Young Adult Book Reviews

A Kind of Spark

Elle McNicoll, pub. Knights Of

A Kind of Spark follows the experiences of Addie, an autistic girl living in a small Scottish village. She has twin older sisters: Keedie who is also neurodivergent and coping with the first year of university, and Nina who is neurotypical and vlogs about fashion.

 

Addie struggles with a new school year with a callous class teacher, a friendship betrayal and a new girl from London. Her class are studying the witch trials which took place in their small community and learn about the women who were killed because they were vulnerable or considered outsiders. Addie is transfixed by their story and begins a personal crusade to have the women’s lives memorialised in the village. This is not the kind of history that the village wants to remember however, and she meets strong opposition as well as an unlikely source of support.

 

McNicoll calls this novel a love letter to neurodivergent children and small Scottish communities and it is beautifully written. Addie’s experience of the everyday world is fascinating and enlightening. Readers cannot fail to warm to her enthusiasm, perception and humour in the midst of a large family. The relationship between the three sisters is engagingly complex and sympathetically illustrated.

McNicoll evokes the small community of Juniper with its deeply kind individuals, insidious small prejudices and the interminable council meetings with sensitivity and insight. The parallel between the past and the present in how society treats those it perceives as different is persuasively drawn.

 

Written by an exciting new voice in children’s fiction who is also a neurodivergent writer, A Kind of Spark is authentic, original and uplifting.

 

Saira Archer

Asking for a Friend

Kate Mallinder, pub. Firefly Press

Take three Year 11s from Manchester, who seem to have little in common apart from riding the same bus. Put them in a chintzy B&B in Weston-Super-Mare, and then wait to see what happens.

 

Each one is in distress. Agnes, who hates change, is missing her sister; Hattie’s friends are ghosting her, and Jake has found a sinister lump.  In their own ways, they are all friendless. Agnes hatches a plan to go and retrieve her sister and so the Easter holiday study break is conceived. It is a week that will change their lives. This study break – Hattie and Jake take the ‘study’ part with a pinch of salt – gives them the opportunity to explore the qualities of true friendship.

 

I was initially a bit sceptical about the premise of these three disparate souls wanting to go away together but having accepted that they needed to be out of their comfort zones in order to see what they were really made of I eagerly followed their experiences. The language is straightforward and accessible. Although the characters are Year 11, I can see the novel being enjoyed by readers a few years younger as well.  The issues they are facing are certainly not age-specific and readers are in safe hands with Kate Mallinder. She doesn’t, for one minute, underplay the anxiety of each of these life experiences. One of the aspects I liked most about the novel was the idea that we never know what is going on in someone else’s life and that we shouldn’t judge people’s problems on a sliding scale of severity: it isn’t a competition.

 

Agnes is as profoundly upset by her sister’s absence as her friends are by their troubles. It also struck me as an empathetic reminder that the stressful experience of GCSEs and the turmoil of personal problems aren’t mutually exclusive; many sixteen-year olds are grappling with both. Weston provides an appropriately changeable and stormy backdrop for these three to work through their problems and establish their friendship. 

 

Spoiler alert! I think it’s worth mentioning that Jake fears he has testicular cancer and I applaud Kate Mallinder for the way she deals with the topic. She doesn’t shy away from his fear or embarrassment and, even more admirable, is that there isn’t a convenient narrative hiatus when he goes to the doctor: the reader is with him all the way. Knowledge dispels everybody’s worst fear.

 

If this all sounds very dark and intense, it isn’t. The tension is balanced with a lot of humour.

 

Clear-eyed and direct, Agnes is gifted with some satisfying and hilarious one-liners. I loved her fresh, original view of the world. Teenagers are going to have fun if they’re away on holiday, revision or no revision, problems or no problems, and these three are no exception. It is ultimately an uplifting, empowering novel about facing your fears and embracing true friendship.

 

Jackie Spink

Aurora Rising

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, pub. Rock the Boat

Auri is older than she looks. In fact two hundred and twenty years older after she was lost in the folds of space on the spaceship the Hadfield. She is the sole survivor of the ten thousand colonists that were onboard. No-one knows who she is. No-one knows what she has become.

 

The adventure begins with the formation of Squad 312, Aurora Legion’s best misfits.  The squad includes children of a great hero, Tyler, the hotshot captain and his twin sister, Scarlett, the diplomatic one. Their best friend Cat is the Ace piloting the spaceship. Finian, a Betraskan, is the tech wizard in an exo-skeleton. A Syldrathi named Kal provides security, barely able to control his volcanic temper. The science officer, Zila is at best a sociopath and at worst a psychopath. Their first assignment is a simple supply run of medical equipment to help Syldrathi refugees. The only danger seems to be each other. That is until they discover a stowaway: Auri.

 

Squad 312’s blaze across the universe is full of exciting and desperate last stands, deadly games of cat and mouse across space, bar room brawls and masterminding the greatest galactic heist ever. The squad seem to catapult from one crisis into another. Meanwhile Auri seems to be the key to unlocking a conspiracy of cosmic proportion. As the mystery deepens, the squad spin blindly into a rabbit-hole of duplicity, not knowing who to trust and that includes Auri.

 

Each chapter of Aurora Rising is narrated from the perspective of a different character. Despite the disorientation early on, it soon became easy to switch perspectives. Interestingly the technique allows the reader to explore the foibles of each character and gain insight into their backstory. It also breaks up the narrative, creating tension in the story. Moreover, like a jigsaw, pieces cleverly come together as revealed by different characters across the whole book.

 

Aurora Rising is the first in the next best-selling trilogy of the phenomenal antipodean writing partnership of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. It is a great space adventure told with aplomb and lots of familiar tropes with twists for science fiction fans.

 

There are a few mild sexual suggestions and innuendo that puts this book in the mid- to older teen bracket.

 

Simon Barrett

Blood Moon

Lucy Cuthew, pub. Walker Books

An excellent book which I highly recommend. Blood Moon follows astronomy lover Frankie and her experience of period shaming. During her first sexual experience with Benjamin from her class, Frankie’s period starts. They both agree it’s only blood and it isn’t an issue. The next day it is the talk of the school. Frankie believes Benjamin must have been bragging to his friends. Then a graphic meme goes viral turning their private intimate afternoon into something disgusting, mortifying and damaging. She blames her previously best friend, Harriet, as they recently had a falling out. The online shaming takes on a disturbing life of its own – the meme spreads to other schools, people in town recognise her, she is suspended from her part-time job at the planetarium and she starts to receive abusive and threatening messages. Frankie does not know where to turn or who she can talk to.

 

The novel is Lucy Cuthew’s debut and is written as a poem, which includes messages through social media between friends. There is a very powerful message to all about how people should not be made to feel ashamed of their bodies. I found myself laughing and crying along with Frankie as she attempts to navigate her way through the devastation to her life that follows this horrible act of cyber bullying. I particularly like the way Lucy puts dialogue and thoughts to the right of the page and friend’s comments to the left and the way she uses onomatopoeic writing to give her words more depth. I also like the metaphor between the forecasted blood moon, which she plans to watch and the turn of events.

  

The characterisation portrays real teenagers, living very real lives. It shows how friendships can change and teenager’s relationships with their parent’s shift. In my opinion this book should be made essential reading for all pupils to highlight the effects and seriousness of online bullying and would be ideal for discussion in PSHE classes. I look forward to reading Lucy’s next book.

 

Anita Loughrey

Anita Loughrey’s most recent books are a series of picture books based around the seasons, called A Year in Nature, published by Quarto and illustrated by Lucy Barnard. Rabbit’s Spring Gift and Frog’s Summer Journey were released on the 17th March 2020. Squirrel’s Autumn Puzzle and Fox's Winter Discovery have been rescheduled to be released September 2021.

The Colours that Blind

Rutendo Tavengerwei, pub. Hot Key Books

Rutendo Tavengerwei lived and studied in Zimbabwe until the age of eighteen when she moved to South Africa to study law at the University of Witwatersrand. Subsequently, she studied at the World Trade Institute and worked at the World trade organisation in Geneva.

 

Her debut novel, Hope is Our Only Wing, was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal in 2019.

The Colours that Blind begins in the early 1970s and continues to 1980s Rhodesia before its incarnation as Zimbabwe. It is a story concerned with the violent prejudice experienced by the talented swimmer and albino boy Tumi and another teenage character Ambuya. The vivid 359 pages alternate their focus between these characters as they struggle to survive prejudice and random violence from their own people and the police.

 

The Rhodesian setting will be new to most YA readers, but the fluent, accessible prose combined with short chapters and the well-rounded depiction of the main protagonists should draw the reader in and possibly inspire them to find out more about the history of Zimbabwe. There is a useful glossary of Zimbabwean vocabulary towards the end of the novel, which perhaps could have been more effectively included at the beginning of the novel to guide the reader. I did read this as a PDF and only encountered the brief but useful guide as I scrolled through the final pages, it may differ in the printed version. Immediately prior to this the author addresses her readers directly with an explanation of the context and theme of her novel. Again, this would make a useful Foreword. A highly recommended and thought-provoking read.

 

Trevor Arrowsmith

Deleted

Sylvia Hehir, pub. Garmoran

Already a winner in a New Writers competition with her first YA novel, Sylvia Hehir now gives us her second YA book, which itself has won a Scottish prize for its portrayal of the life of teenagers in a small, remote Scottish Western Highlands community.

 

After a traumatic break up with her long-term boyfriend Dee is left wondering how much worse her life can get. A handsome new boy in the village offers some hope but her friends are wary, and there seems to be a mystery in his life. Added to all this, her life would be a whole lot easier if her phone would stop playing up. 

 

Dee is concerned that she is developing psychic powers – and there are others with second sight in the village, foreseeing things that have not yet happened, but which she then goes on to witness. Just as alarming, she also sees things which have already happened, which she didn’t witness but which she had carelessly wished would happen. So, when she bins a friend’s number on her phone, and that friend ends up in a rubbish bin, she’s terrified that she somehow caused it to happen.

 

While we might fear that Hehir is just adding a supernatural element to her novel as an extra attraction for readers, in fact she is, in fact, showing us that adolescence is a time when all our senses seem on edge, and the inexplicable seems commonplace. Having lost her boyfriend to the girl she thinks she wished into the bin, Dee is eager to find a meaningful relationship, and Tom, the visitor in the village, seems to be just the person she needs. Neither she nor Tom, however, is an old hand at romance, and things don’t go too smoothly, with Dee glad to discuss her worries with her faithful teddy bear! 

 

There’s also a family mystery involved, and the revival of an old feud in the village, both of which lead to violence but ultimately a resolution which is both personal and has wider repercussions. 

 

Funny, insightful, fast-moving, sometimes scary but always an engaging read.

 

Bridget Carrington

Echo Mountain

Lauren Wolk, pub. Penguin

Echo Mountain is a sublime look at courage, determination and a fierce wildness within a young girl. Set in Maine, post-depression, this story follows Ellie and her family as they move from the town up to the mountains. 

 

Ellie, her father and brother take to the wild easily and love nature, learning how to survive and thrive in their new home. Her mother and sister struggle. When an accident renders their father in a coma, the family must rally and work together even more.  

 

As Ellie helps her family with fishing, foraging and hunting, she finds incredible wood carvings waiting for her- small gifts meant just for her. They become special and she houses them together safely.  While looking for more medicines and natural cures for her father, she comes across Cate, known as the Hag.  She and her dog live at the top of the mountain and are struggling after an incident with a fisher cat. 

 

Cate teaches Ellie new medicines and introduces her to the creator of the wooden carvings, Larkin. He lives on the other side of the mountain with his mother, who disapproves of both Cate and Ellie.

  

Larkin and Cate are both knowledgeable and share this with Ellie. In different times, Ellie may have aspired to be a doctor, however, women could not reach that goal yet.  When Cate comes to live with Ellie and her family, small changes start to happen within. Relationships are brought closer together, trust is restored and healing begins to happen. 

 

Echo Mountain is poetic and lyrical, with emotions and struggles written with such heart and soul that you feel immersed in the mountain and the lives of the families. 

 

Erin Hamilton

Hello Now

Jenny Valentine, pub. Harper Collins

Mum has broken up with another boyfriend, mum and Jude are forced to move towns again. They move to mum’s childhood home where she has happy memories.

 

This time the town is full of elderly people and mum and Jude are forced to share a house with Henry Lake, a sitting tenant.

 

Then Jude meets Novo and instantly falls in love. Novo is magical, and Jude finds him so very handsome. Before too long Novo and Jude embark on an unbelievable adventure. An adventure that will change both of their lives forever.

 

This book is amazing, it's one that I had to read twice, the book never tells you if Jude is male or female, it’s left to the reader to decide, but either way it doesn't matter. When I first read this book I assumed Jude was female, I don't know why, but the more I read the more I began to question that. After reading it for a second time I’ve decided that I really didn't know or care.

 

Jenny Valentine takes her reader on a journey with Jude and Novo, theirs is more than a teenage love story, it’s a story of rebellion, of discovering who you actually are, of deciding what you want from life. It is also the story of the love that can grow between two people. Jude is the counterpart to mum – finding a love that will last yet this is not a soppy sentimental book but one that will grab its readers, make them think, make them question and help them to enjoy a great story well told.

 

I would recommend this book to teenagers aged 13 and above. 

 

Helen Byles

Incendiary

Zoraida Córdova, pub. Hodder and Stoughton

I immensely enjoyed Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova, the first in her new Hollow Crown series. It is a clever, punchful, gory, passionate novel, aflame with desire and justice, as well as a wonderful creation of myth and history and a meditation on the nature of memory and identity. I was variously hooked by the plot and premise; surprised at twists and challenges in the journey; and impressed upon by the delicacy, sensuality, and bloodiness of the narrative. 

 

As such, it has an amazing amount to offer a reader, much outside the remit of this review. I would like to emphasise that it seems to me a highly topical engagement, in that it centres on the resistance of the Moria, a people whose lands, cultures, and magical powers have been erased, colonized, and destroyed by King Fernando, the reigning King of Puerto Leones, in a fictional era echoing Inquisition-era Spain. Herself born in Ecuador and immigrant to the US, Córdova’s novel pertinently connects us to the scapegoated and tortured ‘heretics’ of history and the indigenous peoples of the pre-colonial Americas, illuminating those fighting today – at a time when we are acutely witnessing a global call for the fall of colonial power, and the valuing of the lives of the long-oppressed. 

 

Readers will be hooked into the adventure by the voice of Córdova’s heroine and narrator, Renata Convida – a strategic, strong, and passionate fighter and lover. Orphaned from Moria parents, she was taken into the Kingdom’s company; but, when she is rescued by the Moria in the famous Whispers rebellion, her time in the palace incites mistrust in the Moria, amongst whom she must navigate feeling alone – but also deeply in love with her leader, Dez.

 

When Dez’s arrest leads her unit back to the kingdom, her previous captor Justice Méndez has a second chance to provide the power-hungry King with her powers as a sought-after Róbari – blessed with one of the four Moria ‘magics’, stealing another’s memory. From inside, she tactfully discovers the originary deception at the heart of the Kingdom, amongst a handful of colourful and humourous well-defined allies (the attendant Leo, elegant Lady Nuria) and set in vivid, medievalesque scenes.

As such, truth precedes the Kingdom’s peace, and the unfolding of the self holds the key to the Morias’ collective struggle to assert their own truth. A meditation on the powerful hold of myth and memory, that sustain our views of the world and ourselves, Córdova’s novel is a testament to the quality of memories, their suppression or rewriting – and, not least, to the author’s attempt to capture its silvery, slippery essence in language: this is a novel in which ‘memories [... form] and re-form like ink in water’, or ‘[undulate] like light on water’.

 

I look forward to the next installment in 2021.

 

Laurence William Tidy

Last Lesson

James Goodhand, pub. Penguin Random House

Ollie-Walley Combes is having a bad Year 11 at his London comprehensive school. His straight A-graded mock exams and accomplished pianist skills are not helping. They are part of the problem as is his supportive Gramps with whom he lives. They are responsible for his not fitting in. Peer Nate and his mates incessantly bully and prank Ollie and threaten to incinerate Gramps, pouring accelerant through his letter box on a regular basis. Only girlfriend Sophie understands Ollie has issues.

 

What is the last lesson? The first-person narration reveals Ollie's fears and his determination to remove any further threat by deploying a homemade pipe bomb. Some YA readers may find the relentless angst too much, whilst others may appreciate this account of bullying and mental illness. Is Ollie’s violent action justified given his mental anguish? He is aware that his actions will make him a murderer, but such is his mental torment and tunnel vision, that this seems the only way to reduce his suffering. In the reflective final section, he acknowledges: “I was dangerous because I thought I was fine.” Ollie is failed by his teachers and even Gramps. These key adults see only a partial version of Ollie and fail to address his central mental problems. 

 

The language and pace draw the reader in, as does the frank account of contemporary adolescent life including the presence of pornography and its impact on relationships. But the central question about the acceptability of Ollie’s resorting to violence is left for the reader to process. As a set text there should be opportunity for discussion of this key issue, but a solitary reader could be misled.

 

Trevor Arrowsmith

Love on the Main Stage

S.A. Domingo, pub. Hachette Children's Books

16-year-old songwriter Nova thinks she's found The One.  Step forward Nate, popular star of the rugby team and a young Jason Momoa-lookalike. He's a seemingly perfect hunk, that is, until he cheats on Nova with the not so pleasant Amanda and as a result breaks Nova’s heart.

 

Devastated and determined to have a boy free, stress free summer, Nova joins her parents on the festival circuit (first stop Island Rocks) helping them out on their West African-Caribbean fusion food truck, Eats & Beats.  But when she meets Sam, an aspiring musician from Miami, with looks to die for, Nova's best intentions begin to unravel against the charms of the decidedly smitten American boy.  He invites her to an open mic session and performs a song that is clearly all about her.  Who could possibly resist that?

  

Encouraged by her best friend Gemma, Nova spends her last evening at the festival in the arms of Sam. But as they walk back to her tent after a magical night of dancing, Nova is reminded of her promise to avoid any chance of heartbreak.  She runs into the crowd leaving behind a dejected Sam.  Has she done the right thing? The Fates decide for her when he shows up at the next festival.  And as Nova finds herself falling for Sam, she wonders why is it that he's so reluctant to introduce her to his father, and just who is Miami Belinda, and WHY is she leaving messages on Sam's Instagram, asking him to sing her to sleep?! Is history repeating itself?

 

S.A. Domingo is a writer who is known for adult romances under the name Sareeta Domingo. She has contributed to publications including gal-dem, Stylist and Token Magazine, and has taken part in events for Hachette Books, Winchester Writers’ Festival, Black Girls Book Club and Bare Lit Festival among others.  Love on the Main Stage is her second novel for Young Adults, and is a gently paced clean teen romance.  If your teenagers are missing the festival circuit this year, this uplifting story about love, friendship and following your dreams, will serve them as a welcome reminder, of the best of life pre lockdown. For if ever there was a time to delight into escapism, it's now.

 

Matilde Sazio

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

Samira Ahmed, pub. Atom

In this profoundly rich and riveting tale of two young Muslim women from different centuries and continents, Samira Ahmed has beautifully woven together two unforgettable narratives in a thought-provoking literary mystery set to uncover a voice that has been silenced throughout history.

Set in the heart of picturesque Paris, aspiring art historian Khayyam finds herself swept up in an investigation with a charming young Parisian – who happens to be a distant relative of the legendary novelist Alexandre Dumas – to uncover the mysterious woman who served as an inspiring yet voiceless muse for the great French novelist Alexandre Dumas, French artist Eugene Delacroix and English poet Lord Byron.

 

Parallel to Khayyam’s narrative is the story of this mysterious woman, Leila – a 19th century Muslim woman, living as a harem in the Ottoman Empire. Suppressed and silenced, Leila reveals her heartbreaking fight to keep her true love hidden from her jealous captor and how her survival becomes interlaced with the lives of Dumas, Delacroix and Bryon.

 

Intricately rooted in 19th century art and literature, Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know is a passionate and inspiring story of destiny, heritage and history, with a heartfelt devotion to the women whose stories have been erased from the pages of history. Despite having no knowledge in art history, I still found Ahmed’s narrative profoundly enlightening, and, above all else, entertaining. The overarching academic mystery was impressively well-researched, and the enticing trails of clues were skilfully plotted, creating a seamless blurring of fact and fiction. Whilst the addition of a teenage romance gently braided into the beautiful backdrop of the city of lights – a setting so elegantly brought to life through Ahmed’s descriptive and vibrant prose – kept the narrative refreshingly light and inviting.

 

A must read for fans of historical and literary fiction, Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know will sweep you across time to hidden histories and unheard voices.

 

Fern Tolley

Melt my Heart

Bethany Rutter, pub. Macmillan

A feel-good YA book that addresses issues of body image and identity with humour, insight and psychological depth. Bethany Rutter is a journalist and blogger who writes about fat bodies, plus size fashion and body politics including the benefits and limitations of body positivity.

 

Melt My Heart is Bethany’s second YA novel and like her first, No Big Deal, beneath a funny story lies a serious, inspiring message for readers, be they plus size or not.

 

Rutter is an influencer, an editor and a fierce UK voice in the debate around body positivity.  Her main character, Lily Rose, tells her own story, and we find that she is used to people paying attention not to her, but to her gorgeous twin sister, Daisy. But even though Lily loves her own fat body, she can't shake off the idea that no one would ever choose her over Daisy – not when they could have the thin twin. Then she meets Cal, the gorgeous, sweet guy from New Zealand who can't seem to stay away from her. 

 

But Daisy has a secret summer crush, and Lily becomes increasingly afraid that the subject of that crush is Cal. To complicate matters Lily can't figure out why she isn't head-over-heels in love with him, not missing time from her job at the ice-cream shack with her life-long best friend, Cassie. She wonders what Cassie is getting up to with Cal's friend Jack, and what she's thinking about when they're alone.  While struggling to make head or tail of her sexual orientation, Lily is also struggling with the approach of leaving for university, away from home, from her sister and, crucially, from Cassie. She faces all these dilemmas, each additionally impinging on her self-image and mental health. 

 

Ultimately she resolves her conflicts, and faces a different future, supported by family and friends, and realises that she does not need to be bound by the expectations and opinions of others. 

 

Lily is a very likable character, and this is an inspiring, hopeful read for teenage girls, who can take reassurance from the positive outcomes she achieves.

 

Bridget Carrington

Song Beneath the Tides

Beverley Birch, pub. Guppy Books

Song Beneath the Tides by Beverley Birch, presents a thrilling and exciting new story for YA readers. Birch creates a rich tapestry of love, mystery and adventure within the novel, which proves for an extremely engaging read. 

 

The duel narrative used by Birch intertwines the present day, which is told through the eyes of the two central characters, Ally and Leli, and the past, which is written in the style of a journal. With evocative and gripping descriptions of their blossoming romance, it is hard not to become fully invested in Ally and Leli’s relationship and the haunting adventure they take together. Their connection and battles they face binds these two characters, creating suspense and gripping scenes throughout- perfect for early teen readers!

 

Woven in with the mystery and romance, Birch also provides thought provoking and relevant societal messages within the novel. History crosses with modern politics as alongside Ally, a sensitive and informative telling of the colonial history of the East African coast is given, which will undeniably stick with you. Beverley Birch spent her childhood exploring her home in East Africa and so it is no surprise that the landscape of the novel and her knowledge of the culture is so beautifully told. 

 

Not only does Birch capture the reader’s imagination, but also confronts serious themes of today and history which are essential for young people to learn about. This powerful story of two teenagers and their struggle to defend their home, is an enchanting, tense read that is not to go unnoticed!  

 

Jemima Henderson

Wonderland

Juno Dawson, pub. Quercus

For once, the publisher’s blurb doesn’t exaggerate: ‘NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNGER READERS. 

A searing exploration of mental health, gender and privilege… What happens when you fall down the rabbit hole? Alice lives in a world of stifling privilege and luxury – but none of it means anything when your own head plays tricks on your reality.

 

When her troubled friend Bunny goes missing, Alice becomes obsessed with finding her. On the trail of her last movements, Alice discovers a mysterious invitation to ‘Wonderland’: the party to end all parties – three days of hedonistic excess to which only the elite are welcome. Will she find Bunny there? Or is this really a case of finding herself? Because Alice has secrets of her own, and ruthless socialite queen Paisley Hart is determined to uncover them, whatever it takes. Alice is all alone, miles from home, and now she has a new enemy ‘who wants her head.’ 

 

Two of Juno Dawson’s previous novels, Clean and Meat Market, were based on other aspects of late teenage/early 20s worlds, and the dilemmas raised by compliance with those world’s expectations.  In these, together with Wonderland, Dawson has produced a trilogy of novels linked by the author’s close and well-informed examination of these influences on self-image and mental health.

 

Alice has struggled with her gender allocation since pre-puberty, and since then has been in the process of transitioning, a process which is not yet complete and still leaves her with many uncertainties about her relationships.

 

Dawson knows her character’s conflict from experience, and we feel great sympathy for Alice, and empathy with her struggles. While we often focus on poverty and the resulting vulnerability, Alice’s world shows us that the other end of society is equally damaging to mental health and possibly offers even greater opportunity for self-image to fall apart. 

 

Quite apart from these aspects of Dawson’s novel, her recreation and interrogation of Wonderland, with references both explicit and implicit to Dodgson’s endlessly puzzling fantasy world, should stand with the very best of those works which attempt to unravel its meaning. Not to be missed by 17+s. 

 

Bridget Carrington

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