It is an absolute pleasure to have Moira on the blog today. I recently attended her book launch at Blackwells in Edinburgh and it was a brilliant event. I had only just delved into the beginning of the first book in this series at that point but now that I’ve finished the first book (and am already starting the second!), I can honestly say that this is a fantastic read and would highly recommend. I’ll be posting my review of the first book in this series, Ways of the Doomed, soon.
So, without further ado, here’s a guest post from Moira. Be prepared, it’s quite long!
Teens on the Edge
Ask anyone to name a book about a teen on the edge and I bet nine times out of ten they’ll say Catcher in the Rye. Most of us studied it at school and Holden Caulfield is still hailed as the unique voice of a generation. Catcher in the Rye was written in 1951 and there have been many books about teens on the edge before and after that date. The causes of their teen edginess are varied; circumstance of birth, bad parenting, a deformity, an accident or health issues. Throughout the ages teens have coped with their marginality in different ways, some use friendship, others technology and some turn to nature. In my Sun Song trilogy, the young naïve protagonist, Sorlie is at first orphaned and then taken to live with his cruel grandfather. Here he discovers the true horrors of the world he inhabit and some unpleasant truths about his family. Throughout the first two books of the trilogy Sorlie struggles with many demons in his quest to find his real path in life and his true identity. No matter how these fictional teens cope with their issues, it is the uniqueness of their voices that make them special and allow them to endure across generations because whether we like it or not teen suffering hasn’t changed from when Holden Caulfield was strutting his stuff in 1951.
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain first published 1884
The charismatic Huckleberry Finn must be the original teen on the edge. He is boy of about thirteen years old who lives with his drunk father in the deep south of the United States of America. His schooling is neglected and he is placed into the care of Widow Douglas and Miss Watson who try to civilise him with religion. Huck feels trapped and escapes with his friend Jim, the black slave of respectable Miss Watson, to go adventuring. The treatment of racial issues can be shocking for today’s reader despite the fact the main protagonist is anti-racist. This is a fun adventure story with a rock hard moral attached.
- A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines first published 1968
Many of these fictional edgy teens are poorly treated at school and Billy Casper is no exception. Brought up by a wayward mother alongside a brutal half-brother, in a Yorkshire mining village, Billy has few choices in life. His world is turned around when he finds a kestrel to train. The story is told over the course of one day with flashback sequences which lay out the hopelessness of Billy’s life. The reader has no option but to hold their breath and hope for a happy ending.
- Precious by Sapphire first published 1996
Most reviewers feel this is a valid book but some hate it for being too violent, too close to the truth. Sixteen year old Precious Jones, is illiterate, she is raped by her father, beaten by her mother, let down by the system. When she falls pregnant for the second time by her own father she is placed in an alternative teaching programme. Here she learns to read and write. This is her diary. This brutal story is not for the faint hearted, but we are kidding ourselves if we think it is a unique story. Too many novels portray ‘poor little rich girl’ – poor little poor girl deserves to have her story told too. Despite the trauma of the tale this is an inspirational read.
- Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond first published 1999
I’ve noticed that many of the teens included in the list have special talents. In Kit’s Wilderness the talents belong to two boy who find themselves on the edge. Incomer Kit, a writer, falls in with bad boy John, an artist (nice combination). When they play a game called Death in a deserted pit they get more than they bargain for. This a ghostly story of friendship, death and the meaning of belonging. Like all David Almond’s work I find it hard to place a reader’s age on this novel. Although it is written for children, the story is very dark and is enjoyed by adults.
- Maggott Moon by Sally Gardner first published in 2013
This novel takes place in 1956 in an occupied Britain. The narrator is an imaginative fifteen year old boy Standish Treadwell. He lives in in Zone Seven where the Motherland keeps everyone under surveillance. His ball ends up on the wrong side of a wall and when he goes over the top to retrieve it he finds a moon mission mock up and a heap of propaganda. This subversive fable is told in a unique voice that rings through your head for days. Another story you can’t pin a reading age to. A story of what ifs and an excellent read for any age.
- Butter by Erin Lange first published in 2013
Butter is a morbidly obese teenage boy with a passion for the saxophone and a girl in his class who he contacts anonymously on line. This is a tale of all the loves in Butter’s life; his mother’s suffocating love that is killing him, his father’s love that Butter is denied, his love of music and his love for this on-line girl.
It is at times funny and is often very sad. I found the character of Butter believable – he could be pretty tough and very funny but also obnoxious and sarcastic. At no time did this novel fall into sentimentality but retained its focus to the end. A good well rounded tale.
- The Wall by William Sutcliffe first published in 2013
This is novelist William Sutcliffe’s first YA novel and he didn’t make it easy for himself. He chose a fictional, almost dystopian setting to tell a story set in a situation similar to the Palestine/Israel divide.
Thirteen year old Joshua loses his football, discovers a tunnel and finds himself on the other side of The Wall. There he befriends a young girl and her family and agrees to look after their olive grove which is on the wrong side of the wall from them. He faces many obstacles not least his violent stepfather. This is a story about fear, and how that fear controls the lives and the choices made by the characters on both sides of the wall. It is well balanced and does not try to answer any of the questions raised in this very complex situation. A great novel for everyone young and old to learn about this Middle East conflict.
- Face by Benjamin Zephaniah first published in 1999
China in your hand, that’s life. One minute Martin has it all; a good looking boy with a pretty girlfriend, clever, funny, loved by all and the next minutes it is gone. When he is badly burned in a car accident Martin finds himself living a nightmare with a horrific life-changing disfigurement. Although I found the characters and plot a little formulaic, this book is a worthwhile read to witness how a gifted teen deals with such a calamity.
- Dora, a headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch first published in 2012
Definitely not for the faint hearted. I imagine teenagers hiding this novel from over anxious parents. LGBT sex, drugs and enough swearing to make Madonna blush. Oh but what a voice (or not) because this is a modern telling of the Sigmund Freud case study and his treatment of a young girl Ida Bauer (Dora) with hysteria which resulted in loss of voice. The modern narrator Ida (Dora) ramrods her way through her own mental health issues, subjects her psychiatrist to a treble dose of Viagra and videos his subsequent relief. It is fun but with serious undertones. Her mother is in denial of Ida’s father’s affair and Ida relies on her motley crew of friends to help her get even, get better, get the hell out of there. My one complaint is that the ending is a bit too convenient and unrealistic.
- No and Me by Delphine de Vegan first published in 2010
This is classed as a YA book, but I think that is misleading. The story is told by thirteen year old OCD sufferer, Lou Bertignac in a narrative voice that is unique and believable. She befriends No, a homeless girl living rough on the streets of Paris. With a naivety that is refreshing Lou tries to fix No’s life. The fact that the number of homeless young people currently living on the streets of Paris is staggering makes this story all the more believable.
- Shine by Candy Gourlay first published in 2013
Monsters are in the eye of the beholder. Thirteen year old Rosa suffers from a rare condition that renders her mute. The superstitions and legends of her home island also mean Rosa is considered a dangerous monster and must be kept hidden. Her life is lived under the watchful eye of her housekeeper and widowed father which means her only contact with the outside world is through internet chatrooms.
This subtle tale of ignorance, superstition and parental love is suitable for middle grade as well as young adult.
- A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell, first published in 2017
Based on the experiences of real people, this YA novel tells the story of a family fleeing from Syria. Told from the point of view of thirteen year old Ghalib, it shows the reader the many complex reason why people flee their homes and risk their lives to reach freedom. Although written for children I believe everyone should read this to try to understand the plight of refugees. A horrific story beautifully written.
Moira McPartlin is the author of three novels. Her debut The Incomers, was shortlisted for The Saltire First Book Award. Ways of the Doomed and Wants of the Silent are parts I and II of The Sun Song Trilogy. All novels are published by Fledgling Press and available from good book sellers.