Timely tales of #MeToo and home­less­ness ‘N

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOKS - CLAIRE HEN­NESSY ■ Claire Hen­nessy is a writer and YA com­men­ta­tor

ow, when­ever she thinks of it, she is con­fused about what she did and didn’t cause. She is con­fused about de­sire, and her own de­sir­abil­ity. She is con­fused about her own sex­u­al­ity. It should be hers to wield as she wishes, she knows this, but why – even if she isn’t wield­ing it, ex­actly, even if she’s just be­ing her­self – is there the sense of a shame­ful in­vi­ta­tion, or even an in­vi­ta­tion at all?” Seat­tle-based Deb Caletti’s lat­est YA novel, A

Heart in a Body in the World (Si­mon Pulse, $18.99), ad­dresses a post-#MeToo au­di­ence in its por­trayal of a young wo­man deal­ing with the trau­matic out­come of a re­jected suitor turned vi­o­lent – a pow­er­ful story that in lesser hands would turn preachy. Days away from her 18th birth­day, peo­ple-pleaser and “nice girl” Annabelle bolts – es­cap­ing her life but also be­gin­ning a cross-coun­try trek that will earn me­dia at­ten­tion and, per­haps, soothe her soul.

Along­side the thought­ful re­flec­tions that are char­ac­ter­is­tic of Caletti’s work, the plot zips along nicely, with the ul­ti­mate re­veal about what hap­pened with the boy only known as “The Taker” saved un­til close to the end. Al­though un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated on this side of the At­lantic, Caletti sits com­fort­ably along­side YA gi­ants like John Green and Sarah Dessen in her ca­pac­ity to un­der­stand, and elo­quently ex­press, the ag­o­nies and (oc­ca­sional) joys of grow­ing up. Her most re­cent book is a thing to cher­ish.

“Deion Pow­ell was the king of high school.” So be­gins Cherub au­thor Robert Muchamore’s lat­est YA novel, Killer T (Hot Key Books, £12.99), and the cliche is enough to make one want to toss the book aside. But im­me­di­ately ex­pec­ta­tions are sub­verted: Deion is laid low by a chem­i­cal ex­plo­sion in the first few pages, and we move on to mis­fits Harry (the fu­ture jour­nal­ist who se­cretly films the in­ci­dent on his phone) and Char­lie (the girl blamed for the whole thing).

We fol­low these un­likely friends through the years, as Harry con­tin­ues to be a threat to those in power and Char­lie dab­bles in not-so-in­no­cent sci­ence ex­per­i­ments; all the while there are shad­owy in­di­vid­u­als per­fect­ing gene-edit­ing pro­ce­dures that will lead to the out­break of the tit­u­lar “Killer T”, a syn­thetic virus that will end up killing mil­lions. The prose is at times clunky but the in­trigu­ing con­cept and high-stakes ac­tion will keep read­ers turn­ing the pages, whether they’re al­ready die-hard Muchamore fans or new­com­ers. This is a book dif­fi­cult to put down.

Cana­dian au­thor Susin Nielsen tack­les home­less­ness in No Fixed Ad­dress (An­der­sen Press, £12.99), a ti­tle al­ready en­dorsed by Amnesty In­ter­na­tional for “up­hold­ing our hu­man rights to a home and a de­cent stan­dard of liv­ing”. Set in Van­cou­ver, a city whose prop­erty bub­ble echoes Dublin’s, the novel crit­i­cises the idea of any­where be­com­ing “a play­ground for the rich” where va­cant prop­er­ties are de­lib­er­ately kept empty as cit­i­zens sleep on the streets (imag­ine!).

Thir­teen-year-old Felix and his dra­matic, dif­fi­cult mother Astrid find them­selves liv­ing in a van af­ter a con­ver­gence of bad luck, and Felix is de­ter­mined to keep this a se­cret from his friends. The re­al­i­ties – both philo­soph­i­cal and mun­dane – of liv­ing this way are ex­plored with hu­mour and em­pa­thy, while the fac­tors lead­ing to this are pre­sented, quite rightly, as a com­plex mix of so­ci­etal struc­tures and Astrid’s own fail­ings as a par­ent. It’s a so­phis­ti­cated but ul­ti­mately hope­ful ac­count of what it means to be a kid in a deeply un­pleas­ant, undig­ni­fied sit­u­a­tion.

Bri­tish au­thor Alex Whea­tle re­vis­its his pop­u­lar Crong­ton es­tate uni­verse with

Kerb-Stain Boys (Bar­ring­ton Stoke, £7.99), a novella for the pub­lisher spe­cial­is­ing in books for re­luc­tant and strug­gling read­ers. As with other Bar­ring­ton Stoke books for teens, there’s no com­pro­mise when it comes to emo­tional com­plex­ity; de­spite com­ing in at un­der 150 pages, this book cov­ers fam­ily ten­sions, friend­ship, at­trac­tion, class, and an at­tempted rob­bery.

Nar­ra­tor Briggy doesn’t re­ally want to hold up the lo­cal post of­fice, but his best mate Terror – real name Terry – is des­per­ate to im­press the beau­ti­ful Cal­do­nia Lake. She’s the one who’s dubbed them kerb stain boys – “You live in the south ends of the es­tate, so you’re one hun­dred per cent, orig­i­nal, grimy, stainy side of the kerb.” She’s also the one who’s al­most cer­tainly hid­ing a se­cret of her own, even as she urges the boys to com­mit a crime.

This is a grip­ping and quick read for both re­luc­tant and so­phis­ti­cated read­ers.

For Ev­ery One by Jason Reynolds (Knight Of/404 Ink, £5) sees the YA au­thor offer ad­vice to fu­ture artists – or in­deed any­one with any kind of dream – in the form of an ex­tended poem. Writ­ten “from the front line / and the fault line” it em­pha­sises that it is not a guide in how to suc­ceed, but in­stead a re­minder that “it’s the thing that makes / you special / but not the thing that makes / you great. / The courage in try­ing, / the pas­sion in liv­ing, / and the ac­knowl­edge­ment / and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of / the beauty hap­pen­ing around / you does that.”

The free verse is at times overly-sim­plis­tic and un­doubt­edly bet­ter per­formed with ges­tures than ren­dered on the page in black and white, but it’s still an au­then­tic and op­ti­mistic take on what it means to cre­ate art and fol­low one’s pas­sions, and why any­one should bother.

Fi­nally, as Halloween ap­proaches, Fire­fly Press of­fers up a book to chill the spine three times over, con­sist­ing of a set of novel­las from es­tab­lished YA authors. In Three Strikes (£7.99), Lucy Christo­pher show­cases the ap­peal of a cult for a girl drown­ing in grief, while Kat El­lis’s pro­tag­o­nist bat­tles ghosts and Rhian Ivory re­vis­its The Lit­tle Match Girl. It’s a de­light to read.


Above: Robert Muchamore. Left: Deb Caletti.

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