The Worst Christmas Present

The other night I went to the YA Speakeasy Event at Drink Shop Do just off King’s Cross. It was a really fun night of drinks and chatting to authors and other bookish types, with readings and the like. Halfway through, they request some writing prompts from the audience for the guest authors to go off and spend twenty minutes writing a story about, and one of the themes suggested by my friend Grace, was “An Unwanted Christmas Present”. Now, I’m not a professional authorer, but I did have something begin to form in my head the second she said those four words. So I wrote it down. Warning, it’s pretty bleak.


The first thing I was aware of as I woke up was pain. Two different kinds of pain, quite unbearable in their own ways. One was a dull background ache that crept along my bones like ice, gnawing constantly. The second one though, the second one was something else entirely. When I tried to move, it hit me like a blinding white heat, agonising lightning shooting down every nerve ending. My jaw clenched. Slowly, I opened my eyes, sticky and tired. I was in a dull hospital room, off-white walls stained and plain, and a variety of unfamiliar boxy looking machines hooked up to me. The fluorescent light on the ceiling flickered, needling into my brain.

“Where I am…?” I croaked, my mouth dry and my throat painful.

“Sweetheart? Tim, Tim he’s awake!” My Mum was right there, by my bedside, her eyes red-rimmed and anxious. My Dad shuffled across the room, looking forlorn.

“Don’t try to move too much, son” he told me, an unusual softness in his voice, “You’ve had quite a nasty accident.”

Had I? I tried to remember but everything was a blur. As I strained, things started to come back to me. Leaving the flat at rush hour. Stepping out to cross the road. A blaring horn and a white van that loomed impossibly big, getting bigger with each passing microsecond. Blinding white pain. I flinched at the memory, the lightning pain rippling through me again.

“Don’t try to move, darling” Mum begged, “The doctors have you on some strong painkillers, but you’ve done a lot of damage. Moving will make it worse.”

A thick silence fell into the room. I tried to think of something, anything to say. The looks of concern on their faces ripped at my heartstrings, guilt flooding through my chest.

“I’m sorry…” I coughed, the coppery taste of blood peppering my tongue, “Sorry I ruined Christmas Day…” I attempted a wry smile, but even twisting my mouth seemed to hurt. I dreaded to think how I looked. It seemed both of my legs where encased in a plaster cast that covered my pelvis as well. One arm, my right, was free, pockmarked by a few short lacerations that had the look of flying glass about them. My left arm – the one I actually used – was also in a plaster cast, the fingers poking out from under them gnarled, the nails blackened with bruised and horribly cracked.

“Don’t be silly,” Mum was sobbing now, and the guilt was welling up inside, threatening to flood my lungs and end me completely, “You waking up is a Christmas Miracle.”

Dad nodded his agreement, tearless but his face twisted with emotion, “Absolutely, Charlie. You’re the best Christmas present we could’ve asked for.”

I felt a hot tear slide down my cheek. To them, it looked like relief I’m sure. But it was no such thing. It was a tear of defeat. When I’d made the decision to step out in front of that van, waking up again was the worst possible Christmas present I could imagine.


THE END. Told you it was cheery.

Thanks for Reading!

D

Unboxed by Non Pratt

Unboxed is a short novel by the brilliantly talented UKYA author Non Pratt (author of Trouble and Remix), published by the wonderful people at Barrington Stoke who specialise in shorter books with intelligent and articulate plots designed to encourage reluctant readers without talking down to their audience. They also use fonts and paper colourations designed to help dyslexic readers. They really are superb – check out their website.

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Even the jacket makes me emotional

Unboxed is the story of four friends, who when they were younger created a time capsule of their perfect Summer. Time has passed since that Summer, and the friends have now drifted apart, in contact mostly through social media and memories. When they made the box, there was five of them, but stomach cancer claimed Millie a few weeks ago. So despite the wedge driven between them, they meet up once again to open the box and peer into the past, to a simpler, happier time. It isn’t easy – everyone’s changed in ways both huge and small. Alix has told none of them about her girlfriend, afraid they wouldn’t understand. The whole night promises to be a mess of dredged up emotions and awkward silences, but it was what Millie made them promise to do. You can’t break a promise to a dead friend.

I’ve said it before, and I am certain I’ll say it again – Non Pratt is hands down the most authentic voice in YA fiction. You can keep your poetically lyrical teenagers, Non’s characters swear and screw up, they’re awkward in ways that are frustrating as opposed to endearingly charming – she just writes real characters in a way I’ve never come across in YA elsewhere. Unboxed is no exception – from the very plot outline I knew it was going to break my heart (and I finished it on a train, naturally), but Non captures the teen atmosphere perfectly. It’s all there – the sense of hope, the frustration, the nihilism, the fear of alienation from your friends. The fear of not fitting in. Unboxed dredges all these ideas up and mixes them into a short, punchy story that aims directly for the heart and nestles in there for life. I’m never ever getting this story out of my head. Alix is the perfect narrator for the story, hesitant and filled with regrets, but each of the four friends are perfectly portrayed and effortlessly nuanced. In just 140 pages we get a brief snapshot of these people, of who they used to be, who they are now, and where they might going. It’s a masterpiece that absolutely encapsulates the fears and dreams that come with being on the cusp of adulthood. It’s achingly real, smart, and honest. It’ll take you an hour to read and it’ll change you. Give a short book a chance.

Thanks for Reading, as always.

D

P.S. You can pick up Unboxed, and all of Non’s books right here.

A small letter to YALC…

This year I was lucky enough to be working at YALC, the Young Adult Literature Conference held as part of London Film & Comic-Con. I know, I’m showing off more than I little bit. Victoria Schwab gave me a cookie (it was delicious) and I fan-girled meeting Malorie Blackman. It’s a far cry now from the first YALC I went to – the very first one in fact, crammed somewhere in the back of Earl’s Court, besieged on either side by the usual LFCC crowd. It earned its nickname that year as the literal hell on earth, so warm and overwhelmingly stuffy, with no boundaries to help keep things in one place. I had fun, but it was still a bit of a sensory explosion that left me a little fractured. The shift to Olympia has made all the difference. Us YA lot now have our very own floor, and the atmosphere change that comes with it is so very welcome.

Oh, the atmosphere of YALC… It’s so wonderful to be in a place surrounded by other book lovers. Everyone there loves books, and so the empathy in the room is palpable – a sense of joy and understanding that you can taste on your tongue. When I was a teenager, I’d have longed for the chance to chat to other bookish teens, to sit and watch talks by my favourite authors, and to get an insight into the publishing industry, so for I felt so honoured to be a tiny part of this year. To talk to others in the book world and to engage with the passionate young readers and talk to them about their favourite books, it’s why I fell in love with this whole wonderful YA community in the UK in the first place. The open-hearted love is real, and it’s wonderful to behold.

I do hope publishers, literary agents and authors where watching and listening to those fans this weekend. I hope they saw the joy the books they make can create. I hope they saw the amount of teenagers there in head scarves who aren’t seeing themselves in the books they read – yet. I hope the UKYA community continues to strive towards full representation of our wonderful multicultural world. I’ve always believed books create empathy, and it the light of all the stuff 2016 has flung at us so far, we need all the empathy towards one another we can get.

His Dark Materials Western (Cont.)

A few months ago, I wrote a short piece of fanfiction, which I housed in the Old West of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials universe for my friend Laura, as she went off on an adventure to Australia. It was supposed to be a one-off. You can actually read it here, if you like. That’d be fab. Well, I couldn’t get the character out of my head. Or the universe. I found myself captivated by the idea of a woman tied to the railroad tracks, left by a dastardly moustache-twirling villain, having to accept her fate whilst left helplessly with her Daemon, accepting their demise. So I wrote it. And I linked it back to that first bit. You don’t have to read that first, but I’d like it if you did.


The railroad is a part of American history. Mighty spiderwebs of steel of steel that unite the country. An ambitious feat of engineering prowess. A triumph of human hubris over nature. In England the whole thing was done without nearly as much fanfare. All practicality, no romance. But in a country sodden with rain half the year, what do you expect? Anyway, you can walk the entire length of the country in less time than it takes to cross state lines.

“We also don’t often tend to hogtie women to the tracks” Emily sighed. Americans certainly had a flair for the dramatic, but positively no sense of subtlety. Her Daemon stared at her despondently, his sad little sparrow eyes breaking her heart.

“Maybe if I’d been something more useful…” he began, and Emily’s sorrow congealed into something hard and sharp.

“There’s am awful lot of ifs in the world Archie,” she groaned as the rope bit into her skin, “but not a single one of them offer us any practicalities in the here and now.”

His eyes lit up. “So you have a plan?” He chirruped.

Emily looked at the desert that stretched out to infinity on either side of her, at the arid sands that hadn’t seen rain in years. In the distance the landscape was dotted with cracked red rocky outcroppings that rose ominously into the sky like tombstones. She longed for the persistent drizzle of Oxford, which only months ago had driven her to despair. She also longed for a cup of tea. Neither seemed forthcoming.

“Not precisely, no” she admitted, “but God won’t abandon us. He always has a plan for us, remember?”

Archie hesitated, “and… if his plan is that we die out here?”

Emily stared stoically up at the garishly blue, cloudless sky.

“Then we accept it…” she whispered.

When Emily awoke, the sun was still hammering down its punishment like an earnest blacksmith, each hammer blow a lance of pain into her head. She tried to lick her lips, but her tongue was swollen and dry. She could feel cracked pain around her mouth where the skin had blistered in the scorching heat. Archie was sat on her chest, his eyes drooped and distant. Emily looked lovingly at the subtle brown hues of his wings, the defiant strength of his beak. He wasn’t the most fearsome of Daemons, she had to admit, but he’d pulled her out of more scrapes than she cared to admit. Her chest swelled when she thought of their adventures. She closed her eyes again, and began to imagine the glorious and sublime Republic of Heaven that waited for them both. She pictured the soft bliss that would surround them, the warm light that would bathe them. She pictured the loving embrace of God.

It was at that point that Emily’s face pulled into a frown. The light that was blasting red and harsh through her eyelids had diminished, leaving little dancing spots of colour in its place. Reluctantly, she pulled one eye open, dreading another encounter with that obnoxious American bandit. She’d have sooner died. Much to her surprise, a young girl stood over her. She had a hard face, with squinting eyes filled with mistrust, and sandy blonde hair crammed under a beat-up old cowboy hat which was far too big for her. On her shoulder he Daemon sat in the form of a Gecko, in muted colours that matched her hair. In her hand was a wicked looking revolver covered in cogs and levers. Home made weapon modifications where quite the style in the States, she’d heard.

“Well, hello there young lady…” Emily began, peeling her raw cracked lips back into a smile that she wore more like a grimace.

“I ain’t no lady,” the girl responded.

Emily took her in. She was probably only twelve or so. “Quite. Well, perhaps you could help me. You see, I’m in a bit of a bind-” she chuckled at her own joke nervously, “so perhaps your mummy or daddy could be of some sort of assistance? Could you give them a yell and ask them to come help me?”

The girl eyed her with her sharp, sceptical eyes, “Momma’s dead. Daddy too, for that matter.” She said it so matter-of-factly that Emily was stunned by how little emotion played across her face. But Emily was a trained member of the Church. She’d spent years learning to read people, to discover the things they kept locked away. To offer them salvation.

“Oh…” she put on her best counselling voice, the one she saved for widows and mothers of stillborn children, “Oh, you poor child. Was it a failed crop? Not enough water perhaps? Or maybe a terrible disease. You can tell me. I know it’s hard.” If she could earn this girl’s trust, she didn’t necessarily die tied to a train line in the desert. On her chest, Archie had tilted his head to one side too, mimicking her sympathetic tone.

“Nope,” the girl spat into the baking sand, “Man came and killed ‘em. And my baby brother too. Shot him right there in his crib.”

Emily blinked, momentarily stunned by the blasé way this girl reported such a horrifically barbaric act.

“Oh you delicate orphan!” she cried at the girl, who now rolled her eyes. “You must thank the lord God that you were spared. He must have a plan for you.”

The girl pushed her hat back, revealing more of her grubby face, coated with a waxy mixture of sweat, sand, and something darker.

“You reckon that plan was me following the man what did them in and emptying his brains out onto a canyon wall not two hours ago?” her face broke into a grin. If it wasn’t for the words she was saying, she’d have looked to Emily like any other little girl. Instead, Emily’s insides went cold.

“It’s all God’s plan in the end…” she told the girl,

“It God’s plan got you tied up like a prize pig at the county fair to roast under the sun, miss?”

“If that is his will then so be it, I am his humble-”

The girl interrupted her, which irritated her no end. Typical American, never taught any manners, raised like a wild child here in the arse end of nowhere.

“You someone’s slave?” she asked.

Emily felt her mouth flap up and down, shocked by the incredulity that she might be someone else’s property.

“I most certainly am not! What on Earth would make you think such a preposterous thing?!” she sputtered.

The girl considered her for a moment, then scanned the horizon, “’Cuz you’ve got the colour of the slaves I seen in the city. And you’re trussed up like a bindle. And your accent’s funny.”

“I am an Englishwoman I’ll have you know,” Emily growled. Archie had started flapping his wings ineffectually. On her shoulder, the girl’s Daemon stared unblinking and impassive, still in the form of a gecko. “And the only one who owns me is the Lord. Look, are you going to free me or not?”

“You gonna try any funny business?”

“I can assure you I shall not”

The girl seemed to take that under consideration, before nodding. In a fluid motion, she holstered her revolver and with the other hand pulled a knife the size of her forearm from somewhere beneath her battered looking trench coat. It caught the sun, making it seem like it was glowing white. One edge housed neat and lethal looking serrated teeth. It was with these that she began to saw at the ropes that kept Emily bound. Her Daemon was now sat staring out at the landscape, shifted into the form of a wily desert fox, his large ears scanning for trouble while the girl worked. Once the ropes were severed, the girl helped Emily to her feet, with sweat running down her hand. Emily tried not to notice.

“Thank you, that was very charitable thing you did there. God bless you.” The girl simply stared at Emily with the same squinted cold eyes. Archie was nestling affectionately in her hair, which was haphazard and straw-like, dried out by hours in the sun. “I don’t suppose you have any water to hand, do you?”

The girl reached inside her coat and tossed a metal canteen over to her. Emily caught it greedily with both hands, pouring what little water it contained into her mouth. It was hot, and tasted sharp and acrid, no doubt off the metal of the flask, but the relief burst through Emily like it was the very wine of communion. Without really thinking, she drank it dry.

“Good thing I got more, ain’t it?” the girl mumbled to her Daemon, “Anyways, you’re welcome Englishwoman. I need to be going.”

Emily sputtered, “Wait! Where’s the nearest town to hear?”

The girl sighed, her Daemon whispering close to her ear, “Tabernath is about half a day’s walk South East of here. Happens to be where we’re headed.”

“Would you like some company?”

“Not particularly. But given that you seem prone to finding yourself in near death situations, I suppose you’ll be needing a chaperone. Proper English rose like you and all.”Emily ignored the thinly veiled jab at her pride, and instead stretched out a hand to the girl,

“Lady Emily St Grace Mendel” she offered smartly. The girl looked at her waiting hand for what felt like an eternity in the stifling dry air. Eventually, she slid off a leather glove and spat on her hand. Before Emily had chance to react, the slimy little creature’s claw was grasping her own, hot and wet.

“Laura, ma’am. Let’s get walking.”

“And what are you walking towards, exactly, Miss Laura?”

Laura’s boots kicked up clouds of dry dust as she made her way off at a steady, measured pace.

“It’s just Laura, your Ladyship” she answered over her shoulder, “and I’m off to free the slaves.”


So there you go. I hope you enjoyed it. I of course do not in anyway own the universe of His Dark Materials, this is just a bit of fun. If Philip Pullman reads it, I hope he likes it. If he does, I will die.

Thank-you for reading.

D

Down In The Tube Station at Midnight…

So here’s a short horror story I wrote this afternoon that’s been rattling around in my brain for the last few weeks. I was pretty proud of it, so I thought I’d share!


The tiled walls of the tube station shifted and swirled uneasily as Alicia tried deep breaths to steady her equally swirling stomach. As per usual, the after work “couple of glasses of wine” had become a couple of bottles, and now here she was again, unsteady and nauseous in the stifling stagnant air of Holborn station. Minutes crawled past her, marching steadily towards midnight, and a sense of regret came with them.

She breathed heavily, ‘Future Alicia is going to be super pissed in the morning… Saturday morning a write-off.’ her words echoed off the curved, dirty white walls. She was alone. Fortunately, respite was approaching – or the promise of a seat at least. The pressure change and blowing hot rush of air that indicated the imminent arrival of a train washed over her like a dusty desert wind, accompanied by the steady crescendo roar from down the tunnel. Alicia gathered her bag from where she’d let it slump to the floor, and turned to meet the pulsing of red and white that slowed steadily to allow passengers on and off. As it came to a rest though, it was obvious that inside the train was as empty as the platform. The doors slide open, and she stepped inside, wobbling slightly, but thankful to be able to escape balancing against gravity for ten minutes. So long as she didn’t fall asleep, she was fine. Sitting down, she even started to feel a lot less drunk than she had, and she surveyed the empty tube carriage around her. The light was searingly bright, and intense white that knifed through her skull like lightning, and it felt cramped and uncomfortable, but other than that it was a haven for her throbbing feet. The rows of seats stretched back from her towards the next carriage, but not a single one was occupied, except for a dog-eared newspaper that sat next to her, an unpleasant musty odour coming off it.

‘Solo tube Selfie, methinks’, she concluded after her inspection, noticing her words slurring into each other slightly, like a slow-motion car pileup, ‘what’s the point of being shit on for being a millennial if I don’t get to at least document my debauchery, after all?’

She pulled out her phone, already latched automatically onto the Tube’s Wifi, and opened up the camera. She pulled a suitably ridiculous face, all exaggerated pout and crossed eyes, the empty train carriage seeming endless behind her. It reminded her of when she was little, and she used to open two doors on the bathroom cabinet at the same time, enjoying the strange infinity of the door mirrors reflecting each other back and forth into eternity. She shivered slightly, despite the stuffy warmth of the tube, and took the photo, immediately opening to share it on Twitter.

“Solo Dork Adventures on the Underground” she tapped out, sending the tweet away with a wry smile.

‘Self deprecation is my favourite,’ she muttered to no-one, pushing her headphones in and firing up some music to drown out the toothless roar of the tube as it pulled into the next station. No-one got on. She pulled her phone out of her pocket again, feeling restless, the tiredness of alcohol making her yearn for bed. Her photo had garnered a few likes, as well as a couple of comments of “creepy!” from her followers. Her friend Adrian had replied, “Wow, cool shot! How’d you set that up?” which was an odd question. She told him that she’d just got on the empty tube – that it must have been good luck to get the whole train to herself, before sinking back into her music. She let her eyes droop, shielding her from the harsh buzz of the florescent light, but was careful not to let them drop completely. Last thing she wanted was to fall asleep and end up in Sheffield. After a minute or two, Alicia felt the train slowing down for another station, but it was once again empty, filled with litter and echoes. She checked her phone again. Adrian had replied saying “Haha, very funny – true dedication to the joke” which was even stranger than his first comment. She flicked back up to her original tweet, and felt the blood in her run ice cold. She was sat in the photo on her screen, in the same seat she was sat in now, pulling the ridiculous face she’d pulled earlier. The rows of vomit brown seats stretched away behind her just like she remembered, but sat twenty places or so behind her was a little boy. His black hair hung greasy and dank into his cold, black eyes. He was staring right at her.

Alicia pulled her headphones out and shot to her feet, spinning, her heart hammering double time, to look down the train. It was completely empty. She could see over the seats from standing, and there was no-one hiding behind them.

She called out anyway, ‘Hello? Is someone there-’ she caught herself mid-sentence when she realised she was uttering the dying words from every horror film ever made. Shakily, she held her phone up and took another selfie, her skin clammy and pale, but the alcohol purged from her system by adrenalin and fear. When the picture flashed up on screen, the boy was closer. Only ten or so chairs away this time. His eyes looked back at her through the phone, horrifyingly deep pools of black that sang hunger and sadness. Alicia screamed, and checked behind her again. Nothing was there. The carriage suddenly felt unbearably claustrophobic, the weight of tonnes of rock and London city crushing down on her. The air had gone from a stagnant heat to crackling with malevolent energy. She raised her phone to her face again, terrified of what she’d see when she took another picture, but more terrified of not knowing where the thing that was stalking her even was. When she tapped the shutter button gently, the picture showed just half of her face, cut off by the edge of the camera. There was a pale, mottled grey hand grasping her shoulder in the picture, the fingernails cracked and peeling away. The second she saw the image, she felt the pressure of a tiny but unbelievably powerful grip on her shoulder, sending a spider web of cold pain and abject horror through her. Her legs buckled, but she didn’t quite fall, instead stumbling with a wordless moan of primal fear towards the door of the tube. The train was slowing for another stop – not hers, but there was no way in hell she was going to stay trapped underground with some invisible child-shaped abomination. The slowing wasn’t fast enough, the seconds stretching out impossibly to long minutes of cold terror. Alicia was certain she felt tiny hands grasping at her hair, and jerked this way and that as though spiders where crawling up her body.

Finally, the tube shuddered to a stop, the doors swung open, and Alicia flung herself onto the unmoving concrete of the station floor. As she sucked in lungfuls of dry air, she just caught the glimpse of the boy stood behind the glass of the door behind her. He looked at her with those painfully yearning black holes, his mouth opening impossibly wide in a scream that sounded like a dying cat’s yowling. A thick, inky black fluid spilled out of his mouth in heavy, dripping ropes, and in response to his otherworldly howl, thin arms ending in long, grasping fingers snaked their way out from the dark gap between the train and the platform edge. They snatched blindly at Alicia, the desperation and starving need to have her coming off them with an animal lust. One grabbed her ankle, the fragile looking fingers exerting an impossible pressure on her skin, ice and agony knifing into her bone. It was pulling her towards the dark space beneath the tube as the it began accelerating away from the station again, moving with a heavy certainty that promised a messy death if the hands had their way. Alicia summoned all the strength she had and kicked her free foot at the hand that held her, and connected with enough force to shock it into releasing her. Driven by a pure and thoughtless survival instinct, she ran lopsidedly from the station, her crushed ankle screaming with agony as her broken bones ground against each other beneath the skin. Finally, when she reached the cold, fresh and freeing air of the world above, she allowed herself to collapse into a sobbing wreck, the pain becoming to much for her to bare. She passed out, the echoing black void of the child’s eyes swallowing her consciousness.


So that’s it! Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment if you liked it!

D

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgewick

The Ghosts of Heaven is a hugely ambitious and original work of YA fiction, and it’s been languishing on my shelf for a good long while. Last month, I finally got round to giving it a try – and two days later I was done, having read one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The Gorgeous Hardback Cover

The Gorgeous Hardback Cover

Told through four different stories, the book channels different characters and time periods in each quarter, all linked through a theme of spirals. We open of the dialogue sparse pre-history tale of a nameless teenage girl, part of a hunting party who use shapes painted on cave walls to summon good luck and strength to aid the hunt. The second story tells the tale of a girl accused of witchcraft, and a quiet country village under the grasp of a tyrannical reverend. The third quarter is a tense story of a psychologist and his highly intelligent patient in a cliff side Insane Asylum. The final story in the book is set in the far-flung future, aboard a sleeper ship filled with dreaming people destined to colonise a new planet, and follows a solitary sentinel who watches over them in a lonely vigil as their ship spirals through space.

This Book. Seriously, I cannot begin to describe how swept up in these four interwoven narratives I was. The first quarter, told eerily through fractured stanzas that bounce along poetically, is filled with hope and bitter-sweet melancholy. The second is stiflingly oppressive, painfully and blisteringly unfair, whilst the third is so wonderfully windswept and Gothically HP Lovecraft, unfolding with a spiralling sense of madness and chaos. The final quarter is a cold, uneasy science-fiction tale that pulls through the whole story and links each narrative together, like a needle and thread spiralling through four patches of fabric to create one whole blanket.

The Paperback Jacket

The Paperback Jacket

Sedgewick is such an outstanding writer – each story has its own feel and style, but they’re all part of a greater whole, and it’s done with such clever skill that flows naturally. None of the stories feel discordant with the others, despite their massive differences in time periods. Plus, the four parts of the book can be read in any order, giving a different experience depending on how you read it. It’s honestly mind-blowing, and by the time you get to the last quarter it all starts to pull together in a way that staggers you. The Ghosts of Heaven is a book that I’m going to return to again and again, a perfect balance of genres, filled with twisting unease and suspense, reading flawlessly and beautifully. It evokes something wonderful just remembering it.

Thanks for Reading,

D

If The Ghosts of Heaven takes your fancy, you can pick it up here.

Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan

Whenever Phil Earle over at David Fickling Books asks if I want a proof of something, I know I’m going to be reading an outstanding YA Novel. The publishing house is responsible for heavy hitters like The Art of Being Normal and Unbecoming, so it goes without saying that their books come with emotional depth and intelligence, and Eden Summer is a perfect addition to their roster.

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Jess’ best friend Eden is missing. Ever since her sister died, Eden’s behaviour has become more and more erratic and unstable, and over the Summer Jess and Eden’s boyfriend Liam have been trying desperately to keep her head above the waters of grief. But now she’s missing, and Jess and Liam have no idea where she’s gone. Her behaviour has been deeply concerning, but is there something deeper and darker going in Eden’s past? And Jess has her own past trauma to work through as well… Can anything ever be truly normal again for the three teenagers?

Eden Summer is a stunning début, weaving themes of guilt and regret with an honest and beautiful friendship between its main characters. Eden is a whirling mess of emotion and chaos, and the way she gradually falls in on herself whilst pushing desperately outwards creates a tragic character arc to follow. Inside she’s blackness but on the outside she’s frantically grasping to all the things she thinks will make her better. Her progression mirrors Jess brilliantly, as Jess goes from fragile and skittish to resourceful and determined. In a way, Eden’s disappearance is a catalyst to help her face her own past and start to mend the wounds that affect her psyche. I think the most enjoyable character in the book is the setting though – Liz manages to use a much less known part of the country (Yorkshire) to create a sense of drama and bleak desperation to the plot, and she does it with knowledge and passion.

Eden Summer uses beautiful language to create a lyrical sense of unease and tension, which pushes the plot along, accelerating as it goes, and Liz’s use of flashbacks creates a wonderful discord between happier memories, chaotic memories and the harrowing present day. It’s through these flashbacks that we slowly unravel the darkness of each character’s backstory, and the fragments of secrets are revealed. The book really reminded me of Tanya Byrne’s Follow Me Down, and it’s an excellent thriller with vibrant, emotionally driven characters and a superbly written backdrop for it all.

Thanks for Reading!

D

Eden Summer is published this July. You can pre-order a copy here.