I’m nearing the end of my Branford-Boase longlist reading; there are only two more weeks left after this before I have read the lot. In these last three posts I am highlighting three books per week. Today’s three are a very mixed bag.
After Eden by Helen Douglas
When mysterious new boy Ryan Westland shows up at her school Eden Anfield is intrigued. On the face of it, he's a typical American teenager. So how come he doesn't recognise pizza and hasn't heard of Hitler? What puzzles Eden most, however, is the interest he's taking in her. As Eden falls in love with Ryan, she stumbles across a book in Ryan's bedroom - a biography of her best friend - written fifty years in the future. Unravelling Ryan's secret, she discovers he has one unbelievably important purpose ...and she might just have destroyed his only chance of success.
After Eden is my least favourite of the three. I did enjoy it overall, I thought it was a light, entertaining read. I had a few little things niggling at me but it was the ending that blew it for me, unfortunately. The things I did like were Eden herself; she seemed like a pretty normal sixteen year old with a nice group of friends. I also thought that the romance element throughout the book was nicely handled too, even the potential love triangle was dealt with well. The attraction between Eden and new boy Ryan felt genuine and developed quite cautiously. It was all going fairly well until the One True Love destiny kicked in, and I’m afraid that turned me off completely.
I’m a bit torn because I suspect that my fourteen-year-old self would have liked Ryan’s hero act and have been excited that the story continues this summer in Chasing Stars. Now, I would have been happier with a brief but meaningful relationship that allowed Eden to carry on with her life. And I think she could have been her own saviour. My ambivalence has left me, well, ambivalent about After Eden. I do really like the writing, so I think I'll let carry the day!
The Bookbag review here is well worth a read.
Gabriel’s Clock by Hilton Pashley
Jonathan is in terrible danger. After his home is attacked by faceless monsters in bowler hats, he wakes up in the strange village of Hobbes End. Built by a fallen angel and hidden deep within a forest, Hobbes End protects those who need to be safe - and nobody is more in need of protection than Jonathan. Jonathan is the only half-angel, half-demon in the universe, and now the forces of Hell want him for their own purpose. Aided by a vicar with a broken heart, a big man with a cricket bat and a very rude cat, Jonathan races to find the mysterious Gabriel's Clock. If he doesn't find it then his family and friends will die, but, if he does, then he risks starting a war between Heaven and Hell that could engulf them all. Gabriel's clock is ticking ...and time is running out.
Gabriel’s Clock is a curious story. It’s a bit like a season of Supernatural, one with angels and demons fighting over a soul, condensed into a short book and for children. Not that any punches are pulled when it comes to death and destruction. The opening scene sees Jonathan and his parents under attack from faceless monsters in bowler hats, the very stuff of nightmares. At times the story is brutal, but it is balanced with such kindness and friendship that the overriding message is a positive one.
I liked the storytelling very much, and the cast of unusual characters Jonathan discovers when he is torn from his home and left in Hobbes End is wonderful. His grandfather Gabriel is a fallen angel who has dedicated his earth-bound life to protecting those in need of shelter. Amongst his neighbours are a werewolf, a talking cat, and a pair of gargoyles. There is also a brave and funny girl, Cay, who takes Jonathan under her wing and helps him adjust to his new life.
I read Gabriel’s Clock very fast, and I would like to go back and read it again, more slowly this time. I can imagine myself loving this book when I was in Junior School. The Epilogue suggests Pashley has more stories in mind for Jonathan and his new friends, something I would welcome.
The Child’s Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston
'Throw your heart out in front of you and run to catch it.' That's what the boy's grandmother always said. When a baby elephant is left orphaned on the African savannah, Bat, a young herdsboy, takes her home and cares for her. But Bat's grandmother knows that Meya cannot stay with them for ever - the call of the wild will always be sounding in her soul. And there are rumours borne on the wind; frightening stories of kidnapping and suffering and war. Bat and his closest friend, Muka, are catapulted into a new life of unimaginable terror. Now memories of their village world feel so far away. Will the bond between elephant and child remain strong enough to save them?
Oh my word, I approached this book with trepidation, so fearful am I of reading anything that has animal cruelty in it. But, despite The Child’s Elephant being a tough read, it is handled so well that I found myself devouring page after page. There is terrible cruelty in the book, as is inevitable in a story with poaching and child soldiers, but I never felt that my emotions were being manipulated. For me it is told in a straightforward manner that allowed me to deal with everything in it.
Campbell-Johnston has travelled and researched widely, and all her experience comes through in the way she describes places and people. Village life, the wildlife of the savannah, life as a child soldier – are all invoked vividly. What I particularly appreciated was the lack of sentimentality in the storytelling. Some very horrible things happen in The Child’s Elephant, but hope and the chance for redemption is never lost. This is definitely one of those books that far exceeded my expectations.
This Guardian review has a lovely picture of elephants to recommend it as well as being written by Annabel Pitcher.
My penultimate post next week will have Natasha Carthew's Winter Damage, East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Jackie Morris, and Acid by Emma Pass.