Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Books I could Eat for Breakfast... LOSER

This book is LOSER by American author Jerry Spinelli. It’s lovely in every single way.

The cover is plain blue with a matt finish and the figure depicted in the centre in white (it has a spot UV varnish on the line). Both the title and the author’s name are in a recessive shade of blue. The design is all about the crazy little dude in the middle. And that’s exactly what the book is about: a crazy little dude called Donald Zinkoff.
The thing is, I’m not sure I should really be shouting too much about the design of this HarperCollins edition when all credit should really go to Orchard who published STARGIRL with a similarly bold design and, in fact, did it first (did they? I'm not sure what the US cover was... feel free to correct me on this, if you're in the know). The simplicity of both covers reflects the simplicity of the stories contained within. Both are about outsiders, people (children) who couldn’t conform if they tried and who stand out... like, erm, white figures on a plain background.

Loser is my personal favourite because of Donald, someone ignorant of his own innocence in a way Stargirl isn’t. Donald really is a loser, the kind of child even the weak would pick on. But there’s something comforting in true innocence; you can’t be hurt by others’ cynicism; your love for life is straightforward and unashamed; even taunts can pass you by if you really are innocent through and through because you won’t see the intended slight.

I find something very liberating in thinking about innocence. I’m jaded adult these days, but this book had me yelling “I can spell tintinnabulation!” (and then failing miserably) for days. If you read it, I reckon you’ll be doing the same.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Why I commissioned… THE VANDAL

Twitter-style summary:
Paul will commit today’s event to the Memory, drink the Drink and when he wakes the Memory will tell him what he needs to know. Or will it?

Part of the foundation of Catnip’s list is the strand of prize-winning reissues we publish: Granny was a Buffer (Carnegie); Song Quest (Branford Boase); MapHead (Guardian). So it makes sense to keep my eyes open for past prize winners that have dropped off the grid. The Vandal is one such gem – this 1980 Guardian prizewinner should never have been out of print. The writer, Ann Schlee has had an adult novel (Rhine Journey) shortlisted for the Booker and her insightful, intelligent writing is something that suits the sophistication of today’s YA market.

The Hunger Games might have softened us all up for combative dystopias, but The Vandal presents an altogether more insidious, disturbing society in which the population entrust the day’s events to their own personal Memory before they go to sleep at night after drinking the Drink. The next morning the Memory delivers them the information required for them to go about their day. So simple. So chilling.

The story follows one boy, Paul, after he commits an act of vandalism – setting fire to a local sports centre – and his interaction with the Father, his own family and the consequential punishment that follows this indiscretion. I’m loathe to go into more detail about the plot as part of the enjoyment comes from the ignorance with which you approach it. There’s a sense of claustrophobia in the setting, a subtle mistrust as you find yourself knowing more than Paul, yet knowing the past doesn’t mean you can predict the future…

Reading The Vandal felt a lot like the first time I read Lord of the Flies or 1984, the feeling that there are myriad ideas at play in what seems to be a simple set-up. Like those well-remembered classics, this sparked a desire to really think about the themes that come into play, of identity, free will, crime and punishment…

A perfect book for the burgeoning teen mind that hungers for the exploration of the boundaries that this (non-dystopian…?) society places on them.