CHILDREN'S BOOKS / Teenage fiction 2

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The Independent Culture
Underrunners by Margaret Mahy, Puffin pounds 3.99. Tris, a friendly but isolated teenager, is brought up by his father on a bleak headland in New Zealand. Haunted by fragmented memories of his childhood, he turns to his confidant Selsey Firebone, an outer-space secret agent. His life is transformed by the arrival of Winola, a scrawny, worldly-wise runaway from the local children's home, but their dreams of escape from the world of grown-ups through their new-found friendship suddenly change into the terrifying reality of shooting and kidnap. As Winola's mysterious past comes back to claim her, Tris realises that his ordeal has just begun and that his past is inexorably bound up with hers. Mahy displays a deep understanding of the emotions and conflicts of growing up in a strange and threatening world, but is never mawkish or patronising. A sophisticated book for up to 14-year-olds. Sophie Seiden (16)

Surbiton High School

No Gun for Asmir by Christobel Mattingley, Puffin pounds 3.50. This is a true story about some refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina who are separated from their father by the civil war. It tells of their escape to freedom, and enables you to experience what life must be like for the refugees. What lets down this otherwise outstanding book is that the author seems to be caught between two styles of writing - although aimed at 12- to 15-year-olds, it uses such simple vocabulary that it almost patronises the reader. James Philips (14)

Haberdashers' Aske's School

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman, Puffin pounds 3.99. Sally Lockhart is not your average 19th-century young lady. Beneath her delicate appearance lies an adventurous spirit which prefers pistol practice to petit point. When Sally's father dies in the Far East in mysterious circumstances, she sets out to discover the truth, and at last gets the chance to play the tomboy she has always wanted to be. This is one of those the-heroine-can-do- wrong-and-always-comes-out-fine books - good for a lazy day by the pool, even though Sally is no rival to Miss Marple. Recommended for up to 14s. Sophie Parker (15)

Surbiton High School

Beyond the Rainbows by Christine Marion Fraser, Lions pounds 3.50. This a moving story about two girls who meet in hospital. Their friendship becomes very special, for Kirsty and Jean have cancer. The book is all about their struggle to fight the disease and the wonderful days they spend on the Island of Sandra. It moved me a great deal and made me think in a different way about terminal illness. But I did find some parts of the author's explanations a bit superficial, and more time was spent describing the island than on the main issue. All in all, though, I found the novel interesting - and it did bring tears to my eyes] Catherine Lynch (14)

Cotham Grammar School

The Deep Blue by Jacqueline Wilson, OUP pounds 9.99. It is clear from the first pages that this story is aimed at young teenage girls, so giving the book to a 17-year-old male to review seemed like one big joke. In fact, this is not just formula teenage fare, but much more: a contemporary novel about real life and relationships. Barbara thinks she wants to be an Olympic diving champion, but on the way her outlook on life changes and matures. The cliched stories of growing up are offered fresh perspectives, from Barbara herself, from her bullied mother and bullying father, from her school friends and from Danny, the catalyst for the changes in Barbara's life. This 17-year-old actually quite enjoyed reading this novel - much as he tried to convince himself that he would have preferred something more obviously gritty. Michael Weadick (17)

Haberdashers' Aske's School

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