This latest intriguing novel from twice Carnegie Medal winner Berlie Doherty never knows quite where it is going. Its urgently written opening account of the miseries that can occur when a close juvenile friendship is first threatened and then brutally terminated gets everything off to a flying start. Carl, the unhappy pre-teenage survivor, then moves with his parents to an isolated farm in the Peak District in order to recover. All this is drama enough, but Doherty brings in a local ghost to add to Carl’s already near-breakdown state. This development is less successful, as is the introduction of a wandering under-age and homeless local girl also sometimes working at the farm. Her ability to evade any intervention from the local Social Services makes her generally less credible. The whole story ends with a brief note from the ghost himself, explain how he got there.
Not the easiest of plots, perhaps, but Doherty is such a good writer she still compels complete attention. Her descriptions of the remote Derbyshire countryside are as powerful as anything in Alan Garner’s stories, as is her use of local dialect. Scenic black and white chapter heading illustrations from Tamsin Rosewell add to the effect. Although Carl is permanently miserable he still comes over as a sympathetic character, backed up by nice parents and an understanding school. His final coming to terms with the tragic death of his friend Jack is movingly done, although the last-minute arrival and guilt-ridden confession of the teenage villain of the piece is less convincing.
This story is launched by Uclan, an independent publisher based at the University of Central Lancashire. It also helps teach M.A. students studying publishing as a possible career. Already gaining awards, this is clearly a firm to watch. Adding such a fine writer as Berlie Doherty to its list is further guarantee of its commitment to high quality.