2 YA/Children’s novels from April 2011 – Chris Westwood & Sally Nicholls

On the side of the angels – Ministry of Pandemonium by Chris Westwood

Republished into my blog’s original timeline – one of my ‘lost posts’

Teenager Ben Harvester likes to get away from it all by taking his sketchbook into Highgate Cemetery.  His Dad left his Mum several years ago, they’ve had to move into a new flat and Ben will be going to a new school.  Added to that, his Mum has to work all hours to make ends meet and she gets so tired.

One day he meets an old man in the cemetery and helps him with a drink of water. Mr October seems to know things about his family, and Ben will soon see him again at the funeral of his aunt, after which he keeps a lookout for him. They meet again back in London, where Mr October introduces him to the Ministry of Pandemonium.  The Ministry is an organisation dedicated to helping ghosts of the newly departed across into the afterlife, thereby saving them from getting into the clutches of dark forces with their monstrous minions.  Ben, a helpful sort, has been selected to join the Ministry – and so begins his new other life …

The fantasy elements of this novel contrast well with those of the struggles of everyday life, new house, new school, missing Dad and tired out Mum. Ben grows to relish his new skills, and even though the job requires empathy and calmness, he soon has to battle evil creatures who want the souls for their own devilish uses.  Indeed, some of the monsters are horrific enough to scare adults, let alone teens.  You know however, that the forces of good will ultimately prevail.

Ben is a different kind of hero – caring, observant, quiet and artistic. These qualities made this adventure into the supernatural a much better and definitely more interesting read than almost all of the other YA fantasies I’ve read in the past few years – and I have read a lot of them!  This novel will be enjoyed by teenaged boys and girls alike too which is a great advantage, and I found it a jolly good read. (8.5/10)

Source: Review copy – thank you.     BUY  from Amazon UK (affiliate link).

Prepare to be uplifted, but hankies at the ready – Ways To Live Forever by Sally Nicholls

List No 1 Five facts about me
1. My name is Sam.
2. I am eleven years old.
3. I collect stories and fantastic facts.
4. I have leukaemia.
5. By the time you read this, I will probably be dead.

The above quote from the very start of this amazing book sets you up for the roller-coaster ride that will be Sam’s last months.  Sam knows he’s going to die, and he has so many questions about it; but they’re all  ones that nobody ever answers. His home tutor suggests he writes a book about himself, and this is a task that Sam sets to with dedication, sometimes aided by his best friend Felix, who also has cancer.  The resulting book is a story of Sam’s last months, his bucket-list and how he tries to achieve it all, together with discussions of all those difficult questions.

We also meet Sam’s family – his pesky little sister Ella who can’t understand why she has to go to school and Sam doesn’t; his Dad, who finds it hard to talk about things and fervently hopes that Sam isn’t as ill as he really is; and his Mum, who is finding it equally hard, but knows the score.

I constantly welled up reading this book, yet Sam was so brave, inquisitive and happy for such a lot of the time that it was hard to remain sad – there was lots to chuckle about.   The agony of Sam’s parents was hard to take – they suffered more than Sam who, although a thoroughly normal eleven year old and obsessed by all the usual things, was accepting of his fate and determined not to waste time. This book wasn’t in the least bit sentimental or patronising.  It is, like its young lead, curious about dying. It is also both questionning and matter of fact, yet has an immensely strong emotional core.  You cannot fail to be uplifted by Sam and the memories he will leave behind to live forever.

This is another one of those books, like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, that is a true crossover read. Written in the first instance for older children, adults will find it a wonderful read too – albeit in a slightly different way. It will really help you understand what it can be like to live with such an illness in a family.  I cannot recommend it highly enough. (10/10)

Source: Own copy.    BUY from Amazon UK, (affiliate link)

2 thoughts on “2 YA/Children’s novels from April 2011 – Chris Westwood & Sally Nicholls

  1. Laura says:

    I know this was an old post but I was obsessed with novels about dying children and teenagers when I was younger. I’d probably have loved the Sally Nicholas (and probably still would!) Jean Ure’s Becky Bananas also deals well with a v similar subject.

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