Seventeen-year-old AJ Flynn is working in a London law firm as a “baby clerk” when he discovers a key with his name on it. The lock which it fits opens a door that leads to 1830s London and AJ’s family’s shadowy, mysterious past. It’s up to him to uncover the secrets which will change lives not only in 1830 but have repercussions right up to the 21st century. Not only that, but he is also going to have to decide on which side of the door his future lies.
This is a pacy mystery, full of intriguing characters who perfectly embody the conflicts and contrasts of society’s past and present. Time-slip stories are 10-a-penny in children’s fiction but Gardner brings fresh ideas and a plot that keeps surprising to this well-loved genre.
Set in the more recent past, this time pre-Second World War, is Elizabeth Wein’s Black Dove, White Raven (Electric Monkey, £7.99). Delia and Rhoda are female stunt pilots, one black, one white. When Delia is killed in a freak accident, Rhoda takes Delia’s son Teo and her own daughter Emilia to Ethiopia, the country of Teo’s father. It’s through Emilia and Teo’s eyes the reader gets to experience Ethiopia before and during the infamous Italian invasion. Once again the author returns to her favourite themes of flight and feminism, and her wonderfully researched world at war. Wein is a writer who grows in stature with every new book and I’ll be first in line for whatever comes next.
Todd Hasak-Lowy’s Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You (S&S, £7.99) needs to be a big book if its going to live up to its preposterous title and it weighs in at a hefty 646 pages. The thickness of the spine is a little misleading, however, because the narrative is a compilation of numbered lists. 15-year-old Darren is feeling adrift after his parents get divorced and his older brother Nate leaves for college. Things change suddenly when his father shows up at 6am with not only a chocolate doughnut but an earth-shattering revelation too. Darren decides he has to act upon his new found knowledge and skips school, taking the long bus trip to visit Nate. Of course, nothing about this trip is going to be in any way straightforward but Darren comes to realise the choices of what is worth adding to a list and what to leave off are the most important choices of all.
This book is bound to infuriate as many as it entrances. Perhaps self-consciously quirky, maybe uniquely compelling, but certainly never dull.
Minny’s life is a complicated one in Aoife Welsh’s Too Close to Home (Andersen Press, £7.99). She lives with her two sisters, baby brother and mum in her grandmother’s small terrace. She’s dealing with the bullies of her older, autistic sister and the fall-outs from her best friend’s boyfriend trouble. To top it all, her estranged father wants to rebuild their relationship – together with his young girlfriend. Minny strikes up a friendship with new boy Franklin, whose life is even more chaotic than hers, but at least it means he understands and helps her. This is a dialogue-driven family drama written in an engaging, authentic voice. There don’t appear to be any easy choices for Minny in her mixed-up life but there’s tons of insight and good humour to see her through.
The Last Summer of Us (Usborne, £6.99) by Maggie Harcourt is an uplifting, funny, warm, thought-provoking road trip through Wales. It’s everything you want in a captivating summer read. Jared, Steffan and Limpet have been best friends for as long as they can remember. Limpet’s alcoholic mum has just died, Jared’s dad is about to be released from jail and there are big changes ahead at the end of school and the beginning of their last summer together for Steffan. They take a road trip to visit all the places that have meant so much to them over their years growing up, working through personal histories as they travel. This is a beautiful novel about friendships that have lasted forever, when forever is 18 years long. A story of everybody knowing everybody else’s secrets, but of not quite seeing the forest for the trees. Harcourt has created living breathing characters, whose flaws are relatable and with whom it’s always going to be a wonderfully memorable journey.