Review: Beyond The Wall – Tanya Landman

9781406366273The Blurb: From Tanya Landman, author of the 2015 Carnegie Medal winner Buffalo Soldier, comes a heart-stopping tale of love, corruption and the power of choice.

Blood on her lips. Blood on her tongue. Blood that is not her own. Cassia does not fear to die, but for her – for a slave who has maimed her master – there are worse things than death. Yet the mighty Roman Empire has its limits. Beyond her master’s estate, beyond the river, far to the north stands Hadrian’s Wall. And beyond the wall? Freedom. With dogs on her trail and a bounty on her head the journey seems impossible. But then Cassia meets Marcus – slick, slippery, silver-tongued – a true and perfect son of Rome. And her only hope.

The Review:

I’ve thrown myself into the list of CKG nominations this week and selected Tanya Landman’s Beyond The Wall as my first read. It’s no surprise that I went for this one first – I spent many lunchtimes in my school library closeted away with Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece – so this felt like comfort reading of the highest order. And yet it’s not really a comfortable read – with a less benign outlook than Sutcliff, Tanya Landman’s version of Roman Britain is definitely aimed at an older YA audience.

It’s the story of ‘a runaway slave and her journey through the murky underworld of Roman Britain’. There’s action aplenty as Cassia flees from the repugnant landowner Titus Cornelius Festus but this is not simply about a slave’s desire for freedom; the oppression Cassia is fleeing from is very specifically violent and sexual. Landman deftly interweaves a thorough examination of the position (read oppression) of women at all levels of society through her fast paced and perilous plot.

It left me thinking two things:

1) Just how good and varied Tanya Landman’s historical fiction is – Beyond The Wall is so different from Carnegie winning Buffalo Soldier and yet reading the author’s note at the end it was very clearly born of the same creative process.

2) The second thing is really more of a lament – Why are there not more YA books set in the Roman world? After the heyday of Sutcliff et al it seems that Rome has fallen out of favour (or fashion) and yet Landman shows that it’s just as pertinent a backdrop for YA fiction now as it ever was. Through Cassia and Marcus we traverse tricky ideas about freedom from oppressive rule, foreign occupation, materialism, a return to a way of life more connected with the natural world as well as investigating female sexuality and ideas of consent – all topics which wouldn’t feel out of place in one of today’s newspapers. Landman takes all these threads and throws them together to make a thrilling and emotionally intelligent adventure story – Not a bad way to kick off CKG 2018 I reckon!

Lizzie

 

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Read Along With Us: Carnegie regional nominations

There’s just under a week to go until we’ll be deciding what our regional nominations for this year’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards will be. We’ll be asking attendees at next Tuesday’s event with Cressida Cowell to vote on a selection of titles, to decide which ones we put forward.

All nominations for the 2018 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards will be officially announced on 6th November 2017. The longlist will be announced in February 2018, the shortlist will be unveiled in March, and the winners will be revealed on 18th June 2018.

We’ll have copies of the books available for you to look at on the night. In the meantime, here are our thoughts on the titles we’re asking you to consider for the Carnegie nomination, and why we think they are worthy contenders for the awards. We’ll be posting about our Greenaway suggestions soon.

 

Carnegie:

Overheard in a Tower Block – Joseph Coelho (Otter Barry Books)

Overheard in a tower block

Publisher comment: “Award-winning poet Joseph Coelho’s astonishing new collection is a powerful and moving poetic narrative about growing up in the city.”

Our thoughts: “Ambitious in theme, the collected poems are held together by an overarching narrative of a boy living in an urban tower block and growing from late childhood to early adulthood. The everyday experiences of childhood are made extraordinary here through astute observation and dexterity of word play – parental discord, peer pressure and the ever-expanding sense of horizons and world-views extending outwards. Each poem offers a childlike vantage point, but collated together there are profound comments about the nature of late childhood, its shift towards adulthood and responsibility and the continuing role it is able to play in determining and defining our lives.” (Jake)

 

Wed Wabbit – Lissa Evans (David Fickling Books)

Wed Wabbit

Publisher comment: “Wed Wabbit is an adventure story about friendship, danger and the terror of never being able to get back home again. And it’s funny. It’s really, really funny.”

Our thoughts: “Lissa Evans’ truly unique writing style combines fantasy and humour to convey complex and difficult ideas with heart and emotional insight. The majority of the story takes place against the surreal and often absurd backdrop of ‘The Land of Wimbley Woos’ yet excellent plotting and characterisation ensure that the sense of jeopardy and eventual resolution feel real. This is a surprising read that takes the reader on an unexpected but rewarding journey.” (Lizzie)

 

Welcome to Nowhere – Elizabeth Laird (Macmillan Children’s Books)

Welcome to nowherePublisher comment: “Elizabeth Laird has succeeded again in writing an incredibly powerful novel, this time about one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our age.” (Belinda Rasmussen, Publisher, Macmillan Children’s Books)

Our thoughts: “Everyone should read this book ! It gives an accessible account of Syrias descent into civil war. It begins in Bosra and follows 12 year old Omar and his family ,as their lives fall apart and they lose everything. Their hopes for the future had been so normal ! Omar wants to be a business man , his sister Eman a teacher . His older brother Musa has cerebral palsy and is greatly underestimated by his family. As the bombs fall they have to leave everything and end up in a refugee camp .

Beautifully written , well researched ,powerful and atmospheric . It contains a message of hope” (Ann)

 

Saint Death – Marcus Sedgwick (Orion Children’s Books)

Saint DeathPublisher comment: “A powerful and timely thriller set on the Mexican-US border.”

Our thoughts: Saint Death is absolutely gripping from start to finish. It’s a pulsating narrative and the pace and urgency of the plot, along with the increasing desperation of the main character, are perfectly reflected in the structure of the story, in which short chapters are interspersed with newspaper cuttings, quotations and thoughts. This is a really immersive novel that highlights some big issues around immigration, inequality and hopelessness. (Emma)

 

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas (Walker Books)

The Hate U GivePublisher comment: “A powerful and brave YA novel about what prejudice looks like in the 21st century.”

Our thoughts: “The Hate U Give gave me bags under my eyes! I just couldn’t stop reading until I finished it (at 3am!). The book addresses some really big issues, such as police shootings of unarmed black people and white privilege, through simply telling the story of one ordinary girl, Starr Carter, who finds herself in an extraordinary and horrific situation, having witnessed the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend by an officer. The balance of the awful things Starr is having to deal with and the everyday teenage-ness of her character is perfect and the strong family dynamic of the Carters is a joy to experience. (Emma)

 

Encounters – Jason Wallace (Andersen Press)

EncountersPublisher comment: “Inspired by true accounts, this is the long-awaited new novel from Costa-award-winner Jason Wallace.”

Our thoughts: Wallace builds an intense and uneasy atmosphere in which he unravels the brutal complexities of his characters’ lives. This is a work of technical mastery with no less than six engaging and convincing narratives pivoting around the mysterious event at the heart of the novel.  These six apparently disparate voices interconnect in surprising and revealing ways bringing new meaning to the idea of the titular ‘encounter’. The end result is a unique and outstanding slow burner of a book which leaves the reader with much to think about. (Lizzie)

So those are our thoughts on our Carnegie suggestions, please do let us know your thoughts on these books. You can find out more about the CKG awards process and the judging criteria here: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/awards-process.php

Don’t forget, YLG members can also make up to two individual nominations for each award.

 

 

CKG Review: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

What the Judges Say:

“The language used in this novel exquisitely conveys the atmosphere of the 1940s American rural setting…Every character is believable, well developed and fully rounded, combined with well observed small domestic details. This is a truthful exploration of small-time attitudes and injustice without being overly sentimental, and exploring questions of morality within the confines of the story.”


What We Say:

“The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.”

From the moment I read that gripping first line, I was absolutely hooked on Wolf Hollow. There aren’t many books that I read in one day but I swallowed this one whole. 

Compelling is the first word that comes to mind when I think of this book. It’s not a cheerful story and it takes you to some pretty dark places but, from that first line onwards, you’re completely drawn in and have no choice but to go there.

The book tells the story of twelve year-old Annabelle, whose unremarkable life in sleepy, rural Wolf Hollow is rudely interrupted by the arrival of a new girl at school, Betty Glengarry. Betty’s reputation precedes her (she has been sent to live with her grandparents in the country because she is “incorrigible”) and she very soon reveals herself to be a cruel and manipulative bully.

Before long Betty is bullying Annabelle and making threats against her brothers. But Annabelle has an ally in Toby, a First World War veteran who lives on the edges of Wolf Hollow’s small community:

He didn’t ask for food or money. He didn’t ask for anything at all. But instead of drifting through on his way to somewhere else like the others, he circled endlessly, and I confess that I had been nervous about him in the beginning.

When Toby challenges Betty, she soon sets out to get revenge in startling and very disturbing fashion. And Annabelle is forced to tackle questions such as, when is doing wrong actually right? And what if lying is sometimes actually in the best interests of the truth? 

This book has been compared to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and it’s easy to understand why such comparisons have been made – a rural American setting; a small community; a lying antagonist; the “mockingbird” character, wrongfully accused of something terrible and left facing the wrath of the townsfolk; and a girl approaching adolescence being confronted by some very grown-up dilemmas. 

Wolf Hollow is a really well-crafted novel, a challenging read that explores some pretty big concepts and really makes you think about human capability, motivation and morality.

Emma

Wolf Hollow is published by Corgi Books

Find out more: listen to Lauren Wolk talk about Wolf Hollow here:

http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=10

CKG Review: Salt To The Sea – Ruta Sepetys

What the Judges Say:

‘A haunting and beautiful novel that breathes life into one of World War II’s most terrifying and little-known tragedies’ – Judging panel

salttoseacover

What We Say:

Ruta Sepetys has form with the Carnegie: Between Shades of Gray, her debut novel telling the little known history of Lithuanians during the Second World War, was shortlisted for the award back in 2012. Salt To the Sea tells a similarly little known yet deadly narrative.

I read it in one breathy gulp of a sitting – totally swept away but genuinely aghast that I knew so little about the historical events depicted in it. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is one of the worst maritime disasters in history with a greater loss of life than that of the Titanic and the Lusitania disasters put together and yet various historical and geopolitical factors have ensured that the tragedy remains largely unknown. The book is a testament to the power of story and its ability to give the dispossessed a voice and identity.

Indeed, the success of this ‘hidden history’ doesn’t simply rest with an already poignant historical fact or the accuracy with which it is related (no pilfered tears here) – it is through the powerful voices of her characters and the ‘human story’ that they tell that the novel really sings.

The narrative is shared between the four main characters, masterfully switching between voices as their stories intertwine. The chapters are rapid fire, ramping up the tension but also offering an exploration of the chilling realities of war from multiple perspectives. There’s an added resonance to one voice in particular – readers of Sepetys’ earlier novel will recognise that Joana is in fact the cousin of Lina, the protagonist in Between Shades of Gray. It’s a nice touch that speaks eloquently to the guilt and grief experienced by families torn apart by conflict.

It’s emotional, thought provoking and pacey.

What our Shadowers Say:

Salt To The Sea is a beautifully written book. The characters are well rounded and the plot is brilliantly crafted – Emily (15)

From The Horse’s Mouth:

 “Every nation has hidden history, countless stories preserved only by those who experienced them. Stories of war are often read and discussed worldwide by readers whose nations stood on opposite sides during battle. History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance. Books join us together as a global reading community, but more important, a global human community striving to learn from the past”. – Author’s Note from Salt To The Sea.

You can find out more about Salt to The Sea in the shadowing site’s video here: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=16

Ruta Shadowing Site

CKG Review: Sputnik’s Guide To Life on Earth

ckg17

We’ve been industriously reading and digesting the Carnegie and Greenaway shortlists over the last couple of weeks but with only a month to go before we discover 2017’s winning titles we think it’s high time that we shared our thoughts with you…

To start us off we’re looking at Sputnik’s Guide To Life on Earth by previous Carnegie Medal winner Frank Cottrell Boyce.

What the Judges Say:

‘This writer is particularly skilled at using fantasy to say something about the world we live in and how we relate to each other and it is the relationships which really matter. Touching and credible’ – Judging panel

sputnik

What We Say:

Frank Cottrell Boyce takes the story of Laika, the dog sent into space by the Russians in 1957, and asks what if she didn’t die, what if she was rescued by someone up there and told them about the wonders of Earth? Enter Sputnik, a small, rather unpredictable alien who lands on the doorstep of Prez, a young boy in care. Prez has grown up with his grandfather but the onset of dementia has meant that the two have become separated. Though he finds himself unable to speak to humans, Prez will talk to Sputnik, who having only Laika as a reference, has taken the form of a dog.

Prez’s uncertainty of his place in the world makes him hugely endearing, and Sputnik, a kind of beneficent Lord of Misrule (happy to put a lightsabre into the hands of a five year old or deploy a reverse dynamite grenade to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall), is a fantastic character able to fill the page with joy and adventure. Together the two embark on a mission to save the earth from destruction by cataloguing the reasons it is still worth seeing (according to Sputnik’s alien logic). The resulting list is both profound and ridiculous.

Sure to be a hit with young enquiring minds, this is a tale which is heart-breaking and hilarious in equal measure; it takes the poetic and the mundane and blends them into Cottrell Boyce’s own particular brand of magical realism. Readers will find themselves more than happy to suspend their disbelief – adventures are but a gravity eddy away!

From the Horse’s mouth:

Watch Frank talking about the book on the CKG website where you can also hear him read an extract: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=14

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