More lessons from the school of life


TEENAGE FICTION:A new batch of books for teens includes tales of otherworldly academies and an impressive collection of graphic stories by students in Dublin

THE CURRENT CROP of young-adult fiction suggests there are some very odd educational establishments out there. In RS Russell’s Dead Rules (Quercus, £6.99) a girl called Jana finds herself sitting on an unfamiliar school bus on her way to a new school. She can’t remember how she got there, but it soon transpires that she died while bowling with her boyfriend, Michael, and now she’s en route to her first day at Dead School, a sort of purgatory for teenagers where kids are left in the state in which they died. (One girl has a large dart sticking out of her head.)

Although her classmates urge her to obey the school rules, Jana is determined to be with Michael again – even if that means killing him and ensuring he becomes a new student. At times Russell’s female characters are a little unconvincing, but the book offers a creepy version of the afterlife, and Jana, obsessed with being reunited with her beloved, becomes more unsettlingly amoral as the story continues.

In Tom Becker’s The Traitors (Scholastic, £6.99) an ordinary boy called Adam Wilson also finds himself in a bizarre and otherworldly institution. Shortly after kissing his best friend’s girlfriend, he receives a mysterious letter informing him that he’s a traitor. Soon the bewildered boy is taken through a wormhole to a place beyond time, where he’s told that he will serve a 274-year sentence in a reform school, the Dial, along with hundreds of other children who have betrayed their friends or families. But several of the inmates are determined to escape.

There are plenty of twists and turns, and although the ending left me a little flat, Adam is an appealing hero, the setting is original and clever, and the story is exciting. Both boys and girls will enjoy it, and it might be a good one to tempt reluctant young readers.

On the basis of Jam: An Anthology of Graphic Fiction (Fighting Words, €14.99), today’s real-life kids are doing quite nicely. The book is an exciting collection of short graphic stories by students at Newpark Comprehensive, in Dublin, and the skill and imagination on display are impressive. I particularly liked Laura Boland and Aoife Ó Ceallacháin’s The Magical Pillow Mystery, featuring an eccentric quest, a magic pony and Cthulu in a bra. And Genevieve Healy’s The Little Mouse, the Little Bird and the Sausage, based on a Grimm folktale, is superb: the writing, art and design are all of professional quality.

While some of the narratives are a little confused, all the writers and artists show great promise. In their author biographies, several say they’d never thought of making or reading comics until they encountered Fighting Words. Now a whole new world has opened up to them and to their readers.

There’s more teenage creativity in Dads, Geeks Blue Haired Freaks (Electric Monkey, £6.99), by Ellie Phillips. It’s the story of Sadie, a funny, imaginative 15-year-old who dreams of becoming a hairdresser. Brought up by her loving single mum, she has never met her dad – and nor has her mum, because her father was a donor to a sperm bank.

Sadie decides to track down her dad, and so a quest begins, aided by Sadie’s cousin Billy and his gorgeous bandmate Tony. But there’s no help from Sadie’s former best friend and now worst enemy, Shonna, who has some father issues of her own. Sadie is a likeable heroine, and this is an original and convincing story, in which not everything is neatly resolved.

There’s mystery of a more magical kind in Meg Medina’s debut, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind (Undercover, £6.99). The eponymous girl is Sonia Ocampo, whose neighbours and relatives in the little village of Tres Montes believe she has special powers of protection and load her with tiny gold charms. But when Sonia begins to doubt her powers, she must discover her other strengths. This lyrical, moving book could serve as an introduction to Latin American magic realism for teen readers.

As a 12-year-old I was obsessed with Lorna Hill’s Sadler’s Wells books, which were all about ambitious young ballerinas often forced to choose between love and their careers. Fifty years after Hill’s Veronica and Jane performed their last arabesques, Sophie Flack’s Bunheads (Atom, £6.99) continues the tradition. But this is a less romantic view of the ballet world, as Flack shows what the young dancers put their bodies through in order to achieve the breastless, hipless shape demanded by their bosses.

It’s the story of Hannah, a young dancer at the Manhattan Ballet, who meets a charming songwriter, Jacob, and starts to wonder whether there’s more to life than ballet. Anyone who’s ever dreamed of dancing will love it.

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