Tag Archives: book review

5 Books to Help Teens Understand Current World Issues

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Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Sephy is a Cross — a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought — a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum — a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?

In this story of white privilege reversal, where whites are victims of racism and blacks are considered the superior race, Malorie Blackman puts a thought provoking spin on racism and prejudice. The protagonists face violence, oppression and bitter injustice in a society that highlights the constant discrimination that goes on in our own.  A powerful, complex story, it embodies compassion and the importance of fighting for what is right: equality for all human beings.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K Rowling

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Harry has been burdened with a dark, dangerous and seemingly impossible task: that of locating and destroying Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes. Never has Harry felt so alone, or faced a future so full of shadows. But Harry must somehow find within himself the strength to complete the task he has been given. He must leave the warmth, safety and companionship of The Burrow and follow without fear or hesitation the inexorable path laid out for him

In the final book in this well-loved series, the government is being controlled by an evil dictator. Sound familiar? In the wizarding world, muggles are crunched underfoot and muggle-born wizards and witches are accused of stealing their magic. Voldemort is “purifying” society, attacking and dehumanizing a group of humans for their birth and origins. Under these terrifying circumstances, Harry, Ron and Hermione must show courage, loyalty and mercy to triumph over evil once and for all.  The need to stand together against oppression is greater than ever before.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank 

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Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit.

In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.

The diary of a young Jewish girl living in hiding during the Second World War, this book is a real life account of the terror, poor quality of life and tragic consequences met by millions of Jews at the hands of one racist man. A priceless contribution to history, it highlights the destructive effects of racism, bigotry and xenophobia and the fact that everyone should have a right to freedom.

Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird

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Twelve-year-old Omar and his brothers and sisters were born and raised in the beautiful and bustling city of Bosra, Syria. Omar doesn’t care about politics – all he wants is to grow up to become a successful businessman who will take the world by storm. But when his clever older brother, Musa, gets mixed up with some young political activists, everything changes . . .

Before long, bombs are falling, people are dying, and Omar and his family have no choice but to flee their home with only what they can carry. Yet no matter how far they run, the shadow of war follows them – until they have no other choice than to attempt the dangerous journey to escape their homeland altogether. But where do you go when you can’t go home?

This story gives an insight into lives of Syrians and refugees of today, regarded by so many as the enemy. Written to help children understand the refugee crisis and empathise with the situation of its victims, it portrays the desperate struggle to survive when war is on your doorstep, with themes such as discrimination against women and people with disabilities woven throughout. With so much confusion about the situation in Syria and the arrival and rejection of refugees, books like this are so important.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

This novel is set in a world in which women have been stripped of all rights, including the right to read, and are only needed for reproduction. Religious and sexual freedom are non-existent and a theocratic government imposes its own rules. This dystopia is a little too close for comfort with the growing sexualisation and objectification of women in today’s society, where “locker room talk” is justified and rape culture is rife. Eye-opening and scary.

Can you suggest any books to add to this list? 

Review: A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson

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Owl is a typical teenager who doodles in maths class and is constantly texting her best friend- at least that what she thinks. Her mother, an artist who drinks jasmine tea and sketches winter landscapes gave Owl a name she would grow into, with her feathery hair and beaky nose. She avoids talking about Owl’s mysterious father, who Owl has never met. But Owl’s longing to know where she comes from is getting stronger and as winter approaches, the mystery begins to unfurl.

This is a beautiful middle grade novel with such a clever idea at its heart. Alternating between Owl’s 1st person POV chapters and fairy-tale passages that give background to some of the ‘elementals’, it pulls us deeper into the spellbinding story behind Owl’s existence. Something extraordinary is happening to Owl- something she cannot explain. As the winter frost begins to coat the world outside her window, it simultaneously tingles across her skin. Literally. “I look down at myself again, hoping that I imagined it, caught up in the bloom of new winter. But, as I watch, little flower-like crystals start to spread over my forearms.”

Along with her best friend, Mallory and the strange new boy Alberic, Owl finds herself caught up in the adventure that is the discovery of her father, Jack Frost. How do you bond with the icon of winter? Although this novel is set for the most part in the real world, parts of it are set in another, ethereal world. It is the world of the changing seasons, and at the heart of it sits the court of Mother Earth. The problem: the guardians of this seasonal harmony have forgotten their purpose, and this could endanger not only Owl’s relationship with her newfound father, but also her life and the natural world.

Owl is funny, at times sarcastic. The voice Amy Wilson created for her is distinct and fits her perfectly. I love how the descriptions of different characters fit the season they are associated with. “His copper eyes blaze in the near-dawn murk, even the freckles in his skin seem to glow…I step back, suddenly aware of how tall he is, how angular. There’s a wiry strength in him that I’d never really thought about before.” Can you guess?  Then there’s the deep, instinctive friendship Owl shares with Mallory and the way their personalities complement each other and drive the narrative onwards.

Owl finds herself with a mission, a calling bigger than herself and a place in a world beyond the knowledge of humankind. A Girl Called Owl is a spectacular portrayal of nature and its many faces, interweaving legend, fairy-tale, perseverance and friendship into a story that teaches that love and strength can be found in the most unlikely people.

You can purchase A Girl Called Owl here. Let me know what you think on Twitter @typewritereduk !

Interview with Charles Lambert on ‘The Children’s Home’

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Today I’m welcoming the lovely Charles Lambert to Typewritered to talk about his novel ‘The Children’s Home’, published by Gallic Books. Here is the blurb:

A beguiling and disarming novel about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor.
Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins, lives on a sprawling estate, cut off from a threatening world. One day, his housekeeper, Engel, discovers a baby left on the doorstep. Soon more children arrive, among them stern, watchful David. With the help of Engel and town physician Doctor Crane, Morgan takes the children in, allowing them to explore the mansion … and to begin to uncover the strange and disturbing secrets it holds.

Cloaked in eerie atmosphere, this distorted fairy tale and the unsettling questions it raises will stay with the reader long after the final page.

Thanks so much, Charles!

Where did the idea for ‘The Children’s Home’ come from?
The first idea wasn’t so much an idea as an image of a man alone in a high room. I wanted to know why he was there and why he was alone. I was reading a novel by Clarice Lispector at the time and she says something in it about monsters, and that what makes someone a monster might be what makes them human, and that also fed into my sense of who Morgan was. I knew that I didn’t want him to be lonely and I wanted to understand how that could be avoided.

I wrote the novel over a very long period – about ten years – in a series of bursts, and the inspiration for it came from a host of different places, so many it’s hard for me to remember. But an installation by Christian Boltanski of folded children’s clothes came at exactly the right moment and pointed me in a direction I hadn’t seen or expected up to that point. Dreams also played their, often gory, part.

Would you say this novel fits into a specific genre? Eg: magical realism? Surrealist fiction? Literary?
Yes. Yes. And yes. And I think we can throw in Gothic and Fairy tale for good measure. Which is another way of saying that it doesn’t actually fit that neatly into any genre. I don’t think in genre terms when I write, in the sense of feeling an obligation to respect a fixed set of rules, although I’ve drawn on various genres quite a lot. But I’m quite capable of writing what looks like a murder investigation and not providing a culprit, which is something that has delighted and infuriated my readers in more or less equal proportions.

The writing in ‘The Children’s Home’ has a unique, stream of consciousness style. As I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading your earlier work, can you tell me if this this always the case, or is it unique to this particular novel?
Each book requires its own style, I think. My first, Little Monsters, was written in the first person, and alternated between a child’s view of the world and that of an adult. In other books, I’ve used a choral approach, with viewpoints shifting from one character to the next, with each partial viewpoint contributing to the story as a whole. My work is often set in Italy, where I live, and my characters frequently have to negotiate in a world that doesn’t belong to them culturally or linguistically, and this definitely has an effect on the way they think and express themselves. The Children’s Home is set in a place where anything might happen, and often does, and I wanted to naturalise that by having a rather formal, almost Edwardian tone to the language. But, as I said, each book sets its own agenda…

I would describe ‘The Children’s Home’ as elusive, compelling and slightly gothic. The story begins with gifted children turning up out of nowhere into the home of a man who hides away from the world. They begin to change him, but as the story continues it grows darker. I’ve never read anything quite like it. Did the different themes in the novel come naturally as the story formed or did you intend on incorporating them from the beginning?
As I said above the book grew in fits and starts, but the main themes, of isolation and self-loathing and self-acceptance, were there from the beginning, as was the idea of monstrousness, and the various forms this could take. Sometimes people can be monstrous and yet believe they’re doing good, and vice versa. The challenge for me was to find a story that would make these themes live and, as is the way with stories, bring out a complexity I hadn’t expected, and that’s what happened, I think. But I’m anticipating your next question…

Many have disagreed on the interpretation of this novel and the lasting impact it has on the reader. There is love and acceptance mixed with secrets and evil. Without revealing too much of the plot, can you tell me what was your intention with this novel? Did you look to convey a particular message when writing or did you deliberately lean towards keeping it ambiguous, open to different interpretations?
I can’t say anything about lasting impact, although I’d obviously like that to be the case. It’s certainly a book that divides readers and those who are uncomfortable with ambiguity have had problems with it. My intention with the book, as with all books, is to make a world that convinces out of words. The challenge with this particular book was to make a world that both is and isn’t the world we live in, something I’ve done several times in my short fiction, but never in a novel. It has to ring true, even if it’s unrecognisable or only recognisable in part. China Miéville is a writer who does this with great assurance, I think. I don’t have messages as such, and I don’t think it’s the job of fiction to proselytise or persuade, but no human act resists interpretation, and that’s especially true of something as constructed as a work of fiction. But I love the idea of the work being open to more than one interpretation. One of the most satisfying things about publishing a book is to have people discover things in it you weren’t aware of when you wrote it – things that are actually, wonderfully, serendipitously, there.

A recent review on Fiction Unbound(http://www.fictionunbound.com/blog/2016/5/12/mooncultsandorphans), for example, uses the cult of Artemis as a way into the book, and finds some creepily precise correspondences. Did I know this as I wrote? I don’t know if I did or not, and I’m not sure how much I want or need to know. I loved the classical world as a child, so maybe I had it stored away and waiting. However it happened, the links are there!

Do you have a writing routine? What does this look like?
I write when I can. I work as an editor for a UN agency and also teach English at one of Rome’s three universities, so time is always short. I can’t afford to have a routine because something else might interrupt me, and then I’m buggered. I write on the train, at work when I get a chance, in the early hours of the morning if I wake up and find myself thinking about the work in progress, as I often do. Sometimes I push everything else to one side because I have to get something written, and then I have to live with the consequences. At other times, I aim for the canonical 1000 words a day…

Do you plan your stories carefully with character profiles, timelines, post-it notes etc. or do you prefer to allow the story to come to you as you write?
The latter!

Which writers (if any) have influenced your writing?
Too many to name. I’ve always read voraciously – a little less these days for lack of time. I loved the English modernists – Lawrence, Huxley, Woolf, Waugh – as a teenager. At university, I read Pynchon and poetry, and Isherwood, lots of Isherwood. I had a long affair with Trollope, Thackeray, George Eliot and the Russians when I first came to live in Italy in my 20s and I still re-read Trollope every couple of years or so as a kind of re-rooting process. Perec taught me the fun of constraints, and how less is more. Gay writers – from Genet to White (Edmund and Patrick), Tournier, more Isherwood, Rechy, Frank O’Hara – have been massively important to me. I love Penelope Fitzgerald and Sybille Bedford and Anthony Powell. Right now, I’m nuts for Knausgaard. I like genre writing a lot as well: King, MR James, Duane Swierczynski (fantastic pulp fiction writer), Simenon, Vargas, and I’ve recently discovered Pascal Garnier – highly recommended. I’m a Game of Thrones nerd. How and how much all this has influenced me is anybody’s guess!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors of fiction?
The same advice we all give, I think. Write, read, write, read, write, read, write. Edit. Listen to advice, but don’t necessarily take it. Oh yes, and that thing about killing your darlings…I like that.