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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

ON THE BOOK TRAIL

"The Roar," "Waves"


"The Roar," Emma Clayton, Chickenhouse; 2008; 473 pp.

'The sun was setting over the Atlantic and as it ran like molten gold into the waves, a girl in a Pod Fighter ripped through the scene, like graffiti sprayed across a landscape painting, and for a few startled moments, the sun and the sea trembled."

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What an immodest — and befitting — kick-off to this grab-you-by-the-collar thriller from newcomer Emma Clayton. Set in a futuristic, Dystopian world where everyone lives behind the Wall, safe from the plague animals that lie beyond, this is about 12-year-old twins, Mika and Ellie. Ellie has disappeared, but Mika doesn't buy the explanation that she's dead; he knows in his gut that she is alive, somewhere.

In fact, Ellie has been kept captive by the villainous Mal Gorman (could a name be any more malevolent?) on a space station far from Earth, so she is alive, but barely — and things aren't that great for her brother Mika either.

Ellie's family, like thousands of other poor families, lives behind the Wall in the Shadows, the dark refugee towns built on stilts above the floodwater. Their moldy apartment, with no view of the sky, is a far cry from the Golden Turrets, London's second level, a new palatial city built exclusively for the rich. The whole world has been altered forever: There are no fields and no forests, no animals, only human beings crammed into a tiny piece of hell behind the Wall. What lies beyond is even worse — or so they are told.

Then out of all the gloom comes a sinister virtual-reality game called Pod Fighter — win the game and you get to fly a real Pod Fighter. The Shadows haven't seen this much excitement in the ages, and soon all the children are playing, even Mika — and he is better than everyone else. Before long, the game turns into an obsession, and the lines between virtual and real blur.

Author Clayton depicts a vividly imagined, terrifying world in which the Wall begins to symbolize a conspiracy to hoodwink millions of people. Of course this is pure Sci-Fi (and thank God for it), but it points to something that's true in our own world: Control of information is the ultimate form of power. And often, a lie feels like the truth if enough people are convinced by it.

Note: For teenagers.

"Waves," by Sharon Dogar, Chickenhouse; 2008 (paperback); 345 pp.

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How many times since you turned 13 have you caught grownups throwing you a look of total bafflement? Teenagers have to be the world's most incomprehensible, unfathomable people — or at least that's what most grownups like to think.

But not Sharon Dogar. With her debut novel, "Waves," she slips into the mind and under the skin of a teenager with the assuredness of someone who hasn't forgotten the pain and the puzzlement of adolescence.

For 15-year-old Hal, his annual family holiday to Cornwall is a mixed bag this year. It is a feeble attempt to return to normalcy, all the while knowing that nothing will ever be the same again for him, his parents, even for his 5-year-old sister, Sara — not when Hal's older sister, Charlie, lies in a coma in their hometown of Oxford. But coming back to Cornwall is also about trying to remember what Hal's mind has all but erased: How he spotted Charlie swimming in the ocean at night, how he found her body washed up on the beach the next morning, how there was someone else there, watching. What happened to Charlie last summer? While Hal battles the tumult of dredging up old memories, he also finds himself reliving his sister's experiences the summer before. Like her, he befriends the youngsters at the campsite on the beach — do they know more about Charlie's accident than they let on? Like her, he finds himself falling in love. And then he begins to hear her voice in his head, taking him to strange, unexplored places, pleading with him to help her, goading him to remember.

In part a suspenseful whodunit, in part a brooding look at adolescence, "Waves" is a deeply moving tale of a powerful bond between two siblings. It is also a disturbing account of the headiness and insanity of first love and first sex. Dogar writes with the immediacy of someone who knows teenagers, and her intimate tone looks you straight in the eye and speaks to you, one on one. How long has it been since an adult really did that?

Note: For teenagers 14 years and up. Parental guidance advised because of the sexual references in the book.


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