A cast of young fighters determined not to be dragged under
In a sophisticated novel that subtly plays on the reader’s expectations the journey will bring enlightening discoveries (and harsh truths) about the prevarications of the adult world, especially where these relate to the intricacies of parental-child relationships. A very close reading is recommended if all the nuances of these are to be appreciated.
Structuring a novel in such a way that the narrative is divided among some 20 first-person voices is an ambitious undertaking. But, where Anne Fine’s Blood Family (Doubleday, £12.99) is concerned, this multiplicity of voices and perspectives contributes immeasurably to the novel’s overall effect. Eddie, seven years old when we first meet him, lives with an abused mother and Bryce, her scarily violent abuser. Social services eventually step in: Eddie is fostered and subsequently adopted, and, at least until the boy’s early teens, a happy outcome seems possible. But then Eddie makes an alarming discovery about Bryce’s real identity, and the teenager’s life becomes a journey leading to ever-increasing degradation and despair. Not all the details here make for cosy reading, but such is Fine’s assured command of the material that they never lose their credibility. We accept the resolution when, finally, it comes while shuddering at the experiences that preceded it.
Earlier titles by Ness, Parkinson and Fine are among the 400 or so young people’s books recommended in Mad about Books (Dubray, €2), an indispensable guide for those adults concerned to bring children and books together. Edited by Sarah Webb and extremely attractively produced, the guide provides brief commentaries on each of the selected books, arranged in such a way that all age groups, from babies and toddlers to young adults, are catered for. Additionally, there are sections on poetry, information books and books about “particular experiences”, the last of these relating to such matters as starting school, family issues and death and bereavement. Where the young-adult pages are concerned, an attempt has clearly been made to recognise the diversity of material, stylistic and thematic, available for this age group: Judy Blume’s Forever finds itself (for alphabetical reasons) on the same page as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Happy the young reader equally at ease with both of these.