Book reviews: Malala Yousafzai's We Are Displaced records true tales of girls' traumas
BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Truths And Triumphs Of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris is published in hardback by Simon & Schuster, priced £12.99 (ebook £4.99)
IT'S easy to jump to comparisons with Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, and this is certainly in the same 'up lit' camp. But it deserves to be reviewed on its own merit because it's a spectacular read. Almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger that makes you gasp. The story unfolds at a pace much like the concertos author Anstey Harris writes about. Grace and her world are as delicate and complex as the cellos our heroine makes. There's drama, emotion, and a lot of learning – not least for the reader on how cellos are made. The plot revolves around Grace and her married lover, who reveals himself to be – after a chance moment on the Paris underground where he saves a woman who falls on the tracks – a liar and cheat. Grace is broken, and her anger leads her to some dark actions. The question is, can she mend herself and the things around her?
The Wall by John Lanchester is published in hardback by Faber & Faber, priced £17.99 (ebook £12.99)
JOHN Lanchester is best known for his novels Mr Phillips and Capital, which addresses some of the fallout from the banking crisis. With The Wall, he's written a grimly absorbing dystopian novel set in a very near and recognisable future, where the threats of global warming and anti-immigrant nationalism have been pushed to bleakly credible extremes. An environmental crisis – known as The Change – has devastated the planet, making refugees of much of the global population and causing surviving territories like Britain to barricade themselves against intrusion. Our narrator Kavanagh is a young man doing his compulsory two-year tour of duty on The Wall, a forbidding fortified rampart that runs the length of the British coast in order to keep out the homeless of the world. As well as Them and Us, there is a divide between Young and Old, since Kavanagh's generation holds their parents' generation responsible for unleashing cataclysm on the world. It's a boldly simple idea, executed with great single-minded purpose and economy.
Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield is published in hardback by Doubleday, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99)
SETTERFIELD pays beautiful homage to the art of storytelling in this dark but ultimately heartwarming mystery set on the misty banks of the Thames in 19th century Oxfordshire. When the body of a dead girl is brought to a rural pub by a mysterious stranger, only to dramatically recover, locals are divided over whether science or an old-fashioned miracle is behind it as the tale spreads and takes on a life of its own. As efforts are made to work out her identity, she draws them into a web of intrigue involving murder, extortion, domestic brutality and other occupiers of the darkest part of the human mind. Setterfield, the bestselling author of The Thirteenth Tale, brilliantly captures a time and place on the cusp of modernity, but with the tendrils of the old ways still maintaining a strong grip. She effortlessly plays bleakness and warmth off against each other to create a life-affirming tale of what it means to be human.
My Coney Island Baby by Billy O'Callaghan is published in hardback by Jonathan Cape, priced £14.99 (ebook £9.99)
MY CONEY Island Baby, the second novel by Cork man Billy O'Callaghan tells the story of Michael and Caitlin, whose a long-running affair takes place in monthly trysts in the titular New York neighbourhood. The heavy-handed opening of the pair heading to a dingy by-the-hour hotel, amid a winter storm as they find out about threats to their relationship – Caitlin may have to move with her husband's work and Michael's wife is seriously ill – is typical of a book which tends to be overwritten. The main characters fail to generate much sympathy, their doomed romance appearing cliched, as do many of the flashbacks to their earlier lives, particularly Michael's memories of his Irish island childhood peopled by tactiturn farmers and wailing women. The description of losing a premature baby is one of the few sections which rings true in this melodrama, but if romance is what you're after, it ticks the box.
We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai is published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £16.99 (ebook £8.99)
AN ASSASSINATION attempt, a Nobel Peace Prize, and an asteroid named in her honour – and Malala Yousafzai is still only 21. This book brings together her own story with those of other 'displaced' girls around the world. The reader is spared details of the most visceral cruelty, but expect regular gut-punches nonetheless. Childhood memories are presented with a searingly honest vulnerability, from the terror of Sabreen as she's smuggled across the Mediterranean, or the merciless violence visited upon Najla's Yazidi community by Islamic State. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a story that has circled the globe, it is Malala's own experience that remains the most compelling. She relates the events that led up to the attempt on her life by the Taliban, for the 'crime' of advocating women's education. She communicates with simple, emotive language and short, sharp sentences that allow the power of her narrative to speak for itself. At under 200 pages it won't take you long to get through. It should stay with you rather longer.
CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK
Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard is published in paperback by Scholastic, priced £7.99 (ebook £4.68)
HELEN Thomas is no ordinary 14-year-old: Her father is Zeus, head of the Greek gods, and she has just moved in with him and her mythological siblings who are living incognito in London. Making new friends at new school is hard enough without having to deal with her stroppy, gorgeous half-sister Aphrodite and her half-brother (and DJ) Apollo as well. But trying to keep her family's identity secret is the biggest challenge, especially when the stakes are Mount Olympus-high... Readers hoping for a world of magical adventure a la Percy Jackson will be disappointed. Helen technically never sets foot outside London. Instead, Sheppard touches lightly on multiculturalism, discrimination and teen angst and the possible appearance of Helen's superhuman powers plays second fiddle to agonising over how to impress a boy. Fans of Louise Rennison, Stephenie Meyer or Jacqueline Wilson are certain to enjoy it.