Saturday 29 August 2015

Bitter Sixteen by Stef Mohamed

The world’s a weird place.
Sorry to state the obvious, but it really is. And it’s a lot to take in when you stop to think about it. Luckily, life is generally constructed in such a way that your world starts small and sensible and gradually gets larger and weirder. There’s a gradient, a logical, incremental process that expands your horizons and your perception bit by bit, so that it doesn’t overload your poor little CPU and leave you jibbering in a white room being fed thrice daily through a letterbox. This tends to be the way of things.
Except for when it’s not.

Published by Salt April 2015

352 pages in paperback

Cover by John Tyrell and The Cover Factory

Summary from Publisher’s website

“Happy birthday, Stanly. We hope you like your present…”

Cynical, solitary Stanly Bird is a fairly typical teenager – unless you count the fact that his best friend is a talking beagle named Daryl, and that he gained the powers of flight and telekinesis when he turned sixteen.

Unfortunately, his rural Welsh home town is not exactly crying out for its very own superhero. London is calling – but what Stanly finds there is a good deal weirder and more terrifying than anything he could have imagined. Perhaps he should have stayed in Wales 

As you can see form the extract, Bitter Sixteen is written from the point of view of a teenage boy. But this is one adolescent whose head you won’t mind being inside. Stanly (not a typo) is funny and conflicted, geeky and likeable.

The story itself is a tasty fusion of terror, romance, action, superpowers and humour. There are pop culture references ranging from Men in Black to The Matrix with all the stops in between– this is a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. After all, there’s a talking dog and a school production of Romeo and Juliet as well as superhero antics. Great fun.

On the slightly more serious side, watching Stanly wrestle with both his conscience and his abilities had its genuinely touching moments. I will be interested to see how he and the other characters develop in the sequels. This book works just fine as a standalone – but there are two more to come.

On the down side, I’m not a fan of dream sequences, so those didn’t work for me, I’m afraid. However it does pass the Bechdel Test – hoorah – and have some rather intriguing female characters. I may have missed it, but I didn’t notice any people of colour. This seems odd in contemporary London – but I’m happy to concede it was me reading too quickly because I had to know what happened next. It might long in actual words – but it doesn’t read that way.

Whether or not they’re into the same geeky sub-culture as Stanly, readers will warm to his character. Recommended for anyone who enjoys their sci-fi with a large dash of humour.

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