Continuing with our series of reviews of the CKG shortlisted titles, today Amanda gives her verdict on Rook by Anthony McGowan, from the Carnegie list.
What the publisher says…
When Kenny and Nicky rescue a rook left for dead, Kenny is determined to keep it alive. Nicky doubts the scruffy bird will make it, but then Nicky has plenty else to worry about – a school bully, his first love, and the fact that everything is about to go very, very wrong.
What we say…
I have to admit, when I saw Rook was on The Carnegie Shortlist I was a little skeptical. It was a Barrington Stoke book and I always believed them to be much easier reads without much substance (this was of course because I hadn’t read any!)
The first two pages did put me off a little as it described the birds fighting, but as soon as Kenny and Nicky came flying onto the page I thought – I’m going to enjoy this.
I loved the way Nicky looked out for his brother and really felt his pain when he was dealing with his issues. I feel a true testament to how powerful the writing was, was me thinking – if I was at the school I would sort out those boys! And having to remind myself – its not real.
The topics were all dealt with sensitively and with realism and I would highly recommend this book to every student as it was very relatable.
Even though it was the third one about the boys it didn’t make the story incomprehensible, it simply made me want to read the earlier novels, Brock and Pike, which I now have.
One of my students in the shadowing group stated she liked it as it was realistic the way the school children were with each other but she was confused where mum was. I have suggested she reads the others.
A great read.
You can see what Anthony McGowan has to say about Rook on the Carnegie shadowing site: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=1
After hearing a lot recently about the forthcoming film of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, I realised that, although it was definitely of my era and I was an avid reader as a child, I had never actually read it. So, last weekend, I went out and bought a copy and found out what I had been missing.
Published in 1962, it is the story of Meg Murray, a girl who doesn’t fit in at school but is brilliant at Maths who, along with her gifted younger brother, Charles Wallace and new friend, Calvin sets out in a journey across space, to find her missing father. Helped by a trio of supernatural beings, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which, they travel to different planets and battle with evil in the form of a disembodied brain called IT which has imprisoned her father.
Despite being rejected by publishers 26 times, it went on to win the Newbery Medal in 1963 and has been continuously in print since its publication.
A mix of fantasy and science fiction, it is often compared to C.S Lewis with its overt references to Christianity. It includes a lot of science too – quantum physics features quite heavily – but it is great storytelling and it is the character of Meg which makes it so appealing. The oldest child of scientists, she is an awkward girl who is unhappy with her appearance and finds everything at school, apart from maths, very difficult. Many readers will identify with her inability to conform and the unhappiness of a young teenager.
I found it an interesting and uplifting read and I will be telling my Year 7 & 8 classes all about it this week. I will also be going to see what Disney, Oprah Winfrey and Reece Witherspoon do with it. The other thing I’ll be doing is catching up with all those other classics I’ve neglected over the years to see what else I can discover.
The 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.
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!
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
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
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
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