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It’s a while since I’ve reviewed a children’s/YA book and I’ve been trying to think why. Some of my favourite books are from childhood – fast-paced, poignant, often funny stories, with kick-ass maverick protagonists, who, after many breathtaking adventures, emerge triumphant. Those are the kind of books that I return to, even now. I’m delighted to say that Ron Butlin’s Steve & FranDan Take on the World fits into this category – with its great lead characters smart dialogue and well-crafted plot.

It’s a simple premise – Steve and Dan are being bullied, but this is the 21st century so the bullies are cyber stalkers. So when Steve, Dan and his twin sister, Fran, decide to take off in the middle of the night, followed by Nessie the dog, their ‘adventure’ doesn’t go exactly to plan. But then the best stories never do.

From the start, the dialogue and action is fast-paced, the sense of urgency immediate: Steve and the FranDan twins have to get away.

 

The raft’s looking good. It’ll take them out of here, which it has to ASAP – another week like the last two and they’re likely to crack up. Dan will for sure. Helping build the raft and stealing food for their hoard is all that’s kept him going. That, and knowing that they’ll soon be far away from Thor and his Vikings.”

 

It’s the detailing of the cyber-bullying that’s particularly chilling because it is so authentic. We’ve all seen it on Twitter, in particular, faceless people targeting others for petty reasons, usually superficial, taunting them, threatening them, telling them they’re worthless. In Dan’s case, the bullying begins because he wears the wrong kind of trainers to school; when Steve stands up for him, selfies are Photoshopped to make the boys appear ‘naked’ and ‘gross’; then they’re accused of being gay (as if that’s an insult) and urged to kill themselves. And so it escalates.

In many ways this is a coming of age story, with the three characters dealing with their loss of innocence, the cruelty of a world that’s failing them and their increasing disillusionment with the adults around them, whose carelessness and lack of attention seemingly contribute to all manner of problems, immediate and global.

Fran is Steve’s saviour, his crush and the head of the group. Although she’s the same age as brother Dan, she’s an old head on young shoulders. It’s Fran’s idea to build the raft, their mode of escape, to hoard supplies, to bring a map, but in spite of her planning, things go awry from the start – from the lack of a tin-opener to Steve being spotted by one of his parents’ friends.

For Steve, the trip is a respite from a horrible situation, a brief break with his friends to have ‘some quality time, catching fish, making fires, chilling out for a few days’, but that’s not to be. Instead, Steve and FranDan embark on a roller-coaster adventure ride, falling from one scrape into another, but somehow managing to get themselves out of the seemingly impossible to save the day and be heroes of their own story.

An absolute page-turner of a book, Steve and FranDan Take on the World is a very good read, indeed.

 

Steve & FranDan Take on the World | Ron Butlin | BC Books
| 1 March 2018 | paperback | £6.99 | children’s literature 9–12 age group

 

Suggested soundtracks: DJ Shadow’s Midnight in a Perfect World; Pearl’s eerie lullaby in Charles Laughton’s wonderful film, The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Adventure food: chocolate, there always has to be chocolate

Acknowledgements: Quoted text from Steve & FranDan Take on the World pages 7–8, 73  © Ron Butlin 2017. This review is published as part of the BC blog tour, March 2018. Many thanks to Kelly of Love Books Group for sending us a review copy and press kit. All views expressed are our own. Image © The Literary Shed 2018.

 

Below, Ron reads from Steve & FranDan Take on the World

To follow Ron Butler on Twitter: @RonButlinMakar

 

 

Also of interest: ‘Black Water – an entrée into Dublin’s underworld’; To Kill a Mockingbird (1962 film trailer); ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”’; ‘Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love)‘.

This review is copyright © 2018 by The Literary Shed. All rights are reserved. All opinions expressed are our own. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please provide the necessary credit. Thank you so much. We welcome your feedback.