Sunday, November 17, 2019

Challenges and Consequences: A Talent for Trouble by Natasha Tarrant

Three young people, all very different.
All searching for something, though none knew quite what.
All unaware, as yet, that they might find it in one another.

A school bus was supposed to meet them at Castlehaig, but when they got off the train, it wasn't there.
"Late," said Jesse bitterly. "It's not fair!"

Alice looked at him curiously, and he realized with a start that she didn't know about the First Day Challenge."

Since her mother's death, Alice Mistlethwaite had retreated into her own world of reading and writing fantasy tales. Now that she is eleven, her aunt and her father Barney have decided Alice needs to be forced out of her shell. They summarily decide to sell her much-loved house, Cherry Grange, where she can pick summer cherries from a tree at her window, and Alice is put on a train to a boarding school in Scotland. Aunt Patience has found a teaching job in London, and her father, a famously unsuccessful actor, is off, "on-tour," and Alice finds herself on a train headed for Stormy Loch Academy with a pleasant but peculiar passenger named Jesse. Jesse's chief skill, she learns, is  the ability to run really fast--an unfair advantage, as Alice discovers when Jesse jumps out of the school van and at top speed dashes toward the medieval-looking Stormy Loch School. It seem the last one to touch the school door suffers a Consequence.
It was only fair that she should have known. But sometimes it just feels impossible to do what is right. Jessie ran like a champion on his long, strong legs. Alice, in contrast... did not run like an athlete. She looked more like a small and furious terrier.

And then Jesse stumbled and fell. Alice sailed past him. She could see the door, the lion's head knocker gleaming....

And then Fergus Mackenzie, the red-haired genius and breaker of rules, stuck his foot right in her path.

Justice of a sort is meted out by the headmaster, Major Fortescue. Alice, the last to arrive, receives the Consequence of having to sound the early morning Reveille Gong for the semester, and for his perfidy Fergis is appointed Pig Keeper. Alice gains revenge for the unfairness of it all by banging the gong, not three times but continually until all sleeping students are awake and stumbling outside into the chilly dark for what they think is a fire drill, and Fergus finds a perverse satisfaction in enjoying the pigs. As the semester goes by, Alice also discovers that Stormy Loch "continues better than expected." and the three of them forge a connection born out of misdeed and mischief which leads to a truce and an unexpected friendship.

But visitation day arrives and Alice's father fails to show up as promised. What she does receive is a mysterious package with a heavy, tightly wrapped small object labeled DO NOT OPEN, and a letter from her father exhorting her to meet him with that object on the small island of Nish, off the coast of Scotland, a place where he purportedly remembers a castle and moat from his childhood.

And then, an opportunity presents itself. It is time for the Year Seven Great Orienteering Challenge, and Major Fortesque groups Alice, Jesse, and Fergus together, thinking they "might learn from each other," and indeed they do.

Alice persuades the boys to accept her plan to meet her father at Nish, sneaking away from the island of Lumb and faking their way onto the ferry, using their classroom French to pretend to be foreign students on holiday. But what seemed like a lark turns into a survival test, as a mighty storm strikes the tiny island. Their tent is blown away, and the three friends realize that they are being pursued by a gang of continental art thieves who rightly believe Alice's package contains a stolen museum piece. The promised castle turns out to be a towering rock formation surrounded at high tide by a moat of roiling sea water, and the three find themselves finally escaping the gang down the cliff by rope. It is indeed much more of a challenge than Major Fortescue had planned, and Alice, Jesse, and Fergus forge an unshakable bond of friendship in the process.

In the style of British boarding school stories, the three friends from Stormy Loch form a close relationship in the best tradition of Harry Potter, Hermione, and Ron, relying on each other's strengths in an adventure not quite like any other, in Natasha Tarrant's forthcoming A Talent for Trouble (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion, 2019). A real page-turner of a novel of three friends who pool their strengths and against all odds, come together in an amazing journey, this is a brilliant coming-of-age story that commingles unusual settings and developing emotional maturity in a great choice for those middle readers eager for unusual adventures without a single fantastical beast, mythic warrior, or evil sorcerer.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home