Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Shadowing the Carnegie Award

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner 

This is a book that I had heard and read much about over the last few months and yet I was still not prepared for its impact. This is a bleak and shocking tale and in Standish Treadwell Sally Gardner has created a teenage character with a strong and unique voice.

The story is based upon a "what if" scenario of nightmares, being set in an alternative dystopian past in which 1950s England is a totalitarian state and those who disagree with the authorities routinely disappear. For those unfortunates who are considered different or to have "impurities" life is grim in the extreme. Violence is commonplace and descriptions of this are sometimes graphic. In the middle of this horror we meet Standish and his best friend Hector. Standish struggles at school being dyslexic and has a quirky view of the world. It is Standish, I think, who gives this book its heart. I warmed to him easily and there is something very moving about his relationships with his Grandfather and in particular with Hector. Despite the chilling subject matter there is a theme of love and a commitment to standing up for what you believe to be right running through the book.

Maggot Moon would be a wonderful trigger for discussion about a wide variety of topics for although it would be easy to dismiss this as a horror story there are some parts of the world where people live in fear under brutal regimes. It conveys excellently the bravery of an individual standing up for his beliefs in the face of not only hostility but extreme danger too.

This is a highly original book which it is difficult to assign to any particular genre although at times it reminded me of 1984. The extremely short chapters and the writing style in clear language give the impression of an easy read but it is certainly not an easy read in content. The matter of fact descriptions of extreme violence and the language used mean that this is very much a book for teen
readers rather than younger children.

I can now understand the media attention and accolades that this book has received and would imagine that this has a very good chance of winning the Carnegie too. In all honesty I cannot say that it is a story that I would read with pleasure or for fun but nonetheless I am glad that I have read this stunning book. 

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Shadowing The Carnegie Award

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle 

Twelve year old Mary O’Hara thinks that her life is heartbreaking. Her very best friend has moved away and she does not want to try and face up to this separation. Her beloved granny is seriously ill in hospital and although she cares very much for the old lady she hates visiting the hospital with its strange smells, noises and sick people. Even the name of the hospital, “The Sacred Heart” frightens her. Soon Mary will be thirteen and although in many ways she already feels like a teenager she worries about this too. She feels distant from her older brothers and fears becoming like them. Then one day while walking home from school Mary meets a lady, a stranger. Her mother has told her not to speak to strangers but there is something about the woman that Mary finds familiar. Within days the reason for this familiarity becomes clear; she is Mary’s great grandmother, Tansey,  who died many years ago at a young age and is in fact a ghost.  Tansey did not live to see her children grow up and she now needs Mary’s help to carry out her last task as a mother.

Mary and her own mother Scarlett ( yes, Scarlett O’Hara!) plan to take Tansey to visit her daughter, now a frail elderly lady approaching death in hospital. Subsequently the women from across four generations of the same family decide to undertake one last journey together back to the original family farm where Tansey died. This charming ghost story covers the big issues of life and death but I feel that it is chiefly about the bond between women across the generations and their relationships with each other. The dialogue between the women is wonderful conveying warmth, humour and love. I also thought that the kindly family banter of Mary, her parents and her brothers felt realistic. Tansey is a very engaging character being matter-fact in attitude but with a strong sense of humour too. I would have liked to have got to know Emer better but the way in which the story moved backwards and forwards in time resulted in me feeling that just as I was getting to know one character the book moved on to another. I imagine that the author wanted to concentrate on the strong bonds between the women but this does mean that the male characters feel very peripheral to the story. This is a children’s book that I doubt very much would appeal to boys. However female readers of Mary’s age or even a little younger would probably enjoy this story and empathise with Mary. In addition to its value as a work of fiction, since it deals with the subject of death in a positive manner this book would be useful to have in a school library for this reason too.

Although I do think that this is a lovely story, with likable characters, great dialogue and gentle humour, for some reason I did not feel a personal connection with the book as a whole. The reading experience is not just about reading the words on the page, it is affected by the place in which you are reading, your mood when you read a book and your expectations too. Perhaps that is why this particular book wouldn’t be my personal Carnegie winner. I had read highly favourable reviews and the wonderful Frank Cottrell Boyce described Tansey as “the best ghost since Christmas Past” so perhaps my expectations were just too high. Also I read the book over a busy weekend so maybe settling down undisturbed and reading this book in one sitting would have been wiser. For me A Greyhound of a Girl was a very enjoyable read but not an outstanding one.