Growing up is hard to do

17th August 2001 at 01:00

GET A LIFE! By Jean Ure.

WOLF SUMMER. By Andrew Matthews.

FALLING FOR JOSHUA. By Brian Keaney. Orchard Black Apple pound;4.99 each. TES Direct pound;4.49 each.

SUMMERTIME BLUES. By Julia Clarke. Oxford University Press pound;6.99. TES Direct pound;5.99

KNOCKED OUT BY MY NUNGA-NUNGAS. By Louise Rennison. Piccadilly Press pound;6.99. TES Direct pound;5.99

Family life provides the background to some thought-provoking summer tales. Adele Geras takes a dip

Jean Ure's latest novel has a cover that makes it look like a skateboarding manual for non-readers. But it turns out to be a clear and sensitive account of a traumatic event - the suicide of a young man who is bullied for daring to come out as gay at school.

Joel, the narrator, has an elder brother called Noah. Life in their family is normal in every respect and everyone likes Noah's new friend Lars, but it isn't until after Lars's death that the truth about the young men's relationship is revealed.

The characters are engaging: parents, teachers and Joel's girlfriend, Rosa, all come to life. Joel and Noah are changed by events and learn from what has happened. This direct, fair book should make a great many teenage boys feel better and braver in all sorts of ways.

Andrew Matthews's novel opens dramatically with Anna and her boyfriend being caught together by her father. It's decided that Anna must be sent away to her grandmother's house to get over what Dad perceives as an unhealthy relationship. So far, so predictable. But Gran turns out to be involved with a sanctuary for wolves, and Anna is drawn into the lives of the animals and the people who care for them. It's a fascinating glimpse into a world that many are unaware of.

If the work of the real-life UK Wolf Conservation Trust in Berkshire is anything like that of Zack and his helpers, then it's to be supported. The animal characters are wonderful and it's good to read a novel for the young which has old people among its protagonists. Interesting for boys as well as girls.

Brian Keaney's novel has a heroine who suffers from epilepsy, a subject rarely written about. Keaney has Abi, his heroine, trying to keep her boyfriend, Josh, from finding out. But other problems concerning Abi's sister and her partner and baby bring things to a head and Josh comes up trumps when he discovers the truth. Keaney's style is pedestrian, but his descriptions of Abi's condition from the inside are convincing, and the book's cover is beautiful.

The goat looking out of a blue background on Julia Clarke's novel is also appealing and the story (partly set in France) is equally good, featuring believable family concerns (step-parents, divorce, and so on). The characters come vividly off the page and there is a lovely baby-and-elder-stepbrother relationship, and animals to enjoy.

Louise Rennison has swept all before her with her dazzlingly titled diaries of Georgia Nicholson. The new nunga-nungas are in the same style as the thongs and the snogging and the really big knickers of Rennison's earlier titles. In the United States the novels are published with a glossary and a cult is starting to develop around them. Rennison has been a stand-up comic and her verve and pace are hard to resist.

Go with the flow: it's all good knockabout stuff to make summer last until September.


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