August has been a quiet month for reading, I’ve been busy working away on a new story which has completely consumed my brain. As promised I do have a selection of books that managed to lure me away from the laptop and transport me to a different place, allowing some relaxation in my really manic schedule. All of these middle grade books stood out in my increasingly large review pile, each offering something slightly different but ultimately sharing the same brilliant storytelling at their heart.
I’ve never read a Lara Williamson’s story that I haven’t completely fallen head over heels in love with and, ‘The Girl With Space in Her Heart,’ is no exception. Lara has created another moving and beautiful story featuring a child whose life is somewhat complicated. Mabel desperately wants to learn to trust again and fill the space in her heart that her Dad left when he walked out. Her Mum’s new boyfriend, Galactic Gavin could the one to heal their broken family but Mabel’s big sister Topaz refuses to be won over by his kindness and is determined to be suspicious of everything he does for them. Mabel is in a quandary, should they risk getting hurt again because love always carries risk or should they refuse to let him into their lives and destroy their Mum’s chance of happiness? Stories like this one are so important for children to read, they need to see characters whose lives are far from straightforward as it offers them hope when life can feel hopeless. The characterisation is flawless, Lara creates characters who you genuinely come to love even spiky ones like Terrible Topaz. She deftly mixes humour and heart in this thoughtful and poignant tale of love, loss and uncertainty. Once again I’m in awe of Lara’s ability to craft the most sensitively written stories.
Catherine Wilkins is adept and getting into the hearts and minds of teens. Her latest book, ‘The Weird Fans Club,’ gives us a humorous insight into the crazy world that they are trying to navigate. A world where social media and being popular seem to be the only thing that matters. Validation is through likes and not real friendship, so it’s no wonder that being different can be a complete disaster to your social standing. Erin and Grace are equally horrified when a teacher decides that their love of Charlotte Bronte makes them perfect writing partners for a new projects. Erin stands out for all the wrong reasons, especially her monobrow, while Grace is the queen of popularity rocking the world of social media with her carefully constructed selfies. They could be any more opposite but being thrown together could change them both in the most unexpected of ways! Fabulously funny and thoughtfully witty in equal measures this story is a real gem. I particularly like the diary style format making it really accessible and allowing the reader to feel like we’re getting a sneak peek into the girl’s true thoughts, the ones we sometimes have to hide from those around us. The rollercoaster of emotions that the girls experience capture brilliantly the savage ups and downs of teenage life, where people’s perceptions of you can be changed in an instant. A plethora of comic moments mixed with genuine teen angst make for a hilarious and compelling read.
I’m going to start this review with a warning. If like me you’re of a sensitive nature don’t read this book at night, it will seriously chill your bones. Damaris has created a compelling edge of your seat adventure, that will have you checking your doors are locked before you go to bed. In ‘The Switching Hour,’ a strange creature has been awoken by the drought, Badoko. Every night Amaya and her grandmother must make sure their door is locked, so the Badoko can’t steal her brother away to devour their dreams. But one night left all alone, Amaya forgets. Forced to journey into a terrifying forest, she discovers people devastated by The Sorrow Sickness. The drought has wreaked havoc on everyone and all appeals lost. Torn between her desperate desire to find her missing brother, while trying to seek refuge and hide from Badoko, Amaya is forced to face her fears. At the heart of this story is a celebrations of the bonds of family, the joy of unexpected friendship and the difficulty of dealing with loss. A strong environmental message runs throughout, as we seen Badoko is the all encompassing threat of the drought which threatens to destroy their whole community. This allows the reader to think about the devastating impact of climate change as dramatic and terrifying events are becoming more common. I was totally consumed by the threat of this creature, it’s a seriously spooky read. Damaris has created a bold and thrilling debut which will hold you in its icy grip to the very last page.
Aisha Bushby’s debut is a bittersweet tale examining a fractured family and a complicated relationship between a mother and a daughter. Safiya struggles to get along with her mum, finding herself clashing and feeling frustrated by their inability to co-exist. At school there is no respite, she doesn’t fit in and her love of gaming makes her the target for unkindness. But when tragedy strikes and her mum falls into a coma after a terrible accident, Safiya finds herself in a strange world where she starts to see a different side of her mother. Battling to unlock the secrets of this world alongside her day to day life, she feels that her Mum’s recovery is inextricably bound by her ability to comprehend this new world. With time running out can Safiya find a way to makes sense of the past. Aisha manages to tackle difficult and complex themes of divorce, bullying and dealing with grief, in a sensitive and thoughtful way. The gaming element of the story surprised me as it was totally unexpected and added an original element to this intriguing debut. A tough and emotional read, that will leave the reader filled with hope despite the highs and lows of this compelling tale.
Thank you to Egmont, Nosy Crow and Scholastic for sending me gifted copies of these books in exchange for an honest review. All of these books are available to buy now online (click on the title) or from any good bookshop.