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The Fiction of Vivien Alcock
The Cuckoo Sister
The Trial of Anna Cotman
The Haunting of Cassie Palmer
The Red-Eared Ghosts
Vivien Alcock
Houghton Mifflin Books

Reviews by Margo MacDonald and Alice Dechene

Margo: There is just something that I like about British authors of young adult novels. They never seem condescending to their readers and the characters always come across as "real," neither completely good nor completely bad -- just human. The complicated and gritty bits are not left out of the stories. Though these are the first books I've read by Vivien Alcock, I was pleased to find that her writing is no exception.

Alice: I like Alcock's writing too, especially the way she treats her readers as young adults. Her characters aren't virtue-mongers spouting classic platitudes, but real teens facing real-life issues and learning from their mistakes and misjudgments.

In The Trial of Anna Cotman (cover art by Barbara McClintock), a young teenager just moved in to a new town gets involved in a secret club. The members wear masks and have code names and secret rituals. While Anna joins the Society of Masks as a game, things get more mysterious and strange when a new leader is sworn in. Anna gets caught up in a very realistic and disturbing situation when she breaks the rules. I found this to be a very haunting portrayal of peer pressure that is genuinely scary without being heavy-handed.

Margo: The Red-Eared Ghosts (cover art by Barbara McClintock) is a great combination of fantasy and the supernatural set in modern day London. The main character is a young teenage girl who can see ghosts... who all have red ears. There is an unexpected shift in plot focus halfway through the book which takes the reader on a bizarre ride into an alternate world. The characters are strongly written and the pace is swift. This is a truly well written and entertaining story, though I was disappointed that the red ears are never explained.

Alice: The Haunting of Cassie Palmer (cover art by Barbara McClintock) is likewise a great combination of fantasy and the supernatural. Cassie, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, has been primed for years to be her quack-mystic mother's replacement, a career path she resists tooth and nail. On a lark one night, she goes to the cemetery to call up a spirit... and frighteningly, she succeeds. But instead of the little girl she was hoping for, this spirit is a middle-aged man in the next grave who has an all-too-disturbing solution for Anna's simple teenage problems. The mystery at the center of this novel lies in learning who this Deverill is; it becomes quite a character test for Anna as she discovers his background and realizes that no one is easily judged by externals alone.

Margo: By contrast, The Cuckoo Sister (cover art by Barbara McClintock) is not a fantasy at all. It is about a stolen baby who has grown up and returns home to her real parents after 15 years. There is supposed to be a mystery at the centre of this novel, but, to me, the sense of mystery was lost. I kept waiting for something unexpected to happen, a real plot twist, but it never came. Fortunately, with this author, the writing is strong and the characters well developed so the story is definitely readable, if not a little disappointing.

Alice: I did not find The Trial or Haunting disappointing in the least. And I strongly agree that the writing is excellent, with believable characters who grow and change. These books present inspiring and insightful messages that are not too obvious. I want first dibs on the next one!

Copyright © 1997 by Margo MacDonald and Alice Dechene

Margo has always been drawn toward fantasy and, at the age of 5, decided to fill her life with it by pursuing a career as a professional actress. Aside from theatre (and her husband), Margo's passion has been for books. Her interests are diverse and eclectic, but the bulk fall within the realm of speculative fiction. She tells us that her backlog has reached 200 books and she's ready to win the lottery and retire.

Alice is a Contributing Editor to the SF Site. She taught Comparative Literature and French at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1988 to 1994 (give or take a semester). Her time is taken up these days with her two children and the SF Site, both of which are joint projects with her husband.


The Red-Eared Ghosts

Cassie Palmer


Vivien Alcock
Other books by Vivien Alcock include Kind Of Thief, The Sylvia Game and The Stonewalkers.

The Trial of Anna Cotman Review
Suggested Reading for 5th & 6th Graders
Singer To The Sea God Review
Adventure Stories for Grades 4-6

Past Feature Reviews

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