Time is a healer

New fiction reviewed by Elaine Williams.

What do children do with the pain caused by their parents' divorce, separation or marriage breakdown? Many writers have grappled with this question, giving voice to the child's feelings in a way that young readers can relate to. Linking emotional anxiety to time slippage seems to be a forceful technique.

In both The Squint by Lesley Howarth (Walker Pounds 7.99) and Justin and the Drum by Marguerite Osborne (Leo Pounds 5.99), the turbulent inner world of the central character seems to disturb the surface of the present day, throwing up ghosts from the past. Lesley Howarth, with typical quirkiness, mirrors Ben Laker's emotional turmoil in a darker past.

Ben, who is pining for his absent father and irritated by his squirty cousin Robin, is drawn into the violent history of the local stately home. He finds himself "slipping on someone else's feelings" into the year 1485.

Howarth is highly adept at making unusual and powerful connections, but Osborne has made similar links in a less dramatic, more reflective novel. Justin reluctantly spends his holiday with his mother at a women's camp in Scotland, leaving behind a father on the brink of walking out. His deep sense of alienation and loneliness drives him out on to the moors and leaves him open to ghostly visitations.

In A Secret Place by Joan Lingard (Hodder Pounds 10.99), a father kidnaps his children in a harrowing battle for custody.

Lingard powerfully tracks the children's initial euphoria at being reunited with their father as it turns to fear when they are taken far from their mother and become virtual prisoners. Lingard succeeds in creating a gripping drama from this tug-of-war.

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