FIRST love, death, isolation, supernatural, magic and new worlds – teen fiction has come a long way.
Once, most bookshops did not even have a section for the awkward in-between years. These days, the teen or young adult section is packed with books of all genres. (There is more to teen/children fiction than the Harry Potter series, you know.)
Quality, too, has improved, as indicated by Philip Pullman’s Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 2001 for the third installment in his Dark Materials trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, which beat adult fiction nominees.
These are books that tell of the joys, sorrows and horrors of being a teen. Of course, it helps that many are fun, interesting and exciting.
StarEducation with Kinokuniya Bookstores continue our great offer for this National Reading Month, with this week’s selection specially for secondary school students.
Redeem the coupon at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC and the good read can be yours too.
REVIEW BY MARVIN WONG
SKIN & OTHER STORIES
By Roald Dahl
AH, Roald has done it again. A book just over 200 pages, filled with 11 short stories to confuse, disturb and excite. Be aware, though, this book isn’t the usual stuff, like Matilda or The BFG.
It is more suited for those aged 12 to 20; anyone younger won’t understand it and anyone older will think that the book is too scary for us. Philistines, the lot of ’em!
The topics in this book vary, from murder to the delusions of a child. Each story consists of about 30 twisted pages; all of them have disturbing endings, most of which leave you hanging.
The language used by Dahl has a dreamy air about it, describing every last detail without sounding mundane.
Skin & Other Stories contains stories based on events in the author’s life, such as his education at Repton and his life as a pilot with the RAF during WW II, but the stories are not autobiographical.
The book is also strangely thought-provoking. After each story, one has to lie back, stare at a blank wall, and think.
In these masterpieces of fiction, Dahl achieves the seemingly impossible through his clever use of words and vivid descriptions, which takes one to another world, re-reading every word to absorb every last shred of meaning.
For instance, what if plants had voices? What would you do if you landed in Germany during the war? What if you met a man today who made your life a living hell back in school? How would you catch over 200 pheasants without raising suspicion?
All in all, I give Skin & Other Stories 11 out of 10. After all, there are 11 stories.
REVIEW BY ATIQAH WADIAH ZAILANI
By Cecily von Ziegesar
CECILY von Ziegesar’s new book, Gossip Girl is all about gossip. Being an active gossiper myself, I was naturally delighted with the book, and eagerly followed the stories of B, D, N, J, S and A (abbreviated because this is a gossip book after all).
The book begins with Gossip Girl doing what she does best. It’s graduation time, and all of them are struggling with college applications and wondering what to do with their lives.
Throughout the book, all sorts of things occur, big and small, normal and extraordinary, funny and serious. There’s love and war, self-realisation and heartbreaks.
The story flows effortlessly, interrupted only by Gossip Girl’s notes. But she’s the storyteller here, so you can’t complain!Besides, her little harmless comments were what I really looked forward to in the story.
The things that happen to the characters are the things that happen to teenagers. And so, if you’re a preteen, a teen or a newly-retired teen, this book is a must. Get to know Gossip Girl. You can’t help but love her.
REVIEW BY ATIQAH WADIAH ZAILANI
THE ILLUSTRATED MUM
By Jacqueline Wilson
IMAGINE having a mother who is tattooed from head to toe, who doesn’t know how to bake but makes hundreds of cakes anyway, who flashes a credit card and invites you for a no-limit shopping spree, and who moons over a guy called Micky whom you’ve never met and will likely never meet. Interesting ?
All this and more Dol (short for Dolphin) has to endure in The Illustrated Mom. Dol, more or less a social outcast (thanks to her mom’s tattoos), lives with her impulsive mother, Marigold, and her frustrated sister, Star, in a small flat with a leaking tap.
Things get complex when Marigold finds Micky, Star’s father, at a rock concert. Micky doesn’t think Marigold is right in the head, and Star wants to run away with her newfound dad. Dol is torn between her mother and her sister.
This is one great story that struck awe in me from the very first page with its one-of-a-kind characters and storyline. I feel for the characters who are so real. I laugh with them, scream with them and cry with them.
What more can a reader ask for?
This is a story of loyalty, faith and imagination; of tolerance, patience and understanding. Most of all, it’s about a mother’s love for her children, and their love for her. Written in a simple but profound manner, this book is entertaining yet thought-provoking. The first Jacqueline Wilson book I’ve read, and definitely not my last.
By Narinder Dhami
SISTERS Amber (Amberjit), Jazz (Jasvinder) and Geena are the coolest chicks on the block. Pretty, popular, funny and smart, the Bindi Babes as they are known, are adored by everyone in school and loved by all their teachers.
They have everything they want in the world – all the designer goods and the latest gadgets – except for their mother, who passed away the year before. But life is great for the Dhillon sisters; they have made it through tragedy and their world is perfect. Now, if only their aunt from India would understand and stop interfering.
Written by the author of the novelisation of the hit film, Bend It Like Beckham, this book also about the British Indian community. However, it does not delve into issues of identity; it is more a story about dealing with loss and grief.
It is bittersweet when the girls come to terms with their mother’s death and accept the changes in their lives, especially their aunt’s presence. Along with its humour, the book is set to entertain while tugging at your heartstrings.
THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
By Mark Twain
FINDING someone who has read Huckleberry Finn or would want to read it was a challenge; which is strange, considering that this classic by Mark Twain is one of the most-loved children’s books in the world.
“Young people these days only love to read fantasy, magical and horror,” says a teacher. A shame, as Puffin Classics offers evergreen favourites, such as Scarlet Pimpernel, The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Robinson Crusoe, which chronicle the deeds of ordinary people in extraordinary situations.
Of course there are the likes of The Swiss Family Robinson, Little Women and Gulliver’s Travels, which have no spells and sorcery, but are no less magical.
REVIEW BY LI EE KEE
CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS
By Agatha Christie
A COUP D’ETAT is about to take place in Ramat, one of the richest states in the Middle East. Prince Ali Yusuf, Sheik of Ramat, is forced to flee with the help of his long-time friend and private pilot, Bob Rawlinson.
Before the prince makes his escape, he hands Bob a little chamois leather bag containing priceless jewels, in the hope that Bob can smuggle them to Europe, away from the hands of his enemies.
The prince never makes it to safety as the plane piloted by Bob crashes into the mountains and both are found dead.
News of the jewels gets around. Various parties express interest in its retrieval but no one knows where it is – save for the mysterious woman on the balcony of the Ritz Savoy in Ramat who watched as Bob hid it among his niece’s belongings.
The scene shifts to England. It’s the start of the summer term at Meadowbank, an exclusive institution for privileged young ladies. Jennifer Sutcliffe is among the new students to register at the school, as is Princess Shaista, fiancée of the late Prince Ali Yusuf.
Barely a week into the school term, Miss Springer, the games mistress is found dead at the newly built Sports Pavilion.
Confusion and fear reigns as questions arise over who killed her and why. Even with a second murder, yet another Meadowbank mistress, the police are not any closer to solving the case. It is then that one of the students decides to enlist the expertise of Hercule Poirot.
Cat Among the Pigeons is one of Christie’s slower reads. Its sluggish pace is broken only by the murders that take place and when the killer is revealed.
One reason being, this time around, Christie places more emphasis on character development rather than the usual detailing of the investigation. And instead of keeping to the run-of-the-mill mystery genre she is known for, Christie explores human emotions and conflicts with good results.
As for Belgian detective with the egg-shaped head, though this is supposed to be “a Hercule Poirot novel”, he doesn’t make his entrance until three quarters into the book. Hence, we never really get to see Poirot’s grey cells at work. With the police having done all the investigation, Poirot’s role is diminished to one of connecting the dots.
The final showdown, too, comes rather abruptly. Perhaps Christie realised the story was getting somewhat draggy and decided to end things in one final swoop, deflating what should have been a climax.
Even so, this is an interesting read. It has enough mystery to keep readers glued until the end.
REVIEW BY MICHEAL CHEANG
TRANSFORMERS are more than meets the eye! The robots in disguise are back with a vengeance, this time with Transformers Armada.
In case you haven’t heard of the Transformers, it is a popular cartoon and comic series based on a line of toys, with vehicles and objects transforming into giant robots. The cartoon series was very popular in 1980s, and the Transformers line has since spawned numerous other incarnations, of which Transformers Armada is the latest.
When Dreamwave Productions began reinventing the Transformers in their all-new comic series a couple of years back, they succeeded in making the Transformers leaner and meaner with their superb artwork and storylines.
The stories in Transformers Armada span eight volumes of the comic series, and involves three stories, as usual pitting the heroic Autobots against the evil Decepticons in a power struggle. However, this time around, there is a third faction involve, a race of tiny robots, called the Minicons, who have the ability to power-link with the Autobots and Decepticons.
It starts off at the very beginning on Cybertron, where the Decepticons first begin hunting down Minicons, and taking over Cybertron from the Autobots. In the process, the remaining Minicons (those that have not been captured by the Decepticons) flee on a space shuttle, but ending up crashing on Earth.
Ten million years later, three boys unwittingly awaken the Minicons, which in turn transmits a message, which is intercepted by both Autobots and Decepticons. Thus, the battle for control of the Minicons resumes, this time on Earth.
The familiar names are all here, albeit with upgraded looks and powers. Autobot leader Optimus Prime still transforms into a truck with a trailer. However, this time around, Megatron transforms into a tank instead of his original gun form. Nevertheless, the story revolves around the Minicons more than the actual larger Transformers, as the struggle for supremacy centres upon them. This makes for a more complex story than the usual good versus evil plots.
That said, Transformers Armada marks a welcome revival of the Transformers franchise, reintroducing the line to a whole new generation of kids.
If you liked Armada, go check out the other Dreamwave Transformers titles as well. These include Transformers: The War Within which focuses on the war in Cybertron before the Transformers came to Earth, and the ever popular Generation One comics which bring back Optimus Prime and Megatron in their original forms, as well as other old favourites like Jazz, Bumblebee, Starscream and Soundwave.
REVIEW BY KHAIRIL ASYRAF MUSA
The Redwall Series
Although the stories have the conventional good versus evil plots, their humour and fast pace make them popular with young readers.
Triss is the 15th book in the series.
The denizens of Mossflower Country and Redwall Abbey are mice, hares, otters, rats, badgers, stoats, moles, and squirrels. Armed with swords and javelins, the woodlanders must defend their homes against plundering vermin.
Titles include Mossflower, Mattimeo, Salamandastron, Martin the Warrior and The Outcast of Redwall.
A SAILOR RETURNS
By Theodore Taylor
THE return of Evan Bryant’s long-lost grandfather Tom brings hope to Evan, who has not had a lot of excitement in his life. School has been miserable; he is being bullied and his bad foot keeps him out of sports. On the home front, his father is too busy to spend time with him, especially take him fishing.
Now that Grandpa Tom is back, Evan’s life is a lot happier. Together they have fun and Evan learns a thing or two about the world and himself. The only thing threatening his happiness is a dark secret harboured by his grandfather.
This book is simple and sensitive yet suspenseful, making you want to keep on reading to unravel the truth about Evan’s grandfather.
The relationship between the two lonely souls is endearing. Above all, this book is about family ties and breaking away to find your own destiny. Recommended for 12- to 14-year-olds.
TRISS, A TALE OF REDWALL
By Brian Jacques
TRISS is set in a fictional world ruled by animals. The story mainly revolves around three different groups of animals – namely three runaway slaves, the occupants of Redwall Abbey and two friends looking for an adventure.
Triss, a squirrel maid, was enslaved by King Aqarny of Riftgard and his evil daughter Princess Kurda. She runs away in search of her past and ends up as the greatest sword-wielding creature that ever lived.
Planning her escape, along with Shogg the otter and Welfo the hedgehog, Triss secretly builds a boat and loads it with food.
However, their plans were discovered and they were caught, but all is not lost as Triss’ friend, Drufo the squirrel, helps them escape. Along the way she meets two new friends and the occupants of Redwall Abbey. All of them have one thing in common – special markings on their bodies. As they all seek to unravel the mystery of Triss’ past, they discover her destiny.
This is a pretty good story with interesting scenarios but perhaps more suitable for younger readers.
REVIEW BY NADINE ANN THOMAS
THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL
– ANNE FRANK
Edited by Otto H. Frank & Mirjam Presslar
Price: RM 25.50
ANNE Frank was an extraordinary 13-year-old Jewish girl who kept a diary during the Holocaust years.
In July of 1942, the Frank family together with their friends, the Van Daan family, fled the Nazi occupation by hiding in the back of an Amsterdam warehouse they called The Secret Annexe.
Over a period of two years, Anne vividly described in her diary the frustrations of living in such confined quarters, the lack of food and the constant fear of being discovered. She also wrote about falling in love with the Van Daan son, Peter.
Sad to say, Anne’s diary ends abruptly. In August 1944 the eight people in the annexe were captured by the Nazis and sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Anne Frank died in March the following year, just months before her 16th birthday.
When Anne’s diary was found, it was given to her father Otto who was the sole survivor among the Franks. The diary was written in Dutch. This English translation is simple and easy to understand.
Reading it makes us realise that we take many things for granted. An excellent read, witty and brilliant in every way .
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