Children's Books: Guest in the nest


Child actor Jake is adored for his role in Market Square, a TV soap. But his character went upstairs six months ago and it is not clear if he will ever come down. The uncertainty makes it hard for Jake to get other parts and his family - pushy dad, exhausted mum and autistic brother Adam - are struggling with the financial and emotional pressure. Cuckoo by Keren David (Atom, £6.99) is the story of a misfit teenager, nesting for a night or two in friends' houses or sleeping rough.

Jake tells his own story by dramatising it online and we read not only the scripted scenes ("acted" by Jake's friends and relatives) but also the credibly crass comments made by viewers after each web episode.

This modern storytelling format is brilliantly offset by quotations from Hamlet, the classic example of a play about actors, pretending and madness.

With this multi-layered approach, David manages to inform us about homelessness, satirise the social-media airheads, dissect the purpose of soaps in society, explore the inner life of the mentally ill and learning disabled and, most of all, engage us in likeable Jake's increasingly disastrous life, with a finale that is dramatic in every sense. Age 12 up.

A character from David's previous, Jewish-themed novel, This is Not a Love Story, reappears in Stories from the Edge (Albury, £5.99), an anthology of ethical and emotional dilemmas. For the gloriously brooding, bisexual Ethan, a simple dinner discussion about his career prospects comes with an unexpected side order of painful childhood memories. In Miriam Halahmy's story, schoolgirl Madina hopes to find romance in Paris but instead unveils religious intolerance.

Other issues covered include cyber-stalking and doping in sport. Each tale has a distinctive teen voice and raises points for a classroom or dinner-table debate of your own. Age 12 up.

There are more teens at a turning-point in Here I Stand (Walker, £10.99), Amnesty International UK's collection of "stories that speak for freedom".

Some have a quiet intensity, such as Liz Kessler's response to the death penalty for homosexuality. Others roar, like Neil Gaiman's declaration of faith in the power of books and ideas, energetically scrawled across the pages by illustrator Chris Riddell. Age 16 up.

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