Furthermoor by Darren Simpson

Buy Furthermoor: Amazon US | Bookshop UK

Bren is still grieving the tragic loss of his sister Evie and has numbed himself while going through the daily routines of home and school. Simultaneously, the school bully, Shaun, preys on the saddened Bren while also marking down a new kid. Bren is happy he at least has an imaginary world to escape to: Furthermoor—especially because Evie lives there. In this beautiful world of crystal leaves and shimmering lakes, Bren is in control and can create various magnificent creatures with just the turn of a few cogs. But when a dark and malevolent creature emerges while strange things happen in Furthermoor, Bren must overcome his deepest fears to save himself.

The theme of grief pushes the story through an exquisite world with simplistic descriptions. From the painful reminders of someone’s absence to the vulnerable moments where a family navigates the loss of a child, the nuances of this numbness and emptiness is well presented. Powerful metaphors bring through the suffering and the strength needed to move past it. Overall, this middle grade is touching and heartwarming, especially how it lets a grieving young boy become the hero by fighting the physical representation of his own insecurities in an imaginary world of his—while also standing up to the bully in his real life.

Anthem by Noah Hawley

Buy Anthem: Amazon US | Bookshop UK

It’s a few years after the pandemic and children have started killing themselves, which is understandably a global issue. Of course, for something to be a global issue, front-page headlines matter, not specific questions relevant to each individual suicide. In Anthem, suicide is an idea capable of transmitting from human to human. The future looks impossible to save so a helpless psyche is bound to push young people towards an absolute end.

This story is surely timely, though apocalyptic, with the portrayal of reactions: like the appointment of which emoji best represented everyone’s emotion around this growing crisis—an open-mouthed scream that resembled parents falling to their knees and being shocked at the end of their children. The prose doesn’t shy away from simply reflecting what is unravelling, reading almost too sensationally at some point, but it’s understandable why the backdrop urges the author to write with an urgency through a complicated prose. It’s gloomy, foreboding, and surely commanding with how America’s problems of gun violence, divisive policies, ideologically bound politics, and worsening climate change are put forward for readers to be disturbed and do something. 

Though, the confused writing often doesn’t make a point and the exact depiction of something so real in a near-future world simply depresses. Oh, and being a non-American reader also affects the reading experience for how regionally hyper-focused the novel is even when discussing issues that can impact globally, but I digress. So for the right person at the right time, Anthem might give goosebumps through its tone. But for others, it might be a difficult read—and not just for the unmissable realism. 

A Letter to Three Witches by Elizabeth Bass

Buy A Letter to Three Witches: Amazon US | Bookshop UK

Not as enchanting as I had wished for, not as perfect as I had expected; but definitely as entertaining as a supernatural rom-com with effortless banter and sitcom-like humour sounds like. Gwen’s family has been banned from practising witchcraft after her great-great-grandfather accidentally set some unfortunate events into motion, due to which magic is now hidden. When a life-changing letter arrives, Gwen and her two cousins, all busy uncovering a mystery in New York, slowly start to notice their supernatural abilities make a presence. Both amusing and charming, this lighthearted novel features talking animals, love spells, quirky blunders, magic mishaps, and a wicked witch. While cliche, it manages to deliver exactly what it’s meant to—an eccentric potion of magic, love, and humour.

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