– Short Review –
Frances Frida Ripley has an incredible birth story. She was born, on the beach, in the middle of a storm and she’s been raging about it ever since. However if Frances thought her birth story was unusual her death story is even more extraordinary. Having “persuaded” her parents to visit a local café, as a treat before school resumes, her family (and the entire village) are wiped out by a freak tsunami. However Frances finds herself trapped in the family home – she still has something to do – “Storm” follows her story between physical death and the release of her spirit. A story of strange friendships, literal ghost trains and ultimately of being true to yourself and embracing every last bit of what you are.
If you enjoyed Nicola Skinner’s previous book, Bloom, you are going to love this too. She has such a unique style of writing that, once a convert, you’ll want to read everything she produces.
– Longer review –
Frances Frida Ripley is raging. She’s got a bit of storm trapped inside her – a consequence of being born on a beach during a thunderstorm. How her parents could have been disorganised enough to end up in such a situation is beyond her.
Of more concern right now is the prospect that her best friend is about to desert her, in favour of another. Determined to hold on to the friendship, she coerces her parents into taking her and her sister, Birdie, to the village café where she’s arranged to meet her pal for lunch. It turns out to be the worst decision they could have made after the village is wiped out in a freak tsunami, following an earthquake in Northern France. If only they’d stayed at home, in their house on a hill, they’d have survived.
However the truth comes slowly to Frances as she awakes, soaking wet, in her bed at home. Initially she has no idea what’s happened but she soon realises she’s alone, has shells embedded in her legs and is, unmistakably, dead. She tries to escape the house but can’t leave it’s boundaries. When Jill rolls up in a bus and asks her to get on and join “The Afterlife Club” there’s absolutely no doubt – she’s dead but still trapped on earth. Jill explains that she’s either a “toodoo” or a “difficult button” and that’s why she’s in limbo which means she can doze away in her house undisturbed until the time that anyone crosses the threshold.
Fast forward 102 years and workmen arrive to reclaim the house and open it up as a tourist attraction (in the way of a futuristic English Heritage site). Droves of visitors arrive to see what life was like a century before with holograms of her family being used as an interactive experience.
A regular pair of visitors to the property are far more interested in Frances than the house though. Crawler and his son Scanlon are ghost hunters and sense her presence. Scanlon becomes the first friend she’s had in forever and she enjoys spending time with him, even if he does smell really odd and wears the weirdest of clothes. However this friendship comes at a price as his Dad captures and cans her. He has a plan to get incredibly wealthy by creating the world’s first ghost train with genuine spooks inside.
Frances ends up as a member of his ghostly troupe, a sideshow for the curious – the star attraction in fact. As a spectre with inbuilt rage she makes the perfect poltergeist – a raging, object throwing attraction that is designed to scare and thrill. To start with, it’s great – licence to misbehave and rage, it’s a joy. After a few years though the troupe all start to fade away and when Scanlon offers to poison himself, to save the ghostly crew, and his money grabbing father agrees, Frances realises why she is a “toodoo” and exactly what she needs to do! That weird smell that Scanlon has is a sign that he’s rotting away inside – he’s leading a miserable life and Frances needs to help him reach his potential and escape his horrible dad.
It sets the scene for an explosive end to Crawler’s ghost train and a final release for all the ghosts he has kept trapped against their will.
Nicola Skinner has set the bar for creating young and feisty female characters. Girls who find themselves in extraordinary situations and make them work. Frances is an absolute joy to follow from start to finish and this is such an inventive story it will remain with you long after it’s over. I cannot wait for her next book.
Storm by Nicola Skinner is published by HarperCollinsChildren’s
As a freelance journalist and copywriter, Nicola Skinner has written for the Guardian, The Pool and many national magazines. Her first novel for children, Bloom, was published in 2019 to much critical acclaim. Storm is her second novel.
Nicola lives in Bristol with her family.
Review by Angela Paull
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