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Peril in paradise

Green Boy by Susan Cooper (Bodley Head pound;10.99) is an environmental fantasy adventure set in the Bahamas, utterly compelling in its portrayal of the conflict between unprincipled commercial development and the forces of nature.

Cooper belongs to that older generation of children's authors - including William Mayne, Joan Aiken and Peter Dickinson - whose excellence has been much admired and appreciated, but who have never received the level of media attention currently given to Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson and others. Her sequence of novels, The Dark Is Rising, is an undisputed fantasy classic, but has always been appreciated by many who do not usually count themselves as fantasy readers.

In this new, tightly-written novel for Year 4 and above, Cooper manages to jump between parallel worlds without once undermining the reader's faith in the "reality" of the described events. Twelve-year-old Trey and her mute seven-year-old brother, Lou, live with their grandparents in an idyllic corner of the Bahamas. But Long Pond Cay, a watery paradise in which Trey and Lou love to go boating, is threatened with monstrous tourist development.

The two children, sucked into a nightmare parallel world in which most green things have been paved over, find themselves fighting a dual underground campaign on behalf of nature. In the other world, this fight takes on messianic proportions when silent, sensitive Lou is taken to be a promised saviour. An authentically exciting storyline, balanced by an exquisitely easy-going narrative voice that perfectly captures the Caribbean setting, makes this a truly compelling read and one that should ensure a new wave of interest for Cooper's other novels.

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