Tag Archives: Young Adult

The Radleys, by Matt Haig

I’ve been in a dark little world the last couple of days. Yesterday I watched quirky animated film Coraline (highly recommended) and I’ve also been reading a curious specimen of Young Adult fiction, The Radleys. Why did I find it curious? You’ll just have to read on to find out…

On the surface, The Radleys is a book about a suburban family who have a gruesome secret. A monstrous one in fact – they are vampires. ‘Meh’ I hear you sigh ‘another vampire book’. Well yes and no. Yes it is a book about vampires, but it is a very different treatment of the genre. And I say ‘genre’ but actually because of the setting and central themes of the book I would say that it’s actually much more about family, relationships, and people struggling with forbidden desires. The vampire story is a useful and entertaining plot device.

A bit about the plot. The Radleys are a family of ‘abstaining’ vampires – well Peter and Helen are (Mum and Dad), but their teenage kids Rowan and Clara are at the start of the fact unaware of the fact. They remain in the dark until one day a disturbing event turns their life upside-down.

This is a funny book, full of cultural references and a suburban setting that make you feel that a family of vampires might be living down your street. I enjoyed Haig’s dark humour and his inventive style kept me interested throughout. While The Radleys isn’t difficult to read, it does cover some challenging themes. Right from the outset it is clear that this is no happy family. Mum and Dad are struggling to communicate and the kids are having difficulties at school. Dad doesn’t seem to care about anything (except for flirting with the next door neighbour) and Mum fills her life with endless tasks to distract her from the truth.

This could all be very depressing, but as the story goes on we see the family begin to face some of their secrets and admit the lies they’ve been telling themselves. Haig’s portrait of a family in turmoil is very believable and the underlying ideas about the importance of honesty (with oneself as well as with others) are nicely delivered without being sickly-sweet. Actually this book is anything but sweet as there are plenty of dark moments where blood-lust and sexual feelings are mixed together. Haig conveys cleverly how people struggle every day with ordinary and not so ordinary passions.

My one, very minor concern with this book is that some of the cultural references feel quite UK-focused, so I hope that doesn’t impact how it translates elsewhere. On the other hand it’s a typical suburban situation that should be easily recognised in many westernised countries – and the family experiences that are described should have universal appeal.

According to publisher Canongate (who kindly sent me this copy), the film rights to the book have already been bought by Alfonso Cuaron (director of Y tu mama tambien, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). I can imagine this working really well on the big screen, and The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite treatment of the Harry Potter films – it’s quite unnerving in parts, so Cuaron’s style would work for a film version of The Radleys. I hope that it doesn’t get lost amongst other vampire themed stories because it is very different.

I was surprised and impressed with The Radleys. It’s an original and funny book which also pushes boundaries and explores how people deal with difficult situations – things that I think are important in Young Adult fiction.

A book with bite!

My rating:

8 out of 10

I am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak

I read The Book Thief about a year ago and really enjoyed it, so when Simon picked another Markus Zusak book – I am the Messenger – for Riverside Readers, I was delighted.

I am the Messenger couldn’t be more different in context than The Book Thief although stylistically it is not too far removed in the way that it uses dark humour and vivid characters to convey themes of humanity and personal development. The story begins when protagonist Ed Kennedy becomes an accidental hero at the scene of a bank robbery. Afterwards he begins receiving cryptic messages delivered on playing cards. He undertakes a series of missions which bring him into contact with a range of different characters. Sometimes dangerous, sometimes beautiful – his experiences turn his life up-side down.

Forthright and down-to-earth, Ed is a likeable character although definitely an unlikely hero. A 19 year old Aussie cab driver, Ed’s life doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere special and he is acutely aware of his failings (“bad at sex”) and generally believing himself to be a hopeless case. He is constantly harangued by his rather hard-nosed mother and lives in the shadow of his dead father’s alcoholism. I found that the first person narrative in the story was really well executed and I really enjoyed Ed’s affable, self aware voice as well as his detailed descriptions of the character flaws and strengths of his close friends.

I am the Messenger has been categorised as a crossover book and I can see it sits across young adult / adult fiction genres. There is a strong message of personal growth and it is also structured and written in a clear way which makes it very readable. I did think that it was clever (if a little contrived) that the chapters corresponded to the suits and numbers of cards in a deck. These manageable chapters along with the conversational tone made for a pacy read. I do think that it managed to avoid being over emotional, however at times the underlying messages of the book were unsubtle and the developing love story hard to miss. Content-wise for the young adult category, I would say that it is probably suited at mid-teen age range. Constantly navel gazing when it comes to his problems in the love department Ed’s thoughts are often sex-oriented, although they tend to be insightful and funny rather than gratuitous. I definitely had the sense that I was stuck inside the head of a young man!

The best thing about the book was definitely some of the touching scenes and encounters with the people that Ed delivers messages to. There were also some pretty dark moments particularly at the beginning of the book which seemed designed to make the reader thing about what they might personally do in the situation. I wouldn’t say that this book changed my life but it was a really enjoyable and original read, and for me confirms that Zusak is a master of tugging at the heart strings without a saccharine-sweet approach.

My rating:

7 out of 10

What young adult or crossover fiction have you read an enjoyed?