One of the most privileged joys of being a book blogger is getting your hands on books you are desperate to read before you can buy them in an actual bookshop. I have a huge toppling pile of books waiting to be read which increases rapidly on a weekly basis. But sometimes you get a book which demands to be read straight away refusing to take its place within that pile and that book is ‘The War Next Door’ by Phil Earle! I can’t tell you the joy I felt when I received this book because I knew ladies and gentleman that I would be guaranteed a story stuffed full of laughter and heart because nobody does funny quite like Phil Earle, he is a comedy genius.
This is the third book set on ‘Storey Street’, which is based upon a street Phil grew up in, in Hull. Each book tells the story of a different character who lives on the street and in ‘The War Next Door’ we have Masher’s story. I was fortunate enough to chat to Phil last year and when I asked him “who is your favourite character in the series so far?” he told me about this book and Masher in more detail.
“He is deeply flawed and that’s why I love him. I made a deal with myself that if I created a ‘bad’ character, then I would write his story. The next book in the series, ‘The War Next Door’, explains why Masher mashes. I believe no child is born evil, children are taught certain behaviours and we begin to find out why he behaves like he does. There may be redemption in sight for Masher.”
Masher is a menace, all of the children in Storey Street are terrified of getting mashed by him. No one dares stand up to him until one day the fearless Jemima rides into town on her unicycle threatening to end Masher’s reign of terror. For the first time he goes into a battle without absolute confidence in his ability to win, as the children of Storey Street unite to stop Masher and his greedy Dad from getting their hands on their adopted land. And so begins the war, the war next door, a war like never before.
Hilarious and heartfelt it’s really unusual to see the bully at the centre of the story. Instead of Masher being a one dimensional baddy, Phil allows us to see how his personality has been shaped and influenced by a dastardly devious Dad. We see how he struggles to process his feelings of confusion when Jemima fights his meanness with kindness having never experienced this treatment before. It has an emotional depth to it which I found really touching. Yet this story is still full of incredibly funny moments that will make you laugh out loud, although it is the more subtle humour that makes me smile the most. My favourite line is “Storey Street was quiet. Quieter than a group of librarians on a meditation holiday.” Clearly I haven’t met Phil in person as he wouldn’t be able to use this analogy if he found out what librarians are really like.
Sara Ogilvie again provides the most energetic and magnificent illustrations that I have to applaud. I’m a huge fan of illustrations in books for older reader they allow the child to develop their imagination and stop them feeling overwhelmed by page after page of words. Without a doubt ‘The War Next Door’ is a total triumph, Phil Earle and Sara Ogilvie have created another gem of a book that deserves to be in every school library. Bravo!!
You can read my Q & A with Phil Earle in full over on my blog and read my review of ‘Superhero Street’
To find out more about Sara you can visit her website.