CKG Review: The Smell Of Other People’s Houses – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

What The Judges Say:

Not a word is wasted. The four protagonists are subtly and so convincingly developed it’s difficult to imagine they are not real people… There is a total balance between a sense of urgency and great reflection’ – Judging panel

Smell Of Other People's Houses

What We Say:

We often talk about reading being able to take you to other places, to transport you to other worlds and perhaps to allow you to walk in another person’s shoes for a while– my goodness does this book do that! Set in the Alaska of the 1970s, Bonnie- Sue Hitchcock tells a delicately interwoven story of four teenagers and shows how their lives are transformed when their paths intersect.

However, this is not your average coming of age story. Though the story is shared between the four first person narratives of the teens, it is actually the location that really dominates. Looming large over the narrative, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock shows us an Alaska that is both strange and beautiful but simultaneously harsh and unforgiving. It is undeniably ‘home’ for these characters – they’re woven into the very web of it. The way they navigate the land – their personal journeys through it – does much in the way of character development, ultimately revealing their self sufficiency, grit, humility and generosity.

I’ve seen it described as a ‘quietly beautiful’ book – and I think that’s a pretty accurate summation having now read it. It has a slightly somber quality that enables the sense of ‘great reflection’ that the judges talk about. It’s certainly a book that I’ve thought about many times and certain scenes in particular have stayed in my head long after I’ve put the book down – Orcas, cranberries and red ribbons have taken on almost totemic qualities for me.

In short, sophisticated plotting, a superb sense of place and a pleasantly uplifting ending make this a great Carnegie contender.

From The Horse’s Mouth:

You can watch Bonnie-Sue talking about her book and reading an extract here: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=18

Bonnie-Sue

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: Railhead by Philip Reeve

What the Judges say:

‘Engaging and fast-paced with clever use of humour. The book explores what it is to be human with some harsh criticisms of society in subtle ways’ – Judging panel

Railhead

What We Say:

Often reading the Carnegie shortlist can be a challenge – the best sort of challenge – but one that requires a degree of stamina nonetheless. I’ve just finished reading Wolf Hollow and The Smell of Other People’s Houses – two outstanding works of fiction that immersed me in times and places that I’d never even thought to think about before. Reading Railhead hot on their heels was no less thought provoking – it certainly took me to a time and place I’d no conception of before – but when I tried to think of a word to describe it, rather than thinking in terms of immersion, it felt to me that the act of reading was that of taking flight. It was effortless and wondrous.

What a joy it was to be swept away on a tide of such imagination. The plot is propulsive; we join the action literally mid chase as we follow petty thief Zen Starling fleeing the scene of his latest crime. Before we know it we’re embroiled in an intrigue plot to steal a piece of art and wrestling with concepts of artificial intelligence, the power of corporations and the logistics of interstellar train travel.

The world building of Reeve’s ‘Great Network’ is linguistically beautiful and richly imaginative. The blending of different cultures and languages effortlessly creates a distinct and unique universe: Zen’s industrial hometown, the solid sounding Cleve, sits in contrast to the faded grandeur of the plaintively named Desdemor and a seemingly inexhaustible list of other worlds and places. Worlds are described in rich detail – I delighted in the idea of living in a bio-building grown from modified baobab dna which, if left to run to seed, might sprout ‘random balconies and bulbous little pointless extensions’. And oh the trains! ‘Barracuda beautiful’ and named with an appositeness akin to Anglo-Saxon kenning: the dangerous and unpredictable Thought Fox,  the two lovers Wildfire and the Time of Gifts who ‘fill the fog-lit night with trainsong’ and the brusque but honourable Damask Rose who together create a cast of enchanting and believable characters all of their own.

ian-mcque-railhead-uncle-bugs

Uncle Bugs – one of the Hive Monks. Art by Ian McQue

There’s challenge in the text too. Reeve’s descriptions create a visual uneasiness about many of the characters: the Motorik Nova with her freckles, the mythical remoteness of the Guardians and the squirming unpleasantness of the Hive Monks. All raise questions about sentience and the rights of the individual which the reader must somehow reconcile. There’s really a lot going on underneath the fast paced and often gently humorous plot.

To surmise: a rip roaring read, that ticks all the Carnegie ‘s boxes: linguistically sophisticated with a thriller of a plot and a raft of convincing characters. I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to read it. The sequel is already on order!

From the Horse’s Mouth:

You can hear more about the creation of Railhead and the enduring appeal of children’s books in Philip’s interview on the CKG shadowing site: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=2

Philip Reeve Shadowing Website

CKG review: Beck by Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff

What makes an outstanding book for children? Rich in language, holding a compelling plot and utterly convincing characters, Beck is at the upper end of the ability and interest level for this year’s Carnegie shortlisted titles. This has led to some criticism as has its uncompromising glimpse into an age of racial prejudice and power hierarchies. In spite of these facts, Beck, offers its readers an intensely poignant and thought-provoking experience that they will return to time and again. 

Beck is a rites of passage novel set in Liverpool, Canada and the United States. Ignatius Beck is born out of wedlock, the lovechild from a dalliance between his mother and an African soldier. Orphaned and growing up in an age of prejudice, Beck’s early childhood is a struggle. His plight becomes harder still when he is taken in by the Catholic Brothers. Suffering physical and sexual abuse, Beck is sold into a life of servitude. Disgusted by the maltreatment he experiences, he escapes and becomes embroiled in bootlegging forging a friendship and close alliance with Irma and Bone, but things turn sour when gang rivalries manifest themselves resulting in Beck needing to take to the road again.


 Through an almost mystical encounter, Beck meets with Grace McAllister and forms an uneasy relationship, one scarred by the cruelty and rejection he has suffered formerly. In spite of this a difficult form of spiritual, emotional and sexual awakening occurs for Beck, although bonds remain hard for him to form and maintain. A story of resilience in extreme adversity, it is hard not to champion Beck through the harsh landscape and life that he journeys through.

 The story behind its creation is itself fascinating and quite beguiling – written by Mal Peet, a past winner of the Carnegie Medal with his novel Tamar, the book was incomplete upon his death in 2015. Friend and peer author, Meg Rosoff, also a past Carnegie winner with her novel Just in Case, completed the novel. An extraordinary story of identity, prejudice and attachment this is a book that makes profound and humane comment that readers will ponder upon long after the final pages are completed.

Jake

Beck is published by Walker Books

Report: Cecelia Ahern at County Hall, Preston 

On Tuesday evening I was lucky enough to be able to accompany 3 of the young volunteers I work with to see Cecelia Ahern at County Hall, Preston, an event that was organised by Silverwood Events in partnership with Lancashire Libraries.

Going to any author event is a treat. But going to see an author you particularly admire in an impressive venue like County Hall is extra special. And seeing young people inspired and enthused and then desperate to get home and start reading is the absolute cherry on top. 

Cecelia was in conversation with our very own YLG North West representative and current Chair Elect, Jake Hope, and was promoting her new novel Perfect, the follow-up to her debut YA novel, Flawed, which was published in 2016 and brilliantly received.


Topics discussed on the night included Cecelia’s career so far, the differences between writing adult and young adult fiction, and the ways in which (particularly with the proliferation of social media) people can be so quick to judge others and publicly shame them for their mistakes. This is a central theme in the Flawed series, in which anyone that is deemed to be imperfect is physically branded with an F for Flawed – with the location of the F dependent on what it is they are judged to have done wrong. It’s dark and compelling and the parallels with our own society give real pause for thought.


Cecelia also talked about her experiences of promoting her young adult books and some of the schools she has visited. She talked about how often the pupils that ask the most questions are the ones described by the teachers as the ‘quiet ones,’ and how vital author visits are in showing young people that they can make a living from writing, that there are people out there that have done it and do it every day. 

This was a really well-organised, enjoyable event – Jake has a lovely interview manner and Cecelia was a brilliant speaker – refreshing, down-to earth and funny too. The young people were buzzing about the event on the train home  – and so was I! 🙂

Emma