This novel by David Massey has won the 2103 Lancashire Book of the Year Award. The prize is almost unique in being judged by Year 9 pupils chosen from schools in Lancashire. Adults are part of the process, of course. The librarians in the county distribute the books to the schools taking part; the teachers give the books to the pupils who then read them and by a very complicated system that I don't quite understand, a short list emerges. Then there's a meeting where much debating and discussion goes on and a winner is chosen. All the shortlisted writers are invited by UCLAN, the sponsors of the prlze, to a slap-up meal and next day the award is made (£1000 and a very handsome trophy) at a ceremony in County Hall in Preston.
I've been the Chair of the Judges for 6 years but this time I've had to cede my place at the debating table to Helen Day, a lecturer at UCLAN and someone whose knowledge and love of Young Adult novels is second to none. She and her students read such texts all the time and I was very lucky that she was able to stand in for me. I had to withdraw from my position this year because of the ill-health of my husband, who is undergoing a series of treatments for cancer, and I'm very grateful to Helen. Her willingness to step in at short notice means a great deal to me. I also know she'll have chaired the meeting in the best possible way and will be a wonderful speaker at the Award Ceremony itself.
I didn't have time to read all the books, but I did read TORN, by David Massey. He's not a writer I know, but on the internet I found out that he has had a much more adventurous life and background than many writers. He actually sounds like someone who knows something about war zones of one kind and another.
TORN is told in the voice of a young female squaddie in Afghanistan. Ellie, known as Buffy since the day she was observed in the shower by some young men on the base, is a sympathetic and brave heroine and it's easy for a teenage audience to identify with her. The book follows her adventures and is a marvellously wide-ranging and immediate glimpse into life in a war zone. I liked it because the voices seemed authentic and Massey is careful to describe the truth of such hard and desperate situations in a way that's honest without at any time being gratuitously violent. the whole novel is in Buffy's voice, in the first person and it sounds convincing at all times. She's both sensible and sensitive and the element of the supernatural that's included in the book is perfectly believable.
Above all for me, Massey succeeds in the most important thing a writer has to do: create a whole world for the reader.Thankfully, turning the pages of this novel is the nearest thing many teenagers will get to actual service in the Armed Forces and I particularly appreciated the way the landscape comes to life: dust, heat, sand and the day to day conditions of camp life are recreated in a most economical way, with not too much description but more through an accumulation of telling details.
Buffy's comrades-in-arms and the young man she falls for leap off the page. It's easy to see why modern teenagers in Lancashire responded to this story of young men and women not much older than they are living through difficult and dangerous times and coming out triumphant. The ending is all you could wish for, even though there are tears on the way there.
I'm very sorry I won't be meeting David Massey at the Award Ceremony in June, but I'm sure it'll be a grand occasion. It always is. Meanwhile congratulations to the young judges for picking another winner.
Publisher: THE CHICKEN HOUSE pbk.
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