Teenage fiction reviewed

Voices of a world at war

Elizabeth Laird's Secrets of the Success (Macmillan, £12.99) takes a more rosy view of the past - unexpected in a writer whose previous novels have included unflinching pictures of today's political hot spots. Based on the life of her great-great-great grandfather, this story describes how 12-year old John Barr discovers that life as a powder-monkey aboard a battleship during the Napoleonic Wars has much to recommend it. Brutality, poor food and hideous wounds never really dent the mood of optimistic adventure, with John soon joined by Kit, who is - as so often in history novels - a girl in disguise. Setting out on a dangerous mission in France, they are aided by overheard conversations and unearthed documents as the story settles into the comfortable grooves of a pleasant old-school melodrama.

John Sedden's Mudlark (Puffin, £4.99) is set in Portsmouth in 1914, at a time when children used to dive for coins thrown by tourists into the thick mud of the harbour - a practice that survived to the mid-20th century. Jimmy, aged 14, is one of the best at this game, using his winnings to help out his loving but distracted mother, an unwilling prostitute. Walking around Portsmouth barefoot, getting bitten by fleas in the cinema, at war with the local police, Jimmy cheerfully gets by until he is arrested on a trumped-up charge. Convinced he knows the identity of a suspected serial murderer about whom the authorities want to keep quiet (for fear of endangering public morale), Jimmy is forced into the army. He ends up deep in mud once again, this time surrounded by rats rather than coins. Sparely written and expertly paced, this debut novel is gripping and entertaining.

Matt Whyman's The Wild (Hodder, £5.99) takes place in a nuclear testing-ground in modern Kazakhstan; a location so desolate that even diving into Portsmouth mud looks desirable by comparison. Alexi is, at 14, the oldest in a gang that salvages the débris left behind from rockets fired for experimental purposes. His younger brother Misha is one of many children suffering from a brain tumour. Determined to make it to a Moscow hospital, the boys enter a different type of nightmare. The author's previous Boy Kills Man was triumph enough; this book is just as good. Written with convincing authority, bleak but inspiring rather than depressing as the two boys refuse to admit defeat, the novel is a superb achievement.

Nigel Richardson's The Wrong Hands (Oxford, £12.99) is a rum business. It describes the world as experienced by Graham Sinclair, a near-autistic adolescent whose disfigured hands make him the butt of cruel humour at school. But he also has secret powers that enable him to fly. When this becomes known to a beautiful but ruthless journalist working for that notorious tabloid The Moon, Graham is set for his biggest fall yet. Although well-written, this story never quite decides whether it is fantasy, allegory or adventure with a twist. But it still manages to be oddly compelling, right up to its characteristically strange ending.

In Terence Blacker's Parent Swap (Macmillan, £4.99), 13-year-old Danny is encouraged to move in with what seem like much better parents in a richer, apparently more stable, home. But he slowly realises that his new existence is being filmed without his knowledge in the hope of making a reality TV programme. Danny decides to take his revenge against everyone who has been lying to him, and does so with the aid of none other than the Queen herself. Maintaining a suspension of disbelief has, by this stage, become impossible, but there is still plenty to enjoy in a novel that contains excellent parodies of current speech and fashions.

Finally, look out soon for Frances Hardinge's Fly by Night (Macmillan, £12.99). This picaresque first novel, due in September, combines the vivid colours of Leon Garfield's history stories with Philip Pullman's power to create imaginary worlds. Its heroine, tough, streetwise, 12-year-old Mosca Mye, takes on warring craft guilds, a corrupt royal family and various villains as she and her pet goose finally make it to a place she has always wanted: a society where books can be published freely, without censorship. Imaginative and richly textured, this extraordinary novel is a reminder that in the world of fiction nothing can be taken for granted, particularly when aimed at a younger audience. Read and enjoy.

Nicholas Tucker's is co-author of the 'Rough Guide' to books for teenagers

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas