Angels Next Door by Karen McCombie
As part of my continuing education to increase my knowledge of books for the age group I actually teach (primary), my search has found me attempting to answer that elusive question “My kid loves Jacqueline Wilson- what else can they read?” Karen McCombie and Angels Next Door seemed a good place to start. She’s obviously very well regarded and established in her genre, writing largely for girls 9 years plus*; I’m possibly the last teacher in England to have heard of her.
Angels Next Door was released in April 2014 and is being quickly followed by Angels in Training- out in a few days time (7.8.14). We meet Riley, an eleven/ nearly twelve year old girl who is a few weeks into that enormous life changing event called ‘going to secondary school’. Everything feels a bit new and raw for Riley, but at least she’s with her best friend, the lovely Tia: vivacious, chatty and confident. All the things Riley considers herself not to be in fact. But with Tia by her side she can feel some of her courage rubbing off on her and it helps. Then one day Tia breaks it to her that she’s moving away, in fact the whole family is starting a new chapter in New Zealand. Riley is gutted.She feels like she’s starting her new school again from scratch, only this time she’s all too aware of the challenges it presents: the little gang of girls for instance, who have already nominated themselves Queens of Everything. Oh and boys. Boys who either laugh at you or are only friendly because they fancy your gorgeous best friend. It doesn’t bode well.
So Where Are The Angels?
The ‘angels’ are actually the Angelo sisters. They move into Tia’s old house, next door to Riley. It’s Coco who mistakes Angelo for angel and claims angels are moving in next door. Coco? She’s Dot’s partner in crime. Dot? Riley’s sort of younger sister (it’s complicated.) There is something a little out of the ordinary about them though, something of an ethereal nature…
All these different girls presented in a fun and interesting story would have been a total gift to me when I was a child, being the youngest by quite some way and having two older brothers who although lovely, weren’t much cop at girl talk. Like most of my friends, I looked to Just Seventeen and Mizz for big sisterly themes, which could sometimes be more than a touch scary…
The point is, if you’re a nine or ten year old girl, Angels Next Door looks like quite a grown up book, without being too old. Plus, once you open it you’ll be reading about older girls experiencing things you might be worrying about, giving it that ‘big sister’ vibe. The chances are that like Riley you might be feeling a bit uncertain about going up to high school, so this book deals with the issues you might have to deal with whilst shows the light with the shade.
All the sprinklings of glitter and the rumours of angels dovetail well in allowing children an escape into more magical matters. Oh, and did I mention it’s funny? I was surprised to find myself laughing aloud on a few occasions, mostly at the moments of genius connected to young Dot (great name) and Alastair her ‘pet dog’, a charismatic piece of driftwood on a string.
Apart from a fun story, McCombie writes her girls with plenty of personality. At the minute I’m particularly looking out for books with a bit extra oomph, the ones where the reader is encouraged to go out and do something as a result of reading it. There’s a bit of that here. Riley is artistic, but as an ex art teacher I know that can be alienating as a lot of children convince themselves early on that they can’t draw and never will be able to. But here, Riley’s talent is photography- much more accessible. She doesn’t have an expensive camera, but she’s got a passion for taking snaps which develops (ho ho) during the story.
The girls you meet here, our friends, are carefully shown to be individual, except for the vindictive girl gang at school who are all pretty much identical in taste and style- and expect all others to follow suit. Pretty much the same as it was when I was at school and I guess has always been. Individuality should always win over and McCombie shows there’s more to that than your choice of clothes.
Individuality also spills into family life. McCombie introduces characters who are fostered, although she doesn’t go into that much in this book. Riley’s own family is a relatively new set up. Her dad’s girlfriend and daughter live with them and it’s touched on that relations are not easy between Riley and her step mum. I suspect they’ll be more on this later in the series, in fact I’m sure it will be as we see this developing as a sub plot throughout Angels Next Door. Another family on offer here for readers is Karen’s Club. This is where fans of Karen McCombie’s works can come together and write, do quizzes, get advice or get lots of freebies. Very lovely and inclusive- Wendy Quill would approve! I’m loving these books that offer so much value for money in so many different ways!
If I was ten, I’d have definitely felt a GGGG warm glow.
Angels Next Door is a good read for (mostly) girls who enjoy Jacqueline Wilson (hooray!) and want a new series to devour. Also an early chance to experience a flavour of YA reading with training wheels on.
* Although suitable also for keen readers 7+