Victoria Neumark selects reading for the holidays.
The Camera Obscura and A Ghost Waiting by Hugh Scott (Walker Pounds 3. 99 each), along with other horror mysteries by the same author, are Walker's answer to Point Horror and they are, at least for an adult, somewhat preferable. Chiefly because the protagonists seem to suffer real emotions and because, as in this tale, there is a real moral element working its way out.
In Camera Obscura, two young thugs terrorising a boy and his grandfather are baffled by their own fears. In A Ghost Waiting, a young boy and girl haunted by the ghost of their teenage brother inadvertently summon up the demon from Hell who had carried the lad off; worse, however, is their dawning discovery that the dead brother was trying to become reincarnated via the little boy's body.
This quite neatly encapsulates the ambivalent feelings around siblings' death, particularly the anger at self-punishing grief. Ages 12-18.
Worlds Apart by Jill Murphy (Walker Pounds 3.50) is a charmingly old-fashioned tale (a la Pamela Brown) about 11-year-old Susan who becomes possessed of the desire to find her errant father, much to her mother's alarm. He turns out to be a famous actor and TV presenter and jolly nice as well. Susan's main preoccupation is how she can keep her imaginative life going in the face of other girls thinking she is silly - rather a relief from lots of pre-pubescent agonising about sex and relationships. Ages 10-13, hard to imagine any boys liking it.
In Stonestruck (Puffin Pounds 4.99), Helen Cresswell works her magic as before (lonely child wanders in garden, meets and vanquishes even lonelier ghosts, kind of Moondial crossed with Tom's Midnight Garden).
Jessica is an evacuee in the Second World War, but less old-fashioned a child than Philippa Pearce's 1950s Tom. Juggling the strong emotional pulls of her absent mother and father, a fellow evacuee who is on the lam and the poignant ghosts of children in thrall to the wicked Green Lady, she floats between fantasy and nightmare in a very 1990s feelings-based plot. For dreamy nine to 15-year-olds.
Becoming Julia by Chris Westwood (Puffin Pounds 4.99) is a slightly superior thriller which plays on notions of emergent teenage identity in its study of how Maggie, just leaving home for the first time, gets caught up in the fate of Julia (newly missing, by a strange coincidence, from the very flat in which Maggie has just found a room).
It emerges that Maggie and Julia look strangely alike, Julia's boyfriend makes a play for Maggie . . . the plot doesn't so much thicken as coagulate. But it's well written and responsible in its polite acknowledgement of the fears of Maggie's parents. Girls (again!) aged 10-17.
The plot of In the Middle of the Night by Robert Cormier (Collins Pounds 3.99) - woman crippled in childhood accident seeks revenge on man who possibly was implicated in her injuries and then, 25 years later, switches her attentions to his teenage son - is rather sleazy and predictable, but the writing is well-paced and grounded in a realistic portrayal of teenage life in America. Good triumphs over evil, sort of, which is a relief. Ages 12-17.
Errol Lloyd's Many Rivers to Cross (Mammoth Pounds 3.99) is a tender and precise evocation of the fate of Sandra, sent from Jamaica to join her parents in England at the age of 12 in 1966.
Although the writer does not shirk the painful impact of racism on the young girl and her family's chances in life, he paints a positive and vibrant picture of hard adjustments made by a close-knit and industrious family. Good reading not only for Afro-Caribbean adolescents, but also for their peers from other backgrounds. Ages 10-18.