Newport Girls' High School

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Summer Book Reviews & Cultural Capital Challenge

Over the summer students were set both a ‘Cultural Capital Challenge’ and a wider reading challenge and Mr Postle emailed out the annual summer reading list, which included an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction. 

All students who completed the Cultural Capital Challenge will receive six house points and house points have also been awarded for to those who entered the book review competition.  Well done to all the students who entered these two competitions.

On the following pages you can read the three winning student book reviews along with a number of shorter reviews written by NGHS staff.  

  • Nowhere on Earth - KS3 Winner

    ‘Nowhere on Earth’ grabbed my attention right from the start. It is jam-packed all the way through with powerful, descriptive writing that makes it impossible to put down.

    The book starts with a plane crash. Emily, a 16-year-old girl, and her younger brother, Aidan, were among the people aboard the plane. Without their parents, without food and without shelter stranded in Alaska. Freezing. They then discover that the pilot, Bob, is still alive, so they help him get off the plane and to the ground. Icy-cold air is surrounding them, and they can barely feel their own feet. The pair had very outdoorsy parents, who always tried to include them in their activities, so used as many as the skills taught by them as they could. Not long after the men in black appear, hunting for a girl and a boy.

    The relationship between Emily and Aidan is very inspiring. Their relationship stays so strong, especially when considering their circumstances. Aidan is not a normal human, but Emily doesn’t care, however the men do. Emily becomes a motherly figure for her ‘little brother’ as they escape death multiple times. Being trapped in the freezing Alaska and having to hide from the men strengthens their relationship greatly.

    The three of them together overcome many scary and frightening challenges yet the author has managed to keep them as realistic as possible.  There is an aspect of fantasy in terms of Aidan’s being, but all the descriptions of the scenarios are so powerful that you can vividly picture the scene in your mind.  There are a lot of plot twists springing up here and there that make it almost a thriller.

    Emily comes across as a very bold person with a bold personality. She was living happily miles away in a ballet studio with her great friend Jeremy learning dance, but now she was forced to fly miles and miles away to a horrible village where the closest thing to dance is cheerleading. This was part of the reason why she decides to run away with her brother on a plane.

    One of my favourite aspects of the book were the flashbacks.  These moments contribute to the storyline so much and it was very interesting to see the character’s life before it became crazy.

    Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to people, as its very gripping and a person who loves plot twist would very much enjoy this.  How Nick Lake built this world to be a blend of fiction and reality is astonishing. A few parts, when they are just hiking across the mountains can get a bit boring at times, however the majority of this book is not boring at all. It was very funny at times too, but of course there are very sad parts that also make you want to cry and bring out all your emotions.  I would rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

    (Anona R. Year 8)

  • Becoming Dinah - KS4 Winner

    Who are you? If your life has been built on your parents’ idea of a utopia, but it breaks apart, who are you without that? Dinah lives in the remains of a commune that was split apart when her father and her best friends’ mother decide to leave their partners and the commune and live together. This leaves Dinah without her community, without her father and without her best friend. Dinah doesn’t belong in what is left of her mothers’ perfect world, nor does she belong with her father’s new family, despite being welcome. She is alone. So, she decides to run away, cutting off her hair and her mistakes and becoming a new, better person. However, when Ahab, the only other person left in the commune after his wife left with Dinah’s father, needs help to retrieve his stolen van, they both embark on a journey to find where they belong. Both of them are angry and resentful, but I think that these feelings are just to replace the hurt and uncertainty that they feel.

    What makes up you? As Dinah realises in this journey, mistakes do not define us, but are a big part of our identity as they help us to grow and mature, to better deal with situations in the future. As Dinah had planned, this is a new beginning, but it will eventually lead her back to where she started. Ahab, so worried about his stolen van, which he has renovated to distract himself from his wife’s departure, is actually subconsciously building it for her. Ahab misses his son and Dinah misses her father they are both invited to be part of the new couple’s lives, but Dinah and Ahab turn the offer of family down, causing everyone pain.

    I think one of the main messages in this book was that to move on and start a new life, you have to forgive others and yourself for making mistakes. Once finding the van (at a girl’s birthday party,) the two families collide and Dinah has to choose: run away or start her new life by fixing the beginning of the mistakes in her old one.

    I think that this book was striking and interesting in its approach to change, which no-one likes but everyone has to face. You may make mistakes but you have to forgive yourself and the others around you, as well as reaching out to friends and family to help you start your new life. Although Dinah’s lifestyle was unusual, it was easy to relate to the struggles she faced.

    (Beth W. Year 11)

  • The Bluest Eye - KS5 winner

    (Content warning: This novel explores some very challenging issues and is only suitable for those over sixteen)

    Reading Toni Morrison’s ‘The Bluest Eye’ over summer was an experience that summoned the past into the present day unsettlingly seamlessly. The novel was short yet impactful, exploring real-life issues of race, social ideals, poverty and anger through a beautifully crafted narrative. The story takes you briefly through the lives of many black characters living in 1970s America, their struggles, resentment and fear and the way a racist society had caused the deterioration of internal family relationships. More than that, however, Morrison’s novel is a commentary on the perils of living with rigid and mechanical ideals and the way they can be twisted and bled dry into something monstrous, which is perhaps most clearly demonstrated through the story of Pecola and the tragedy that mars her young life. Morrison’s novel is chilling, frightening in its realism and is a brilliant read for anyone looking to understand the impacts of racist ideals and the strife of those who are ostracised by society and forced to look in, harbouring dangerous dreams of conformity in the absence of acceptance or support.

     (Sarah N. Year 13)

  • The Help - Staff Entry

    The Help by Kathryn Stockett

    This summer I read ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett – it had been sitting in my ‘must read’ pile for months, as I resisted the temptation to watch the film version first!  It was worth the wait… I was taken to the Deep South and immersed in a world of poverty, hardship but also of friendship, determination and hope.  Having taught about this period for many years, I was so interested in some of the overlap between fact and fiction in Stockett’s writing but what I found particularly moving were the relationships between the key female [often feisty, I love that!] characters, overcoming the differences in their backgrounds, education and economic status.  The story revolves around educating people about the life of ‘the help’ in the segregated society of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, with Stockett using some of her personal experiences of growing up in this part of America to reflect life at this time.  It was moving in places, made me angry about inequality and injustice in other places and sometimes made me laugh out loud; it was compelling to read – I couldn’t put it down until I had finished it!

    Miss Davies - History

  • Closed Casket - Staff Entry

    Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah

    As a huge fan of Agatha Christie, I was a little sceptical about reading my first Poirot novel written by Sophie Hannah. Hannah has published four ‘continuation novels’ replicating the style of Agatha Christie and starring the famous detective Hercule Poirot. The novel I read is entitled ‘Closed Casket’. The nuances of Poirot’s character were carefully recreated and Hannah’s style effectively emulated that of Christie: there was a central mystery and many red herrings to decipher. It was an enjoyable read, and I am intrigued to see what else Hannah has to offer. Agatha Christie, however, will always remain the queen of detective fiction for me!

    Miss Tomkinson - English

  • Midnight Sun - Staff Entry

    Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer

    After watching the Twilight films and reading one or two books in the series I found reading Midnight Sun fascinating as it is written from Edward Cullen’s perspective. Our assumption in the films is that he would never cause harm to Bella Swan. However, as the story unfolds we find out that she escaped death on many an occasion as Edward’s initial intent was not always quite so driven by his love for Bella but instead his desire to kill her, she was often seen as prey, but as the story starts to unfold his desire to kill her transforms into his desire to be killed for her, for love…

    Mrs Benoit - Art

  • Nemisis & Genesis - Staff Entry

    Nemesis and Genesis by Brendan Reichs

    I read some teenage fiction over the holiday, written by Brendan Reichs (son of Kathy Reichs the already established crime novelist) Initially I was surprised to discover the second book in the series was entitled Genesis (!). I would thoroughly recommend the first book, Nemesis, it is as gripping as it is intriguing. It’s a novel aimed at a teenage audience, so of course it features a young female protagonist with, conveniently, not one but two love interests in the proximity. The novels fit neatly into the sci-fi genre, but a word of warning – the violence escalates and permeates the second novel to its detriment. It was a bold first attempt by an emerging author.

    Mrs Fujii – MFL and English

  • Where the Crawdads Sing - Staff Entry

    Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

    This is Delia Owens’ first work of fiction and she is a zoologist by trade. The story is mostly set in North Carolina in the 1960s and focuses on a young girl who grows up in the wilderness.  This is a beautifully crafted novel that is both a coming of age narrative and a ‘whodunnit?’. The descriptions of the marshland and the flora and fauna are stunning and the novel has a number of surprising twist and turns.  

    Mr Postle - English

  • The Constant Rabbit - Staff Entry

    The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde.

    As a fan of some of Fforde’s other books including the Thursday Next series, I was eagerly looking forward to the release of this book.  It did not disappoint.  Jasper Forde has held a mirror up to the modern world and Brexit Britain using the contrast between humans and giant rabbits with often hilarious consequences.  Division and prejudice come to the fore when a family of human sized rabbits move into a cosy English village echoing the national divisions being exacerbated by the UKARP (United Kingdom Anti Rabbit Party) and its plans to rehome all rabbits away from humans in a new MegaWarren being constructed in Wales.  The ending left some questions and could have been stronger but it is a must read for fans of Fforde or anyone who like rabbits.

    Ms Clarke - History

  • The Salt Path - Staff Entry

    The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

    The book is a true account of a couple, Raynor and Moth, who within the same week have their home repossessed and learn that Moth has a terminal illness giving him two years to live. With no home and no money and nowhere to go they packed everything they could carry in two rucksacks and set off to walk 630 miles of the south west coast, wild camping as they went.

    During the months of walking, the couple encounter negative attitudes when they say they are walking because they are homeless, meet seasonal workers illegally camping in a wood because they can’t afford the high rents and find that despite the demands of walking with all your kit, Moth’s condition shows improvement, despite the doctor’s prognosis.  Raynor and Moth also encounter a lot of kindness from strangers. Raynor wrote an account of the journey for Moth, whose memory is failing as a result of the illness.  This account is now the book The Salt Path.  Two people could not have faced a worse scenario yet out of this they found something positive, did not give in and did not settle for something less than they wanted their life to be.

    Mrs Dainty – Biology

  • Hamnet - Staff Entry

    Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

    Though over four hundred years separate us, the world that Maggie O’Farrell conjures in her truly beautiful creation ‘Hamnet’ seems hauntingly close. Inspired by the tragically short life of William Shakespeare’s only son, the novel opens with the arrival of the Plague to 16th Century Stratford upon Avon via a flea and a monkey. The story that unfolds is a timeless one: love and loss. But it is also a story of defiance, of the extraordinary bond between twins, and - in the central character of Agnes Hathaway, the unnamed playwright’s wife - of enchanting and glorious individuality. I was already a fan of Maggie O’Farrell’s writing (‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’ is also excellent). Having devoured ‘Hamnet’, I’m a devotee - and a little bit jealous that I didn’t write it.

    Ms Capaldi – English