Teenage fiction reviewed

Edward Malnick (aged 15) takes a walk on the wild side with the latest novels for teenagers - precocious and otherwise
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The Independent Culture

Gangsta Rap by Benjamin Zephaniah (BLOOMSBURY £5.99. £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897)

Gangsta Rap by Benjamin Zephaniah (BLOOMSBURY £5.99. £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897)

The world of gangsta rap is probably best avoided by teenagers. However, if their passion and talent lie in the world of guns, drugs (and rap), then as Zephaniah explains, they have very little choice. The story is mainly focused around Ray, a teenager with a flair for music (we're talking Tupac, not Beyoncé). Ray gets "excluded" from his local school - and it's no coincidence that this is one week after the same treatment is meted out to his two best friends. Thanks to an understanding, down-to-earth - and altogether unrealistic - headmaster, the boys are taken on by a special organisation designed for teenagers in similar positions. X-Ray-X and his homeys are then whisked up the ladder of fame and fortune in an unforgettable ride. The authority with which the story is written leaves the reader no choice but to be drawn in - and indeed educated - into the world of gangsta rap, with all the appropriate vocabulary. Not for a long time have I read a book with such a "pick me up again" factor.

Children of the Lamp by P B Kerr (SCHOLASTIC £12.99. £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897)

Djinns (Drop the "D" before you become as confused as I was over pronunciation as the story progresses) are a very special being known more commonly to us mere mortals as "genies", although do not belittle a Djinn like that within earshot. After a series of unaccountable events, 12-year-old twins John and Philippa Gaunt discover, via their Uncle Nimrod, that they are both Djinns and (guess what?) posses the power to grant three wishes. John and Philippa are then recruited by Nimrod to help against an evil clan of Djinns.

The story becomes very obviously lazy in parts, such as the baddie very kindly offering a single bind instead of a double bind on the bottle in which he was trapping the twins - very convenient for a later escape. I was apprehensive at the thought of a resurrection of the genie concept and, turning over the last page, I was still fairly unimpressed by the spread laid on by the author. This might work for undemanding or unconfident readers, but I suggest that the more ambitious young reader look elsewhere.

Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver (ORION £8.99. £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897)

The death of Torak's father not only caused him immense grief but more revelations than anyone his age could handle - but as readers will discover, Torak is no ordinary boy. He soon discovers (with the help of his wolf guide) that he is "The Listener" and the one that the clans have been waiting for, to vanquish the possessed bear roaming free in the forest. Torak embarks on a long journey, "magnificently" surviving on his crude hunting skills. His travels present a treasure-trove of description, which the book depends on, and the isolation from the modern world is a breath of fresh air, making Wolf Brother a very innocent and engaging read for children.

Dunno by Peter Inson (CHARLES KIMPSON £6. £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

The mind of a teenager is the eighth wonder of the world and even a real teenager attempting to scribble down their emotions in a rare few seconds of sanity would fail to capture the feelings of all teenagers, and each one is as deeply flawed as the next. Peter Inson has constructed and modelled his own teenager: a boy who finds school and his mother's new boyfriend utterly repulsive, and steals to pay back a never-ending loan to enterprising young shark Dean and his older brother. Although I'm probably not the best judge on matters of stealing and truancy, I can comfortably say that Inson's insight into the mind of this character is greatly convincing and has been written in a style as far from patronising as possible, which makes this portrait of a dysfunctional teenager a worthwhile read.

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor (EGMONT £12.99 £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897)

When Lewis Carroll sat down to write the Alice books all those years ago, he can't have foreseen a version in 2004. Yet to say Beddor's revolutionary novel is an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's original would do justice to neither author. It's far more than a meagre attempt at reworking Alice, the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter to fit into a modern-day distortion of the tale; rather, Beddor has created his own version of the story, one where the characters have small hints of their counterparts, but are much more defined and complex individuals, with feelings and clear identities.

The Looking Glass Wars sees Princess "Alyss" on the run from her corrupt aunt, full of black imagination that caused the death of both of the former's parents, and a miserable reign over Wonderland. Any further elaboration of the ingenious plot might spoil the story for potential readers; suffice to say that the magic with which Beddor has imbued each character really and truly brings them to life.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (PENGUIN £10.99 £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897)

This book is aimed at a universal audience and maybe adults will fare better with it, because I fail to see the charm in Rosoff's writing and was left fairly unmoved by the experience. There is a certain slickness and immediacy to the way the story is presented, but on the whole it lacks the quality (or X-factor) that makes a book memorable. How I Live Now is made up of the cynical narration of a girl who travels from New York to live with her cousins in England, whom she doesn't know all that well, but then finds herself in the middle of an invasion by a generic army. The invasion causes an unimaginable amount of disruption to all concerned, and most significantly, the dramatic split of her family.

Apocalypse by Tim Bowler (OXFORD £12.99. £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897)

After a dramatic accident, a boy, Kit, finds himself with two overwhelming problems when he gets stranded on a remote island with his parents. The first is a sheerly physical struggle: they have to find enough water each day in order to survive. The second is a mental struggle: to attempt some sort of explanation for the constant appearance of a man many years Kit's senior, but with similar features and facial appearance, and then to discover the whereabouts of his parents on an island that he soon discovers to be inhabited by a group of less than welcoming natives.

This utterly gripping narrative reaches out to teenagers in a way that could only be achieved by an individual who thoroughly understands and sympathises with his audience. Every word is written in the expectation that the reader will be drawn in, and in this endeavour Tim Bowler magnificently succeeds. His brilliant novel contains a level of imagination and authority that easily puts the success of the Harry Potter books to shame.

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