Cirque Du Freak- Darren Shan (Harper Collins 2000) – A Kid-Lit Review



There’s clever things going on here.  This is the first in the series of twelve books under the title “The Saga of Darren Shan” written by Darren Shan and narrated by Darren Shan.  I had to Google to find out just who Darren Shan is.  There’s not that many clues in the book.  I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be set in the UK, Europe or Australia/New Zealand- which would lead all these markets to identify closely with the work.  I discovered that Darren Shan is Irish author Darren O’Shaughnessy who has also written the eight book Demonata series for older children/teens.  There’s also the 13 book “Zom-B”, a number of other series and books written for adults under the name Darren Dash. (You have to enter your date of birth on his website to find this out, not wanting to encourage children to seek out his adult horror).  A prolific writer and this is the book that started everything off.

For the sake of the story the main character Darren is a schoolboy.  I liked the flaws in his character which are evident from the start.  He tells us things are going to get bad for him and they actually get worse than I was expecting in this introductory tale.  He kicks off with a prologue in which he details his fascination with spiders leading to his parents buying him a tarantula for a pet.  Things go bad when, after watching a cartoon character being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner and emerging unscathed he tries it on his spider with predictably grisly results.  Darren also lies and steals in this novel so is certainly not squeaky clean and that is likeable in a novel for older children.

One of Darren’s friends finds a flyer for a secret freak show.  Entry by invitation only.  What Darren discovers at the freak show will change his life for good.

Arachnophobes may not get beyond the  prologue but if they do there are a few more challenges ahead.  In fact, the whole thing is rather creepy and really quite effective.  I could imagine if I was twelve years old I’d be reading the series end to end and perhaps not getting that much adult approval because of it.

Writer Darren sets up character Darren’s predicament well and on completion you can tell that there is significant mileage in this series.  For an author who is undeniably churning them out it doesn’t feel like a tale churned out, although, of course this is the first of the series.  For an adult reader it’s a quick, guilty pleasure type read, recalling the days of staying up late to watch TV horror films and getting the odd frisson from “Scooby Doo”.  For older children it’s a move on from the likes of the “Goosebumps” books but with a stronger  structure and more authentic chills.


Cirque Du Freak was first published by Harper Collins in 2000.

Only We Know – Simon Packham (Piccadilly 2015)- A Kid-Lit Review



ssh3 This is a hard review to write because I don’t want to give away any secrets.  In fact, Simon Packham should get readers to sign an agreement whereby they give away as little as possible about this young adult novel.  Sixteen year old Lauren has a secret which has caused her family to relocate and for her to start a new school and that secret is so central to the plot.  Who else knows about it and whether she will be found out is a major preoccupation for her.


This is placed within a convincing school story with the setting of St Thomas’ Community College, a location which has featured in a number of the author’s previous books.  Lauren needs to settle into the school, find new friends and there may even be romance in the air in her first term.

This book is geared perfectly towards its intended audience.  It all feels contemporary, relevant and authentic and in Lauren, Packham has an involving and fascinating main character.  I cannot remember when I enjoyed a young adult book more and Lauren’s secret kept me guessing throughout.    I wouldn’t want to be a member of a reading group who hadn’t quite finished the book when discussions about it began.  I suggest you look up nothing else about this book in case other reviewers are not as guarded as me.   My message to teenagers is read this book and pass your enthusiasm on, don’t Tweet or Facebook about the plot.  I’m off to discover more of Simon Packham’s books………………….



I have also reviewed this book for and newbooks magazine.

Only We Know was published by Piccadilly in 2015


Sentinel – Joshua Winning (2014) – A Kid-Lit Review

imagesYC433BKVsentinelIn an August which turns from heatwave to winter desperate events are occurring. Fifteen year old Nicholas’ life is torn apart when his parents are killed in a train crash and it becomes apparent he did not know them as well as he thought he did. There is something special about him and he needs protecting from the forces of evil that are beginning to gather around him. This debut Young Adult novel is the first part of a trilogy in what is quite a flooded market. There are elements of a darker Harry Potter and this does separate itself from the glut of American teen series titles by having a strong British feel and a Cambridge area setting. I would have liked to have seen more depth to the main character, his grief at sudden loss is convincingly done but there’s not enough teenager in this characterisation, which seems like a missed opportunity. Some of the supporting cast are more strongly portrayed. Plot-wise, does it achieve a balance between setting up the next two novels and providing a wholly satisfactory read ? I’m not totally convinced. With so many young adult series novels around I fear this title might get lost, unless someone is willing to commit to a TV/film adaptation and then Joshua Winning could be on to the next big thing.