Room 13 by Robert Swindells

Robert Swindells rocks as an author of young adult novels. He writes fiction that is hard-hitting and realistic, filled with true-to-life characters, and endings which are not always happy. Room 13, however, is a childrens book, and unfortunately all those things that make his YA fiction so good disappear here.

OK, so I’m an adult, and that could be part of the problem. I don’t like stories that have a kind of feel to them where you know no one’s going to get seriously hurt or – God forbid – murdered – except maybe the inhuman bad guy. Kids can maybe tolerate that kind of thing. But I’m afraid my dislike of this book runs a bit deeper.

The storyline is unoriginal and predictable. It’s told from the perspective of Fliss, an eleven-year-old girl, who goes on a school trip with her classmates. In the hotel at which they stay, during the night, another girl sleepwalks into a strange room on the top floor, coming back with a bite mark on her neck. At one point, Swindells goes to great pains to describe a huge stick of rock candy, two inches thick, that a schoolboy has sucked and sucked into a point. Anyone out there who’s not already thinking “vampire” and “stake” is probably asleep right now. I suppose a vampire being staked with candy is a new concept, but I was always under the impression it had to be wood.

The drama is divided up with several scenes of the children doing “fun things” on their holiday. Might have been nice to be at those scenic locations, but it made pretty dull reading.

Now comes the part where I have to admit that this novel won the 1990 Children’s Book Award. Don’t ask me to speculate how. I didn’t much like the book, and I’ve tried to qualify that. If you have a place in your heart for ridiculous fiction (that which cares nothing for realism in plot or character), then read this book.

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