A powerful bunch this month, which all feature memorable and distinctive characters and interesting narratives. I’ve cheated and put a graphic anthology that came out in June on the bottom of the list as I only got my copy a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to share it with more people.
Hold by Michael Donkor – A fantastic debut novel about two very different teenage girls coming of age, Hold tells the story of Belinda, who is summoned from Ghana to London to try and bring Amma out of her shell. Full of memorable characters and vividly accurate south London description.
Oreo by Fran Ross – Reissued this month but originally published in 1974, Oreo is a clever, satirical tale of a girl looking for her dad.
We Shall Fight Until We Win by 404 Ink and BHP Comics – A graphic anthology published for the centenary of the first wave of women in the UK, it tells the stories of political women, both well- and lesser- known. A powerful read and one to gift people in your life.
The Life and Death Parade is an atmospheric YA novel that combines an eerie secret travelling occult group with a depiction of grief across a family. Kitty had a complicated relationship with her sort-of boyfriend Nikki Bramley, who she grew up alongside and whose family home she now lives in following the death of her mother. However, now he’s dead, after a psychic told him he was going to die, and the Bramleys are all dealing with his death in different ways. Kitty tries to find the psychic who told Nikki his fate, but instead finds a strange medium, Roan. Roan seems like he could be the answer Kitty is looking for, with powers to talk to and maybe even bring back the dead, but she’s not sure he’s not a charlatan, even when the strange rituals and mysterious group lead her towards memories of her mother.
This is a novel filled with eerie and dark elements: the old castle that the rich Bramleys live in, the rituals and occult, intense obsession, and a strange group called the Life and Death Parade that Kitty decides she must track down for answers about Nikki and about her mother. Wass weaves a narrative that combines these with far more down to earth elements such as grief, love, and uncertainty. This makes The Life and Death Parade a book that feels far more real than its occult parts might suggest: something more like the fleeting magic of urban fantasy or the unnerving mysticism of the Bacchanalia from The Secret History.
Kitty is an interesting and unusual protagonist, who has lost almost everyone and needs to find something to fight for and a reason to keep fighting. Trying to work out what happened to Nikki and if there’s anything she can do about it may serve that purpose, but the novel—for all its occultism—ultimately shows that people need to find ways to move on. Nikki’s siblings Macklin and Holiday are also engaging, with Macklin’s struggle with guilt and Holiday’s extreme reactions helping to create the image of a messed up family in a moody old castle. And crucially, Roan works well as a mysterious and possibly dangerous figure, brooding over the death of his boyfriend and seeming to be a rock star medium who could solve the Bramleys’ problems.
The Life and Death Parade is a gripping novel, part story about grief with hints of magic and part thriller featuring a mysterious stranger. It will appeal to people who like their books with eccentric characters, complex love and obsession, and a dash of something otherworldly, whether young adult or otherwise. This is a book to read for the story, which becomes difficult to put down, and for the creation of an eccentric and intriguing cast and atmosphere.