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 Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

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

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
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.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam