Last year, my daughter sat her 11+. As she got ready, the one skill she needed the most was reading: Learning to understand texts but also to help her develop a sense of style when writing. In the words of T.S Eliott, ‘Mediocre writers borrow. Great writers steal’. Therefore, as my son now approaches 11+ I am always on the look out for books to enable him to develop his creative writing.

Usbourne books recently asked us to work with them to review the new release ‘A Place called Perfect’ by Helena Duggan.

The book arrived just before Halloween, and it was the perfect book for the season: A dark, spooky tale with some eery characters that are guaranteed to send a chill down your spine.

The Plot

Violet arrives in Perfect after her father receives a job offer. As soon as they arrive and our welcomed by the Archer brothers with cups of the most delicious tea, Violet thinks something is afoot. Sure enough, the next morning Violet and her parents wake up unable to see. Their sight is soon restored after they’re fitted with rose-tinted spectacles. Everyone has a glow and acts impeccably. Her mother turns into a domestic goddess whilst continually praising Perfect and chastising her daughter for not, whilst her father mysteriously disappears.

Violet realises there something more sinister at play.  With her newly-found friend, Boy she aims to unravel the perfect appearance of Perfect.

The Characters

Violet is the kick-ass protagonist in A Place Called Perfect. She’s feisty, fearless, intelligent, and certainly stands for no sexism:

“Don’t be such a girl.” Boy Laughed
Violet elbowed him in the ribs.

“Hey! What’s that for?”
“A present from all the girls.”

Her bravery and insistence to discover the truth is admirable, and she’s certainly a character with traits to aspire to.

The Archer Brothers are the sinister baddies, and certainly written in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable at their presence in the story.

Boy is the ‘invisible friend’, who is an outcast of Perfect. Although he plays the perfect gung-ho sidekick to Violet, he is less described, and maybe a little more 2 dimensional than her. That said, the kids are the heroes of the book, the adults ‘blindly’ following the Archer’s sinister plans whilst the kids seek to see the truth! (yes, the glasses play a big part in this book!)

What we thought

On the whole, this is an impressive debut book: I enjoyed it just as much as my 9 year old son, and often read bits ahead of him as I too was gripped by the book. I found the middle a little lacking in action, but both the fast-pace of the beginning and end made up for this.

Who is this suitable for

The themes touched upon this are children who are kidnapped as they don’t conform, eye transplants that screech if touched, resisting a dictator-style movement and broken families due to differing views. Although, the overriding feeling is whimsical and the themes fit with the tale, the slightly more macabre parts may overwhelm a sensitive child. I’d definitely put it at 9/10+. In terms of any child preparing for the 11+ this is definitely a great book: Duggan’s writing is beautifully descriptive with a wide-ranging vocabulary. Added to this, the tale is certainly original and really triggers the imagination.

Who would like it

The book is mix between The BFG and The Shadow Keeper (Abi Elphinstone) with hints of Northern Lights and Harry Potter for its quirky, magical element. It’s definitely a book for those who like spooky, imaginative tales.

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After The Playground