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Pilgrims in space

09 January 2015

Fiona Hook reads an interplanetary allegory

The Kicking Tree
Trevor Stubbs
Matador £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (Use code CT251 )

IN TREVOR STUBBS's extended Christian allegory, two teenagers literally living on different planets are brought together by a mystery white gate in their local parks.

Jack Smith has finished his A levels, and lives with his mother in a dull Midlands town, unfulfilled and aimless, kicking the tree by his gate which stubbornly refuses to die, while Jalli lives under the three suns of Planet Raika with her grandmother, cheerful and hard-working, but plagued by a stalker. The rest of her family died in an accident when she was only three.

Each of their adventures is orchestrated by a mysterious Creator. They are sent through white gates in the middle ground between their worlds with the kit they need for the journey and no more. Sometimes it's to help them grow as people; sometimes they are sent to help others as an answer to prayer, all over the universe, including outer space. I particularly liked the vision of a future where an entire village of people travels for years to a different planet, and Jalli foils an attack by space pirates. Each experience teaches them a lesson, and, in having them, they fall in love.

The characters are increasingly amiable young people who leave no strong impression on the reader. This is, however, an updated Pilgrim's Progress, where narrative drive is more important than the creation of characters. It could be a perfect book for the adult-literacy teacher trying to encourage teens to read, with its strong narrative structure, simple vocabulary, and positive, active role-models. There are all too few authors who write well for this market, and Stubbs is one of them.

One small quibble! He over-uses the exclamation mark! As he's promised us more White Gates writing, perhaps he could use fewer next time!

Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.

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