The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hayley Kincain’s father is suffering from PTSD – a legacy of his service in the US military. She has been homeschooled by him on the road since she was eight, as he drove them around the country in his eighteen-wheeler. Until this year. This year, they are living in her late grandmother’s house and Hayely is enrolled at Belmont High as a senior. She is constantly in detention for proving her history teacher wrong, and she is not keeping up with her class work. Understandable really – under the smart-arse surface of her is a girl harbouring a fear of abandonment, of getting home and finding her father gone, or worse, him being there and just his mind gone. Hayley has methods and routines to keep people at arm’s length – even her best friend Gracie, whose parents have taken divorce warfare to a new level.
Into this picture strolls Finnegan Ramos. Finn. Smart, funny, handsome, afraid of heights and totally besotted with Hayley. Slowly some of Hayley’s walls start coming down and she finds herself growing closer to Finn – closer than she has ever been to anyone. Then her former stepmother turns up, and Hayley’s world begins to fall in on itself. She wants nothing to do with the woman she feels abandoned her father, abandoned her, but she also longs for that mother figure in her life – missing since the death of her birth mother. She starts pushing people way – even Finn.
One day Hayley comes home and her Dad is not there. He has left a note and a frantic search ensues, ending at the quarry, where Hayley’s father told her it was dangerous to walk…
This is a great novel – the writing is superb and I fell in love with Hayley and Finn, so much so that I read the last part of this book in a 90 minute flurry in bed this morning. It is an important story about family, about illness, about love and about hope.
Read this – I will be looking up Anderson’s back catalogue to catch myself up on an amazing writer.
For ages 14 and up – mainly because of the themes involved.
The Piper by Danny Weston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Piper is a gothic horror story in the tradition of The Turn of the Screw, where on the surface everything seems fine, but scratch and a dark, sinister underbelly is revealed. After a creepy prologue, we meet Helen, who is visitng her Grandad Peter in a nursing home for his birthday. When Helen tells him in passing that she has signed up for a school trip to Romney Marsh, her grandfather forbids her to anywhere near the place. He tells her it is dangerous, and starts rambling about Daisy and how they had both seen too much. Helen has never heard him speak of Daisy, so she asks Peter to tell her more, and the real story starts to unfold…
Peter and his little sister Daisy were part of the mass evacuation of London prior to the beginning of WWII, called Operation Pied Piper. When they arrive at the billetting centre, Peter and Daisy are selected by Mrs Beesley, housekeeper at Sheldon Grange, a propery set next to Romney Marsh. It’s a desolate journey in the cart as darkness starts to fall and this helps to create a feeling of unease that holds fast right through the book. Mrs Beesley and the farm hand, Adam, are at great pains to return to the Grange before dark, but neither will really say why. As they draw closer to the Grange, Peter and Daisy hear strange flute-like music but Mrs Beesley and Adam do not acknowledge it and deny it exists. Peter does not like it at all, but Daisy is captivated. On the very first night Peter has a disturbing dream about drowning and music and dancing. He is confused by it, and more than a little scared. Daisy begins talking to the dolls in the room she has been given and the music they heard on the Marsh can be heard by Peter and Daisy every night – growing louder each time. The children meet Sally, the eight year old daughter of the owner of the Grange, Mr Sheldon. Bedridden, but chirpy and well-read, she and Daisy become fast friends. Peter starts to feel more and more uneasy as one of the dolls becomes Daisy’s constant companion and she is drawn more and more to the music of the night.
On a trip into town with Adam, Peter encounters Professor Lowell, who is shocked to hear Peter has a little sister living at the Grange. The Professor tells Peter a terrifying tale about the history of the house and a curse that has hung over the Sheldon family for generations. After Adam tries to ensure he and Peter stay in town overnight, Peter realises his sister is in grave danger and races against time, and the malevolent Mrs Beesley, to save her. The moment when Peter bursts into Sally’s room and realises where the clanking noise he has heard at night is coming from is a gasp-out-loud moment.
I really enjoyed the classic “spookiness” of this story. Peter is a believable protagonist and the other characters are well drawn too. I found myself glued to this once Peter had the full picture – I just had to find out what happened as quickly as possible. Hopefully you will find the same.
Recommended for ages 12 and up – spooky and scary!