Two Shorter YA reviews

Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher

Silence is goldfishThis is the third novel by Pitcher, the first I’ve read, although I own a copy of her prizewinning debut My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece. It also fills in the box on my BookBingo Card ‘by an author who shares your first name’…

The story is narrated by Tess, a fifteen year old who discovers a secret that threatens her relationship with her parents. Tess’s way of dealing with it is to clam up – she chooses muteness, but inside she’s clamouring to be heard and desperate to resolve things one way or another, and the author has a great way of capturing the inner dialogue of her protagonist.

This story of this big secret and Tess’s response could have made a novel on its own, but it gets more complicated when other aspects of Tess’s school life impinges on things in many ways. Tess is a quiet and geeky girl who has just one close friend – Isabel – another of the form’s outsiders, is the opposite of Tess being a confident fantasy fan and their relationship will be tested to the max. Tess is also being bullied by the ‘mean girls’ of the form in a particularly nasty way. Add a typical adolescent’s interest in boys, and problems between some of the school staff, and there is an awful lot for Tess to cope with.

Between parents, friends, bullies, boys and teachers – I felt there was too much. You may riposte that real life IS complicated, but this distracted me from the main story.

Tess can be as irritating as she is deserving of our sympathy – but I must admit I liked her snarkiness while always wanting her to find a good way through all this turmoil. I like a protagonist who isn’t perfect. It was enjoyable enough, but for me (reading as an adult), Silence is Goldfish lacked focus. (6.5/10)

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Unboxed by Non Pratt

unboxedBarrington Stoke is a children’s publisher that specialises in making books for those who find reading difficult. They take the design of their books very seriously, using dyslexia-friendly fonts, wider line spacings, optimising the contrast of words on the page as well. From picture books, through first chapter books to books for teens and 18+, Barrington Stoke books are typically short and keep difficult words to a minimum.

The latest addition to their catalogue is a novella by one of our best young YA authors, Non Pratt – (read a lovely piece called Great Sexpectations that she wrote for Shiny here).

Five friends made a memory box when they were thirteen and hid it at their school, resolving to meet and retrieve it after they had all left.

None of us expected things to change the way they did. Less than a week after we made the box, Ben’s mum walked out on his dad and took Ben with her. It was my turn to leave next, then Dean’s – out of Downham and into a pupil referral unit. Zara lasted until sixth form, when she got a scholarship for the posh all-girls college.

Only Millie stayed here for the full five years. Or she would have, if she hadn’t died three months ago.

Alix really misses Millie, but manages to get the four remaining friends to meet outside their old school one night. First problem is to retrieve the box from where they hid it on the school roof without triggering the alarms – but then they’re scared of opening it without Millie. She’d have told them not to be silly and to get on with it. Feeling braver, they open the box and relive their thirteen-year-old lives, they read the letters they wrote to their future selves, look at the photos and remember the old secrets, alliances, problems and feelings. But they’ve all changed, grown up a bit – or have they?

This is a little gem of a novella. You’ll want to hug them all (except Ash, Zara’s boyfriend who is an unwelcome hanger-on at their reunion). The author manages to get a good depth of character into the quartet despite the novella’s short length, everything is seen through Alix’s eyes. The language she uses is direct and simple, (including the occasional expletive), but it’s a touching tale, well-told – I just wish it could have been longer!  (8/10)

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Source: Publisher via Amazon Vine and Own copy respectively.

Silence is Goldfish – Annabel Pitcher (Indigo, 2015) paperback (Sep 8), 384 pages.  Buy from Amazon UK

Unboxed by Non Pratt (Barrington Stoke, August 2016) paperback original, 88 pages.  Buy from Amazon UK

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