Saturday Spotlight is a new feature I have planned where I'll showcase some of the books I've reviewed for The Bookbag by posting reviews here for the first time. I'm trying to use it to promote books which people may have missed originally - I can't believe I've not actually posted the review for this one here before given it's one of my very favourite of recent years, and I've been lucky enough to interview Savita, but guess I haven't.
Sam's just moved to a new school yet again, but this time he's made a good friend really quickly. He and Lloyd get on so well together that they're spending time with each other after school a lot - until they make one horrible mistake and end up trapped in a car speeding far away from their hometown, with a strange and creepy driver. Once they reach a big house, Sam is quickly separated from Lloyd - can he figure out a way to escape alive?
This is a phenomenally tense book right from the start, as a car pulls up while the boys are waiting in the pouring rain and the driver shouts for them to jump in. Both of them assume it's the other one's father driving, a horribly plausible mistake for two boys of their age to make, but they quickly realise their mistake. Unfortunately, with the child locks on the car, they're powerless to correct it...
Sam is a fantastic main character, brave and resourceful but never implausibly so, while Lloyd and their kidnapper are also vividly realised. Kalhan also deserves huge plaudits for her writing style; it's pacy, ratchets up the tension, and the vocabulary she uses is simple and makes the book very accessible, even to reluctant readers.
I'm going out on a limb here and will claim that this may be one of the most important books published all year. The realism of the book makes it extremely uncomfortable reading at times, but while it can be hard-going, especially since there's no attempt to sugar coat the boys' predicament, it's one of the things that make it a must read for kids who are growing up and think they're ready to be allowed off by themselves. While teachers and parents can lecture and talk to them about 'stranger danger' for hours and hours, this is so impactful that it will stick in children's minds for far longer than any number of talks. It may well scare the living daylights out of them - but in this context that's probably a good thing, if it helps them to think about staying safe.
Given just how scary it is at times, though, I'm wary of giving this a recommendation without throwing in a warning – parents will be far better placed to judge whether their children are ready for it than I could ever be, and I'd strongly suggest they found time to read through it before passing it on. It's a slim book, weighing in at a little under 200 pages, and I got through it in less than an hour myself since I was completely absorbed in it – if you have a child who's starting to be allowed out by themselves it's well worth taking the time to read it and see whether you think they're ready for it yet. If you decide they are, I honestly can't recommend this gripping book highly enough.