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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Review: Siege by Sarah Mussi

Shocking, raw and powerful - a fab YA thriller 

Reposting as this fab novel came out last week in paperback.

I know that some people have found this to be too violent. It is certainly not suitable for the younger end of the YA spectrum. However, the violence is not gratuitous and the novel is thought-provoking and challenging enough to justify its shock value (think Clockwork Orange, perhaps).

Written in a strong first person, present tense voice, and set in 2020, Siege introduces us to Leah Jackson at the precise moment a group of boys open fire in assembly. But since she was late to school and is in detention, she doesn't immediately realise what is happening. The novel then follows her as she works to avoid being shot, to escape and raise the alarm, travelling through air vents and crawling across ceiling tiles. Twists and turns abound as Leah runs into difficulty after difficulty in this tightly-plotted thriller that will have you holding your breath. Die Hard in a school is an appropriate description of this book, with the themes of containment and against-the-odds battle to protect the innocent and stop the guilty.

hardback cover
Her escape is hampered by the nature of her school. In this version of the near future, society has fractured even further and the schools are more obviously streamed by social class. Leah's school is built to contain and restrain, founded on the assumption that lower-class kids are Trouble. This means that once the school goes into Lock Down, escape is not a simple matter.

I loved the character of Leah. Loved her speech patterns ("That don't sound right."), her bravery and her resourcefulness. She's been used to looking after the family, and I found it easy to sympathise with her and her nagging worry that her brother, Connor, may be one of the boys at the centre of all this. Could she have prevented it? Should she have done more to help him? This additional personal layer of sickening guilt is just enough to rack up the tension even higher.

I found this to be an excellent read, right on the money for our times. Sarah Mussi has something to say about social deprivation, violence and responsibility and she conveys it in terms that are both accessible and enjoyable to read. Yes, there is violence and some scenes are graphic, but many kids are seeing worse on games consoles and tv screens every day - and in a purely 'entertaining' way without the subtle social analysis that is present here.

From the Publisher's Website:

Leah escapes the siege in her school, but she can't avoid wrestling with impossible choices in this topical, terrifying new novel that's essential reading for teens everywhere.

Leah Jackson - in detention. Then armed Year 9s burst in, shooting. She escapes, just. But the new Lock Down system for keeping intruders out is now locking everyone in. She takes to the ceilings and air vents with another student, Anton, and manages to use her mobile to call out to the world.

First: survive the gang - the so-called 'Eternal Knights'.
Second: rescue other kids taken hostage, and one urgently needing medical help.
Outside, parents gather, the army want intelligence, television cameras roll, psychologists give opinions, sociologists rationalise, doctors advise - and they all want a piece of Leah. Soon her phone battery is running out; the SAS want her to reconnoitre the hostage area ... 
But she is guarding a terrifying conviction. Her brother, Connor, is at the centre of this horror. Is he with the Eternal Knights or just a pawn? 
She remembers. All those times Connor reached out for help ... If she'd listened, voiced her fears about him earlier, would things be different now? Should she give up her brother?

With only Anton for company, surviving by wits alone, Leah wrestles with the terrible choices ...

Published in paperback 5 September 2013 from Hodder
Find more info at the publisher's website
My grateful thanks go to the publisher for sending a proof to review

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