In the past I’ve not particularly been a sci-fi reader but the premise of Sharon Cohen’s Halo Moon was too good to miss. The novel makes it clear this story falls within that particular brand of sci-fi that is firmly embedded in the current world around us, that it is as much a work of social commentary as much as sci-fi.
I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure with its mysterious devices and against the odds journey, and it has much to recommend itself when it is published amidst a carnival of children’s publications on February 7th.
‘Mum says I was born with my head tilted upwards’
Halo is a 12 year old girl from rural Yorkshire who has spent her life looking at the stars. She is frustrated with the distance that adolescence is creating within herself and with her childhood best friend.
Ageze is the level headed and intelligent eldest son of an engineer and teacher from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When visiting his grandmother he finds a mysterious ancient Aksumite device that after research Ageze find it delivers portents about the future, including one of devastation and death thousands of miles away in Yorkshire, England.
As Halo negotiates the ups and downs of her village life, Ageze sets off on a mission to reach her and warn of the impending doom but its going to take a leap of faith as to whether the grown ups will believe them.
This novel is really interesting because it deals with a number of themes and issues without being preachy or obvious.
It’s great to see the inclusivity in this novel with both BAME and disabilities included with a young African protagonist, Halo’s new friend Pablo having a Hispanic heritage and Norman who is a young adult with Acquired Brain Injury and sympathetically portrayed. As someone with an autistic brother it was touching to see how kind and nurturing Halo was towards Norman and beautiful how Cohen teases out Norman’s strengths and value instead of making him a simple character of pity.
The dual narrative is a particularly strong point throughout the novel. Cohen’s characters are clearly defined with their own narrative style and distinct voice, vocabulary and syntax with the thoughtful maturity of Ageze stark against the fledgling fragility of Halo clearly separate and easily distinguishable even without the different typefaces used throughout.
Halo’s Story is concerned with a personal journey of making choices of who she wants to be rather than what has always been and with this is growing pains and confusion including the pain of outgrowing our situation or friends, or indeed being simultaneously outgrown. She also learns that she doesn’t have to travel the world like Pedro or have lots of money like Jade to have value or be useful.
I can’t remember the last time we had a sleepover. We’d be forever having Harry Potter marathons, feasting in marshmallows and Jamie dodgers. can’t remember when we stopped. Or why’
Halo is both frustrated by her childhood friend Jade’s more mature pursuits and mourns the old fun they had together that she herself would still enjoy yet is equally territorial of her new neighbour Pedro when Jade is around lest she spoil the kindling friendship based on shared interests.
These may seem petty to the outside or adult reader especially in comparison to Ageze ‘s story but are real problems that readers of comparable age may be experiencing or about to experience as the pressure of adolescence but particularly Secondary school cliques can cause existential crises and pull apart even BFF pairings. This plot line would be a source of resonance, reflection and reassurance for children and young people and is a common thread we see popping up in MG novels say Anna James’ recent Pages & Co too.
Ageze’s Story is concerned with the courage to act and strength to endure a pilgrimage to Yorkshire and the guilt he feels for misleading family to get there.
Ageze’s journey against the odds to rural Yorkshire is both awesome and humbling. A 12 year old boy making this journey alone, his money gone in London so continues on foot, depending on the kindness of strangers is heartbreaking and heartrending and the fact that despite the odds and the perceptions perpetuated in the media, the good that shines through is a little piece of Hope in these current politics of stupidity and prejudice against ‘others’.
Her serious face changes into a smile. She reaches out and rubs my hair. ‘ I don’t know who you are, love, or where you’re going but here’s something to help you on your way’
Overall this is a beautiful story of hope, humility and fierce strength that adults can often overlook or underestimate in children and young people especially those who may appear different in one way or another.
I would wholly recommend this to lovers of MG fiction and children from roughly 8 and up, the narrative style makes this a comfortable easy read and the reader invested quickly in the success of the protagonists.
Halo Moon by Sharon Cohen is published by Quercus and available from all good bookstores and online from 7th February