On Wednesday 13 January I finished The Year Of The Rat, by Clare Furniss, which I enjoyed a lot.
A number of the best books I've read in the last couple of years have been the daughter's books, now that she's moving firmly into reading books for teenagers - books I was either reading in advance to vet (which hasn't been very often; generally a skim through at the library or bookshop weeds out ones which I've not been happy with yet, and the 'not yet' has usually been received with good grace), at the same time as, or after. I don't tend to bother with the adventure/thriller ones, like the Alex Ryder and Cherub series, it's the ones about real characters and real world issues I tend to look at.
I was never keen on the Jacqueline Wilson books, because they always seemed very agenda-driven and issue-driven (a bit like Agatha Christie, covering all the permutations but in what felt like a much more mechanical, ideological, checklisty way), and from what I saw of them the writing didn't appeal to me. People mock the old children's fiction for always having happy little nuclear families, in a way which isn't very far from mocking happy little nuclear families, and while I'm all for representations of all kinds of family units in fiction, the disproportionate absence of any families which looked like ours is striking.
The Year Of The Rat could have been such an 'issue' book - teenager deals badly with death of mum in childbirth - but wasn't. It was very much a proper novel, very well written. The only thing that didn't ring true for me was that it seems to have occurred to no one that the teenager will have issues about how she feels about the newborn half-sibling who was responsible for the death of her mother and now takes up so much of her stepfather's time - but that seems to have been necessary for the unfolding of the plot, although I'm sure it could have been better managed; the self-absorption itself is plausible. It's good on how the way things are not as black and white as she sees them; I also liked that there are no actual baddies, although she thinks there are at various stages (but you can see that she is an unreliable narrator). The device of having a ghostly mother appearing for conversations I thought unusual, but wisely left unexplained and uninvestigated, and the fact that the 'ghost' gives her no information or insight which couldn't have come from her own mind leaves it very much open that this is her own imagining. I thought the various issues and relationships in the book were well handled; I had wondered if the death of the mother was a bit too intense a subject matter, but the younger generation was unfazed and took it in her stride.
This was I think Clare Furniss's first book, and I hope she can keep it up (reading a bit just now about her next book, which is out soon, it looks like it covers another couple of issues, and I'm hoping that the single pregnant teenager will be allowed to have her baby...).