The Rope Ladder by Nigel Richardson

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The Rope Ladder by Nigel Richardson

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A kitchen sink drama of grief and adolescence with a fantasy-mystery element that will keep them guessing until the very end. Stonking stuff. Some gritty scenes will be immediately recognisable to adolescents but perhaps not to the under 12s.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: March 2007
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0192719775

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When Mungo's dad dies, they scatter his ashes on Hampstead Heath. Mungo's dad loved London and hated the country - I hate trees, I hate fresh air, and I particularly have it in for bluebells. Mungo is just like him. But his father's death has left Mungo and his mother broke and they can't stay in London any longer. They have to downsize to a tiny cottage in the country, or Manuresville as Mungo prefers to call it.

Lonely, separated from his father, his home, his friends and even the wolves in Regents Park zoo, and with a mother he fears is about to embark upon a sordid affair with a married manure-eater, Brian the Bozo, it seems as though life can't get much worse for Mungo. Until, that is, he meets another boy whose name is also Mungo and things just go from bad to worse.

Poor Mungo. You'd need a heart of stone not to sympathise with him. He is bereft without his father, who was not only a wise and kind influence but also an incredibly cool parent who dressed sharply and socialised with the rock stars whose records he produced. For Mungo, losing his father is like losing his touchstone. Without him, Mungo is lost. His mother is doing her best, but she is taken up with trying to make the best not only of her own grief, but also of their newly perilous financial situation. Mungo is left to sink.

And so, when the other Mungo appears, it seems entirely possible that this grieving adolescent's mind is playing tricks on him, that his fragile hold on reality is beginning to break down. But at the same time, Mungo's first person narration is so sure and strong that The Rope Ladder keeps you wondering right to the last moment, its fantasy element teasing as you read. Is the other Mungo real, or simply the figment of a troubled boy's fevered imagination?

There are scenes of violence, drinking and drug-taking, and although there is nothing too extreme, and nothing happens without consequence, these and the complex emotional landscape it portrays put The Rope Ladder firmly in teenage territory. For all but the most sophisticated of primary school children, much of it will go over their heads. For adolescents though, it has the perfect blend of gritty realism and strong emotion, together with a very clever cult fiction sci-fi element. They'll love it.

My thanks to OUP for sending this thought-provoking book.

Another coming-of-age story with a fantasy element is Cliff McNish's Angel.

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