Children's Literature

26th May 1995 at 01:00
WEATHER EYE. By Lesley Howarth. Walker Books #163;8.99. - 0 7445 2488 1.

Lesley Howarth's books are all startlingly original, from the very first page. The Flower King erupts with extraordinary, psychic colours and Maphead starts with a catshake in a greenhouse. There is less panache about the opening of Weather Eye, her third novel, but it is just as skilful.

It begins with a ferocious storm, seen on a world-wide scale. Then it homes in on the south-east of England, on South Hill Wind Farm, and on Telly and her brother Race, as they huddle together, listening to the storm. In half a dozen sentences, the reader is introduced to both the book's main characters: Telly, and the weather.

It is 1999 and Telly is a member of an international youth computer network that monitors the increasingly unsettled weather. But her relationship with the weather is more than scientific. During the opening storm, she is hit on the head by a piece of flying debris. After a Near Death Experience, she becomes fearless and develops psychic powers that show her how human pollution and excess are disrupting the weather.

In other hands, an opening like that would promise hackneyed rehearsals of old problems. But Lesley Howarth is never hackneyed. She focuses on Telly's relationship with the weather which grows even wilder, shutting down all the wind farms. Telly understands that the bustle and striving that are disrupting the climate are caused by human fears. Using the Weather Eye network, she sets out to spread Calming techniques and slow down the pace of life.

This is not achieved without cost. The local Weather Eyes struggle to prove their courage in the storm and one of them is drowned. But his death inspires the others to begin doing things in the small scale way that is the hope for the future and his name is used as the computer password in the wonderful scene at the end when all the wind farms start up again in sequence, like beacons.

Weather Eye is a large scale story that works, appropriately, through small details that are often very funny. Leaving hospital after her accident, Telly is in such a hurry to begin her campaign that she takes the family car and drives it home. Being fearless, she achieves this, but she never quite manages to tell her father what she has done or where the car is hidden, even at the end of the book, when it is accidentally burnt out. The car's disappearance is a running gag, but its destruction points the way to the future as Telly's parents work out how to live without it.

The imaginary television programme acted out by Telly's eight year old brother, Make it with Race, works in a similar way. It is wonderfully comic, down to the last catastrophic explosion of popcorn. But it also contributes to the book's message of slowing down, and doing things oneself.

Weather Eye is not a simple book. It does not tug at the emotions or leave the reader breathless with suspense. But it is subtle, sophisticated and beautifully written, and it deals with one of the central subjects of our time in an original and thoughtful way. It must reinforce Lesley Howarth's position as one of the best novelists now writing for young readers.

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