Saturday, 11 October 2014

Guardian Children’s Fiction Award 2014 - reviews

It’s a really good mix - exciting reads for older children and funny reads for younger ones, US authors and UK ones, and would be a great list to read if you want to sample some of the best writers who are writing for children today.

The shortlisted books are:

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

The Dark Wild by Piers Torday

We Were Liars by E Lockhart

Phoenix by SF Said

We look forward to seeing which one triumphs on November 13, but congratulations to all the nominees.

We will be taking a Space on the Bookshelf close look at all the titles, but we are going to kick off today with ‘We Were Liars’ by E Lockhart.

This one is pitched at teen readers, the story of Cadence Sinclair, heir to the fortune of one of America’s wealthiest families. With her aunts and close cousins, she lives a life of privilege most of us can’t even begin to dream about.

The story gives us an insight into these families that all have a holiday home on an island – heck, they are so rich they own the whole island.

But the story isn’t about how she copes with the wealth and the privilege and tries to find a role for herself. Her mother and aunts have been brought up to have few skills beyond shopping and sibling rivalry. Although it is party about that.

The adults spend their summers inveigling themselves into their father’s affections. Tapping into his bottomless wallet is a full-time occupation. Squabbling over the future inheritance an important secondary pursuit.

It is also partly a love story as Cadence falls in love with Gat, who also spends his summers on the island. He is not actually one of the direct blood cousins, so not following the sniff of Grandpa’s inheritance. Cadence falls in love, but Gat has another girl.

It is Gat that encourages Cadence to face up to how privileged she is – he is the one who points out that although the same staff have been on the island loyally for years, she doesn’t even know their names.

The style of writing takes a little while to get into. It’s fractured and cold, but the conflicts and characters draw you in to squabbles about things you might think you’d find it difficult to care about. Particularly when the characters all live lives so difficult to relate to. 

E Lockhart does a brilliant job of engaging the reader against all the odds, which was what I most admired about the writing.

What draws you in is that we learn that Cadence is a damaged individual, so she immediately gets our sympathy for her haunted nights and memory loss, the headaches, the rounds of doctors and drugs. We are guided to suspect that perhaps she was attacked - again, playing on our sympathies.

And this grows to be the heart of the story – why is Cadence so ill? What has happened?

This is where the warnings of spoilers come in. Be warned, this is what is probably best described as a big concept novel – and it is actually tricky to review because giving it away would probably affect the enjoyment of someone reading it as there is a twist coming.

How you react to the big ending and whether you swallow the twist is probably going to affect whether you are ultimately going to find this a satisfying tale of a spoiled little rich girl with a loosened grip on reality.

What I most admired about this novel was how skilfully the author took a series of characters and a situation that you initially thought you weren’t going to find a lot of sympathy for – that she constructs it all so carefully it gives the story validity and she does make you care. 

So personally found it actually disappointing that the author went for an ending that was both overly nasty and outrageously over the top as it made me question the validity of the whole story. 

But there you go - I can see that I am in the minority considering this is nominated for such a big award as this has had terrific reviews.

Definitely worth reading - there is much skill to be admired. One to read and decide for yourself? Definitely. 

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