Happy birthday Barrington Stoke! 2013 sees the small Edinburgh-based publisher celebrating 15 years of creating big audiences with its philosophy of making fantastic fiction accessible to struggling, reluctant or dyslexic young readers.
Meg Rosoff’s Moose Baby (Barrington Stoke, £6.99) is a great example of this philosophy at work.
There’s plenty of condemnation and disapproval for any teenage mother, but when Jess is one of a spate of new mums giving birth to a non-homo sapiens baby, she is bombarded with so much overbearing advice it’s a struggle to discern the good from the bad from the downright ugly. Rosoff, pictured below, examines the shameful way society treats children who are born different with a sharp edge but also a rich wit and genuine warmth for young parents. No-one except Jess seems to want to admit that her baby will never be human but who can still be loved and loving and happy being a moose. There’s a remarkable amount of fun and thought packed into this super-slim volume but as Barrington Stoke prove time and again, accessibility does not have to equate to lowest common denominator.
Phil Earle is fast becoming one of the few essential authors writing YA right now. His third novel Heroic (Penguin, £6.99) is the story of two brothers: Jammy, a solider out in Afghanistan, and the younger Sonny back home on a tough housing estate. The conceit that Sonny has to fight just as hard on the housing estate as his older brother in a warzone could well appear deeply patronizing in less skilled hands but Earle’s point is that it’s less about danger, more about how young men are too often in thrall to the heady buzz of adrenaline – whether as soldier or petty criminal. The brothers’ relationship is honest, complex and believable. Will Sonny be able to stay out of trouble and keep his head while his more measured older brother is away? And how will the dynamic change when Jammy returns too full of appalling memories of a frighteningly traumatic and meaningless war?
A, the protagonist of David Levithan’s Every Day (Electric Monkey, £7.99), wakes up in a different body, a different mind, every single day. A is perhaps a drifting soul, literally and figuratively, having no choice as to which person to live a day within – day in, day out. And A doesn’t mind this at all - until one day he wakes up inside Jason’s body and meets his girlfriend Rhiannon. Suddenly A does not want to move on tomorrow.
There’s a gentle pace to this quirky rumination on love and attraction but also more than a little American self-consciousness in the writing which may not be to every Brit reader’s taste. Others are bound to find it compelling because of the layered questions it raises and the space it allows the reader to find their own answers.
The Bunker Diaries (Penguin, £7.99) is Kevin Brooks’s 19th novel in 12 years. Linus is a 16-year boarding school drop-out, busking on the streets of London. He’s kidnapped and locked in the bunker (imagine a grubby Big Brother TV house) along with a random selection of companions. Or are they random? Who knows? And who is the kidnapper? Why pick on Linus, why is there a dog in the lift, what is the overall plan? Does the author know? Reminiscent of Brooks’s earlier Being and Kissing The Rain, he sets up a cracking plot, peoples it with intense characters, ramps up the tension, lights the fuse on explosion action, but then refuses to acknowledge many readers’ basic need for a satisfying conclusion. Fortunately the gripping build-up outweighs the frustrating climax. Helen Grant’s first novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden was a clever and unsettling thriller set in the fabulously monickered German town of Bad Münstereiffel. It fully deserved its Carnegie Medal and Booktrust Teenage Prize shortlistings and was such an impressive debut it may have unfairly overshadowed her follow-up novels, both of which might not have carried the excitement of fresh talent just discovered, but were no less captivating. Silent Saturday (The Bodley Head, £12.99), the first part in Grant’s Forbidden Spaces trilogy, with its adult-friendly packaging and near grown-up protagonist in 17-year-old Veerle, deserves to be a break-out hit. Taking place in and around the forgotten and abandoned buildings of Brussels, this gloriously sinister, wickedly atmospheric serial-killer mystery should have a top spot on everyone’s summer reading list.