How much do you trust the world around you?
Holiday fiction for young adults
It would be true to say that Richard Kurti’s absorbing novel Monkey Wars (Walker, £7.99) also provides a satisfying blend of “the personal and the political”, once it is made clear that we are talking here not of human beings but of our closest relatives. In the Indian city now known as Kolkata, rival troops of langur and rhesus monkeys are engaged in a sequence of fierce power struggles, in the course of which the destinies of Mico, a young male langur, and Papina, a young female rhesus, are conjoined. Although we are given to understand that the conflict has originated with the city’s human inhabitants, the strength of the novel lies in Kurti’s skill in creating an animal world of utter credibility, easily as subtle, complex and devious as our own. As with Blackman’s novel, the central questions are seen to be about trust, truth and loyalty, abstractions treated here with invigorating originality.
“Twelve years old. My last year of normal life in the world.” Thus states the titular hero of Allen Zadoff’s Boy Nobody (Orchard, £6.99), now aged 16 and reviewing four years spent as a teenage assassin. Hired by a government organisation known as The Program, this depersonalised adolescent has carried out his previous assignments with chilling efficiency. When, however, his new target is the mayor of New York and, especially, when he encounters Samaro, the mayor’s daughter, he is forced to pause and consider the legitimacy of the demands made on him by his shadowy employers. As flashback details of the boy’s childhood begin to emerge and his relationship with Samaro develops – “We’re both trapped in lives we didn’t choose,” she says at one point – the novel becomes a thought-provoking psychological study of control and freedom, obedience and dissent. Its laconic, staccato style, even in its violent moments, adds considerably to its merits.
Robert Dunbar is a commentator on children’s books.