Book review

The Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant (2018)

How to make friends: well, no, sorry, it’s not an exact science. There aren’t any actual rules. Alice and Jesse are an extreme case though:

They had a long way to go, before they could really call themselves friends. There would be at least two betrayals, and a few lies, and a couple of near-death experiences. But they didn’t know that yet...

This is one of those stories where the children who start out on their adventure aren’t really anything like the children who finish it at the end. They come to understand a lot of things along the way, and even if that is only about how to be friends...well...that’s pretty important isn’t it.

Alice needs a friend. Her aunt thinks she needs to stop just writing about adventures and actually get out there and have one. She’s lost a lot just lately: her mother has died, her family home had to be sold, and her father is off ‘on tour’ again, and even Alice is beginning to see that there is something a bit fishy with her adored but unreliable father.

Jesse needs a friend too. He’s got some big brothers and he’s got parents who love him, but he’s finding it quite hard to match up to all that competition. He hasn’t found out yet what he’s actually good at, but he will do by the end of his adventure.

And then there’s Fergus. He definitely needs a friend. He’s one of those nuisance people. He plays rotten tricks on everyone. And there may be a reason for that too...his parents are divorced and he doesn’t see much of either of them. Not much love on offer there. For no very obvious reason he trips Alice up when she’s winning the First Day Challenge race against Jesse.

First Day Challenge? Stormy Loch Boarding School in the Scottish wilderness. Meet the major. The major is pretty good with waifs and strays. And the school is brilliant. They don’t have punishments, so that’s good for Fergus. But they do have Consequences which is not so good. Fergus is put in charge of the pigs for the term:

Fergus ran his hands through his hair and said, ‘Pigs!’ Both the others eyed him with dislike.
‘It serves you right,’ Jesse said. ‘What were you thinking, tripping her up?’
‘Oh, shut up, Fussypants.’ Fergus, who was already feeling an idiot for what he’d done – pigs! - felt that he did not need a lecture. ‘I helped you win.’
‘I don’t need anybody’s help! Jesse snarled.
Alice sighed loudly, and marched towards the front door. The boys stared, then ran after her.

It’s the start of a glorious, epic, escapade. The major puts them together into a three man team for the Great Orienteering Challenge. Jesse desperately wants to win it. Alice desperately wants to divert it for special and important reasons of her own. So obviously that will require a lot of planning, deception, arguing and mind changing,

What could possibly go wrong?
Don’t worry too much about the detail (Alice and Fergus certainly haven’t). All will become clear in due course. The plan is actually pretty much impossible, but Alice has convinced herself that it can be done...

Wild, unpredictable, sly fun. I think you’ll just gallop off into the sunset with this book, which is pretty much what Alice, Fergus and Jesse did too. Hugely enjoyable.

What can I read next?

Lovely. This is the first story that Natasha Farrant has written for younger readers. Let’s hope it is the first of many!

Meanwhile, if you fancy another wild adventure you could do worse than peek at the Beetle trilogy by M G Leonard:

Or you might very well enjoy the deadly Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens. A kind of Agatha Christie for Junior Sleuths:

Or you could have a look at the brilliant Far Flung Adventures by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell:

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