I tend to review picture books because I can re-read the source many times over before putting pen to paper (or indeed, fingers to keyboard) but I am an avid reader of books for children & young adults myself so although I have to review YA books as an adult as my children are too young to share with, I hope you’ll allow me to indulge my passion with reviewing books longer than 500 words occasionally 🙂
The first book I have chosen is Ante’s Inferno by Griselda Heppel. I chat to Griselda on Twitter, and she’s local to me so although her book sounded interesting I was a little wary of trying it out in case I didn’t like it! I needn’t have worried, this is exactly my kind of book and I would have loved it when I was 10 or 11 too. The book is aimed at the 9-12 age group, and the main protagonists are aged 12/13 but I would say 9+ as it is very accessible as an older read.
To me, this book is primarily about friendship: misunderstandings and miscommunication that get in the way of friendship, and the journeys we take (figurative and literal) to become friends.
Antonia Algonesh, known as Ante, is being bullied. She can’t understand why Florence seems to hate her so much. In an attempt to hide from her tormentor, an accident causes them both to take a journey through the underworld with Gil, a boy who died 100 years before, as their travel companion and sometime guide.
Ante isn’t perfect, there are times when she isn’t entirely likeable. She makes mistakes, she hurts others intentionally and unintentionally, she is a real person. Florence isn’t a clear-cut bully, she is guided by the belief that she has been hurt badly. Although written from Ante’s perspective, as a reader you get an insight into both Ante and Florence’s characters as normal 12-year old girls with all the strengths and faults that come with preadolescence.
Ante, Florence and Gil’s journey through the underworld also acts as an introduction to Greek mythology. I’ve always been fascinated with myths and legends. One of my favourite books as a child was Usborne’s Guide to Greek Myths and Legends which is still in print and covers practically all the characters and places encountered in Ante’s Inferno.
In addition to the journey through mythology, and Ante and Florence’s journey to understanding each other, Gil has his own story to tell. He is not just there as a guide, but with his own demons to face which culminates in some moving scenes set in first world war trenches. The mixture of a mythological underworld and first world war tragedy works surprisingly well.
The ending of Ante’s Inferno is satisfying, full of hope but tinged with sadness. The protagonists are well realised and believable and Griselda’s re-imagining of the circles of hell with a modern twist is brilliantly funny to boot. Ante’s Inferno is available for download for a mere £3, as well as being in print form for £6.99 (PB) and £8.99 (HB).
After reading this book I ended up being curious about Dante’s Inferno and reading about The Divine Comedy online; remembering the war poetry I studied at secondary school and Blackadder Goes Forth, (first watched aged fourteen); and scouring the shelves for mythology books to read to MG and DG.
As well as the Usborne book mentioned above, which is currently too old for MG and DG, we have the DK book Mythical Beasts and Magical Monsters which covers more than just Greek myths and is a beautiful visual introduction to different culture’s mythology. It’s available from The Book People for £4.99.
Lucy Coat’s Greek Beasts and Heroes series of 12 full-colour illustrated books is ridiculously cheap at £6 from The Book People. I have only read parts of these books but they seem a good introduction to all the different stories of Greek mythology and are beautifully illustrated.
For older readers with an interest in anthropomorphic personifications of abstract concepts I recommend Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series (which I haven’t read for many years) and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.
Note: prices correct at date post written; this is an unsolicited review. I was not asked to write and received no payment for this post. Links are not affiliate links.