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
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
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.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map