The Children of Castle Rock is the latest gem in the revival. The story's heroine is "small, pale 11-year-old Alice", who since her mother's death has been brought up by her bohemian aunt, and hapless thespian father. "...Farrant is an accomplished writer, who combines the zest of a school adventure story ("Mega-Super-Fun" is one chapter title), with the suspense of a John Buchan. The only flaw in this excellent book is the narrator, on whom the spirit of adventure can seem comically lost. "Please, never ever try at home what Alice did next," we are cautioned, before the heroine sets off fireworks in a rowing boat. When it comes to stating the obvious, though, the narrator is fearless. "This is the story of a girl who lost her mother and her home, and was afraid of losing her father, and needed to find herself," we are told in chapter 18 - just as I was working it out for myself.
Adult and teen novelist Natasha Farrant turns her hands to year seven with The Children of Castle Rock (Faber & Faber £6.99). Stormy Loch, a boarding school in Scotland, mixes Hogwarts with Bedales, taking in characterful types who need to recover their mojo through farming and orienteering... Story-writing introvert Alice Mistlethwaite is one of those: bereaved of her mother, Alice misses her father, an actor permanently on tour. The arrival of a mysterious package from Mistlethwaite Sr, however, sets off a chain of events in which Alice’s tentative friendships are tested to the limits. It’s a bit like the Secret Seven on steroids, in a good way.
The adventure story — usually involving a group of sensitive children pitting their wits against the natural world — is having something of a renaissance with the success of Katherine Rundell’s The Explorer. And here Farrant nods, as Rundell did (it’s almost compulsory), to the godmother of the genre, Eva Ibbotson (she is quoted at the start of the book)... Jeopardy is ramped up, if a little cartoonishly, with the introduction of the Leopard, a tiny Italian lady-thief in bug-eyed shades, who seems to want what Alice has. Meanwhile, Alice confronts her fears and learns that her issues may be more to do with her useless dad than her dead mum... My only gripe: Farrant has a habit of interrupting her story with truisms — eg “Relations change all the time. Mostly you don’t see the change until it’s happened” — which grates a little and puts the brakes on an otherwise thrilling adventure.