Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls

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Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A precocious, damaged girl faces a haunting from something even more 'evil' than she has been led to see herself as, in this flawless, gripping, teen horror. Read it even if you're older – but not if you're younger.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Marion Lloyd Books
ISBN: 9781407124322

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Longlisted for the 2015 CILIP Carnegie Medal

Olivia is trapped, in a world somewhat of her own making. She is living a life of endless switching from a set of foster parents, to would-be adoptive parents, to care homes. Whenever she fetches up with nice adults, she worries too much about making mistakes, being too violent, clumsy, needy, noisy, spiteful – and prefers then to go the whole hog and make them despair of ever liking her, of losing all kind of sympathy with her. That way she can relax, knowing the truth, knowing the hatred is there – just as it was when her alcoholic mother was abusing and abandoning her and her baby siblings. Olivia is eleven. But in this one new house, with Jim, and his children, and the fostered young-mother-of-a-babe-in-arms, something is different. Something is definitely older than Olivia, and certainly more evil, and most assuredly better at getting its own way…

If it wasn't enough having a brilliant, hard-hitting first person narrative delivered by a precocious abused waif of the social services, we have a second novel in the same book. This second novel can only really called a ghost story – and it's of the best kind, full of literary qualities, a lot of ambiguity, real skin-crawling spookiness and a pervading sense of inevitability. You really leave this book ogling at how easy it feels to have two contrasting novels telling the same story, and wondering why more people don't do it.

What's also very unusual is that a book for the YA market has a lead that is younger than the intended reader. Normally the target audience is supposed to look up to a hero or heroine a couple of years older, but in this case eleven year old Olivia is really at the bottom of the age bracket concerned. Make no mistake about it, this crafted book, while it never needs to add blood, sex or language to its horror, is certainly not for many pre-teens, and sensitive souls should think twice about entering these pages. Not for nothing is one chapter called, simply, Knife.

Perhaps there could have been a tiny touch more ambiguity about it – the inevitable drama is possibly too evident for the adult reader, but dammit it's the fact you get two stories in one that matters. The psychological depth given to Olivia is just brilliant, detail of a kind that never once feels like research fleshing her out to an unforgettable level of character. I possibly damaged her in my blunt summary above, but with chapters counting back through her history of homes in reverse order, the pull away from the one doom to the other is just brilliant. How do you add depth to a ghost fantasy? Slap real life on top like few authors ever bother to do. How do you stop something brilliant about abused children in the fostering system reading like an issue novel? Introduce a chilling malevolence from a different realm of fiction. It really does sound simple, but this is nothing like. It's intelligent, ever so cleverly crafted, and surely is at the pinnacle of books that are designed to both scare teenagers and make them think at the same time.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

We have enjoyed the other Nicholls books we have so far encountered, too - Season of Secrets and more recently All Fall Down. For another girl trapped in a ghost story, we loved The Company of Ghosts by Berlie Doherty too.

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Buy Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls at


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