The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant

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The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant

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Buy The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Z J Cookson
Reviewed by Z J Cookson
Summary: A school adventure with a straightforward plot that will appeal to young middle grade readers.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: March 2018
Publisher: Faber & Faber
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0571323562

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Eleven year old Alice Mistlethwaite used to be brave and adventurous but after her mum died she withdrew into herself and started to live in her own world of stories. Unfortunately her dad is an actor and isn't around enough to help. Instead, Alice is shipped off to boarding school in the Scottish highlands. But she quickly finds that this isn't an entirely normal school – for example, the last student to arrive at the start of term is given the responsibility of waking the rest of the school every morning for the rest of term. Soon, however, the strange school curriculum becomes the least of Alice's worries. She receives a secret package from her dad with strict instructions not to open the parcel and a request to deliver it to a remote Scottish island. Will she be able to persuade her new friends to break school rules and help her deliver the mysterious parcel to her dad? Will she be able to resist opening it?

The thing that struck me most about this book is undoubtedly the unusual style in which it is written. Most modern stories are written either in first person (using 'I') from a single character's viewpoint or, more common in books for this age, in a close third person narrative where we are in the head of our character or character(s). Instead, in The Children of Castle Rock we have an all knowing narrator telling us the story and giving us hints about what is to come. I found this quite disconcerting at first and it meant I never really got to feel close to Alice or either of her two new school friends – Jesse and Fergus. It does, however, mean that the narrator is able to tell the reader how all the characters are feeling not just the main ones.

The plot is straightforward but strong enough to interest the intended readership (the lower end of middle grade). You do, however, have to suspend your disbelief in a few areas. I was more than willing to accept this slightly unorthodox school and some of the unusual activities but I did raise an eyebrow when the school organises an orienteering challenge that allows Year Seven children in groups of three to take off into the Scottish wildness without adult supervision for three days. Granted the author does describe the safety checks the school has put in place but I still found this difficult to believe.

Having said this, it is fun to read about the exploits of Alice, Jesse and Fergus on the challenge and this was my favourite part of the book. I loved the constant contrasts from them enjoying a swim in the sea to coping with food poisoning and then breaking and entering – not to mention the dramatic events of the book's climax. (Sorry - to say more would risk spoiling your enjoyment of the book).

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy another school adventure - try The Mystery of Wickworth Manor by Elen Caldecott or the Murder Most Unladylike mysteries which start with Murder Most Unladylike (Wells & Wong Mystery 1) by Robin Stevens. Alternatively, you might like to consider How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant by Elen Caldecott.

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Buy The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant at Amazon.com.

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