Saturday, 17 June 2017

CILIP Carnegie 2017 Round Up & Predictions!

Every year here at SOTB we shadow the CILIP Carnegie shortlist and endeavour to predict the winner. More often than not we get it right, but it is always a tough call, as the calibre of the books is so high. This year is no exception, the short list has been full of powerful read, written by some of the most talented and established wordsmiths, with story than span genres and vary in tone from funny to tragic. With any more ado, here is our round up and predictions…

'The Bone Sparrow' by Zana Fraillon is an engaging, empathetic, enlightening and harrowing; in short it is a work of poignant beauty that shines a light on a very contemporary humanitarian crisis: refugee camps. Told from the perspective of Subhi – or ID-DAR-1, who was born and raised on the camp, as he navigates through the dangers of life camp and from the eyes of a Jimmie a girl from the other side of the fence whose curiously takes her in the belly of the camp. The Bone Sparrow, shows the hardships, indignities and dangers of life within refugee camps, whilst interweaving a deeper fabric of tales creating a rich, multi-facetted unique tale about hope. I think The Bone Sparrow with its endorsement from Amnesty International, it hits the zeitgeist and has a real chance of taking home the medal.

‘Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth’ by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a rare gem that brings brilliant humour to the story of a homeless boy who befriends an alien dog and they join forces to save the world. Humorous books are a rare sight on the Carnegie shortlist. That in itself tells just how wonderfully brilliant and compassionate Frank’s writing is – and how difficult it is to approach big subjects with humour and to write a properly funny book. It might also make you feel differently about how aliens visiting Earth might look, but that’s another matter.

‘The Smell of Other People’s Houses’ by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is a beautiful read. We get drawn into the separate journeys of four narrators. As they all work towards finding their place and understanding in the world, so the stories also start to connect in a very satisfying way. Well-observed, complex, and a heartfelt read about a group of likeable teenagers who are suffering, but find ways to pull through, this is a triumph of lyrical writing that helps us connect with big issues, small things that are important, and lives that feel very real.

Ruta Sepetys ‘Salt to the Sea’ is a triumph, set in the last days of WWII, it is told by multiple the perspectives of four young people, all in first person, all with distinct unique voices that effortlessly fit together to drive the plot forward. The four protagonists gradually meet and with each interaction their fate is cemented as the endure all the atrocities that the war can hurl at them, until finally they are all aboard the ill-fated Wilheim Gustloff that sets off across the frozen waters, massively over capacity with too few lifeboat. When the ship goes down, their secrets unveil along with their fates.

‘Beck’ by Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff bring together two powerhouses of YA writing and comes up with a commanding story about a young man who never gives up. It is big in every way – emotional, heart-wrenching and harrowing. Beck suffers abuse from almost everyone who should be helping him. But the sensitive writing draws us right into his story and we start to share Beck’s unswerving belief that however far he must journey, whatever deprivations he might suffer, that he should never give up believing that he will find a place in the world. This might win for not only being a remarkable collaboration, but previous winner, Mal Peet’s, final book.

‘Railhead’ by Philip Reeve is a wonder of imagination, taking you to a truly unique universe where not only humans, but trains, insects, and robots, have intelligent life. Small-time crook, Zen, is recruited by a mysterious figure to steal a work of art, but he and is soon swept up in huge issues about the nature of what we are told of the truth of what surrounds us. A powerful and page-turning novel with engaging and believable characters and sublime and exciting world-building. And a page-turning plot. What more could you want? Sci-fi books for children are rare – sci-fi books for children that are this good should be cherished. Cherish. It really deserves to win.

‘Wolf Hollow’ by Lauren Wolk. Betty was a favourite ‘baddie’ character in this year’s list – a great demonstration of how appearances can be deceptive. Main character, Annabelle, is a great opposite foil for Betty, determined to stand up for wrongly-accused Toby and bring Betty’s true nature into the light and expose her all too easy to believe lies. A clever, manipulative and morally complex story. It may just have the edge for being all these things, plus successfully travelling that narrow path of also being suitable for a younger age group.

Lastly, Glenda Millard’s ‘the stars at oktober bend’ is a touching and brave book, again in multi aspect told from two very different yet complementing voices, a story of falling in love and overcoming tragedy. the stars at oktober bend’ is where four years previously, the twelve year old Alice Nightingale’s, life changed forever. Attacked and left with fault wiring, speech difficulties and fits, she lives her life is a state of forever twelveness, and she dreams of a better future that transcends her twelveness. Alice’s dreams come true when she meets and falls in love with Manny, a boy who’s trying to outrun his tragic past in a new country not plagued by war. The two heal one another and just as the begin to outrun the past, it raises it’s vindictive head, along with floodwaters that come thick and fast threatening to wash away any hopes for a future.

2017 is yet again another crop of incredible books; with strong voices and characters real enough you can almost touch them. As with every year, it is difficult to pick just one book that standout above the rest. Personally, all the book I read, were so strong that I could not pick one above the other, however Nicki has circled out Philip Reeve’s ‘Railhead’ as a worthy winner. So it is our official SOTB prediction that ‘Philip Reeve will be taking home the medal! Good luck to everyone on the list, and we all wait with baited breath for the announcement on Monday!

Friday, 16 June 2017

the stars at oktober bend –Glenda Millard – CILIP Carnegie 2017 review

Our finial 2017 CILIP Carnegie review takes us to the wilds of rural outback Australia with ‘the stars at oktober bend’ Glenda Millard’s touching tale about two teenagers whose lives have been tainted by tragedy, as they endeavour to escape the past and take control of their futures.

Initially I found, the stars at oktober bend, disorientating, finding the setting difficult to place both in time as it could easily be any time from the 1950 to present, and where, again could be any backwater town, USA, UK, anywhere. Add to this the lack of any capitalised letters in the first half dozen chapters, and the whole reading experience was a leap of faith. Faith that author Glenda Millard would reveal all in her own time, and that you didn’t necessarily need all this information up front. Indeed the leap of faith was made easier due to the strength of the voice which is so strong and endearing that reading it is a pleasure even if you are not sure where or when the action is taking place.

the stars at oktober bend is told from duel perspectives, by two young people who live on the periphery of society and who are negotiating life’s usual hurdles plus the taller ones that the past has put before them.

The book is predominantly from the view of Alice Nightingale, in her sate of ‘forever twelveness’ with broken wiring, broken speech and debilitating fits. Unable to attend school Alice spends her days, tending her ailing grandmother, and in the company of her dog Bear, writing poetry that she displays all over town. Alice dreams of being more; more than forever twelve, more than the girl from the family plagued with tragedy and scandal, more than a victim. But in her small world, with only her grandmother, Bear and her younger brother who insulates and protects them from the outside, all hope to transcend the twelveness that was inflicted on her seems impossible. As Alice posts her ANON poems around town hoping someone will hear her words her dreams are answered when Manny the adopted son of a local couple finds them.

The other perspective in , the stars at oktober bend, is from Manny, who is a long way from his war torn home, haunted by secrets and struggling to get to grips to the nuances of another culture whilst slipping the grasp of bullies. As we watch Manny, desperately try and outrun his past and problems, he navigates towards the Nightingale family and Alice in particular.

As Alice and Manny find love and begin to heal, dark forces are at work trying to unsettle their happiness, when flood water brings a deluge of destruction threatening to wash away their dreams for a future, and a foe with a vindictive thirst for revenge wades in.

the stars at oktober bend, is a beautiful and emotionally challenging book, recommended for older readers. It tackles the difficult subjects of war, murder, rape and torture, whilst challenging the labels of ‘victim’ and ‘migrant’ showing that people are more than the box others put them in. It is a brave book tackling subjects that are often shied away from in literature for teenagers, yet deals with the subject in a responsible and respectful manner, making it an empathetic and endearing read.

I believe that the stars at oktober bend is not only a book that promotes empathy, braking boxes and ripping down labels, but also like many of tales, has an element of warning. A message to young people to the danger in the world. A wolf in the woods for the twenty first century.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Beck – Mal Peet – CILIP Carnegie 2017 review

This is the sweeping historical final novel from previous Carnegie Medal-winning author Mal Peet, telling the epic tale of the hardship of a multi-race orphan in Liverpool in the early 1900s, who suffers terrible abuse from those supposed to protect him. The story follows his journey and how his indomitable spirit only grows and how he learns not simply to survive, but to thrive.

It is a moving and memorable tale of inspiring and remarkable resilience. 

It might be bleak, heart-breaking, tough to read in places, but it's strong message shines through in Beck's character. That no matter where you might start from, even with a damaged early life, it does not stop you being able to give and receive love.

These are big themes for a children’s novel. Big themes for an adult novel. This story definitely comes with a warning that it is not for younger readers (though perfect for old children's book groups or indeed any adult bookgroups).

It is due to Beck’s unbroken spirit and strength of heart that he somehow manages to transcend the terrible triple fate of his birth – being born poor, of mixed-race and then orphaned at eleven, when he is thrown onto the mercy of the charity of the church, told he is one of the lucky ones, and shipped off to start a new life in Canada. But there he suffers appalling abuse in the hands of the Catholic brothers into whose hands he is delivered.

Even this does not break Beck's indomitable instinct to survive, his spirit never waivers, even in the bleakest of situations, and he a character that is warm. clever, resourceful and loyal.

It is in rooting for Beck to find a happy ending that keeps us reading as he survives every setback and clambers and conquers every obstacle.

It is also the beautiful writing which brings close understanding, so full of empathy in this collaboration between Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff, who completed the work after Peet died.

The writing is outstanding, varying between being sometimes shocking and raw, sometimes beautiful and tender.

What Beck is really searching for is a sense of belonging, which he so nearly reaches, but remains tantalisingly elusive. 

It unstintingly tackles huge issues: racism, sexual abuse by clergy members, poverty. Beck not only overcomes everything that is thrown at him, but, more importantly, finds a way not to be brutalised. He finds a way not simply to survive, but to remain able to give and receive love and when Beck has journeyed far, grown up, the tone finally softens. 

You will want to follow Beck’s journey right up to his hard-won happy ending in the arms of the older woman, when Beck can finally put the devastation of his harrowing early years behind him, find love and achieve the place he belongs, somewhere he can truly call home. And enjoy what he so richly deserves.

A story not without pain, but one with an uplifting and inspiring conclusion. Beck is a story bursting with life and feeling and his journey is one worth the struggle. And this book is definitely worth the read.

Nicki Thornton