I invite you to collect a portion of your favourite salty snack, pour out some delectable dip and join me for a tasty double-dip into some MG fiction. Today I have a new release that I received from the publisher via Netgalley and a tome that has been sat on my shelf for at least six months (which in no way reflects the astronomical levels of excitement and desire that pushed me to buy it in the first place), so with this review I shall also be taking one step closer to the peak of Mt TBR.
But let’s push on. Our first tome is new release UKMG novel Joe All Alone by Joanna Nadin. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
When thirteen-year-old Joe is left behind in Peckham while his mum flies to Spain on holiday, he decides to treat it as an adventure, and a welcome break from Dean, her latest boyfriend. Joe begins to explore his neighbourhood, making a tentative friendship with Asha, a fellow fugitive hiding out at her grandfather’s flat.
But when the food and money run out, his mum doesn’t come home, and the local thugs catch up with him, Joe realises time is running out too, and makes a decision that will change his life forever.
…a sensitively rendered account of a young lad whose mother has chosen a man over her son. Joe is a likeable, ordinary kid and I think a lot of young readers will relate to his matter-of-fact narration and the anxieties that sit in the back of his mind. The book touches on themes of domestic violence, racism, family breakdown, trust and identity and subtly balances the neglectful actions of Joe’s mother and father-figure with the cautiously caring actions of the adults in Joe’s block of flats. The friendship between Joe and Asha is believable and adds a bit of fun and banter to a story that has a pervasive atmosphere of loss and fear.
Don’t dip if…
…you’re wanting a fun, lawless romp featuring a cheery young lad who is happy that his parents have left (as indicated by the cover, and the tagline “No parents, no rules…no problem?”). This really is a book that focuses on the deeper issues that Joe is facing and as the story progresses, Joe’s fears about what will happen next and who to trust are palpable.
Similarly, if you’ve read a lot of UK fiction in this kind of vein – kid with violent/absent/mentally-ill/drug-addicted parent struggles to find friendship and help to live a normal life – you might get the sense of having read this all before.
Overall Dip Factor
Joe All Alone is a solid addition to the MG literature featuring realistic, contemporary storytelling focusing on important social issues in an accessible way. The diary format worked well in building up the suspense of what might happen if Joe’s mum didn’t return and also helped the reader focus in on Joe’s day-to-day struggles once it was apparent that his mum wasn’t coming back. The ending was a surprise for me, given how realistic it actually was in terms of where a young person might find themselves once the adults in their life have abdicated responsibility for them.
While I did enjoy the book, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this story was nothing new. I suspect this is one of the problems of reading as a reviewer with a special interest in MG and YA – although I haven’t read a story featuring exactly this plot before, I’ve certainly read more than a handful that deal with the same themes and same sorts of characters and that does take some of the sparkle out of the story. If you enjoy this genre though, or haven’t read a lot featuring these themes, Joe All Alone is definitely worth a look.
Now onto some real wickedness. Here’s The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemelmans Marciano. From Goodreads:
Alexander Baddenfield is a horrible boy—a really horrible boy—who is the last in a long line of lying, thieving scoundrels. One day, Alexander has an astonishing idea. Why not transplant the nine lives from his cat into himself? Suddenly, Alexander has lives to spare, and goes about using them up, attempting the most outrageous feats he can imagine. Only when his lives start running out, and he is left with only one just like everyone else, does he realize how reckless he has been.
…a delightfully droll tale in which a naughty boy gets his just desserts. Eventually. This cheekily illustrated book is Edward Gorey for children (and their subversive parents) and I don’t feel too bad in telling you that Alexander dies in the end. Multiple times. There’s also a shocking reveal about the real name of Alexander’s gentleman’s gentleman.
Don’t dip if…
…you’re after a tale in which the bad guy learns his lesson and turns over a new leaf – Ebenezer Scrooge this kid ain’t. Also, if the thought of a young child dying in various horrible ways offends you, you should probably steer clear. And there’s at least some surgical mistreatment of a cat.
Overall Dip Factor:
This is a completely quirky and unexpected trip into the philosophical origins of good and evil and whether or not a villain can ever really change his ways. Also, it’s just a pretty funny romp through the death-fields with an arrogant little snot and his long-suffering babysitter. Keen-eyed readers will also appreciate the playful anagrammatic name of Alexander’s surgeon and the phonetically named cat. This would be a great read-together for parents with left-of-centre offspring in the early middle-grade age range.
So there you are. One seriously realistic read and one seriously ridiculous read. Take your pick. Or better yet, dip into both!
Until next time,