Monday, 28 April 2014

Smart by Kim Slater

If there's one thing YA books are good at, it's trying to get people talking about things that are considered taboo. At the moment, there's a big push to get people talking more freely about mental health and ridding the stigmas that go with it. So while some people may pick up Smart and think "not another autistic kid solving crimes", you really should be thinking, "why not have another autistic kid solving crimes?" Yes, we already have The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which I enjoyed. But it doesn't mean that there shouldn't be another book about an autistic teen discovering a mystery and trying to solve it. Especially when they're good at it.

Kieran Woods is autistic teen living in an abusive situation. His step-father and step-brother are abusive to Kieran and especially to Kieran's mother. He has no friends at school, and outside of school he only really has a homeless woman, Jean, to talk to. And when Kieran finds a body in the river and discovers it was Jean's friend, he is convinced that it is more than just an accident. Considering it's Kieran's dream to be a journalist and report on crimes, this seems like the perfect opportunity for him to prove he can solve the mystery.

With the increase of characters with mental health issues in YA literature, I wouldn't be surprised in even more characters with autism entering the scene because they are fantastically complex and have so much to offer a story. If there's anything Smart shows us, it's that even though someone may have a different way of thinking, it's not wrong and it certainly has its strengths. Kieran may have trouble understanding how to relate to other people, but he demonstrates the capacity to learn as well as being very clever and talented.

After reading Smart, I was intrigued by Kieran's ability to notice details and accurately draw them. So I did a quick Google search on autistic artists, which was fascinating. While autism is so often shown as a disability in modern society, it also appears provide some with superior abilities of memorization and noticing minute details. This is certainly the case of Kieran, and also what makes him an ideal detective in Smart. It's painful to see how Kieran is treated, but heartwarming when people realise what he is capable of and how he doesn't hold the prejudices against other people as most of us might do. Smart leaves you with the hope that this realisation will extend beyond Kieran and will soon become a part of everyday life.

Smart by Kim Slater is published on 5th June by Macmillan Children's Books.

Monday, 21 April 2014

A Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Murder is never pretty, but sometimes reading a murder mystery is pure delight. A Murder Most Unladylike is everything you love about a mystery complimented with regulatory bun breaks and many nods to the great Sherlock Holmes. Deepdean School for Girls is a setting worthy of any story, but is what really gives this mystery its charm and excitement.

Hazel Wong joins leagues with Daisy Wells to set up a secret detective agency, with Daisy as President and Hazel as Secretary. Naturally, it is Hazel who narrates our story, a similarity shared with Dr. Watson that is often noted by Daisy. But Daisy and Hazel don't exactly see eye to eye on much. Daisy is strong-willed and certain that she knows everything that goes on at Deepdean, so when Hazel discovers their teacher Miss Bell dead in the Gym, Daisy is set that their detective agency must crack the case.

The girls then begin to count their facts and suspects, cleverly using their gossiping school mates and regular interaction with teachers to gather even more information. The trouble is, they not only have numerous people with a motive, the body disappeared within minutes meaning they also have to prove the murder actually took place.

This is a great detective story, with enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes and never sure of who to really suspect. Daisy and Hazel have disagreeing suspicions throughout the case, putting a strain on their detecting as well as their friendship, with Hazel regularly looking back as to how they even became friends in the first place.

Highly recommended for anyone who loves a mystery or perhaps for a middle-grade reader looking to experience their very first detective story. This Wells and Wong mystery will not disappoint, and will hopefully be followed up by many more soon.

A Murder Most Unladylike publishes June 5th by Random House Children's Publishers.

Trouble by Non Pratt

YA readers are rather accustomed to having a story centralised around a relationship that characters want to happen, but doesn't always work out. In Trouble, we're presented with a different scenario, in which Hannah doesn't seem to have a single problem getting any guy that she wants (to an extent). What she wasn't ready for was what can happen afterwards.

The most well-known teen pregnancy story from the past few years is the film Juno. If you loved Juno, you'll be just as much in love with Trouble. While Trouble shares a similar funny yet poignant look at how a teen copes with pregnancy, the similarities end there.

Hannah is 15 and far more focussed on her social life than she is with her school work. But everything gets thrown to the wall when she discovers she's pregnant. She knows who the father is, but she's too afraid to tell anyone. And the fact her mother works in a health clinic constantly dealing with teen pregnancies doesn't make matters any easier for Hannah. But that's when Aaron steps in - a new boy at school who has no real interest in socialising with anyone, yet finds himself drawn to Hannah.

Aaron befriends Hannah and then agrees to say he's the father of the baby in order to keep her from getting into a stickier situation. It's not an easy friendship for either of them. While Hannah's struggles are more obvious, there is still the fact that she is unable to tell anyone who the real father is. What she doesn't expect is that Aaron carries just as many problems of his own, none of which he's willing to share with her.

Trouble may provide an insight into teen pregnancy, but its strength is in showing how a real friendship works through every difficulty, even the most extreme. It's a reminder that the people we surround ourselves with should be the ones we can turn to when everything goes wrong.