NEW TITLES

This month's powerful selection of fiction for readers aged 11-16 years has been reviewed by teachers and librarians, and covers a range of ideas with mental health, otherness and superstition among the issues tackled.

Goldfish Boy
Lisa Thompson

Scholastic

ISBN 9781407170992

Twelve-year-old Matthew Corbin suffers from crippling OCD. Trapped in a small world of his own making he rarely ventures out from the pristine confines of his own bedroom. Left to while away the hours making scrupulous notes on the comings and goings of his neighbours Matthew's highly observant nature soon becomes the key to solving a chilling mystery. When Teddy and Casey move in temporarily with their Grandfather, Mr Charles, Matthew is soon taking notes on the lively youngster and his sinister sister. It is Casey who coins the moniker The Goldfish Boy after she catches Matthew observing them through the glass of the bedroom window and Matthew takes an instant dislike to her. When Teddy suddenly disappears from the garden one sunny afternoon, Matthew wonders whether Casey is involved. Realising that she or one of his neighbours must be the culprit Matthew begins to re-examine his notes and slowly starts to emerge from his cocoon. Aided by his quirky and persistent neighbour Melody, Matthew is soon establishing means and motives for the colourful , sometimes secretive cast of his quiet suburban cul-de-sac. Attempting to solve the mystery and return Teddy to his distraught mother inadvertently forces Matthew to confront some of his own demons and reflect on how traumatised his own parents are by his behaviour. Wrongly blaming himself for his baby brother's death, Matthew belatedly realises that his life has spiralled out of control, keeping him out of school and isolated from family and friends. When Matthew and Melody (with a little help from the Police and their neighbour Jake) finally solve the mystery of Teddy's whereabouts, Matthew vows at the same time to begin making small, shaky steps on his own road to recovery. The Goldfish Boy is a wonderful, quirky read but it does take a while for the story to gain momentum. Only once Teddy disappeared did I feel truly engaged with the characters and their story. Matthew is a difficult protagonist to like but it's a genuinely intriguing mystery as well as a parable about overcoming your fears and Matthew, like the story, wins you over in the end. 400 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Clare Wilkins, school librarian.

Goldfish Boy
Welcome to Nowhere
Elizabeth Laird

Macmillan Children's Books

ISBN 9781509840496

Omar is happy, growing up in his homeland of Syria. Bosna, his town, is a vibrant place to live and Omar is determined to become a successful businesman, like his cousin, Rasoul. On the other hand, his older brother, Musa, who has cerebral palsy, is starting to become interested and involved in politics. When students in Daraa write an anti-governemnt slogan on the wall of their school, the backlash is swift and harsh and trouble quickly spreads to Bosna. Life for Omar and his family changes dramatically. Forced to flee their homeland with what little they can carry, Omar and his family find themselves refugees. Life will never be the same again... Elizabeth Laird is an incredible author. In Welcome to Nowhere she has created, first and foremost, a believable family. We come to know and understand the characters as people - people like you and me with hopes, dreams, family and lives. When this is then taken away from them and they find themselves in inhuman circumstances, we still know them as those people we care about - exactly how we should view all refugees - as people like ourselves. This is a poignant, special book which is beautifully written. Essential reading. 352 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher.

Welcome to Nowhere
What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible
Ross Welford

HarperCollins

ISBN 9780008156350

Ethel has acne and, in her quest to get rid of the spots, she is taking a Chinese remedy she found on the internet and which she paid for with her grandmother's card. This, combined with lying on a sunbed given to her by a shop that is closing down, makes her invisible, which as you can imagine is quite a shock! She lives with Gram, as her mother is dead and her father gone, and is having a hard time at school being bullied by the twins who call her 'pizza face'. Boyd, who is new at school, is large and loud, and befriends Ethel. She doesn't really want this, but finds him growing on her, just as a friend, you understand. In a complicated and very funny plot, Ethel uses her invisibility to recompense Boyd after she is overheard saying something uncomplimentary about him; this is in a scene where she is naked but invisible at the school talent show. Unfortunately, the horrible twins put two and two together and blackmail her, which results in her having to go invisible again to sort out the problem. At the same time she learns that her grandmother knows more about her mother than she has let on, her long-lost father appears, and her centenarian great-gran is trying to communicate with her. You can probably get the idea from the above that this is no ordinary story but the reader is carried along with Ethel's plight, understands the difficulties of being invisible and feels for her as she is unable to be seen. The ebb and flows of friendships at school are also exposed in a story with unexpected depth, and which shows that appearances are not all they are made out to be! This is Ross Welford's second book, the first being Time Travelling with a Hamster, and shows he is an original writer with a lovely sense of the ridiculous but also has the sympathy to make us empathise with his characters. 405 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Janet Fisher, librarian.

What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible
A Poem for Every Night of the Year
Allie Esiri

Macmillan Children's Books

ISBN 9781509813131

Allie Esiri has set herself an ambitious task in undertaking to provide a poem for every night of the year. The introduction promises 'a sequence of beautiful poems to share at bed time, a journey through culture and history and the seasons'. Esiri's choices - there are 366 of them as it's a Leap Year - do indeed take the reader on an amazing journey through time, culture and religion. Classic poets jostle with contemporary poets for a place in the book and teachers will welcome the inclusion of so many poetry stars, past and present. Robert Louis Stevenson sits alongside Langston Hughes; Lewis Caroll with Carol Ann Duffy; AA Milne with David Harmer. The monthly choices are appropriately seasonal: Robert Frost's haunting and elliptical narrative 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' (p.6) greets us on January 4th; the child in RLS's 'Bed in Summer' laments the unfairness of going to bed 'When all the sky is clear and blue' on August 21st (p.321). Where possible, the poems are tied to specific events: Adrian Mitchell's 'Song in Space' (p.139) is chosen to commemorate Yuri Gagarin's historic journey into space on April 12th, 1961. Esiri has set herself the additional challenge of writing a short introduction to each poem. For many of the poems (such as 'Song in Space'), this is essential as it shows the rationale for the choice of poem. However, there are times when the commentaries feel forced and, just occasionally, are rather simplistic. Before reading 'There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly' (p.44) we are told that 'The repetition in this poem makes it great fun to read out loud'. Do we need to be told that Spike Milligan's 'Today I saw a little worm' (p.49) is 'very short but very funny'? Could not some poems be left to stand alone? The introduction to RLS's 'A Good Play' simply reiterates the content of the poem; of more interest surely would have been something about RLS's early, sickly life and the importance of imagination and play in this context. I am unsure as to how far the book is one that children, rather than teachers, will want to browse through. Despite its richly decorated cover illustration, it is a weighty tome, more suited to adult hands, than children's. I hope that teachers will not be deterred by the night-time pitch: having a store of poems to dip into each month should be a welcome addition to a class's poetry repertoire. 544 pages / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant.

A Poem for Every Night of the Year
The White Tower
Cathryn Constable

Chicken House Ltd

ISBN 9781909489103

When her father gets his dream job as librarian at Temple College, Livy finds herself struggling to fit in. Still lost in the grief of her best friend's death, the prestigious school and its elite students are completely alien to her. Drawn to the roof and the mysterious Sentinels, huge statues lining it, Livy becomes obsessed with a strange desire to fly. Mystery surrounds events in the past of the college and Livy becomes sucked into the secrets and lives of others as she comes to terms with her loss. Original and beautifully written, The White Tower is about feelings of loss and self discovery. The story opens with Livy trying to fulfil her promise to her best friend, Mahalia. Her sense of loss and lonliness is vividly portrayed and only the hardest heart could fail to feel for her. As her story develops, she is shown to be vulnerable, yet resourceful, loyal and brave. Catheryn Constable skillfully brings Livy's world to life, describing Temple College with an eye for detail and a richness of language which is so appealing. The old-fashioned institution, the sense of mystery and magic, the atmosphere of anticipation all combine perfectly to make this a charming read. 272 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher.

The White Tower
The Witch's Kiss (The Witch's Kiss, Book 1)
Katharine Corr

HarperCollins

ISBN 9780008182984

Merry is a 16-year-old with the usual family and school struggles except she's also an untrained witch, youngest in a bloodline of witches stretching back centuries. Unexplained dreams soon materialise into a 1,500-year-old family curse and love story linked with a powerful wizard who, with the support of her family, Merry must defeat. The intermingling of modern-day teenage life with glimpses of Anglo-Saxon life and a retelling of a Sleeping Beauty-type fairy tale with reversed genders works well, but I would have liked a little more character development. This is a well-paced tale of witchcraft, suspense and enduring love, but will it be 'Happy Ever After' for everyone? 424 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Samantha Pett, school librarian.

The Witch's Kiss (The Witch's Kiss, Book 1)
The Witch's Tears (The Witch's Kiss Trilogy, Book 2)
Katharine Corr

HarperCollins

ISBN 9780008182991

Sequel to The Witch's Kiss, I found The Witch's Tears a much more compelling read. The story focuses on Merry and her brother Leo in the aftermath of the events of The Witch's Kiss as they struggle to come to terms with their individual losses. Merry is reluctantly being trained by the Coven, and Leo is unsure of his future. Their character development, which I found slightly lacking in the first book, made them much more real and their special sibling bond is the driving force of the story, even when they're arguing. New friends come along, but everything is not as it seems, and a new string of terrible events unfolds. A well written plot with plenty of action, some love interest and a cliffhanger ending. 409 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Samantha Pett, school librarian.

The Witch's Tears (The Witch's Kiss Trilogy, Book 2)
Wing Jones
Katherine Webber

Walker Books Ltd

ISBN 9781406369090

Wing Jones has always lived in the shadow of her brother; uncomfortable in her skin and awkward, she hugs the shadows at school, anxious not to draw attention to herself. But when Marcus falls from grace, Wing finds the isolation unbearable. Feeling even more of a social pariah, without Marcus, without his physical presence and without his reputation, Wing struggles to find her voice. Driven by frustration and an impotence to help at home where Marcus's absence is felt acutely, Wing starts to run. To run away from the worries and responsibilities. To run towards a salvation. To run for Marcus. And she's good at it. Really good. Katherine Webber has given us some really amazing characters (cue Wing's grandmothers, one Chinese, one Ghanaian), great family dynamics, friendship, strength, hope and love. What's not to like? Definitely worth seeking this one out on the shelves. 384 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Catherine Purcell, school librarian.

Wing Jones
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful
Eric Lindstrom

HarperCollins

ISBN 9780008147471

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful. A YA title which at its simplest is a story of not just coping with mental illness but living with it. But that hardly does it justice. It's about relationships and trust; about the ability to be honest about who you are and trust that friends will be OK with that. Mel Hannigan is back at school, she's doing her level best to catch up on work missed and maintain friendships. She's working hard to recognise her bipolar disorder, categorise her dysphoric mania and develop strategies to live with it and with the help of her friend Dr Jordan, a resident at the Silver Sands Suites where Mel works, it looks like she's managing! But revelations within her previous friendship group look set to upset the balance threatening to bring the fragile house of cards down. Eric Lindstrom has deftly constructed an immensely likeable character in Mel and surrounded her with the very best of family and the charming residents of the Silver Sands Suites. With Mel's brother, Noah, Eric has added in a mystery which we unwrap as the narrative progresses. With Zumi, Annie and Connor we see both the beauty and the destructive nature of some relationships - and are drawn to wondering whatever happened in their group? I was really rooting for Mel, daring her to be brave enough to open up and talk about her illness to key people, about her daily battles, but I could also feel her nervousness, the fear that that knowledge laid bare would alter those friendships. The power of talking, honest talking, should not be underestimated and I am delighted to see mental health tackled in fiction in the hope it will prompt conversations and foster understanding. 352 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Catherine Purcell, school librarian.

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful
The Memory Book
Lara Avery

Quercus Children's Books

ISBN 9781784299248

Told in a diary style narrative, The Memory Book follows Sam McCoy as she deals with a life-changing illness. Diagnosed with Niemann-Pick, a form of dementia, Sam will inevitably lose her memory. Determined to give herself the best possible chance of remembering who she is, Sam starts a memory book, like a diary, telling her future self (Future Sam) who she is and what she wants. As she writes, Sam discovers the plans she has made for herself - winning the Nationals, making the Valedictorian speech and going to NYU - are less and less likely to be achieved but with dogged determination she fights her way forward. Sam's friends and family provide some support and advice but it's not always welcome; her illness affects them too. As it progresses, Sam has less and less freedom, which for a teenager desperate to break free is increasingly frustrating. Sam starts to realise perhaps she isn't the person she thought she was and it's only through her memory book that her true self is revealed. The Memory Book is utterly compelling. In practical terms, it's very easy to read with some 'chapters' only one line long (so a good choice for teens who don't want to read a 'long' book). But in emotional terms, it's heart-wrenching, with the final scenes in particular causing a flood of tears. With a fantastic cast of characters, the story comes to life. Sam is bold, brave and really inspiring considering what she is facing. Sam's family are introduced to us through childhood memories as well as 'current' moments. Through the various relationships Sam has, the journey of self-discovery is significant. You rejoice with her when she manages to achieve some of her goals, mourn those she can't and feel absolute heartache as her 'body is failing'. The story of Sam McCoy will stay with you long after reading. 368 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Victoria Dilly, consultant.

The Memory Book
Lie Kill Walk Away: From the Author of the Everest Files and Mortal Chaos
Matt Dickinson

Vertebrate Publishing

ISBN 9781910240861

Becca lives with her research scientist dad. Although only fifteen, she has just achieved five A* A levels and is off to Cambridge to study Natural Sciences. Joe lives with his dad and his dog, Shammy. Addicted to the thrill of tagging, he's facing one hundred hours of community service to pay for his crime. Their worlds collide when Becca's father is taken to the military hospital which Joe is scrubbing clean of graffiti. This is a thrilling, fast-paced read! The story is told from alternating viewpoints in very short, sharp chapters which keeps the action going. The tension mounts as the story hurtles towards its exciting conclusion. The pace of the story, however, does not detract from the development of the characters. Joe and Becca are strongly portrayed as individuals that you really care about. Initially vulnerable and naive, Becca becomes stronger and her love for her father is convincingly handled. Joe is Mr 'Cheeky Chops' Fontana - a 'wide boy' - but is a caring, sensitive lad, making him a very appealing character who you are rooting for from page one. The scenario the story depicts is chilling. The plot is well constructed and offers a satisfying conclusion. Great read! 320 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher.

Lie Kill Walk Away: From the Author of the Everest Files and Mortal Chaos
The Call
Peadar O'Guilin

David Fickling Books

ISBN 9781910200971

As the author writes in his acknowledgements, this is a grim book! The setting is Ireland in a dystopian future, where the country is isolated from the rest of the world, and the fairies are taking revenge for centuries of history, in a pretty gruesome way. Every teenager will at some point get 'The Call' and disappear for three minutes (in human time, but a whole day to them) into a grey violent world where they will be hunted and tortured. One in ten come back alive, but most of those will be deformed in hideous ways as well as psychologically scarred. Nessa, who is physically disabled, is determined she will, against the odds, be a survivor, and the book tells her story at survival school. The idea is an interesting one, but it did seem after a while that the author was trying to come up with ever more bizarre and gruesome ways in which characters could be tormented and deformed. Every time a character disappears when their call comes, the violence became more imaginative. 'Fairies' is a misleading name, as these creatures are cruel and ruthless, also known by the Irish name of Sidhe. And at school, where the youngsters are trained in survival, they are divided amongst themselves and seem determined to hurt each other. The characters didn't really come to life, but were rather two-dimensional. Nessa herself is admirable for her determination, and it is certainly a positive thing to see a disabled character so physically active and successful at a time when we are looking for more diverse characters in fiction. However, characterisation is not a strength of the novel. The action sequences are probably the best written parts, and there is plenty of excitement and tension. The book may appeal to fans of dystopian fiction, but strayed well into the horror genre as well. And I'm not sure how successful the central role of Irish mythology will prove amongst readers. 336 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Carol Williams, school librarian.

The Call
The One Memory of Flora Banks
Emily Barr

Penguin Books Ltd

ISBN 9780141368511

Prepare to meet Flora Banks: you don't have to be brave - but she does and as you enter her world your curiosity will develop as you get to grips with exactly just how courageous she must be and why she must have the message 'Flora be brave' permanently inked on her arm. Flora may be an unreliable narrator but as a protagonist she is engaging, charming, and intriguing. You feel for her; spurring her on in her quest, cheering when she succeeds, and shouting at those hindering her. From an accomplished adult author this first foray into teenage/young adult fiction is a brilliantly disturbing and engaging read, written with a sensitive but dark hand. What could have been formulaic and repetitive is anything but: for a story about amnesia, this is distinctly memorable. Flora Banks is 17 but in her mind she is 10, for that is how old she was when she became ill and developed anterograde amnesia. She can remember her life up to this age; her parents, her best friend, her home in Penzance, Cornwall; but she cannot form and keep memories for any length of time after this age. She manages her life by reading the notes in her notebook written by herself and her mother, relying upon her parents and best friend, and reading what is written on her hands and arms. Then things change. One night she kisses her best friend's boyfriend, and surprisingly, she remembers the event the next day. She can remember what was said, how she felt, and that he was leaving to go to Svalbard in Norway. She begins to think of this boy, Drake, as being the solution, a magic remedy, to her memory loss and so she takes advantage of her parents' absence and follows him to this arctic wilderness. Barr's writing style alters as Flora's memory comes and goes and her mind becomes more settled or unsettled (depending on how you look at it). The pace and repetition reflect Flora's state of mind, depending on her clarity or confusion, and the sense of danger and foreboding grows. As Flora begins to become more aware and long-held secrets are uncovered, you really understand how vulnerable she is. The claustrophobia and confusion of what it is like to be Flora spills of the page; and her tenacity, naivety, energy, and spirit make her a fascinating and quite unusual character. Flor's obsession with Drake borders on sinister stalking behaviour and so when we finally meet him it is very difficult to know whom to believe. Twists, lies, and Flora's confusion make this such a labyrinthine plot, that sometimes you feel like you need to keep a notebook of events just as Flora does and this is another reason why Barr's use of repetition is so clever. Flora relates the story so far; 'I kissed Drake' over and over again, but it doesn't feel tiresome. The book is not perfect, it has some jarring problems and aspects that just do not sit right, which in themselves make interesting talking points for the class or reading group who discuss and study the novel. Flora is so vulnerable, so dependent, on the people around her being decent and kind, but how realistic is this expectation? Would it have added to the story for her to be taken advantage of at times? How realistic is it that the parents would be absent, considering Flora's history, for so long with little contact and back up put in place? Additionally, why do we find out the truth about Flora and Drake's relationship secondhand, through a character's (that has only been noticeable by their absence) throwaway lines? Flora's feelings for Drake are intoxicating and drive her actions throughout, but unfortunately, the truth about Drake felt rushed, a loose end that needed to be tied, and so is done in a very casual manner. Flora is such a strong character that it is intriguing how Barr has managed to let others shine through despite them having little presence in the book, for the actions of Flora's parents, brother and best friend have such an impact on her life that it is this rather than their personalities that makes them interesting. This is a brilliant read full of nice little details such as Flora's sympathy for the elderly neighbour suffering from dementia. On occasion it reminded me of the films Big, Memento, and 50 First Dates, and it really makes you consider how much you take your memory for granted. I really like how Barr appears to be taking you along the road of the fairytale magical prince who can cure Flora's disability with his true love kiss but actually does a complete about turn without you really noticing. The ending was quite abrupt but there are plenty of loose ends remaining meaning sequels are possible. This was captivating, haunting, intriguing, different, and yes, one that you will remember. 302 pages / Ages 13+ / Reviewed by Natalie Plimmer, librarian.

The One Memory of Flora Banks