Thursday 24 February 2011

Books for boys

Someone recently asked if anyone knew of good books for older boys; any books with good male protagonists. So I have had a bit of a delve and come up with a few possibilities.

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh (Chicken House).
Well, I loved this. Absolutely loved it. It’s a bit like Karen Maitland (Company of Liars, The Owl Masters) mixed with Brian Bates (The Way of Wyrd) for younger readers.
It’s 1347 and Will lives with the monks at Crowfield Abbey. He rescues an injured ‘hob’(oh come on, you don’t know what a hob is??) and sneaks it back to the Abbey to be healed. But somewhere in the forest behind the abbey lies a grave containing something that shouldn’t be able to die. As Will uncovers the secret, he has to make harsh choices and wise decisions. So, medieval life lessons. Bit of leprosy.  Angels. Snow and hardship. Cracking book. 
But seriously, it does have a real poetry to it and its magical elements are anchored in a very visceral depiction of tough monastic life. James, I have to say, won’t touch it with a bargepole. I think girls would like this too, actually. I want a hob.

Dancing Jax by Robin Jarvis (HarperCollins).
This one is a mystery to me. It’s clearly marketed as a YA book but it breaks what I always thought was the cardinal rule of YA – that the protagonist be a teen. For sure, there are teens in it, lots of them – some straight out of Little Britain - and for two thirds of the book I thought that Paul was going to be our hero – but no (he gets sucked in as well). By the end of the book (‘to be continued’ tantalises) it’s left to an adult to try to save the day. Ho hum.
It’s a dark fantasy... A strange, out of print children’s book is found, full of colourful stories of castles, knights, princesses and unicorns. But it’s no fairytale. Written by Austerly Fellows (a sort of Aleister Crowley/Austin Osman Spare amalgam) it sucks anyone who reads it into an alternate, all-consuming world. I was ambivalent about the writing here but loved the ideas. Curious book. Would love to know anyone else’s opinions.
Oh, and isn't that cover just totally edible?  Actually, I'd buy it for that alone.

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott (Corgi).
John Dee and Nicholas Flamel seem to be pretty popular lately. In this series, they appear as ex-allies, now adversaries, brawling round the world with a vast supporting cast of ancient gods, heroes and magical beings. Our heroes are twins Sophie and Josh who (of course) have magical powers that need igniting – and a destiny that needs fulfilling. I’ll be honest, I found this quite hard to get into (despite its subject being right up my alley). It shares similarities with the Rick Riordan books but doesn’t quite pull off the pacing the way Riordan does. Scott clearly knows his magick though...and there are some great characters here (Scathach, the wild red-haired martial artist is probably my favourite). Equal boy/girl appeal here.

Gone by Michael Grant (Egmont).
In the blink of an eye all the adults in a small Californian town disappear. Nobody knows why. It’s a premise that has been explored before but somehow Grant makes this working particularly bleak and merciless. I found myself getting quite distressed at the repercussions the characters sombrely point out: babies trapped in cars; toddlers alone in houses; kids injured when parents crashed and no hospitals to fix them. What happens when you take away leadership? Can anarchy really work? Inevitably some try to impose order for mutual good while others take power for power’s sake. Even more scary – some of the survivors have scary powers.
I think this is a cracking and thought-provoking series. Anyone who enjoys Marjorie Blackman would probably go a bundle on it. Strong male and female characters. Tough bleak stuff.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (Little, Brown).
Adrian bought this for James when he was in the US and James inhaled it in nearly one sitting. Strangely it doesn’t seem to have made much impact in the UK as yet. I confess I haven’t read it but James says it’s smart, pacy and intriguing. Four children have to use their intelligence and wits to figure out dastardly puzzles and complete the quest. He reckoned it would appeal to those who enjoyed A Series of Unfortunate Events but ‘it’s more cerebral’. Parents will love that it doesn’t remotely cringe away from difficult words and wordplay (maybe why it hasn’t been taken up in the UK?).

btw, James has been involved in a new children's book website for The Guardian which is launching soon - I'll flag it up when it goes live as it sounds pretty exciting. 
btw 2, you know I mentioned Russell Hoban and Riddley Walker the other day?  Well, while trawling The Guardian website to see if the btw above had gone live yet, I found they were discussing Riddley Walker.... go here.


Tattieweasle said...

These sound brilliant - now must wait for Boys to get on and grow up so I can read them too!

Lara said...

Love the sound of "Gone", I may read that myself.

Teenage boys and reading, my own personal nightmare. No1 has read most of the Darren Shan series, but hasn't picked up a book since the end of Y11 last May. No2 only reads in Form Time (enforced reading) too and it breaks my heart as an avid reader. Neither Smug Ex or Mr GG are readers, so no male role-model-readers!

The bike shed said...

Riddley Walker - missed you mentioning that on. Fabulous book and quite few quasi cult websites. Must be odd having Hoban's career though - his first book a masterpiece and thereafter mmmm...

I always think that Ridley Walker is bit like Huck Finn

Exmoorjane said...

Tattie: why wait? Crowfield is just lovely writing...

GG: yeah well, a book really has to grab James by the throat as, left to own devices, will usually choose gaming or sport... His total faves are Rick Riordan, Sophie McKenzie and Robert Muchamore...

Mark: I LOVE Riddley Walker - that you have to slow right down to understand the language... it was actually his third book (think I'm right on that)...but certainly the one that made the biggest splash. I recently read Linger Awhile and that made me smile hugely.

F said...

May pick up Gone for my nephew. He's outgrowing fantasy, for the most part, but he'd probably like that. Your summary makes it sound kind of Lord of the Flies.

Come to think of it, I bet he'd love Lord of the Flies. I did when I was about his age.

Then again, who knows with kids these days. I found a Paul Auster novel on his shelf when I was there. I borrowed it. I think he probably read it for the sex. He's twelve. I didn't rat him out.

Alison Cross said...

Same as Tattie Weasle just got to wait for Sonshine to grow up!

Current reading material: Johnny Fartpants books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and, surprisingly, War Horse and Kaspar (Michael Morpurgo)

Plus he loves anything with snippets of facts - Guinness Book of Records, Ripley's Believe It Or Not etc.

Ali xxxxx

Exmoorjane said...

Frankie: yeah, LotF is the obvious analogy - I loved it too...but this is much more cinematic (as most successful boys' books are nowadays). LOL to the Auster (I still haven't read him - maybe I should!).

Ali: yeah, boys like factual stuff (J loves those books too)...also potty about Wimpy Kid and we went through a long Morpurgo phase (until we got close to slitting our wrists). As J said: 'Couldn't he write a happy ending once? Just ONCE?' Er, no.
He's from round this way actually - nice chap apparently.

denise said...

I love YA adult books; I was in heaven my two years as a library aide in junior high school (6th - 8th graders). LOVED recommending books to students and, even more so, loved it when they recommended books to me. I'm sorry to say, though, I don't know what a hob is. Is that, perhaps, an english-y slang type thing? ha ha.

Will Granger said...

I agree that boys need to read more. As a high school English teacher, and the father of three sons, I have see that more young girls seem to read on their own than boys do.

As result of this, I have written the first two books in my series. Their titles are Anabar's Run and Anabar Rises, and they are on sale as ebooks on and Barnes and Reviewers have told me the books are suited for upper middle grade and teen readers. My hero, Anabar, is different because he is not magic, or a vampire, or royalty. Instead, he is a normal young man who faces difficult decisions as he makes his way in the world. I hope boys, and girls will enjoy my books.

Will Granger