Friday, 21 March 2014

I have just finished reading

"The Bunker Diary" by Kevin Brooks. It's on the list of contenders for the Carnegie Medal. So is "Rooftoppers", another recent read.

I did not like The Bunker Diary. I will be disappointed if it is the winner of the Carnegie. Yes, I recognise it is well written but it is a dark book, so dark that all hope is lost.
I won't give away the plot here. That would be unfair of me because someone may want to read it. All I will say is that I could not quite believe in any of the characters - or the way they react to their circumstances. None of them seem quite real to me - and the plot does not seem quite real either. It is just a little too unlikely.

Rooftoppers was different. Perhaps the plot is just as unlikely but Sophie and her guardian are wonderful characters, complex and rich. There is an array of other memorable characters too. It's a book with humour, joy, love, despair and determination. It doesn't answer all the questions but there is some hope for the future.
I am about to embark on reading a third book on the list - and I will read the rest of them as well. If you want to write for children then you need to know what adults think they want to read, what children actually want to read and what is being published.  Perhaps it is just me but I find there is sometimes a difference between those three things.
I would not give the Diary to the Whirlwind or her friends. They have the ability to read it but I don't think that, at age twelve and thirteen, they need to be confronted by such darkness, such lack of hope. I am not sure anyone does.
Years ago now my last English teacher at school gave me a short piece to read. It was in German with an English translation. I have not been able to find it again but it was written by a mathematician while he was imprisoned during the war. In it he talks of his utter despair and then - his hope for a new day. The contrast between his despair and his hope is something I can still remember all these years later. If there had been no hope I doubt I would remember the piece. I certainly doubt I would remember it with any pleasure or whether it would have had any impact on me.
Do we really need books like the Diary? Obviously some people believe we do. What sort of effect did it have on the author while he was writing it? I don't know but I find it hard to believe the impact would have been positive.
Do children and young people have the right to have some hope for the future? I think they do. They have to live it.

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