroine just longs for a best friend and then gets one and they live happily every after. What about, for a change, a story where the heroine longs for a best friend and doesn’t find one, but actually everything turns out more or less OK after all? And what about the spoiled brat of the story, the poor ousted Chloe, jealous Chloe? Have we not a little conscience, a little understanding about why she is who she is? Must she be a villain entirely? Can there be no space for pity? Or is the target audience of females under 10 deemed too insensitive, too unsympathetic to grasp such complexity?

Whatever. I carp. And I still love Wilson.

Here’s an Amazon link.
I have my own copy already.

Stephen King, ITKill you all!” The clown was laughing and screaming. “Try to stop me and I’ll kill you all! Drive you crazy and then kill you all! You can’t stop me! I’m the Gingerbread Man! I’m the Teenage Werewolf!”
And for a moment It was the Teenage Werewolf, the moon-silvered face of the lycanthrope peering out at them from over the collar of the silver suit, white teeth bared.
Can’t stop me, I’m the leper!”
Now the leper’s face, haunted and peeling, rotting with sores, stared at them with the eyes of the living dead.
Can’t stop me, I’m the mummy!”
The leper’s face aged and ran with sterile cracks. Ancient bandages swam halfway out of his skin and solidified there. Ben turned away, his face white as curds, one hand plastered over his neck and ear.
Can’t stop me, I’m the dead boys!”

Seven kids tried to kill a child-killing monster back in 1958. It is a monster with many faces, sometimes taking a shape deliberately to lure its victims toward It, sometimes reflecting back their own worst nightmare. And grownups can’t see It: more accurately, they don’t see It – either way, they cannot stop It. Only the children have any sort of chance, and they did hurt It. They thought they had killed It, but the monster returns 27 years later, and they are drawn back to their hometown of Derry to give it one more shot. Only this time they are grownups themselves, and the situation is desperate.

OK, so it was quite scary, but nothing like as scary as it would have been had I been reading this 15 years ago when I would probably have got myself into checking-under-the-bed territory. Phew. Actually, the violence of the human foes was more troubling, more heartstopping to me than the violence of the monster. Perhaps because it seemed more real, more plausible. Less amenable to a magical cure. Having said that, the scariness and the violence are in some ways only the context for the book, they are not the point of it. The point of it, is that it is a story about friends, love, bravery, laughter, belief, desire – and about the power of those things in the face of what is monstrous.

So it was good, but there were a number of things that niggled me.

The quality of writing wasn’t stratospheric. Don’t get me wrong, it was good on the whole and to sustain anything for 1100 pages is quite a feat. But he really should have had a better editor – too many annoying little repetitions, too frequent use of slightly pompous expressions such as “depended from” in the sense of “hung down from” (wow that one was so annoying it has lodged in my brain never to depart).

Also, I was not so impressed with some of the characterisations. I mean, back in the day one thing I liked about King was his characters, and the way even minor bozos who were about to get splatted were real people rather than walking targets. But, honestly – the kid who was fat because his mum kept pouring seconds and thirds down him (You’re a growing lad, you need a good dinner inside you, blah, blah) and who lost weight to prove he wasn’t a loser? the asthmatic kid who was wimpy because his mum cosseted him, terrified of letting him grow up and away so that he might no longer need her? the woman who grew up to marry a violent shit who pretended to care about her because he was just like her dad? I could go on. Basically, superficial stereotyped horse poo. Maybe it was positively enlightened in 1986 – after all it has a black hero complete with HIS BLACK EXPERIENCE even a nearly sympathetic portrayal of a gay man – but I mean. Gah.

Oh, and the sex bit at the end? Ick.

Overall, probably not one for grownups. Not unless you’re already scared of clowns, balloons, or things that go bump in the night….

Here’s an Amazon link.
I used the local library.

The Magician's Guild, Trudi CanavanJonna had told her that the daughters of rich families were carefully watched until they married the husband their fathers chose for them. Women made no important decisions within the Houses.

In the slums no-one arranged marriages. Though women tried to find a man who could support a family, they usually married for love. While Jonna believed this was better, Sonea was cynical. She had noticed that women often put up with a lot when in love, but, at some stage, love tended to wear off. Better to marry a man you liked and trusted.

Were female magicians cosseted away? Were they encouraged to leave the running of the Guild to the men? It would be frustrating to be magically powerful, but still completely under the control of others…

Sonea is a slum dweller in the city of Imardin, home of the powerful Magician’s Guild. One day, caught up in a protest against the oppression of the “dwells”, she discovers that she has unsuspected magical powers. The guild magicians find out too, and since the law forbids a magician from living outside their control, they must track her down – whether she will come willingly or not. Will she manage to escape the hated Guild? Can she learn to control her powers without their help? And what does the unpleasant Lord Fergun have in store for the slum girl who knocked him out cold?

I was totally into this book, and Sonea is the best kind of heroine – clever, strong, frank, honourable, quick on the uptake and decidedly self-reliant. The writing isn’t brilliant, but then this isn’t meant to be great literature: it’s an adventure story for teenagers. The only real complaint is that the ending is a bit of an anti-climax, leaving you feeling like you’ve read the first book of a trilogy (which, as it happens, you have) rather than a novel in its own right. I guess I’ll just have to go out and get the second book, right?

Men at Arms, Terry PratchettThe opposing marchers watched in fascination.
“We should do something!” said Angua, from the guards’ hiding place in the alley.
“Weeell,” said Sergeant Colon, slowly, “it’s always very tricky, ethnic.”
“Can put a foot wrong very easily,” said Nobby. “Very thin-skinned, your basic ethnic.”
“Thin-skinned? They’re trying to
kill one another!”
“It’s cultural,” said Sergeant Colon, miserably. “No sense us tryin’ to force our culture on ’em, is there? That’s speciesist.”

In this, the 15th Discworld novel, the hopelessly inadequate City Watch in Ankh-Morpork is being expanded to better reflect the make-up of the city it polices.

Instead of being a men-only force, the watch is now to include a dwarf, a troll, and even Angua, who is a w-!

Given the massive tensions between the dwarfish and trollish races, there is bound to be trouble, even apart from the fact that people keep getting murdered* and Captain Vimes is on the brink of retirement.

(* A surprisingly rare phenomenon in Ankh-Morpork. Licensed assassinations and suicide – by, for example, looking at someone funny in a troll bar – are common, but your actual murder is, apparently, rare.)

Enjoyable, as most these books are. Just a bit like a blast-from-the-past experience, since I have recently read later books in the series where some of the characters introduced in this novel appear as well-establish members of the watch.

Here is an Amazon link.
My copy from the library.

Skeleton Key, Anthony Horowitz“I was told you weren’t to have any weapons…” Smithers sighed, then leant forward and spoke into a potted plant. “Could you bring them up, please, Miss Pickering?”

Alex was beginning to have serious doubts about this office – and these were confirmed a moment later when the leather sofa suddenly split in half, the two ends moving away from each other. At the same time, part of the floor slid asied to allow another piece of sofa to shoot silently into place, turning the two-seater into a three-seater. A young woman had been carried up with the new piece. She was sitting with her legs crossed and her hands on her knee. She stood up and walked over to Smithers.

“These are the items you requested,” she said, handing over a package. She produced a sheet of paper and placed it in front of him. “And this report just came from Cairo.”

Pretty much all you need to know about this book is that it is James Bond for teenagers. And, in its way, it’s quite good, and has the grace to acknowledge its inspiration by a generous sprinkling of subtle, and not-so-subtle, allusions to the grown-up version.

This is the third book of a number featuring the 14-year-old reluctant MI6 agent Alex Rider. In this one, he gets himself into trouble with some Chinese triad chappies before taking a “holiday” on Cuban island Cayo Esqueleto (Skeleton Key) with two CIA agents whose son he is pretending to be. A former Soviet general turned megalomaniac multi-millionaire has got his hands on a nuclear bomb and is planning something nightmarish, with only Alex to stop him.

Here’s an Amazon link.
Mine from the library. I love the library!

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