Tale of suicide bomber captivates British teenagers

A new novel about a mixed-race teenage girl who trains to become a suicide bomber is flying off the shelves in Britain and is well on its way to becoming a best-seller, press reports said on Wednesday.

Checkmate, by award-winning children’s book author Malorie Blackman, was published in June, before the July 7 suicide bomb attacks on London’s transport system.

In it, Blackman features a heroine who is groomed by militant members of an oppressed ethnic group in an unspecified country to wear a vest bomb to kill a senior politician in a suicide mission on her 16th birthday.

The book was set to become a “sensation”, the Daily Telegraph said on Wednesday. Copies are reportedly flying off the shelves, outsold only by the latest adventures of Harry Potter.

In four weeks the book has risen to second place on the teen fiction sales list of book chain Waterstone’s, and is 19th on Amazon’s list of bestselling books.

Experts said Checkmate fulfilled “teenagers’ need for contemporary, gritty fiction”.

The novel, which is published by Random House Children’s Books, is the third in a trilogy which explores race and inequality and contains echoes of racial and political conflict in South Africa, Northern Ireland and the Middle East, said The Guardian.

According to the Telegraph, the book is fired by Blackman’s own experience as a “victim of racism”, growing up in Britain.

The 42-year-old author, whose parents were from Barbados,had turned Britain “inside out” with her novels, starting with Noughts and Crosses, published in 2002, and Knife Edge, published in 2004.

In the latest book, Callie Rose, the would-be suicide bomber, is the daughter of an “upper-class” mother and a “lowly” father.

The teenage heroine joins a terrorist cell to avenge the death of her father, hanged for fighting racists.

Blackman, winner of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups (FCBG) Children’s Book Award, was the only black writer in the top 100 in the BBC’s Big Read popularity poll in 2004.

She said she abhors violence but also believes that terrorism can breed in unequal social conditions.

Blackman blamed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks for making United States publishers “too timid” to take the book on, said the Telegraph.

The first book in the trilogy has only just been published in America, the paper said.

Annie Eaton, Blackman’s editor at the British publishers, Random House, said it was “a complete coincidence” that the author had included suicide bombers in Checkmate.

“It is ironic that it has been published at this time,” said Eaton.

“We have not had a negative reaction at all.”

John Webb, children’s books buyer for Waterstone’s, told the Telegraph there was “no question” of withdrawing Checkmate from sale.

“A suicide bomber is horribly untimely but teenage readers ask for challenges. They are sophisticated and this is not a book that is going to encourage them to do it.
It is a book that investigates why people do these things and opens people’s minds,” said Webb.

Blackman, who grew up in south London “witnessing racism on a daily basis”, says she was prompted to experiment reversing white and black roles by being struck at how odd pink sticking plasters looked on black skin, said the Telegraph.

Young readers were impressed by the book.

Katie Twyford, aged 15, said: “Why wrap teenagers in cotton wool? It is very important to open people’s eyes to racism and terrorism.”

Henry Page, aged 13, said: “Checkmate is a fantastic book. It showed how difficult it must be to be a different colour from other people. It opened my eyes and it was quite sad.” - Sapa-DPA

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