21st January 2000 at 00:00
PAULINA. By Lesley Howarth. Walker pound;9.99. MISTER SPACEMAN. By Lesley Howarth. Walker pound;3.99.

Lesley Howarth's polished, unsettling children's novels ought to attract more acclaim, big bucks and prizes by the barrow-load. Paulina is an excellent, fiercely paced psychological thriller for secondary-aged readers.

Rebecca's family arrive at their borrowed dream pad in New England to find it comes with a Buick, a pool, a flash kitchen - and a resident troubled spirit who thinks the visitors are trespassing. There are two Paulinas: the one who used to sleep in Rebecca's room and swim in the pool, and the neighbourhood girl with the paper round, who looks like a cheerleader but has dubious double life. Soon there are little accidents involving the barbecue, the pool filter and the cellar steps, and the creepiness of well-heeled suburban America washes over the reader.

Mister Spaceman, one of the most interesting children's novels of last year, is about Thomas Moon, an isolated boy whose obsession with space flight is taking over his life. Thomas is not unlike MapHead, Howarth's most intriguing hero. MapHead was an extraterrestrial being who struggled to adjust to human society; Thomas is a real boy who would rather be in the brave new world inside his head, and Howarth makes it a disturbing and enthralling place to visit.

Geraldine Brennan

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