Stuck for a last-minute gift? Here are a few books from 2021 which come highly recommended.
The Hideaway tells of a young boy who runs away to escape the horror of domestic violence perpetrated on his mother by her new partner. Pam Smy (who also wrote the wonderful Thornhill) handles this very difficult topic sensitively and with conviction.
This is a physically beautiful book, and would make a great Christmas present. The binding, design and the layout enhance Smy’s moody black and white illustrations. It is deceptively simple and straightforward in the telling, with a plot ‘twist’ that is so transparent the denouement comes as no surprise, yet has huge underlying complexity, with elements of magical realism, and will bear many return visits. There is contrast in the dual viewpoints of Billy and his mother; an amalgam of ethereal gothic and accurate reality in the illustrations; a meeting of genres: both ghostly fantasy and realism; and a sense of the chilling which suits both the paranormal elements and the grim reality of domestic violence, and a feeling of warmth from true friends and in the eventual resolution. Hope and good triumph, not just in the happy ending but also in Billy’s growing maturity and ability to apply the harsh lessons of his own life in order to intervene effectively when he witnesses inappropriate male pressure in another situation.
This is a very special book. As difficult issues are dealt with such sensitivity, it is recommended for readers of 10+.
Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, illustrated by Grace Easton and Jessica Smith
Why are some countries rich while others are so poor? Why do people go to war? Find the answers in this eye-opening book, which uses maps to explain how geography has shaped the history of our world. This is a visually stunning abridged and illustrated edition of the international bestseller Prisoners of Geography.
Powerful and moving poems bear testimony to the experiences of Black teenagers in the inner city. Femi wants to preserve story, culture and memory in all sorts of ways, and sees this book as “another version of archiving these people that are usually reduced to statistics or often demonised”.
Caleb Femi (born 1990) is a British-Nigerian author, film-maker, and photographer. His own photographs illustrate the book. He was born in 1990 in Kano, Nigeria and moved to join his parents on the North Peckham estate in London when he was seven years old. He studied English at university and went on to become a teacher. From 2014 to 2016 Femi taught English at a secondary school in Tottenham. In 2016 he was chosen as the first young people’s laureate for London. This debut poetry collection won the Forward Prize in 2021.
Recommended for older teenagers – and for all older readers.
The Dark Lady by Akala
I’m reluctant to recommend a book I haven’t yet finished, but this one has got off to a cracking start. Akala is a BAFTA/MOBO award winning hip hop artist and writer, In 2009, he co-founded the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company, a music theatre production company which explores the social, cultural and linguistic parallels between Shakespeare’s work and that of modern rappers.
The Dark Lady references the Bard’s sonnets and historical characters whilst portraying street life in Elizabethan England, with pickpockets, adventures, and plenty of rich Tudor vernacular.
This brilliant, at times brutal, first novel from the amazing imagination that is Akala, will glue you to your seat as you are hurled into a time when London stank and boys like Henry were forced to find their own route through the tangled streets and out the other side. Goodreads
Recommended for confident readers of 12 years and older.
Happy Christmas everyone! See you next year.