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.


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! 🙂


Review: The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt

Best known for his books for younger children, The Hypnotist is Laurence Anholt’s debut novel for YA readers – not that you could guess. This is an assured and indeed ambitious piece of writing.hypnotist-final-cover-design-e1457618358586


Thirteen-year-old Pip is plucked out of an orphanage by the wonderfully characterised Zachary, a farmer, to help with his tender-hearted but bedbound wife Lilybelle. Pip’s expectations might be looking up but for the fact that this is the Deep South of the 1960s and Pip is black and the inhabitants of Dead River Farm are white.


Well-meaning but nevertheless entrenched in the endemic segregation of the time, Zachary and Lilybelle are harmless enough but their son, the unstable and menacing Erwin, is a different matter entirely. A constant note of discord in the household, Erwin (irreparably damaged by his experiences in Vietnam) looms large over the lives of all. Add to this melting pot Hannah, a mute Native American girl also employed on the farm and a newly arrived university professor skilled in hypnotism, and a powerful story of prejudice and danger emerges. The striking cover design will give the eagle eyed among you a clear indication which way this story is heading but I shan’t give too much away…


Clever narration is shared between Pip and the first person narrative of the eponymous hypnotist Jack Morrow, allowing the reader to see racial tensions from both the point of view of the oppressed and via the shock and horror of an outsider. Both voices are interwoven by the lyrical and enigmatic voice of Hannah, adding a dreamy otherworldly quality to the book. It all combines into a compelling and powerful look at a turbulent period of American history that will have readers weeping in frustration at the potential for injustice in the world. The inclusion of an afterword from Anholt and an endorsement from Amnesty International also makes this read a particularly timely warning from history.

What We’re Reading Wednesday: Carnegie shortlist – One by Sarah Crossan

It’s not often that a book really breaks me. As you’d expect from a librarian, I read quite a lot and there are a great many books I enjoy. Some I even love. But there are very few that sweep me up so utterly and completely as One  – leaving me feeling at the end as though I’ve left a piece of myself between the covers and wondering, “what the heck do I do with myself now?”

I must admit I did wonder how I would get on reading a novel that was all in verse. I had previously read and enjoyed books that contain both poetry and prose, such as Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, and Apple and Rain, Sarah Crossan’s previous novel that was shortlisted for the Carnegie medal in 2015. But I wasn’t sure whether a full verse novel would be more difficult to engage with and if I would find myself getting distracted.

In reality it turned out to be quite the opposite. I found the verse format to be, quite literally, a breath of fresh air. The line breaks were perfectly placed and the short length of each poem meant that I kept finding myself thinking “I’ll just read the next bit before I put it down.” Next thing I knew it was one in the morning and there was no next bit because I’d finished the whole thing!

  One is the story of conjoined twins Grace and Tippi who, after being home tutored all their lives are, at the age of sixteen, entering mainstream school for the first time. Understandably nervous, once there they are met with open curiosity, personal questions and insensitive comments from most of their classmates. It is Yasmeen and Jon, both of whom are also outsiders, that Tippi and Grace become immediate and firm friends with and the foursome are soon spending all their spare time together, grappling with everyday teenage issues such as friendship, family and love.

Indeed, for much of the novel, it is the normality of the girls that is the most striking – the fact that, despite sharing the same body and all the issues this entails, Tippi and Grace are just regular teenage girls inside. The fact that the narrative is all told by Grace in the first person further reinforces the fact that they are two separate people, with the their own feelings, needs and desires.

At home, things are not too easy for Tippi and Grace. Their father has a problem with alcohol and the family are facing serious money problems. Faced with the prospect of their home being sold, meaning they’d have to move to a cheaper neighbourhood away from their new-found friends, Tippi and Grace decide to use their togetherness to their (financial) advantage and agree to be filmed for a TV documentary. Shortly after filming starts their health takes a serious turn for the worse, leaving them with a heart-breaking decision to make.

I don’t like it when reviews have spoilers so I’ll not give away any more. All I will say is that this is a glorious book, one of the most beautifully written I’ve ever read. If you haven’t already, please pick up a copy and read it.


What We’re Reading Wednesday: Rebel of the Sands

Rebel of the Sands is the debut novel from Canadian-born author Alwyn Hamilton. The first of a trilogy, the book promises “an epic story of love, swirling desert sands and revolution” and is described by Alice Swan, commissioning editor at Faber, as “the most original, genre-busting YA novel I have ever read.”

So the big question in my mind as I started this book was, “will it live up to the hype?” I’m now around two-thirds of the way through and my answer so far is definitely yes! 

First of all, this book pulls no punches. The very first scene sees the heroine, Amani, take part in a shooting contest (whilst disguised as a boy) in the “no good” town of Deadshot – her aim is to earn enough money to leave her oppressive uncle’s house and make for a new life in the capital city, Izman. This is a huge gamble for Amani – with no living parents she is effectively “owned” by her uncle – he has plans to make her his wife and the punishment if she is caught trying to escape would certainly be severe, possibly even fatal.

Thus Amani is marked out from the start as a remarkable heroine – brave, intelligent, strong, quick-witted and none too shabby with a rifle! 

Also taking part in the shooting contest is mysterious “foreigner” Jin who is wanted by the Sultan’s army. After capturing a Buraqi, a mythical horse-like beast, Amani and Jin flee Dustwalk together and here the adventure really begins. 

This book really does have it all: mythology; fantasy; rebellion; romance (but not too much!) and suspense. And speaking of suspense, I’m afraid I must end this post here as I need to get back to the book and find out what happens next!