For little women of all ages

13th December 2002 at 00:00
UTTERLY ME, CLARICE BEAN. By Lauren Child. Orchard Books pound;8.99

BLISTER. By Susan Shreve. Scholastic pound;4.99

THE ORDINARY PRINCESS. By M M Kaye. Jane Nissen Books pound;6.99

11 o'clock Chocolate Cake. By Caroline Pitcher. Egmont pound;4.99

CLIMBING A MONKEY PUZZLE TREE. By Karen Wallace. Simon amp; Schuster pound;7.99

Adele Geras finds girl-friendly fiction for would-be teens

At 11 years old, you're facing both ways as far as stories go: towards your future and over your shoulder at how things were when you were younger. Readers in Years 6 and 7 enjoy aspirational books that explain, clarify and demystify the thrilling events in teenagers' lives, and every publisher of young adult fiction knows that much of the audience for these books is much younger than the characters in their pages.

Two of the novels discussed here are suitable for older readers, but top juniors will like them as well. What's important is not your chronological age, but how sophisticated a reader you are. Everyone knows nine-year-olds who've devoured the whole of Tolkien, or Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy, or the adult novels of Terry Pratchett.

For the child with a little less reading stamina, there are books like Utterly Me, Clarice Bean. Lauren Child is the queen of typographical razzmatazz. This is the first full-length Clarice novel. It involves a story within a story because our heroine turns out to be a fan of Ruby Redfort, a girl detective, and we get to read one of the books in which Ruby stars.

Clarice's language is entirely her own and liberally sprinkled with "utterlys". This book is sharp, cool, funny and beautifully produced.

Blister, by contrast, has a misleading cover. The girl on the front looks like a Pokemon character, but the novel is moving, sad in places, and full of terrific characters. Alyssa's baby sister dies, her mother sinks into a terrible depression, her father has left home to live with a younger woman, and then there are her attempts to join the cheerleaders' squad. It would be wrong to give away the ending, but it's a superb novel, rather like a junior version of Anne Tyler's books.

M M Kaye's traditional fairytale with a twist is a new edition, and new readers will enjoy the story of Amy, who is just an ordinary girl in spite of inhabiting a narrative where part of the pleasure lies in predicting every twist and turn of the plot. This is comfort reading at its best: well-written and delightfully illustrated by the author.

Caroline Pitcher's novel is a delicious slice of teenage life. Readers will be involved at once with a group of friends and will share their domestic, scholastic and romantic problems. Emma, the narrator, has smelly feet and a dog called Basil, and she's very engaging. Best of all, the reader can try out the recipes provided throughout the text, including the cake of the title. Great stuff.

Karen Wallace's novel is the most adult of all. It's a sequel to Raspberries on the Yangtze, and in it Nancy comes to an English boarding school which turns out not to be the Enid Blytonesque experience she was hoping for. This is a rather dark, although often funny, book about the power of narrative and imagination, and it's a good and unusual addition to the school story genre, full of characters we grow to care about.

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