Kirsty Applebaum's debut children's book 'The Middler' is a gripping, page-turning tour de force. It is gaining a lot of buzz, and thankfully it lives up to the hype. I devoured it; not wanting to turn my eyes from the pages. 'The Middler' is a dystopian thriller, with enough menace to keep you awake at night and enough heart to keep you hoping and questioning until its marvellous conclusion.

Fennis Wick is a town like no other. It has boundaries. Beyond the boundaries the Quiet War rages and dirty, deceitful Wanderers roam. As a middler, Maggie has little luck and attention. Like all eldests, her brother Jed is due to join the war. But when Maggie encounters Una, a Wanderer, at the boundary of the town, everything begins to unravel. And nothing is quite what it seems.

I really didn't know what to expect with 'The Middler'. And this is a good thing. It is surprising, quietly disturbing and hugely entertaining. Applebaum writes with pace and cracking energy. Short chapters, short sentences and constant cliffhangers kept me reading on and on. There is something about both the concept and the writing style that reminds me of Patrick Ness's 'Chaos Walking' trilogy. This is high praise. Like Ness's superb YA series, Applebaum has created a world both frightening and captivating. Maggie is a wonderful creation, and her mistakes, her flaws, make her very real and her redemption all the more satisfying. If there is a message in the book then it is about accepting difference, accepting 'others', and questioning the political status-quo. Which couldn't be more relevant for today and for the next generation.

Bravo, Kirsty! What an impressive debut. Will look forward to see what you do next...

© 2021 by Chris Soul