It's been a while, but I'm back, with a review of a wonderful book for young teens called Trouble in Teutonia, by S. P. Moss. It comes with a very strong recommendation from me, whatever your age.
Often when reading books for children and young people I have to perform a semi-deliberate change of gear before (or shortly after) I begin. The gear-shift involves ‘becoming a child again’ – which admittedly in my case is not difficult to do (no, I'm not young, just young-at-heart). But to me one of the hallmarks of the best writing for any age (and any genre) is that I’m aware of no such gear-shift. I start reading as myself and happily continue that way, right through to the end. I’m pleased to report that S. P. Moss’s Trouble in Teutonia is one of those books.
The story is beautifully written. I make no apologies for starting with this point. It’s important to me as I can’t enjoy a book, irrespective of its intended audience, if it’s not written well. S. P. Moss has a delightful way with words. The story swings along with a perfect rhythm. The plot is gripping – some wonderful moments of suspense and some surprising turnarounds. The dialogue is just right – exactly the right amount of it and perfectly expressed. Grandpop, the 1950s RAF pilot, has the lingo off pat (I know this, because my dad was in the RAF in the forties through to the sixties and Grandpop uses exactly the same expressions and turns of phrase as him). That was a wonderful whiff of nostalgia for me, apart from anything else. My dad would not only have approved of this book; he’d have loved it. Wish I could show it to him. (He’d have especially liked the bit about the View Master. I still have Dad’s View Master among my treasured mementoes of him.)
The plot – well, I don't like writing plot summaries and am not convinced they are needed in reviews. Very briefly indeed, young Billy from the 21st century (that still sounds like the future to me...) finds himself back in 1957, on an RAF base in the depths of wintry Teutonia (which is loosely based on Germany). It says a lot for the writing that the temporal transitions Billy makes are entirely believable, even to a cynical adult reader like me. I think this may be due to the sound factual basis of the rest of the story – plus some intriguing scientific references and some very convincing character-drawing. Trouble in Teutonia is nothing like those vague woolly teenage fantasy novels that are so much in vogue. Yet it will appeal to the same audience, or most of it, I believe – and will cast its net far beyond, to include young readers who like their stories to be based in reality. Anyway, Billy has adventures back in 1957 involving some wonderful planes, a spaceship, some very nasty villains and a feisty red-haired American girl who needs Billy’s help to rescue her. And if all that doesn't entice you, nothing will...
Billy’s character is very well-drawn. The story is written from his point-of-view, and not only did I find myself comfortably ensconced in this boy’s mind, but in his body too. What I mean is that his world was so cleverly described (S. P. Moss is particularly good at capturing smells), that I stopped being a middle-aged female reader and became Billy for the duration of the book – body and soul. Now that’s good writing.
Billy is convincing, too, in that he’s not perfect. He’s a convincing mix of sudden spurts of courage and of doubt. He revels in adventure but he longs, at times, for home. His attitude towards Kat perfectly captures that of a pre- (or very early-) teen. Irritation. Admiration. Trepidation. All these things and more.
I have to come back to the language. S. P. Moss is not afraid of a long word or two. I believe that this will challenge her readers, but not enough to put them off. She doesn't patronise them one bit. If they don't understand all the words, they’ll work them out from the context – they may even go and look them up. Moss includes some nuggets of science and maths, too – and hurray! – it's the girl who is the superb mathematician. The code-breaking bits were great.
Ever since Billy’s first adventure appeared (The Bother in Burmeon by S. P. Moss, Circaidy Gregory Press, 2012), I've been keenly anticipating the next in the series, as I'm sure have many of her readers. I’ve got these two books lined up to give my grandchildren in a few years’ time, by which date I hope there’ll be several more.
Congratulations to the author, the cover designer and Circaidy Gregory Press for another superb book – please keep them coming!
Title: Trouble in Teutonia
Author: S. P. Moss
Publisher: Circaidy Gregory Press
Year of Publication: 2014
Available in paperback here
or as an e-book here
Or visit http://www.circaidygregory.co.uk/youngfiction.htm
Rosalie Warren, 1/5/14