‘Weird joys and pains’ of youth explored in David Almond’s beautiful prose

Children’s books: David Almond’s A Song for Ella Grey; Anna Carey’s Rebecca Is Always Right; and Beyond the Stars

Fighting Words: Roddy Doyle’s writing venture for the young will get proceeds from the compendium Beyond the Stars: Twelve Tales of Adventure, Magic and Wonder (HarperCollins, £12.99), compiled by Sarah Webb

Fighting Words: Roddy Doyle’s writing venture for the young will get proceeds from the compendium Beyond the Stars: Twelve Tales of Adventure, Magic and Wonder (HarperCollins, £12.99), compiled by Sarah Webb

 

There is a moment in David Almond’s A Song for Ella Grey (Hodder, £12.99) when Claire, the novel’s narrator, describes how she and her classmates regularly came together to share their teenage dreams. These, she tells us, were occasions “where we explored the ways of love and friendship, where we trembled with the weird joys and pains of being young and getting older, where we yearned for freedom and ached just to belong”. It is a sentence which with its juxtapositions, apparent contradictions and vocabulary of “yearning” and “aching” neatly encapsulates the view of adolescence encountered in this beautifully written novel.

At its centre is Claire’s closest friend, the Ella Grey of the title, whose everyday schoolgirl existence is totally transformed with the arrival in her life of the young travelling musician introducing himself as Orpheus. The narrative linking the destinies of the mythic lyre-player and his modern-day Eurydice could well be seen as answering the question posed in Eavan Boland’s poem Eurydice Speaks, published recently in these pages: “How will I know you in the underworld/How will we find each other?” In his tracing of the way in which they “find each other” and of the consequences of their doing so, Almond displays storytelling skills which elevate this poetic and allusive novel well beyond the more conventional tale of teenage longing, love and loss.

Adolescent ups and downs

Anna Carey

Rather as the lives of Almond’s young people are dramatically affected by their encounter with Orpheus, the lives of the 11 young girls who feature in Ursula Dubosarsky’s The Golden Day (Walker Books, £6.99) are never to be the same once they meet the mysterious Morgan, who combines vocations as gardener and poet. Taken by Miss Renshaw, one of their teachers, on an out-of-school excursion, they are led by him into an ancient cave, only to discover as they emerge that both he and their teacher have disappeared. Revelations as to what has occurred come gradually, so paced as to mirror the girls’ transition from childhood to the edge of adulthood, from innocence to experience. Atmospheric, chilling and haunting, this novel will do nothing to diminish Dubosarsky’s standing as one of the finest of Australia’s young-adult writers.

Dubosarsky’s carefully modulated prose gives way, in Tim Bowler’s Night Runner (Oxford University Press, £6.99) to something less leisurely and more hectic. Zinny, a young man of 15 (he doesn’t like the word “boy”) is bullied at school, at odds with his parents (who are also at odds with one another) and very much on his own. The poverty of relationships within the home is skilfully mirrored in the sinister dinginess of the urban environment which provides the novel’s setting, a setting which encourages crime and racketeering. When Zinny is caught up in these, he enters a world of thuggish gangland characters and scams, becoming embroiled in experiences which create the material for an edgy, suspenseful thriller. The staccato spareness of Bowler’s prose is the perfect medium for carrying such a narrative.

Short stories

Sarah Webb

With all proceeds from the book’s sales going to Fighting Words, the children’s and young-adult creative writing centre established in Dublin in 2009 by Roddy Doyle and Seán love, the promise of “adventure, magic and wonder” is more than fulfilled by what lies within its snowy and starry Chris Haughton covers. Bubbling over with variety and bristling with life, the stories play imaginatively on these wintry themes. Writers featured include John Boyne, Eoin Colfer, Roddy Doyle, Marita Conlon- McKenna, Celine Kiernan and 14-year-old Emma Brade, winner of a children’s creative writing competition launched by HarperCollins to provide the book’s final story. The atmospheric black, white and grey illustrations accompanying each story are the work of some of our most highly regarded picture book artists including Chris Judge, PJ Lynch, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Tatyana Feeney and Niamh Sharkey.

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