ON THE ROCKS By Sandra Chick
DIVING IN By Kate Cann Both Women's Press Livewires Pounds 3.99 each
GOODBYE BUFFALO SKY By John Loveday Bloomsbury Children's Books Pounds 6.99
Every book has to have a flaw. The one in Julie Johnston's new novel, Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me, is the incredible disappearance from the scene of the putative real mother of Johnston's fostered heroine, Sara Moone. Apart from that one jarring note, the book is a delight for readers of all ages: a powerful and compelling story, elegantly and tightly written, about Sara's sad, 16-year journey through foster homes to a happy ending (a touch sugary, but the book is tough enough to survive it).
Sara's relationship with her computer - her first friend - is neatly wound through the narrative. The 10-year-old I used as an adviser found the first paragraphs too complex, but was gripped by the story later and loved the cover. She would, she said, have picked it off the bookshop shelf for the cover alone. Neither I nor my other adviser, aged 16, could put the book down.
Covers are deceptive. My 10-year-old would not have touched either On the Rocks, the latest novel from Sandra Chick, or Diving In, a first novel from Kate Cann, if it had been left to their distinctive covers, which led her to expect that the stories would be too heavily moral and depressing.
For my money her first impression was right, certainly of On the Rocks. Diving In has some scenes that are fun. Colette's hippy-gone-to-middle-aged-seed mother riding in to do battle with her daughter's would-be seducer and his parents is a treat, as are Colette's outbursts in defence of her virtue.
On the Rocks is a grimmer tale of three sisters whose parents' marriage is washed away by their mother's drunkenness and their father's bullying self-satisfaction. The story is not without its good moments, some funny, most sad. It does avoid the seemingly inevitable happy ending - but instead leaves no room for hope.
Both the new Livewire titles are cleanly written and well structured, but neither has the elegance of Julie Johnston's writing. They are unlikely to appeal to the more sophisticated reader over 12.
The themes of growing up and social tension also run through Goodbye Buffalo Sky, but author John Loveday has chosen to allow his Wild West adventure story to point to an oblique rather than an obvious moral.
The method of two narrators, a boy and a girl, telling the story simultaneously is sometimes confusing. Chapter headings such as "Cappy tells" or "Alice tells" are used to warn which voice has taken up the thread. But it doesn't always work - the change of tone kept jerking me back to check who the narrator was.
But it's a good powerful story, probably best suited to pre- or early-teen readers, which sees Cappy and Alice, both white settlers, befriending a Native American girl, Two Songs. There are moments of great beauty and pathos and a welcome change of subject matter for readers in need of a bit of adventure after too much domestic reality.