Strange meetings

20th February 2004 at 00:00
Light. By Alan Davidson. Hodder Signature, pound;5.99.

When Isla Meets Luke Meets Isla. By Rhian Tracey. Bloomsbury, pound;5.99.

Kissing the Rain. By Kevin Brooks. The Chicken House, pound;12.99.

The Dark Beneath. By Alan Gibbons. Orion, pound;4.99.

Knife Edge. By Malorie Blackman. Doubleday, pound;12.99.

Linda Newbery tunes into a range of voices in teenage fiction

In Light, Alan Davidson's strongly written and unusual novel, we're guided by likeable Warren, unashamedly articulate (a long way from the "so I'm, like, hello?" variety of first-person narrator), who relishes the unfolding of his tale.

He and a gro up of well-drawn friends combat summer-holiday ennui by advertising for work as the VVSOE (Very Very Special Operations Executive).

Warren's interest in the wartime SOE finds a parallel in aiding an ex-Luftwaffe pilot who's injured in a fall while trespassing and helping him put right a longstanding wrong.

Rhian Tracey, in When Isla Meets Luke Meets Isla, uses two animated, likeable voices: of assertive Isla, forced to leave Edinburgh for Kent, and Luke, in her new form group. We follow the pair from the start of Year 10 to imminent GCSEs, through the tragic death of Isla's younger sister and to possible separation post-exams. The tentative relationship - friendship, or more? - is astutely conveyed, as are the frustrations, warmth and humour of family life, and the characters have appeal.

Kevin Brooks has received wide acclaim for his first two novels, Martyn Pig and Lucas. In Kissing the Rain, he creates the memorable "Moo" Nelson, an overweight, friendless boy. The "rain" of the title is the daily torrent of abuse he expects at school: "the RAIN of words, the boys on bikes spitting their spite, the PITY looks from parents in cars, the girls in short skirts with their spite and their pity."

Moo's avoid-and-ignore tactic works until he happens to witness a road-rage incident in which a man dies and is pursued in turn by professional criminal, dodgy policeman and unscrupulous solicitor. Distinctions between truth and lies, good and bad, become more blurred as he's tempted into drastic action, to escape from being everyone's punchbag. Though the ending leaves Moo in a Hamlet-like torment of indecision, there's bleak humour in the highly distinctive, emphatic voice Brooks has given him, and the reader will willingly accept the fancy that he's telling his entire story, verbatim dialogue included, to an imaginary sympathetic listener.

There are no easy answers for Imogen, heroine of The Dark Beneath, either.

Outrage is prompted by plans to build a detention centre for immigrants.

Imogen attracts the attention of not one but two stalkers, one of them dangerous. When she becomes romantically involved with Afghani refugee Farid, jealous bigotry takes a threatening form. Realistically, there is no happy ending: Farid's application is rejected, Imogen left disillusioned.

Told with Alan Gibbons' characteristic directness, this will readily appeal to teenage readers.

In her award-winning Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman took a striking look at racism by creating a society in which to be black is to belong to the privileged Cross class, while whiteness is seen as inferior. At the end of the book, star-crossed lovers Sephy (Cross) and Callum (Nought) are sundered when Callum is hanged for terrorism, leaving Sephy pregnant. In this sequel, Sephy cares for baby Callie Rose and dreams of Callum, while his aggressive brother Jude seeks vengeance. It's a bleak picture of entrenched views: liberal-minded hairdresser Cara is brutally murdered; Sephy perjures herself by protecting a killer. Only baby Callie, the "Rainbow Child", seems to offer a more hopeful future - but the climax leaves Callie somewhat arbitrarily poised between life and death.

Fast-paced and full of incident, Knife Edge will be devoured by the many fans of the first book.

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