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This issue’s cover illustration by Catherine Rayner is from Solomon Crocodile. Catherine Rayner is interviewed on p.14 of this issue. Thanks to Macmillan Children's Books for their help with this May cover.
By clicking here you can view, print or download the fully artworked Digital Edition of BfK 194 May 2012 .
14-year-old Valentina O’Connor lives in a world which ours may come to resemble. Climate change has run riot. Areas such as the Badlands and the Amber Zone are devastated by floods and drought. Valentina has the good fortune to live in the habitable Green Zone. Her home is the Citadel, where 300 families belonging to the Elite live in safety. Her father is the President of the island. When we first meet Valentina she is a spoiled brat, irritated by her servants, behaving as she pleases at a posh school where no one dare criticise the daughter of the President. She has two brothers. John lives in a community known as the Pilgrims. Valentina adores her other brother, Mattie, who absconded to support an illegal organisation supporting migrants. Her parents prefer to ignore Mattie’s existence, for reasons the reader will learn.
At school Valentina meets a boy named Damien who is a tearaway. Among the 300 families who inhabit the Citadel his family are numbered 280, close to the bottom of the social order. To Valentina’s initial horror, her mother asks her to spend time civilising this uncultured boy. However, it is Damien who exercises influence, persuading Valentina to join him and another girl, Pippa, in an unauthorised trip to the Badlands. The rest of the narrative describes this wild adventure and the way it changes the three travellers.
This book is a bildungsroman charting Valentina’s progress towards an understanding and acceptance of her own identity. The book also encourages the reader to confront some serious issues. How do those in privileged positions use their economic and social power? What is the nature of alliances within the social nexus? Are those upon whose support we rely instantly recognised as allies? And how far do we have to venture into rule-breaking in order to grow?
McDermott’s book would in any case be a worthwhile read. But it is lifted out of the commonplace by the skill with which the author gives us Valentina’s first-person narrative. This caustic and profane teenager lives in our imagination, much as does Princess Mia in Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries. This is the work of an author playing adroitly to his strengths.