How to Spell Catastrophe (Fiona Wood, Pan)
Fiona Wood, three-time winner of the CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers, moves into middle-grade fiction with the funny and charming How to Spell Catastrophe. Nell McPherson is coming to the end of year six and her previously predictable life is being upended: long-term friendships are shifting, Nell’s interests are changing and her mum wants their family to become blended (or, rather, ‘pulverised’). All this upheaval sends Nell’s anxiety into overdrive and try as she might to contain her worries in her Catastrophe Binder, the time is coming to channel some of that energy into the wider world. Wood’s fifth book is a realistic portrait of existence on the border between childhood and growing up, full of awkwardness, rebellion and the battle for independence. The author’s light touch with this teenage tumult demonstrates her understanding of the age group as Nell navigates new social situations and uncomfortable feelings. The young characters make mistakes in order to work out what friendship, bravery and responsibility look like, supported by the adults in their lives. Readers from 10 to 14 will appreciate the care shown for their emotional landscape, the humorous wordplay and the broader themes of climate change and anxiety. Anyone who enjoyed The Year the Maps Changed or The Edge of Thirteen will be right at home with How to Spell Catastrophe.
Annie Waters sells books, writes about books and podcasts about books.