Old friends, ex­plod­ing friends, run­away friends – and death

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - Claire Hen­nessy

‘So much has changed, and not only with me,” a trau­ma­tised Valkyrie Cain tells her for­mer men­tor, the sharp-dress­ing skele­ton de­tec­tive Skul­dug­gery Pleas­ant. The duo are back for a 10th in­stal­ment of Derek Landy’s pop­u­lar se­ries; this re­vival is aptly ti­tled ( HarperCollins, £12.99). The ac­tion- and dia­logue-heavy scenes leave lit­tle room for thought­ful char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion, but ex­ist­ing fans will be de­lighted to see sev­eral fa­mil­iar faces ap­pear, and more of Skul­dug­gery’s past re­vealed.

The new pro­tege, Omen Darkly, the dis­or­gan­ised younger brother of a much-feted “Cho­sen One”, feels slightly flat; the sub­ver­sion of the “hero” ideal is al­ways pleas­ing but has been han­dled more skil­fully by other writ­ers in re­cent years. At the same time, Omen is not given much space here; de­spite


this hav­ing been orig­i­nally pitched as “a sec­ond se­ries” about Skul­dug­gery et al, it is very much reliant on fans’ knowl­edge of pre­vi­ous ti­tles and un­der­stands that they are in­evitably more in­vested in char­ac­ters they’ve lived through nine books with.

Amer­i­can au­thor Aaron Starmer has pre­vi­ously writ­ten for young chil­dren;

(Canon­gate, £7.99) marks his en­trance into the YA world, and what a won­der­ful and weird en­trance it is. In her fi­nal year of high school, Mara wit­nesses a girl spon­ta­neously com­bust in front of her like “a bal­loon full of fleshy bits”.

It’s the be­gin­ning of a se­ries of ex­plo­sions and con­stant un­cer­tainty about what will hap­pen next – the per­fect metaphor for grow­ing up, of course, but also han­dled skil­fully as a story de­vice in its own right, com­plete with of­fi­cial govern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions, me­dia in­tru­sion and con­spir­acy the­o­ries.

The great­est strength of the novel is Mara’s un­sen­ti­men­tal voice as she re­lates the events: “Here’s what hap­pens when a guy blows up dur­ing your group ther­apy ses­sion that’s sup­posed to make you feel bet­ter about peo­ple blow­ing up. The group ther­apy ses­sion is of­fi­cially can­celled. You do not feel bet­ter.” This is a pro­tag­o­nist who is fairly sure she’s a ter­ri­ble per­son, who makes in­ap­pro­pri­ate jokes about death, and who is deeply – some­times un­com­fort­ably – re­lat­able.


Moira Fow­ley-Doyle’s sec­ond novel,

(Corgi, £7.99), of­fers up a whole range of char­ac­ters to fall in love with (and in­deed, some of them fall in love with each other). In a small town in the west of Ire­land, there is an an­nual sum­mer party, and this year ev­ery­one seems to have lost some­thing there. Pages of a di­ary re­veal­ing a spell has been cast over some clues, and a new friend­ship with a group of runaways pro­vides oth­ers.

The in­ten­sity of ado­les­cence and the im­por­tance of friend­ship in the of­ten-fraught school en­vi­ron­ment is cap­tured beau­ti­fully. “To­gether,” one of the nar­ra­tors writes, “we are a three-headed dog, fac­ing an army of hun­dreds of star­ing eyes and leer­ing, open mouths.” The ro­mance – both straight and not, pleas­ingly – is ten­der and dreamy with­out veer­ing to­wards cliche, and there’s an open­ness about fe­male sex­u­al­ity still rare in nov­els for teenagers. This is a su­perb book. Christof­fer Carls­son’s

(Scribe, £7.99), trans­lated deftly f rom the Swedish by Rachel Will­son-Broyles, is one of the first Scandi noir books for teens to be pub­lished in the UK. In a small ru­ral com­mu­nity, the ar­rival of a po­lice of­fi­cer at the front door prompts 16-year-old Vega to find her older brother, Jakob, and un­cover the truth about what hap­pened the night a man died. The des­o­late land­scape is the per­fect back­drop

Spell­book of the Lost and Found Cold­est Month The Oc­to­ber Is the

for this taut tale of old fam­ily feuds and un­furl­ing se­crets.

Ir­ish writer Sarah Car­roll in­tro­duces us to the inim­itable Sam, who faces home­less­ness and ne­glect with as­ton­ish­ing re­silience and imag­i­na­tion in (Si­mon and Schus­ter, £7.99). “They feel sorry for us cos they think we sleep out on the

The Girl In Be­tween

streets. They don’t know that we don’t do that any more. They don’t re­alise that the mill is our cas­tle and we’re safe in here.” In a pitch-per­fect Dublin voice, Sam re­lates the events that led up to her and Ma be­ing “in­vis­i­ble” as far as so­ci­ety is con­cerned. Although in­evitably a com­men­tary on the home­less cri­sis, the novel never preaches, and its han­dling of grief is both sub­tle and sur­pris­ing. The ti­tle of Karen M McManus’s

(Pen­guin, £7.99) brings Abba to mind, but her de­but novel is noth­ing like a cheer­ful pop song. In a homage to The

One of

Breakfast Club, the novel be­gins with five very dif­fer­ent high school stu­dents in de­ten­tion to­gether. Only four walk out alive. The dead boy, Si­mon, was best known for the school’s gos­sip app and re­veal­ing ev­ery­one’s dark­est se­crets – and as the in­ves­ti­ga­tion pro­ceeds, it seems that he was about to share dev­as­tat­ing se­crets about all four of the stu­dents who were there when he died. This is a slick psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller that makes ex­cel­lent use of the role so­cial me­dia plays in mod­ern life.

Amer­i­can au­thor Sarah Dessen is the most re­cent re­cip­i­ent of the pres­ti­gious Mar­garet A Ed­wards Award for an “out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to young adult lit­er­a­ture”. Her 13th novel, (Pen­guin, £7.99), is fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory for her – over the course of a sum­mer, a cau­tious girl learns to take chances – but it’s a solid and thought­ful novel. Louna, like many of Dessen’s pro­tag­o­nists, has an in­ter­est­ing job – help­ing out at her mother’s wed­ding-plan­ning busi­ness.Rather than fill her with bub­bling hope and ro­man­tic no­tions, it’s led her to be deeply cyn­i­cal about love.

While we know very well that this will change by the sum­mer’s end, the jour­ney – peo­pled with nu­anced and vivid sup­port­ing char­ac­ters – is very much an en­joy­able one.

‘One of Us Is Ly­ing’ is less cheer­ful Abba pop song, more slick psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller that makes ex­cel­lent use of the role so­cial me­dia plays in mod­ern life

Once and for All

Claire Hen­nessy’s lat­est young adult novel is Like Other Girls (Hot Key Books)

Derek Landy: Res­ur­rec­tion is the 10th book in his Skul­dug­gery Pleas­ant se­ries. PHO­TO­GRAPH: ALAN BETWON Us Is Ly­ing

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.