53. My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick
I’m a big fan of Marcus’ books, I’ve read most of his novels for teenagers and this is probably my third favourite (second is below and first is
Midwinterblood which I reviewed properly on my blog here.) This is a wintery, fast-paced story of family, myth and vampires (the scary, not sparkly, kind). Peter is a very engaging hero and his relationship with his father incredibly moving, especially at the end. There are plenty of twists and turns and some wonderful supporting characters. Marcus also directed a superb theatre experience of a section of Swordhand for the Pop Up Festival in London this year which was phenomenal – there’s a video of bits of it on his website.
As I said, this is my second favourite of Marcus’ books and another wintery setting – this time in Russia. This is the semi-true story of the author Arthur Ransome and is an intricate and moving fairy tale within a fairy tale as Ransome’s stories and his own story wind around each other and around communist Russia, politics, spies and romance. I really enjoyed the way Marcus plays with the stories within stories and found it refreshingly different for a YA novel. Marcus has visited my school a few times now and also helped me out with my dissertation but I’m pretty sure I would still have loved this if I had never met him!
55. Jimmy Coates: Killer by Joe Craig
This is the action packed first book in the series about Jimmy Coates, a kind of teenage Bourne. It’s engaging from the very start, with lots of action and suspense and is insanely popular with my students at school – particularly Y7 & 8 boys. The final action sequence is very unputdownable with some unexpected twists and lots of conflicting loyalties. Jimmy is an incredibly likeable hero – he was chosen by one boy as his literary best friend in a recent Book Club activity where we picked our literary family trees (which was so much fun). Again, Joe has visited my school and did a wonderful session for my Y7s where he asked them for ideas for stories and wove them all together in front of them, and had them in stitches whilst doing so.
This was a re-read and I reviewed it properly when it first came out last year here. Since that review, A Monster Calls has won a whole heap of awards over here in the UK including the Red House Children’s Book Award and the Carnegie Medal, both of which I was lucky enough to be invited to take some students to. Red House is a wonderful award because it is voted for by the children and they get to be a big part of the process and also the ceremony day. We got to go to London and have lunch with all the nominated authors and illustrators and have photos taken etc. and the two Y8 girls I took had an amazing day, so thank you Red House. Carnegie is a lot more industry-y with not many children invited, which made it awesome for us to get tickets, and there were amazing canapes, but it was also a bit less child-friendly and bit more networky. It’s such a prestigious award though that me and the four students I took were just super excited to be there, we got to see the winner announced and hear Patrick’s speech and get photos with him afterwards as well as meeting the shortlisted authors who were all lovely and happy to sign books for my students (and me!).
I’m a big fan of How I Live Now, Meg’s first novel, but thought that The Bride’s Farewell was a bit too Hardy-esque and melancholy for it’s intended audience (I reviewed it here). Whilst I didn’t love this as much as How I Live Now (even though this one won the Carnegie in 2007), I thought it was intelligent, thought-provoking and engaging. Our hero decides that Fate is wreaking havoc in his life after his baby brother nearly falls out of a window and decides to change his name and complete personality to try and give Fate the slip. Meg’s writing is wonderful in this, we here from the perspectives of several characters including his baby brother in a particularly clever and emotive way. This is a serious book that doesn’t patronise teenage readers and I imagine will really connect to their struggles in deciding who they really are.
I did like this story of friendship and first love and I always find Meg’s writing beautiful but I just wasn’t as engaged emotionally as I wanted to be. It does capture wonderfully the wistful longing and constant second guessing you get when you meet someone and the exploration of growing up and gender is clever and subtle. It’s basically the story of a boy who goes to a stern coastal boarding school and meets Finn who lives in a cottage by the sea. It’s a lovely study of memory and freedom and self and I struggle to articulate why it didn’t quite connect with me the same way How I Live Now and Just In Case did. A key element of the story is that we don’t know a great deal about Finn because we see through our protagonist’s eyes but between that and not actually getting that much about our protagonist beyond his opinions about Finn I think I just lacking a bit of engagement with the central relationship. But the quality of Meg’s writing is undeniable and I would recommend it to fans of hers.
This is a perfectly serviceable family story for younger readers about a girl who dreams of writing and starring in plays whilst also dealing with the death of her mother and her family’s farm running out of money. If it had been a bit shorter I would probably be a lot more positive about it but it’s just too long for a simple story with a bit too much faffing around in the first half of the book. But, I imagine it will be enjoyed by girls between about 8 – 12, particularly those with a love of animals or drama. There’s a good balance of family drama and adventure but probably could have done without a subplot to do with some boys at school which didn’t add much. A pleasant but flawed read.
Definitely my favourite on this list; David is a phenomenal writer and Billy Dean is no exception. The story is written in very short chapters from the perspective of Billy and as Billy can’t read or write well, it is written semi-phonetically which does take a while to get used to but creates such a powerful voice for Billy. The basic plot is that Billy was born during the bombing of his town and that has allowed him to hidden away as he is the secret child of his mother and the corrupt town priest. The first third of the story is before Billy is introduced to the world and is heart breakingly beautiful as he negotiates the occasional visit from his father and wrestles with what life is all about. The rest is when he is brought back into the bomb-ruined town and forced to work for the medium contacting the dead for the bereaved. The story is incredibly powerful and jaw droppingly beautiful and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is intricate, careful and wonderful. It’s currently on the Carnegie longlist for 2013 and I hope to see it on the shortlist.
” I am entransd. I am enchanted by the byuty of the world. I wark throu lejons of the lovely living things. I wander in the relms of lite.”