Friday, 31 May 2013

The Icarus Girl

The Icarus Girl
Helen Oyeyemi
London, Bloomsbury, 2005, 322p

This novel is much darker than I had anticipated. It is a modern psychological thriller, dealing with the concept of identity through an eight year old girl. It is clever and confusing, making the reader doubt at every turn; and I adored it.

The Icarus Girl is about Jessamy Harrison, half-British, half-Nigerian, who is quiet and thoughtful; she reads a lot and has a wild imagination. Her parents take her to Nigeria, to meet her family there, where she befriends someone who seems to understand her - TillyTilly. But as their friendship solidifies, TillyTilly reveals a darker side to herself, as strange incidents occur and secrets are revealed.

For much of the novel, it is unclear who TillyTilly really is - you suspect she is a figment of Jess' imagination, but cannot be sure, as the novel is predominantly narrated from her point of view, and you cannot distance yourself from Jess' reality. As the darkness within TillyTilly is revealed, Jess starts to push away from her, but finds she cannot - they are bound together by secrets and emotions.

Oyeyemi explores the complexity of growing up mixed race. Jess cannot work out where she belongs or who she is, resulting in the creation of her imaginary friend. The story develops from the focus about race into a doppelganger novel, as we learn that Jess had a twin who died in birth. As such, the novel became too complex - I found myself confused and full of questions - wishing Oyeyemi has focused on just one of these aspects.

And yet, I read this book fervently. It was fairly predictable in terms of the psychological thriller genre, but very well written, with the language of Gothic horror releasing  the ghostly TillyTilly into my nightmares. Oyeyemi was only 17 when she wrote The Icarus Girl, and I cannot wait to see what else she will produce.  

Completely unconnected to this whole review is a lovely quote that I just wanted to include here:
"Two hungry people should never make friends. If they do, they eat each other up. It is the same with one person who is hungry and another who is full: they cannot be real, real friends because the hungry one will eat the full one. [...] Only two people who are full up can be friends. They don't want anything from each other except friendship." 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Firework Maker's Daughter

The Firework Maker's Daughter
Philip Pullman
London, Corgo, 1995, 101p

This story is a delightful little short read, set in far away China. It feels like a folk tale, full of goddesses and demons, magic and morality. The illustrations by Nick Harris frame the story, with pictures of the characters and events (though surprisingly few pictures of fireworks).

Lila is The Firework Maker's Daughter - she must climb Mount Merapi and face the Fire-Fiend in order to complete her training. It is a dangerous mission, and Lila is not fully prepared, so her friends must come to her aid. 

Again, Pullman uses the trope of the child hero. Lila's journey is a dangerous one, but she is a brave and determined girl. Like Lyra, her innocence is a blessing, as she is unaware of the potential risks her journey entails. The friends who help her are a White Elephant, Hamlet, and his young carer, Chulak. Hamlet is owned by the King, and Lila's father helps them escape in order to help Lila. They are a unconventional team, but I would definitely want them to help me.

Whereas many of Pullman's teenage novels are complex and heavy, this is a lovely short read that could be shared and enjoyed by all the family. It has more recently been adapted for the stage, and I imagine it is a delight to see, with fireworks and demons and a giant elephant - the sort of story that translates brilliant into a visual extravaganza.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Granny was a Buffer Girl

Granny was a Buffer Girl
Berlie Doherty
London, Catnip, 2007, 168p

Reading Berlie Doherty is like going on a trip down memory lane. Whilst my sister was reading Jacqueline Wilson, I was reading Doherty. I read every copy that they had in the library - books full of beautiful characters, loving families and whirlwind romances. They were realistic, I could relate to them, unlike a lot of the strange fantasies or melodramas that were available to teenagers. And now, again, Berlie Doherty remains one of my favourites.

Granny was a Buffer Girl is a tale in which three generations of the same family share their best stories around the dinner table. It is the night before Jess' departure to France for a study year abroad, and with her brother, parents and grandparents, tales of love, loss and life are shared.

The stories told are beautifully written. They are not intended to shock, but are the kind of stories your own families might have to tell. They start with the story of how Grandpa Jack met Birdie, a romance that was forbidden due to religious differences. Then, the story of how Jess' parents met, and the short life of their disabled son, Danny. The stories make you laugh and cry, written with such poetic language and emotional investment. 

First published in 1986, this book feels timeless. Perhaps it is because the stories are themselves historical, dating back to the childhoods of Jess' grandparents during the 1930s; but I think it's because these stories are universal - sitting around the dinner table, sharing, loving: these are things we have all experienced. 

Set in Sheffield, the story has a special meaning for me, reminding me of the beautiful city and vast landscape in which I lived for just one short year. The city plays an important role in Doherty's novel, offering a backdrop of social change through the last century, with mines closing and the city being  built up. 

The stories are so real and compelling that you hope that, in some way, they might be true. Perhaps Doherty drew inspiration from her family, from their stories. These kind, loving people are just the sort you want to meet. As a child, they touched my life, shaped my outlook on the world, and reinforced what family means to me. 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Meeting the English

Meeting the English
Kate Clanchy
London, Picador, 2013, 310p

It is such an honour to work alongside and be friends with Kate Clanchy. She is an inspiration to the students she mentors, and she helps them produce the most incredibly poetry and prose. I have never met anyone who works so hard, so I was astounded when she informed me she had found time to write a novel. And not just any novel, but one full of dark humour, monstrous characters, and beautiful narrative.

Meeting the English is the story of Struan Robertson, a young Scot who moves down to London to be the carer of Philip Prys: a playwright way past his best before date who is paralysed following a stroke. Struan is an alien in London, during the hot summer of 1989. He finds himself living with a strange family full of secrets and resentment, who bumble through their lives thinking only of themselves, with hardly a care for the now silent playwright.

Kate has incredible skill in creating every one of these characters. She is right inside the mind of each of them, narrating from multiple perspectives. None of them are particularly likeable, although you grow to better understand and empathise with them, until you even want some of them to find a happy ending. The Prys family is comprised of so many selfish individuals that you wonder how they have survived this long. But the introduction of Struan to the house gives them some perspective, unsettling the family just enough to make them reflect on themselves.

My favourite thing about this novel is its setting. In London, in the long, hot summer of 1989, Kate creates a world of confusion and upheaval, both within the Prys household, and in the wider world. She refers to contemporary culture, international relations, and that blistering heat. 1989 almost becomes a character itself, quintessential to the plot. It is subtle, in contrast to novels set in Victorian England, for example, in which the author's research into the era is constantly thrown in the readers' face. Kate knows this summer and remembers this world; she does not need to show off about it.

I have read way too much teenage fiction recently: it has made my mind a bit mushy. At first, it felt strange to read something with such complex language, adult themes, and mature pace. But Kate's intelligence seeps through every page - I could hear her voice as I read it - and her creativity has produced this dark, witty story full of self-destructive characters. The language is beautiful, engaging all your senses with vivid descriptions. It is very refreshing to read something so modest and yet so sagacious.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife
Philip Pullman
London, Scholastic, 2005, 325p

I love the introduction of Will Parry to Lyra's life. As the great, brave heroine, I did not think it possible to create a character who could equal her inner beauty and outer courage, but Will matches her on all counts, and provides just the sort of support and friendship to move her journey onwards.

The Subtle Knife is the second of the His Dark Material series, following on from Northern Lights. We begin in our world, in Winchester, where we meet Will. He is running away from men who want to hurt him, when he stumbles across a window into another world. He steps into a hot, deserted city, where he meets Lyra. Although they have never met, their lives are intertwined, and their destiny binds them together. 

I enjoyed exploring our Oxford through Will's eyes, especially in contrast to Lyra's Oxford. I can picture the streets and buildings as he describes them. It is particularly wonderful when Will brings Lyra into our world, and she compares our Oxford to the one she knows. Her shock and unease is paralleled by her awe. Pullman picks out tiny details, like double yellow lines and traffic lights, that seem so normal to use, and makes them seem unusual through Lyra's eyes. When Lyra stumbles across the Pitt Rivers Museum (my favourite place in the city), her delight and confusion remind me of how I felt when I first discovered it.

Pullman's use of children as the protagonists is brilliant. Not only does it mean that the danger seems to be heightened, as they are surrounded by adults who wish to bring them harm, but their innocent curiosity helps lead the book on it's journey. Will has the same naive bravery that leads Lyra into trouble in Northern Lights; so when Will finds the window into another world, it is inevitable that he will step through.

This is a beautifully written book, full of increasingly complex concepts, especially relating to religion. Again, the line between good and evil is blurred, so you can never be sure of the characters' motivations. The plot builds up towards a great battle against Authority, a God-like figure. As an adult, some of the ideas in this novel are difficult for me to comprehend - can this novel really be categorised as young adult fiction?

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Malcolm X

Malcolm X and the Fight for African American Unity
Gary Jeffrey, ill. Emanuelle Boccanfuso
New York, David West, 2013, 22p

I have a very limited knowledge about Malcolm X - in British school, the focus of the Civil Rights movements tends to be around Martin Luther King Jr. So this was an interesting read, both in terms of content and style.

Malcolm X is a graphic novel about the struggle for unity amongst African Americans in the 1950s. It outlines the youth of Malcolm Little, and his transformation into one of the world's most passionate advocators for equality. Whilst in prison, Malcolm X joined the Nation of Islam, where the fight for black power began. However, Malcolm X found himself in conflict with the idea that all white people are evil, so separated from the Nation of Islam in order to work with white people for equality.

I am trying to offer the students at my school more non-fiction literature, especially if it matches with the Accelerated Reader quizzes. I have also found that graphic novels are very popular, both in terms of the speed at which they can be read, and the ease of understanding text when it is alongside an picture or image. This particular book is great because it also has a glossary and index at the end, so can be used for fact-finding. The only thing left to do is to shift some teachers' perceptions that graphic novels are not suitable reading materials...

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Kick Off

The Kick Off
Dan Freedman
London, Scholastic, 2007, 172p

It is not often that I enjoy books about sport. Often, the jargon makes me loose interest, and I struggle to relate to the characters. But with Dan Freedman's series, football is made interesting.

The Kick Off is about Jamie Johnson's dream to be part of the first team at school. Unfortunately, he has a terrible time at the end of term trials, so commits himself to spending the whole summer improving his skills. 

What is particularly nice about this series is the fact that the football plot is not the only thing going on in Jamie's life. He is struggling to focus at school, and with slipping grades, his mum stops him from spending all his time at the park practicing football. Also, he has managed to offend his best friend, and cannot work out how to make amends. Jamie is like any teenage boy - he has  a big heart, but sometimes forgets how to use it. 

Freedman makes Jamie's ambitions into something that anyone can relate to - he could have just as easily written about a boy who wanted to be an astronaut or a girl who wanted to be the Prime Minister. Football jargon is avoided, so the matches come to life through a more simple use of language. Jamie's ambition is endearing and consuming. Of course, these books are aimed to engage those more reluctant boy readers, but the themes are universal, so could be attractive to many young readers. 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Northern Lights

Northern Lights
Philip Pullman
London, Scholastic, 2011, 397p

When new worlds are brought to life in fiction, there are often parallels with the world we know and live in. There are characteristics or places that seem familiar, and thoughts and ideas that are universally acknowledged. This is a technique for creating a world that the reader can understand and imagine; and a technique Pullman has used to perfection. 

Northern Lights is set in the most majestic of alternative universes, like some great fantasy from within the mind of a child. The story begins at Jordan College in Oxford, where we meet a young girl with an appetite for adventure. Suddenly, all across Brytain (yes, intended typo), children are disappearing, and Lyra finds herself traveling North on a dangerous adventure. 

It is not the plot of this novel I love so much as the details within in. With regards to Lyra's journey, it takes her North, into the dark recesses of snow and ice, where characters have Nordic names like Iorek Byrnison (oh, how I love Scandinavia!). Lyra is surprisingly brave for a twelve year old, facing up against witches and armoured bears, lying to scientists, and plotting an elaborate escape plan from an experimental laboratory. She is kidnapped and captured countless times, but has a smart head on her shoulders and a childish optimism that keeps her calm. And somehow, along the journey, she becomes braver and stronger, learning more about herself and the complexity of the world around her.

But the details are what I adore - those little elements that are grounded in our reality and seem so within reach. Things like dæmons, human souls in animal form that guide and support the human characters - I will leave you to learn more. Things like the pages of clippings in the back of the novel, an appendix with materials designed to confirm the reality of this fantasy. And, of course, the alethiometer, a compass-like devise used to uncover truths. These details feel so real, so that as you read, you imagine what form your dæmon might take. 

The adventure story is somewhat complicated, full of twists and turns and plenty of danger. Lyra is an intelligent hero, but it is never clear to her or the reader who is good and who is evil - much like real life, the characters are complex, with secret motives and uncertain fates. I think this is the thing I like most about the novel. 

Reading this as an adult, Northern Lights has had a profound effect upon me. I remember reading it as a child, but I did not remember what happened. I think this is partly due to the complexity of the language and themes tackled here - Pullman does not patronise the teenage reader, but challenges them to think about morality, philosophy and original sin. There are so many levels to this novel that it's vast fan base has created a wiki to try to unravel meaning and truth. It is this complexity that I feel will stay with me; so on to the next one!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson
John Green & David Levithan
London, Penguin, 2010, 308p

So I am already a self-confessed fan of John Green - his ability to get inside the mind of the modern teenage is unparalleled. But now I also find myself a David Levithan fan. Together, these men have written this incredible novel about two boys called Will Grayson, with each author narrating the story of each of the protagonists. And because I didn't know who was who until the end, my adoration of John Green spread to include Levithan. 

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a novel about two boys with the same name, both living completely different lives, who meet one day. The first Will Grayson is the quiet type, preferring to keep himself to himself rather than talk about his feelings. His best friend, the eccentrically camp Tiny Cooper, tries to set him up with Jane, but Will is reluctant to let himself develop a relationship. The other Will Grayson is dealing with depression. He is gay, but doesn't feel like it is anyone's business. Although they lead completely different lives and the first drafts were written without the authors consulting each other, similar challenges arise in the lives of both Will Graysons. 

Again, John Green has perfected the skill of creating a clever, complicated teenage character. His Will Grayson is so easy to relate to, for any reader. He is good, his life is undramatic, and yet he is complex and real. He questions his friendships, resists romance, and retreats into his own world when things get difficult. 

David Levithan's Will is similarly complex, but with different problems. He is clearly not okay with the fact his father is not around, and, although not ashamed of his sexuality, is unwilling to talk about it or anything else personal. In his prose, he writes in lower case - which acts to differentiate between the two narratives, as well as highlight Will's low opinion of himself. Levithan is open about the fact he wanted his Will to be in the middle of everything, particularly his depression. He is on medication, and his story is about life after the acknowledgement of mental illness; but that is only one small part of this beautifully emotional character.

Tiny is the bridge between the two Will Graysons. He is friends with the first Will Grayson, and dates the second. Tiny is the character who's inner narrative you do not hear, but who is brave enough to express himself, and teaches the other characters the power of honesty. He is incredibly brave, as he is able to admit his problems and share his dreams. He is loud and ridiculous and inspiring; just the kind of teenager who brings out the best in people. At the core of the novel is Tiny's musical, which transforms alongside the characters.

For me, this is a novel about truth and bravery. It is angry and funny in equal measure, and sometimes at the same time. With the help of the wonderful Tiny Cooper, the two Will Graysons learn and grow, breaking down the walls they have built up to protect themselves. As I reader, I feel it has made me braver, too. It has reminded me of the value of honesty, of sharing how I feel, and of letting go, letting myself experience life. This is one of the hardest things to do, but as Tiny says, 
"stop thinking about the landing, because it's all about the falling."

Monday, 13 May 2013

Precious and the Monkeys

Precious and the Monkeys
Alexander McCall Smith
Edinburgh, Polygon, 2011, 73p

I love the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. I first discovered them through the television adaptation, with their wit, intelligence, and beautiful Botswanan landscape.

Precious and the Monkeys is the childhood story of Precious' first investigation. At school, sweets and snacks start to go missing from people's bags - cake, iced buns, etc. The victims start to jump to conclusions, and accuse a shy boy with a big appetite, but with no evidence. Precious believes his innocence, and sets out to find the real culprit.

Written in a childlike language, this book is very accessible. Precious seems to have a natural talent for finding the truth, and is an endearing and kind-hearted character. The story is swimming in morality, particularly in relation to the false accusation of the innocent boy. She tries to comfort him, telling him that he shouldn't care what other people think, but she is also aware that it is hard not to care about how others see you.

I adore light reads like this - beautifully written, full of adorable illustrations, with a moral undercurrent. It is the kind of novel a parent could enjoy with their young child - a shared experience of reading. 

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Ruby in the Smoke

The Ruby in the Smoke
Philip Pullman
London, Scholastic, 2012, 209p

I haven't read Philip Pullman for years, so it was like reading The Ruby in the Smoke for the first time, all over again. 

This is the first of the Sally Lockhart Mysteries - a series set in London at the end of the 19th century. After discovering that her father has drowned at sea, Sally received an anonymous note, which leads her into a world of conspiracy and danger. The novel is a sharp, enticing adventure, with a brilliant supporting cast of loyal friends and Gothic villains. My favourite is Jim, a errand boy turned hero, who finds an inner bravery that helps him to protect Sally. Also, he reads the Penny Dreadfuls, and so is very clever and literary for such an impoverished young man.

Now that I am older, I can appreciate the art and intelligence that has gone into this novel. Pullman has thoroughly researched London and Oxford during this period - short of time travelling, he has done everything to recreate this historical world. At the end of this edition, he has copied a short extract of Dickens' Dictionary of London, which is an encyclopedia of London society during the 1890s. Having read more widely, I have a different appreciation for this novel as an adult. I understand it better in the context of works that were written at the time, and stories that have been written more recently about the past. And of all that is available, this is one of my favourites.

I love a gripping crime mystery, and this one works perfectly for young adults: with the right mix of age-appropriate character to whom the reader can relate; with enough drama and excitement to keep them interested; and with historical accuracy to bring Victorian London to life. 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas
David Mitchell
London, Sceptre (Flipbacks), 2011, 854p

Flipbacks are my new favourite thing. For those who don't want to lug around a hefty novel whilst travelling, but don't want to succumb to the new technological era, these small, lightweight publications are a perfect alternative. Who would have thought I could carry Cloud Atlas in my pocket!?

Cloud Atlas is a tome of genius and creativity - an 800 page novel narrating six different interlocking lives, across many centuries. With each story, the style, tone and pace changes, keeping the reader on their toes. The stories are split, so the narrative is disjointed and, sometimes, I struggled to remember the smaller details, especially as I have been reading it over a long period of time.

But I love the unique nature of each of the lives - it is incredible that Mitchell is so flexible and creative, offering such variety whilst maintaining a narrative flow. For example, the first story is written in the form of a diary, as Adam Erving tells of his adventures at sea; then it is the correspondence of a young composer, Robert Frobisher, writing to his friend Sixsmith whilst lodging in Bruges (my personal favourite). There are movie scripts and interviews, as well as a section that is written like spoken word - as Zachry tells his story to a listening crowd. In the first few pages of each section, you have to take a moment to readjust, but soon you begin to drown in the language and imagery, and most significantly, the characters. 

Throughout, the characters are linked by memory, mythology, and a comet-shaped birthmark. Frobisher tells Sixmith that he is reading the diary of Erving; and later, Luisa Rey seeks out Frobisher's Cloud Atlas Sextet, after meeting Sixmith and embroiling herself in a dangerous mystery. Elsewhere, Somni 451 (a clone, who draws suspicion for being more intelligent than she was manufactured to be) becomes a deity in the distant future, after the Fall of civilisation. In this way, each character keeps the memory of the previous character alive. 

The overarching theme of greed and power, leading to destruction, subtly seeps into the reader's subconscious. Unfortunately, I felt the novel lacked the big ending I felt it deserved. But each narrative highlights the evil of greed, and the consequences of power structures - from the feminist undertones in Luisa Rey's story, to overt slavery, both in Erving's historical narrative about colonisation and Somni 451's experience as a clone in the future. In the distant future is a dystopia in which man has reverted to an ancient state, living like cavemen, due to the internal combustion of the greedy civilised world. 

I cannot recommend this book enough, both in terms of it's originality and literary beauty. It's length might seem put some people off, but it is definitely worth it to escape into these incredible worlds and fascinating lives. And with Flipbacks, you don't even have to carry around a huge copy! 

(I should really be getting paid to say these things.)

Thursday, 9 May 2013


Sam Gayton
London, Andersen, 2013, 268p

In terms of appearance, this is one of the cutest books I have read in a while. The illustrations are beautiful, the cover is a heavy hardback, and it was more than enough to entice me to read more. 

Lilliput is inspired by the adventures of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver, who, in this book, returns to the island of Lilliput to gather evidence of the miniature people living there. He steals Lily right off the beach, and takes her back to London, where he plans to reveal her to the public as scientific proof. 

Locked in a birdcage, Lily dreams of escape, but struggles to see any of her plans all the way through. She is on Escape Plan Thirty Three when Gulliver suddenly slips into unconsciousness, and with the help of a clock apprentice boy, gets out of Gulliver's attic. Unfortunately, it is not quite to simple to get out of London, and she has no idea where Lilliput actually is in relation to England.

This is an adorable adventure story - a brilliant fantasy that takes inspiration from one of the greatest fantasy novels of all time. The characters are incredible - from the Gothic villain of Mr Plinker, to the eccentric chocolate shop owner, Mr Ozinda. Gayton does not sugar coat the drama of the escape - there is danger at every turn for tiny Lily - but he provides oodles of excitement. 

I wish there were more novels like this - rooted in literary royalty, produced by creative genius, and full of innocent entertainment. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Dragonsitter

The Dragonsitter
Josh Lacey
London, Andersen, 2012, 55p

Another short read - I'm easing myself back into blogging after all the long books I've read recently. 

The Dragonsitter is an epistolary novel, made up of emails written between Eddie and his uncle, as Eddie's family look after Uncle Morton's pet dragon. The dragon causes all sorts of mischief, starting with eating the pet rabbit, to setting fire to the post man. Eddie and his family have no idea how to sedate the dragon, who eats everything and obeys nothing. And they cannot locate Uncle Morton, who apparently isn't at the hotel he said he was visiting, and who will not reply to Eddie's emails.

This is a really lovely and easy read. The story is matched with pictures showing the dragon's misdeeds, so the plot is clear. It is funny and ridiculous; a sort of supernatural comedy. I think it is quite a low interest level, perhaps suitable for pre-teens, or for advanced primary school children. But even I enjoyed it - what does that say about me?

Monday, 6 May 2013

Begging Letter

Begging Letter
Judy Waite
London, A&C Black, 2011, 80p

My most recent reads have been somewhat heavy and long, so I was looking for something shorter when a student returned Begging Letter

It is a short story about a girl who writes a letter to the Universe wishing a boy at school would notice her and ask her out. Connie hopes Josh will break up with Megan for her, but instantly regrets her wish when it comes true, and Josh makes a move.

This book is a really easy read - simple language and simple plot combine, but with a high enough interest level to tempt those teenage readers with low literacy abilities. It does not patronise, but tells a fun, girly story. This Wired Up series offer a range of books with basic language but entertaining stories, which appeal to reluctant and low-ability readers alike. 

Friday, 3 May 2013

The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society
Trenton Lee Stewart
Frome, Chicken House, 2007, 473p

This is an brilliantly clever adventure story. In the style of Lemony Snicket, the Mysterious Benedict Society is about four intelligent children who are called upon for a strange and dangerous mission.

The Society consists of Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance, each with skills and abilities across a broad range of areas. Reynie is great at solving puzzles; Sticky's brain is full of facts, as he can remember anything; Kate carries around a bucket full of gadgets, always equipped to solve any problem; and although Constance's skills are initially unclear, she is very small. 

An advertisement in a newspaper brings these four children together - it is looking for gifted children who want to experience 'special opportunities'. The children undergo a series of peculiar tests, from the seemingly impossible multiple choice quiz, to the equally challenging task of navigating a maze of identical rooms. The author keeps the reader on their toes as much as the characters.

I would not say this is an easy read, but it is clever and well-paced. It is rather long, so lagged a little in the middle, but it held my interest with its complex plot and witty tone. All through it, I felt the need to be on high alert - everything seemed like a trick or a hint at something else. But I loved the level of intelligence needed to read and enjoy this book. It is as if Trenton Lee Stewart respects and understands young people, and is completely unwilling to patronise them.