The Innocent's Story, by Nicky Singer (OXFORD £12.99)
The action of the suicide bomber is something only too depressingly familiar today. However it's a surprise to see the subject tackled in a young adults' novel. A teenage girl is a victim of a suicide bombing, and becomes a "para spirit" with the ability to enter other minds - including that of her murderer -observing their workings and outlook. Fine writing andshrewd perceptions (I enjoyed the description of "that sensation you sometimes get when you stand on the edge of an underground platform and, just for a moment, the danger draws you, you think you'll jump off, just as you hear the train coming") contribute to this resounding tale.
The Fearful, by Keith Gray (RANDOM HOUSE £10.99)
Think of the Loch Ness Monster with a different name (the Mourn), in a different country, and with his own keeper, and you've got the story in one. The Mourner tradition (protector of the townsmen from the creature) is handed down through males in the Milmullen family for many generations, since the days of Old William, in the 17th century. Tim is due to inherit the title on the day of his 16th birthday, but finds himself doubting the existence of the monster, thus causing a rift in an already divided family and town. But a series of circumstances cause the townsfolk to believe that a) it does exist and b) it ain't happy. The Mourn may or may not exist, but I was turned off by the writing: a vehicle is described as an "ancient crappy van", which left me mourning for the book that could have been.
Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin (BLOOMSBURY £12.99)
Another portrayal of the aftermath of a girl's death, this probes deeply into the thoughts, fears, and fresh ideas of life after death - and life as a whole. The story is centred on Liz, a teenage hit-and-run victim. She wakes up (right up to the end of the book, we are more enlightened than the teenager herself about her situation; whether this is intended or not, the reader consistently remains ahead) on a large boat, carrying its previously deceased passengers to Elsewhere. Zevin doesn't make light of what is clearly grim subject matter, but she does handle it in an original manner, even if the writing style is American and the narrative in the present tense (which takes a couple of chapters to get used to).
Hold On, by Alan Gibbons (ORION £5.99)
Annie's focus on returning from a year in Canada is to bring to justice those she holds responsible for suicide of her friend John. Bullying at the local school forced him into retreat behind a wall, "his citadel". Gibbons takes us through the thoughts of both Annie and John, the latter in the form of diary excerpts. The content is powerful, but the presentation lets it down a little: the turn-taking accounts by the two characters are fragmented and follow no clear timeline. Annie's narrative, for example, switches erratically between the before and after of John's death. The family-centered clichés are also a slight let-down; you get the sense that, as the mere details in the plot, the "fickle" relationships seem to have been dealt with lightly... but you can't have it all.