Thursday, 30 October 2014

Apples by Richard Milward

Apples is a tragic, troubling and weird read — but not a bad one either. The origin-ally named Adam and Eve move in different circles at school. Adam is an awkward, unpopular kid, uneducated about his changing body and clueless about girls. Eve is self-aware, beautiful and popular, spending her time drinking, taking drugs and sleeping around. The narrative is split between Adam and Eve, with interjections from other characters, a butterfly and a lamp post. 

There is a lot in this book, by which I mean there are a lot of concurrent stories intersecting. There’s violent and sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, terminal illness, OCD, drug abuse, addiction, petty crime, depression and manslaughter to name a few, but Milward somehow manages to make all of these take a backseat because really this book is about an awkward kid fancying a girl who is way out of his league. 

This book is undeniably coming-of-age but not really in a bildungsroman sense; the characters progress and change but they don't grow up or learn any significant mind-altering lessons about themselves and I'm glad because that isn't the context in which this book works. The language and content is offensive, the action is often repulsive but the glossed way that the narrative reports but doesn’t condemn allows for the story of these characters to be told — you don't have to like it, I think you're encouraged not to. 

Best bits: Consistent references to popular culture, particularly fashion and the snobbery that comes with it. Pink toilet roll, gelled hair and Fila are essential to this book.

Worst bits: The chapter that is entirely backwards. Although I appreciated the attempt at ‘form’ it quickly became boring to decipher yreve drow and, I'll admit, I skipped it.

Not for the faint hearted - older teens, knowledge of late 90s early 00s pop-culture useful but not essential. 

Keywords: grim up north, poverty, alco-pop, donnay, fila.

Buy the book from the Faber & Faber website here.
Replica by Jack Heath

This is a cinematic thriller with a chilling core wrapped deep within twists, turns and constant surprises. Although this book took a while to warm up, the pace grows exponentially and by the end you are left gasping for breath. 

Jack Heath uses a select crew of characters (and he uses some of them more than once) that some reviewers argue are under-developed but, isn't this distance a likely conclusion of the fact that his characters are - in fact - trying to interact with a robot? 

This is a timely novel that raises questions about how technology is evolving, what defines a person or being and anticipates resultant problems of identity. Replica is easily spoilt and so this review is light on plot details, suffice to say that if this book starts as a marathon, it ends as a sprint. 

Best bits: Action filled climax on-top of climax - journeying deeper into the servers holding the webs of this complex story together.

Worst bits: For some it was the rather abrupt ending, but for me it took a while to get into this book and so waiting for the story to actually begin was the worst part.

A teen book with clear political messages that draw attention to how we form who we are. Perfect for sci-fi fans but don't let that put you off - plenty of romance too!

Keywords: LGBT, identity, technology, thriller.

Buy the book from the Oxford University Press website here.

Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis

Animal stories aren't generally my thing but — if there was a book to change my mind — it’s Gill Lewis’s Scarlet Ibis. 

The narrative is centred around Scarlet and her younger brother Red who escape from the troubles of their concrete block of flats into dreams of being alone together in the Caroni Swamp. Red is fascinated by feathers, which he collects, and these serve as a comfort and  solace to him throughout the book. Whilst Lewis weaves facets of a more general 9-12 narrative into her book; the unconventional family threatened by Social Services, meddlesome yet ultimately caring neighbours, the perspective of the story and beauty of Lewis’s language transcends the confines of the genre. Scarlet cares for her depressed mum and autistic brother until disaster separates them. She must then fight, with the help of some unexpected friends, to piece her family back together.

“A new life. A lie. A new me. Is this what happens when you step into someone else’s life and leave behind your own? What if I'm asked about my family? Do I write Red out of my new life too?” (91)

A powerful, coming-of-age story about hope and understanding. Lewis’s writing is heartfelt and compelling throughout. 

Best bits: The things that Gill Lewis leaves unsaid — her subtlety really gives this book heart.

Worst bits: Suspension of disbelief sometimes goes a little far and events unfurl in improbable patterns. In places the action just feels like it wouldn't actually happen that way.

A fantastic book for children of the targeted 9+ age bracket (and adults too) - read if you love Michael Morpurgo.

Keywords: adventure, heart, care, determination, strong female lead, diversity.

Buy the book from the Oxford University Press website here