Tag Archive for Pratt Non

The Ethan I was Before by Ali Standish and Truth or Dare by Non Pratt

It’s funny how books bucket together. In the past two months I’ve read three books with ‘dares’ as their theme – I Dare You by Reece Wykes, a picture book for the young at heart with a wry sense of humour, Truth or Dare by Non Pratt, a most excellent YA novel with some hard truths at heart, and The Ethan I was Before, a middle grade novel with a dare at its core.

In The Ethan I Was Before, twelve-year-old Ethan is moved with his family to live with his grandfather in Georgia, a far cry from the Boston he is used to. Allegedly the move is to help his grandfather, although it soon becomes apparent that his grandfather is an independent soul, and the move is to remove Ethan from an uncomfortable incident in his past.

Ethan’s relationship with his angry older brother, his new relationship with Coralee (an enigmatic girl he meets at school), and the exploration of his new town make up the bulk of the novel, but all the time the reader is aware of a past secret that Ethan is hiding.

Standish’s prose pulls in the reader from the beginning. There are some key phrases that show flashes of great writing, her similies are excellent and create an authentic sense of place: she describes the air at one point with “humidity like a wet fleece blanket”. Her characterisations too are neat and winning, from her portrayal of forthright and keenly intelligent Mack, who runs the local store, to Ethan’s Mum, who tends to burn food because she forgets having put it in the oven in an endearingly absentminded preoccupation. Standish also has a handle on the unsophisticated twelve-year-old way of trying to describe in words the complex emotions of guilt and anxiety. She also focuses on what Ethan’s therapist has told him to do, extrapolating the way Ethan is feeling without laying it too bare for the readership:

“It’s almost funny, that everything that would make a normal person happy is what makes me feel the most sad.”

And yet, it’s the not laying it bare that holds this book back from being as good as it should be. The ‘secret’ in the past is too often alluded to by Ethan’s family, and himself, and yet doesn’t feel real. Because they are all holding back so much, the constant nudges that there is something else going on, or something big that happened in the past, feel too contrived. Although in real life, we all do keep back parts of ourselves, even in some cases from ourselves, one feels that Ethan’s family would talk more frankly – particularly his brother – or that Ethan, who narrates the story in first person, would be slightly more honest with himself and with the readership. It doesn’t sit well that he hides the past from himself, because it doesn’t fit with his character.

On the whole this was a really enjoyable book; I just felt that it could have been bigger. With slightly more depth and more subtlety, the past could have been explored in more detail and led to a weightier novel. So the denouement, when it comes, feels half-hearted, and I wanted the ‘dare’ to be more dramatic. But for glimpses of what Standish can do, and with the possibility that there is better to come, this is an intriguing debut. It will fit the bill nicely for a summertime coming-of-age novel, and gives a great sense of small town America. You can buy it here.

For meatiness I’d go to the YA coming-of-age title, Truth or Dare by Non Pratt. Although the production at first seems gimmicky, in that the first part is narrated by main character Claire Casey, leaving the story on a cliffhanger, with the second part physically flipped over so that the reader has to turn the book upside down and start from the other end to read the other main character, Sef’s narration continuing the plot, the story itself is far from contrived. In fact, it becomes swiftly apparent reading part two that this consecutive narration adds depth and substance.

Kam Malik suffers a life-changing injury after a stupid stunt goes wrong. Claire, shy and unobtrusive, volunteers at his rehabilitation clinic. When she gets to know Kam’s brother, Sef, together they come up with a scheme to raise much-needed funds to maintain his rehabilitation. It’s a Truth or Dare YouTube campaign, but before long their truths collide and their dares take things too far.

Non Pratt has a magnificent turn of phrase that enables description without the reader feeling they’re reading any. The plot is deft and agile – the book skips along punctuated with accurate and authentic dialogue, and a look into the innermost thoughts of her narrators, which is, at times, devastating.

What shines through is the depth of characterisation, as at first the reader, through Claire’s eyes, really likes Sef Malik, but what soon becomes apparent through his point of view in part two, is that no one shows their true self to everyone, and that people aren’t kind or unkind throughout. Everyone has their motivations, demons, and selfishness. Pratt wheels through a host of issues including prejudice, fame, guilt, and love without once making this an issue novel. It’s a gripping read, as tumultuous as Claire’s relationship with Sef, and deeply satisfying. You can buy it here.


The Other Side of the Story: Dual Narratives – a Guest Post from Author Emma Carroll

in darkling wood  The girl who walked on air frost hollow hall

My book of the week this week is In Darkling Wood – you can read the review here. It’s by one of my favourite contemporary children’s authors, Emma Carroll. The book has a dual narrative structure, so I asked Emma to write about that. Here are her thoughts. Thank you Emma!

“As a reader I’ve always been intrigued by dual narratives. When they don’t work they feel jarring. You catch yourself speed reading back to your preferred narrator’s viewpoint. Yet when they do work, for me, they enhance a story brilliantly. They throw light and shade on characters, are a way of overcoming plot practicalities. And they bring perspective to remind us that people’s experiences, though sometimes similar, are ultimately unique – a ‘fiction’, as it were.

So, eighteen months ago, I decided my next novel would be a dual narrative. As a slow writer on a tight deadline this probably wasn’t my wisest move. But I wanted to stretch myself and try something different. Suffice to say it did make things harder. I’m neither a plotter nor a pantser when writing – I go through moments of being both.

emma work in progressEmma’s notebook (the pink post-its are the 1918 letters planning)

So for a while I wrote the 1918 letters part of In Darkling Wood. Then I stopped, deciding that no, I needed to write Alice’s story to make certain it worked alongside the letters. This was how IDW got written- a sort of stop-start approach. It felt messy and no doubt wasted lots of precious time, but in the end we got there!

Whether it enhances the reading experience or not is, ultimately, a matter of taste. Here are five novels for children and teens that in my view do dual narratives brilliantly.

Wonder by RJ Palacio more multiple narrator that dual, but in this brilliant story we hear from Auggie, his sister Via, Auggie’s schoolmate/bully Jack – and others. While Auggie’s viewpoint is the main focus, the different voices add complexity to what otherwise might be a black and white situation. We learn of the impact Auggie has on others, and how often he misinterprets this.
You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

selina penaluna

Selina Penaluna by Jan Page An exquisite dual narrative told from the points of view of WW2 evacuee Ellen, and mysterious local girl Selina. Their differing perspectives highlight how much we misunderstand each other. The changes in voice are wonderful too.
You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

how to fly with broken wings

How To Fly With Broken Wings by Jane Elson I love Jane’s stories, and in this, her second novel, Sasha and Willem are about as different as two narrators could be. Sasha is emotional, engaging, popular, full of personality, whereas Willem, bullied and vulnerable, has Aspergers. Together, in their very different ways, they find solace in restoring an old spitfire. Again, great voices! You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

shadow cat

Shadow Cat by Gillian Cross A pacy, skilful story packed with wild cats, rock stars, mental illness… and more – all brilliantly told from the perspectives of Nolan and Feather. Nolan’s narrative – grounded, sensible, yet increasingly desperate – is told in first person past tense. Feather – adopted daughter of a rock star – tells us her story as third person present tense. The change in narrative style flags up the point of view change very well for younger readers.
You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.


Trouble by Non Pratt One of my very favourite YA reads from last year, Trouble is told from the perspective of Hannah and Aaron. This works on many levels, not least because it makes us realise that how we see ourselves is not always how others do. And that however big your problems feel, other people often have just-as-big-problems of their own.
You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.”

Thanks again to Emma Carroll for her guest blog. To purchase one of Emma’s modern classics, visit Waterstones here, or check out my Amazon sidebar.