Talking fresh;Children books;Secondary

25th June 1999 at 01:00
VIDEO ZONE. By Dorothy Simmons. Lothian pound;4.50. TOUCH AND GO. The Lion Tamer's Daughter. By Peter Dickinson. Macmillan pound;9.99 each.

Young adult fiction is not the riot of slang and swearing it would be if it were any sort of true representation of the way teenagers speak amongst themselves. Indeed, many teenage novels are startlingly demure. However, Video Zone is particularly "strong" in the dialogue department. The author is a playwright as well a novelist, and conversation and characterisation override elements of cliche and melodrama.

Janine is the narrator. Her mother has recently died of a brain haemorrhage. A main character, called Wayne, performs in a heavy rock band, takes drugs, and is headed for a sticky end. The younger brother, Jonno, is sensitive and spends hours strumming an acoustic guitar on the riverbank. Simmons, constructing her narrative in a brisk continuous present, makes all this fresh and alive.

But the novel has its quiet moments too, such as when Janine tries on her mother's glasses and pretends to be seeing the world through her eyes. The book is to be commended for featuring a heroine who wears glasses, but it's a pity about the off-putting, smirking, bespectacled face on the cover.

A new book of ghost stories by Peter Dickinson (below?) stands magnificently and unselfconsciously apart from the majority of humorous hauntings and crudely gothic fear-raising.

Touch and Go is a novella, topped-and-tailed by two stories in the manner of a fictional triptych. The central tale is the story of a myopic and ageing bookseller, whose love-affair with books and reading has led to a reciprocal engagement between past and present. The narrative voice (that of a 67-year-old) will be magically unfamiliar to readers of 11-plus.

The Lion Tamer's Daughter is a short, young adult novel, set mainly in Edinburgh. On one level it is a compressed psychological thriller involving the exorcism of a doppelganger by a French magician. Upon moving to Scotland, Keith meets the physically exciting and emotionally dangerous double of a much duller girl he has known since early childhood. The two characters, though not twins, seem mysteriously connected by birth. Dickinson's lion tamer is named Perrault, and the novel's ending has the atmosphere of a macabre fairy tale. An extraordinary book by an extraordinary writer.

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