CHILDRENS BOOKS / Teenage fiction

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The Independent Culture
Words of Stone by Kevin Henkes, Julia MacRae pounds 8.99. This deeply psychological book centres around the unusual friendship of two children. Unable to cope with traumatic events surrounding the death of his mother, Blaze exists in cold isolation. Living in remote countryside with his reclusive artist father and grandmother, he turns to imaginary friends for company. Joselle, abandoned at birth by her father and unloaded recently by her mother onto her grandmother, is happy to discover that Blaze's life is possibly more unhappy than her own, and resolves to make it even worse. This book is decidedly American in style and tone. It is also relatively slow to begin, but the story is involving, original and not entirely predictable. Most important, it patronises

neither the reader nor feelings of Blaze and Joselle. For up to 13s. Melanie Andrews (16)

Surbiton High School, Surrey

The Return by Sonia Levitin, OUP pounds 9.99. Desta, an Ethiopian Jewish girl in her mid- teens, decides, with her elder brother and younger sister, to make a modern-day Exodus to Jerusalem from their tiny village home in the mountains. Based on Operation Moses, the secret airlifting of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel during 1984 and 1985, the book shows the resentment displayed by other Ethiopians towards the 'Falasha' (or 'stranger') Jews, but I was surprised that the similar rejection shown by some non-Ethiopian Jews was not touched on. This is a well researched and intriguing account of a subject seldom examined, and - though sometimes harrowing, especially for younger readers - would help children of any religion to learn about this unusual and intricate culture. Michael Lewin (14)

Haberdashers' Aske's School, Elstree

The Ghost of Glencoe by Mollie Hunter, Canongate pounds 2.99. Robert Stewart is one of a group of officers of the King's army sent to stake out the MacDonalds of Glencoe, whose Chief, Maclan, has broken his oath of allegiance and rebelled against the monarch. When orders are received to fall upon the rebels and 'have special care that the old fox and sons do not escape', the author builds up great tension around the impending massacre and whether the rebels can be warned of it before the soldiers arrive. Mollie Hunter sticks closely to the facts of the massacre and portrays it well. Heart-rending history for readers of 12 and above. Cara Sanderson (17)

Surbiton High School

Treasures for Cousin Crystal by Rachel Anderson, Lions pounds 3.50. This story is based on a family who are perfectly happy living in the country, far from civilisation. But then both parents have to go away to work and need to find somewhere for their three children to stay. Eventually, in desperation, they send them to Cousin Crystal's. Her home, her food, her money - everything's brilliant. The children think it will last for ever. It's the kind of thing every child secretly wishes for. The book makes very enjoyable reading because it shows the children's points of view; I would recommend it for younger children. Rachel Stockham (14)

Cotham Grammar School, Bristol

Hot Pursuit: Semra by Merrilee Moss, Penguin pounds 3.99. Semra is a well balanced book, with lucid vocabulary and energetic drama to appeal to younger children and the suspense, atmosphere and underlying moral message aimed at older readers. Semra, a studious Turkish teenager in Australia, comes from a rigid family and leads a plain life. When her father is asked to translate an Arabic letter for one of her friends, the heroine is suddenly the target of racism and fighting. The general style makes for a quick, enjoyable read, but the writing tends to be too basic at times and certain details, such as irritating questions and the constant use of childish adjectives, meant that the novel did become tedious in places. It would make an ideal introduction to teenage reading for 11- to 13-year-olds, but not, sadly, a 'can't put it down'classic . Jeremy Brier (13)

Haberdashers' Aske's School

A Short Stay in Purgatory by Alan Durant, Bodley Head pounds 7.99. At a hint of something 'adolescent' the cries abound: 'We've seen it all before - Adrian Mole and all that]' Don't knock it, we've all been the victims of teenage angst. These 12 stories display an incredible variety of real feelings and real situations, like Scott, whose emotions are 'like plasticine'. Many are recognisable predicaments - the obsession, the bonding of friends, the splitting of families - each treated unpretentiously and avoiding the familiar stereotyping. High drama and gripping twists in one story turn to pathos and ennui in another, while the tragicomedy of the tale in which a young couple's 'first time' is postponed by flatulence is humorously mastered. Durant's vivid, simple language brings to life a range of poignant and beautiful experiences which many 14- to 17-year-olds will want to share. Ben Gross (17)

Haberdashers' Aske's School

Western Wind by Paula Fox, Orion pounds 9.99. Elizabeth, feeling rejected by her parents whose time is consumed by her baby brother, is to spend a month with her grandmother, Cora, on the remote island of Pring. This proves more interesting than it initially appears and she discovers that Cora is a unique person from whom she can learn a great deal. Elizabeth proves to be a perceptive yet believable character, and Paula Fox writes emotively, with understanding. Western Wind is not bursting with action but provokes some interesting thoughts. I recommend it for 11-14s. Holly Willis (17)

Surbiton High School

Memoirs of a Dangerous Alien by Maggie Prince, Orion pounds 9.99. When new neighbours move in next door, Dominic senses something is wrong - foreign spies, maybe even escaped criminals? The possibility that they are aliens involved in a plot to destroy the world doesn't at first cross his mind, but when it does, he and the Black Star gang set out to save the earth from destruction. This book progresses swiftly, with never a dull moment: the language is simple and vivid, with complicated features (names, spaceships and gadgets) described in easy detail. A good read for up to 14s, though it does end rather abruptly - maybe to give scope for a sequel? Phil Godard (14)

Cotham Grammar School

The Disinherited by Louise Lawrence, Bodley Head pounds 7.99. If you're prepared to think beyond the narrative and consider the issues that a story raises, this could be a horizon- widening experience. Admittedly, the plot seems contrived in places, as the author makes her point, but it gets the mind turning. It is set in the near future, where Hugh and his friends find themselves becoming trapped in a culture fuelled by desire and desperation. Determined to make a break from his circle into a new life, Hugh finds it is not so easy to forget those he once held dear. When an unlikely ally begins to share his dreams, he finds the past will not leave him alone. Recommended for all 14- to 18-year-olds who think they have their future mapped out nicely, as it screams 'Wake up]' loudly in their face. William Hayler (17)

Haberdashers' Aske's School