This is a collection of stories, several of them already published over the years, from someone who has been writing for children for a long time. She confesses that she “plans to be 12-going-on-13for as long as she lives and therefore writes for others like herself, and younger”.
The 24 stories, mostly short, with a few longer ones thrown in, are a sumptuous treat especially for those who are newly into the habit of reading. It’s put together neatly under four heads: Four-legged Friends – and Enemies; Weird and Wacky – What was That Again?; Another Time and Place; Teenage Trials – In and Out Of School. Competently written, mostly plot-driven, and not complex. I didn’t notice any typos, and that’s a relief too.
For a book that’s targeting teenagers, though, it would seem as though the stories are a little too simple, they rely a little too heavily on mostly linear plotlines. There’s not too much by way of complexity of any kind: whether it’s characters, relationships, logistics… it’s a bare bones kind of storytelling where you get a general picture without too many details.
One reason for this could be that many of these stories were published in newspapers and magazines. Does that make a difference? Would the stories have been different had they been intended for a book? I don’t know, but you do get a sense of skimming the surface that’s not quite satisfying. The writing’s good, the language flows, and you keep reading.
Perhaps the stories are not juicy enough, the characters not quite ripe, and the emotional energy level just that bit below par. But it will certainly inspire a lot of readers to sit down and write themselves: it’s an ‘I can write like that too’ type of collection.
Can I pull out any standout story? Not really. Also, I don’t know if the clubbing of the stories by theme is a good idea. It’s nice to be surprised by different ideas and emotions in a collection instead, for instance, of having to read dog story after dog story. Of course, there are books with stories only featuring dogs, or horses or elephants… so, that’s clearly a subjective evaluation.
Although the book is meant for teenagers, it’s likely it will interest slightly younger readers. There’s not much churning of the hormones, in any case, even where sixteen and seventeen- year-olds feature. It’s safe, it’s light, but is that okay? I would want more.
By Sandhya Rao
Author: Cheryl Rao
Happy Squirrel, 2014
Subject Category: Story collection/anthology/Contemporary