The Kissing Game (Short stories).
Bodley Head 2011
Hardback 10.99 [pounds sterling]
I have always been a great admirer of the teenage fiction produced by Aidan Chambers and of the support that he has offered to thousands of teachers through his non-fiction work over many years. However, I am not a fan of short story anthologies and so it was with some trepidation that I approached his latest publication. I shouldn't have worried because here is a storyteller who knows how to 'hook' adolescent and adult readers, who is able to write in a variety of styles and who is prepared to take the sort of risks that both engage and shock. I feel the strongest writing is in the story from which the anthology takes its name but the other three more extended narratives also provide a depth of characterisation and a level of complexity that will appeal to the widest and the most discerning audience. The author also includes some of his 'flash fiction' (see page 8) which, in this case, tends to be very short snatches of dialogue (less than 1,000 words) that are 'like a flash of light which allows a quick view of a whole scene or person'. They are all extremely well crafted offering a sharp humour and, at times, a depth of understanding that echoes beyond the page: an interesting form for students to try to emulate in the age of small screen literacy.
It is difficult to identify a prevailing theme or idea that runs through the writing but there is a strong emphasis on a teenage search for identity and meaning in their lives and on how to assert oneself on a world that often appears hostile or alien. There is an excellent, heartfelt piece ('Expulsion') in which a student writes to his PE teacher explaining why he is disinclined to attend traditional sports lessons. Here is the author at his most acerbic and, probably, his most personal and it will chime with the experiences of many unathletic adolescents.
This is an anthology that can be recommended to all 13+ students and it would be a very useful text for English teachers to have on hand for those increasingly rare occasions towards the end of a lesson when it feels appropriate to gather 30 students together and simply read a self-contained piece of enjoyable, thought-provoking fiction to them. (I'm sure there's a satisfactory learning objectives that can be called upon for such a revolutionary exercise.)