Shifting sands on an island

Be Nice. By Anabel Donald. Jonathan Cape pound;10

Thirty English girls, aged 11 to 18, embark on a trip to Australia, as their prize for winning a competition organised by a company selling feminine hygiene products. But their plane crashes in the South Seas, leaving 21 of them to work out how to survive alone on a deserted island. Sound familiar? Of course it does. This is Lord of the Flies rewritten with girls in the starring role, and a few tricky devices to make the prose perkier for modern readers - at one point, for example, the island appears to want to have its say about the events unfolding on it, while elsewhere the prose flips into playscript to follow strands of the drama.

There are some unsettling deaths, and a spooky stranger, but this is not William Golding, nor anything remotely like him. The story is written in the separate voices of several girls, all tagged by their attributes (Emma, 17, 5ft 10in, blonde hair) and often speaking in the most irritating girl-speak. "I would've helped, 'cept they looked so proud, as if they owned the fire, and I thought to offer would be one of those unhelpful helps that people do all the time, mostly to be mean, I think, sometimes cos they haven't worked out how it gets on your nerves," says Anneke.

Anabel Donald is a long-standing fiction writer whose works include the five Alex Tanner crime novels. She's also an experienced teacher of adolescent girls. She obviously knows her stuff, and the book accurately targets some of the shifting sands of girls' power play. But it is hard to understand why she embarked on this venture, given that it could only ever hope to be a pale and embarrassing copy of the stunning original.

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