Growing pains

12th August 2005 at 01:00
Adle Geras enjoys summer reading with pace, perils and passion

Skarrs

By Catherine Forde Egmont pound;4.99

Roxy's Baby

By Catherine MacPhail Bloomsbury pound;5.99

Ambergate

By Patricia Elliott Hodder pound;5.99

Hunter's Heart

By Julia Green Puffin pound;4.99

Face Value

By Catherine Johnson Oxford University Press pound;4.99

Girl, Nearly 16, Absolute Torture

By Sue Limb Bloomsbury pound;5.99

This is a week for serious holiday reading. Skarrs is a story that is sometimes harrowing in the extreme, but it's also brilliantly written and comfortable in its double-first-person narrative. Danny's grandfather has just died. His family is going to pieces. He's fallen in with the wrong crowd and doesn't know how to change his path in life, which he understands is less than ideal.

Danny's story is interwoven with recordings his grandfather has made for Richard, who was once Danny's best friend. These transcripts become a kind of diary from when the old man was a young conscript confined in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Some of these passages are very hard to read.

Nevertheless, this is an extraordinarily good book and not simply for its educational value. It's a moving story with appeal for both boys and girls.

The subject matter of Catherine MacPhail's novel is also horrendous, but because of the way the novel unfolds it's a much easier read. Roxy leaves home when she finds she's pregnant, and falls into the clutches of a ghastly couple who tell her they look after girls in her situation. All is not what it seems and the truth, which is based on fact, is terrible. But the story is made less unbearable than it might have been by the use of Roxy's own voice. There are a couple of things that are hard to believe, including the fact that a 14-year-old on the run doesn't have a mobile phone practically glued to her ear. Nevertheless, this is a fast-moving and exciting read and to its credit, doesn't plump for an entirely happy ending.

Last year Patricia Elliott's first novel Murkmere brought to life a fantastical, quasi-17th-century world where birds have religious significance. Ambergate is a worthy sequel in which Scuff, a servant girl, is on the run from Murkmere and her adventures take her to the city. Once more, Elliott's magical use of language and attention to detail create a thrilling adventure, beautifully told. Every word here is as polished as the amber Scuff wears close to her heart.

Hunter's Heart is not a book for vegetarians, and the first few pages nearly stopped me in my tracks. They describe, with rather too much detail, how Simon kills a rabbit with his catapult and then skins and cooks it. The book is easier to take after that, and Simon's relationships with his mother, his younger sister and the enigmatic Leah are both interesting and well-written.

Face Value is another double narrative. In the present, Lauren is about to embark on a modelling career. Her late mother, Paula, was also a model; now Lauren lives with her late mother's friend Nessa. The story from the past, of how Paula met her death, is a kind of exposure of the modelling jungle, and so we become aware of the dangers that await Lauren herself. This is a world that many young girls are ambitious to enter and this book has the authority that comes from a writer who knows what she's talking about. It's interesting, exciting and may provide a kind of warning for the naive. The strength of friendship between young women comes over well and is one of the best things about this novel.

Finally, for those who wish to put a book into their beach bag and expose it to real sand, what could be more fun than another novel about Jess (of Girl, 15, Charming but Insane)? Sue Limb is a very funny writer and this book has as many laugh-out-loud moments as its predecessor.

The extra value lies in both the stuff we learn about the cultural jewels of the West Country and the fact that at last we meet Jess's dad and... well, I won't spoil the surprise. Jess's gran, who still has a penchant for reading about murder, is on a mission to scatter the ashes of her late husband, and Jess herself thinks she'd rather be at a music festival with boyfriend Fred, but it all turns out fine in the end.

If Sue Limb's books for teenagers are new to you, buy both. They're quite light and small and will leave lots of room for both picnic and sunscreen.

Ad le Geras's latest book for teenagers is Happy Ever After (The Egerton Hall trilogy in one volume) Red Fox pound;6.99

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