August by Bernard Beckett

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August by Bernard Beckett

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Two children abused by the church meet again in life-threatening circumstances. Intense and claustrophic book looking at free will. Do any of us have it?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: August 2011
Publisher: Quercus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0857387898

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In an alternate world, Tristan and Grace come from The City, a closed and enclosed society in which religion dominates. Tristan had been an acolyte at St Augustine's. He spent a childhood being drilled in philosophical discussion of free will by the Rector. A star pupil, a single event made him question everything he had been taught. Grace had spent the first part of her childhood in the convent, but a single act of kindness led to her excommunication.

Now, these two apostates come together in life-threatening circumstances. Tristan's car has crashed and he and Grace are trapped in the wreck as it teeters on the edge of a cliff. They don't know whether or not rescue is on the way, but they do know that time is short. What brought them here? Was it chance? Was it choice? Or were their futures already mapped out for them? Do any of us have free will? As Tristan and Grace tell one another their stories, these questions are the only ones that matter...

Publisher notes say this is a YA novel, but it's been widely reviewed as an adult book. I can see why there is some confusion - not that I think a book should ever be defined by a rigid target market. It's very challenging for teens used to a diet of high-octane action or paranormal romance, and Beckett doesn't make any compromises or dumb down any of the philosphical ideas he explores. But also, it's quite guided in a way adult readers of literary fiction might see quite quickly. Ultimately, I think it's a book for people interested in thinking about free will and the individual soul, whatever their age.

As you can imagine, it's both intense and claustrophic - imagine two people in very close quarters in a wrecked car, with the clock running down for the possibility of rescue. Sometimes the philosophy detracts from the tension of a ticking clock and the read sags a little, needing to push through more strongly, but largely the flashback motif works and I really wanted to know how this couple would resolve their predicament. And I wasn't disappointed by the climactic final pages.


My thanks to the good people at Quercus for sending the book.

Other books with a free will v determinism them that can be read happily by both adult and teens include WE by John Dickinson, a good bit of hard sci-fi, and The Returners by Gemma Malley, which blends some very current preoccupations into the philosophy.

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