Books for Teens that Will Make You Soar: ‘Bitter Sixteen’

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Mar 28, 2016

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I haven’t the faintest idea why author Stefan Mohamed called his book Bitter Sixteen. The way I see it, its hero, Stanly (without an E), has nothing to be bitter about. First, he’s just turned 16 and he might — he just might, for the first time in his hip, asocial life — have a chance at love. And second, he’s got a really cool dog who talks. (No, really. The dog talks.) And finally, he’s just learned he can fly. Not a plane or a glider or anything normal like that — Stanly can fly. It’s his superpower, along with moving things with his mind. So what Stanly wants to know in Bitter Sixteen, the first of a trilogy, is: If he has super powers, is he a superhero? Or does is he just so strange he has to hide?

Bitter Sixteen, Stefan Mohamed, book, full cover, reviewIt’s a difficult question to answer; Stanly’s world is so utterly normal. It’s a world in which people are born, grow up, go to school, get a job, etc, etc, etc. Superheroes exist only in comic books. (In light of this, you might wonder how, when Daryl the dog first spoke, Stanly didn’t realise that his world was not, in fact, normal. But such a thought never occurred to him.)

At first, Stanly has a hard time dealing with the fact that he can fly. As he gets used to it, there’s the question of ethics: Shouldn’t he use his powers for good? If not, why does he have them? This, he slowly learns, is not the first time that question has been asked. Stanly’s black sheep of a cousin, it turns out, has a superpower, too. And he knows lots of other people with super powers – except none of them believe they can, or even should be superheroes. That would just be too strange for such an utterly normal world, even though, coincidentally, Britain is being terrorised by a serial killer who targets children. Children who are being whisked away right and left and made to vanish by someone or something very, very frightening. Children who could certainly use a superhero or two.

So it’s a huge relief when Stanly finally makes up his mind about how to use his superpowers. But destroying the killer is not as simple as it may seem. Who are those creepy people Stanly and his new friends have to face? Are they earthly creatures at all?

Bitter Sixteen is such a brilliantly written book that, when Stanly flies, you soar, too. I can’t do a nicer thing for you than tell you to read this book, of all books for teens. As for me, I’m stalking the bookstores for the second book in the trilogy, Ace of Spiders, which will be out in April. I wish I could have it right now.

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Written By Kushalrani Gulab

Kushalrani Gulab is a freelance editor and writer. She claims she reads children’s literature to find the best books for her nieces and nephews, but actually it’s to find the best books for herself. (She also reads and reviews books for older people.)

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