Dark Summer by Ali Sparkes

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Dark Summer by Ali Sparkes

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A compelling mixture of adventure, fantasy and a more down-to-earth story about people make up the latest from one of our favourite authors. It might not have that three-way balance as successfully as it might, mind - but is still very readable and intriguing.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: July 2009
Publisher: OUP
ISBN: 978-0192710987

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'You go your own way, don't you?' said the man... That's not perhaps a bad thing when you're forced to spend the summer with your cousins, and two of them are horrid, spoilt, chavvish disco dancing super-starlets in waiting who can't sing for toffee, and the third is a bullyish sports nut. Going your own way provides for more problems however when you're dawdling behind the rest of your guided tour group down Wookey Hole caves...

It would be a very short book if Eddie did not manage to get out alive, but the experience leaves him with lots of questions about said man and a very unusual young girl, and a peculiar season ticket to allow him to return and find out the answers, if possible. All the while at home, the family he lives with (described so succinctly by the fact they don't do the BBC) provides him with one grain of comfort - but that might be snatched away at any time. It really could be a dark summer for Eddie...

Over my time reviewing for the Bookbag I've got to know Ali Sparkes - but only in that I have read everything she has published, and can see where this book fits in with the rest of her output. Her regular outdoorsy adventure side of things is greatly served by the setting of Cheddar Gorge and its surrounding area, and she remains an artist with her very quick descriptions of location, action and character. So much so that it does cater for a sense of escapism - for many young readers who haven't experienced caves and dangerous countryside you might even say the 'don't try this at home' moment comes rather late on.

Sparkes books might go right into fantasy, but you'll always get strong and recognisable characters doing very realistic things. Here the balance between genre fiction and the home-spun plot regarding people Eddie lives with is not what you'd at first think. It turns out to be an enjoyable strand to the novel, as the sort of Cinderella aspects of it all get their due ending, while allowing for a secondary plot to have its most affecting conclusion.

For the first third of the book though I was more interested in the intrigue regarding the cave dwellers, and that was most compelling while the main subject of the plot. It might be purely because I'm outside the target audience, but I wish the answer to all the reader's questions was something a bit more mundane, however.

Still, what I thought would be the truth behind the man and girl after twenty pages or so turned out to be very wrong, so I have to admit the book fits in with almost everything else Sparkes writes for her young audience - there is more than enough mystery and surprise packed into her sprightly plots. I might be too critical here in finding that the compelling subterranean opening, married with the everyday characters and interesting above ground stories - however fresh - seemed too much of a contrast, despite the ending.

Still you could counter that by saying you get three books in one here - making this mixture of outdoors adventure, soapy interior scenes and light genre fantasy perhaps shy of perfect, but still very commendable. Her style and story never allow for an unnecessary word, and pack a lot of emotive drama into a small space - including comedy, with her rewritten song lyrics. This is still a rich book, and still gets a richly deserved recommendation.

A very different look at life underground can be had in The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, which we also enjoyed.

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Buy Dark Summer by Ali Sparkes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dark Summer by Ali Sparkes at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Dark Summer by Ali Sparkes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dark Summer by Ali Sparkes at Amazon.com.


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