The Supreme Lie

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read this on netgalley in exchange for an honest (but late – sorry!) review. All views and opinions are my own.

The Supreme Lie by Geraldine McCaughrean, cover art by Leo Nickolls, interior art by Keith Robinson, published by Usborne

I had high hopes for this after loving Geraldine McCaughrean’s Where the World Ends and, while WTWE is still my favourite, this certainly lived up to expectations; I loved the darkness of WTWE but for those who may have found it a little too dark, this provides a little more light relief and hope to balance out its heavier themes and events.

When a catastrophic flood hits Afalia and the Suprema (their Head of State) secretly flees, her maid Gloria is forced to step in and pretend to be her in order to cover it up.

With rising water levels, impossible choices deceitful politicians and an unhappy public, Gloria and Timor (the Suprema’s husband) must make some difficult and dangerous decisions which sees thousands of lives (their own included) at risk.

I loved the characters in this – they were without doubt its strongest feature for me. Gloria herself was a brilliant, believable main character who you couldn’t fail to empathise with and warm to. Her naivety and optimism were her strengths and a perfect tonic to the lies and treachery all around her.

The rest of the cast were fantastic too (I especially liked Timor) and the twists and doubts surrounding their actions, motives and intentions were very clever, with some truly despicable, though all too believable and familiar, villains.

Running alongside Gloria’s narrative is that of Clem, or more accurately Clem’s dog Heinz. Clem lives outside the capital; cut off and flooded out his family flee but are separated from his beloved dog Heinz, who we follow on his journey through the floodwater to reunite with his boy.

This was a really effective way of highlighting the damage and devastation caused by the freak rain and flooding, to both communities and to the natural world, which was so hard to read without a worrying air of ‘that could be us’ hanging over it.

Likewise, it served also to show the way those outside the capital were pretty much abandoned to their fates and left to look out for themselves (and each other). I won’t say much more here for risk of spoilers but the Rosies and were wonderful to read!

This was also a great way to provide that aforementioned light to balance out the dark. The use of both Clem’s dog, Heinz and Gloria’s dog, Daisy, was a great way to inject some hope, comfort and loyalty into a book otherwise filled with despair, discomfort and deception.

And their relationships with the children in the story was a heart-warming thing. Dog lovers everywhere will feel this in their hearts.

The use of newspaper reports throughout raised the very topical issue of ‘fake news’ and cleverly highlighted the way political agendas, and politicians themselves, can manipulate and manufacture what the public see and hear for their own gains or plans.

I loved the twist in the newspaper tale and the daily anagrams, and Keith Robinson has done a fantastic job of illustrating these articles, which feel real and perfectly in keeping with the rest of the book. They are a brilliant addition to the story.

Dark and darkly funny too, this is a sharp and witty social and political commentary that I thoroughly enjoyed – “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” has never felt so true or so timely.

Grow

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Grow by Luke Palmer, cover art by unknown, published by Firefly Press

There are a growing number of books exploring race and racism and/or extremism. For the most part, these are set in fairly multi-cultural areas and tell the stories at those suffering from prejudice, from racist behaviour and attitudes. And rightly so – they are important stories which need to be heard.

However, I was intrigued by this one coming at the issue from a slightly different angle. Set in a predominantly white British area, Grow is Josh’s story. Struggling to cope after his dad’s death in a terrorist attack, he finds himself targeted by white supremacists and is slowly sucked into a terrifying world of bullying, intimidation and fear.

The characters were really well drawn and I thought the way we are able to gradually learn more about their backgrounds and individual stories was so skilfully done, and so much of this opened up a plethora of other discussions and themes too.

At no point do you feel for the white supremacists targeting Josh, but the book does allow us to consider what has brought them to this point.

Likewise, Dana’s story is so hard to read, but so important and so sensitively told – both implicit and hard-hitting at the same time. The way it ties into the main plot works well too.

This was a really compelling but difficult read; there were so many points at which I was desperate for Josh to realise what’s going on/do something about it but it’s all too clear he won’t/can’t because of how angry or scared or stuck or ashamed he feels.

Indeed, Josh’s emotions were brilliantly depicted and never has the phrase emotional roller-coaster felt so apt.

On the surface Josh is coping well with his dad’s death, but underneath the grief is still raw and he’s unable to process it. Easily turned to anger and blame, we see him spiral through negative emotions which are fuel to the white supremacists’ grooming fire.

His growing realisation that what he’s involved with is wrong is perhaps the hardest to read – the sense of having nowhere to turn, of desperately wanting it to stop but feeling powerless and/or too scared to try to stop it.

And with good reason – there is real menace from the gang he finds himself caught up with, and the way they find a way into Josh’s life is insidious – it’s clear to see just how easy it is for this sort of thing to happen.

This is a bit pf a slow burner, but it’s characters are deep and the plot believable because of it. There’s a great twist at the end too. While I did see it coming, it took me a long time and I thought it was clever and brings an added level of tension to the closing chapters.

I also really liked the way nature and growth were used, through Dana and Josh’s Grandad’s gardening, both symbolically to reflect Josh’s journey, but also for the wider message of the benefits nature and the outdoors can have.

Overall, this is a moving book that will make you think. With themes of grief, loss, mental health, racism and pressure as well as thought-provoking social commentary, it’s one that should have a place in every secondary school library.

When the World Was Ours

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler, cover art by unknown, published by Simon and Schuster

Although it can feel a popular topic and a crowded market at times, I’m always interested to see a new book set during wartime; it’s one of my favourite themes for children’s literature.

So I was really excited to be sent a copy of this.

Set during World War Two and written from the alternating viewpoints of three best friends – Leo, Elsa and Max – we follow their stories from pre-wartime through to the end of the war.

I really loved the use of the three different narratives and the way we joined each of them at the same points in time really helped emphasise how their lives were changing both in themselves and changing compared to each other’s.

I think everyone reading will feel one story speaks to them more strongly than the others, although all are compelling and incredibly moving. For me, it was Max’s.

I don’t really want to write too much more about that for fear of spoilers, but I found his character and situation so complex – frustrating and heartbreaking; his was the story that I desperately wanted to change and the story which felt the easiest to slip into.

If any of the book is a cautionary tale for today (and let me assure you, it subtly but emphatically is) against against complacency, against ignorance, against following the herd and believing the hype, against keeping your head down, against each man for himself…it is Max’s.

But Leo and Elsa’s stories are equally important, emotional and tough. While this may not be as graphic or hard-hitting in some ways as other books about the Holocaust, it has a quiet, haunting ability to stay with you long after reading.

And this has much to do with the relationships, memories, hopes and resilience of our main characters. It is these human connections that are central to the novel and in turn our connection to it.

A story of family, friendship, love and hope in the bleakest of times. This is a poignant story with an important message not only to remember, but to prevent anything like it happening again.