Aidan Chambers is best known as an author of young adult books and the principal
characters in these stories are young adults, but the reach of these tales goes beyond any genre. Indeed I find more meat on the bone to these tales than most adult stories. Nevertheless many of the stories centre on pivotal moments in a character’s development. This collection opens with ‘Cindy’s Day Out’ which focuses on Cindy as she tries to assert her identity beyond that of the put-upon sister in her family. She refuses to be taken for her outer self and is frustrated in her dealings with other characters until she meets a trainee artist who gives her validation by recognizing her inner self. Likewise the story ‘Kangaroo’ centres on issues of identity and is given a humorous treatment.
Many of the stories work in the genre of ‘flash fictions’ which work by centering on some epiphany for the main characters and give understanding to the whole story in a ‘flash’. The stories vary in terms of being either very brief, longer short fiction and dialogues. One of my preferred pieces was ‘You Can Be Anything’, narrated by a wheelchair-bound character who encounters advice a bit like ‘The Secret’ and has to come to terms with whether the advice given is the truth or not. It is both funny and sad. Other strong stories are ‘The Tower’ which examines the clash between the world of facts and of imagination as exemplified in the relationship between father and son. The author seems to come down in favour of Romantic imagination in contrast to science in being able to see life in its fullness, rather like the Sufis valued the primacy of intuition over disparate facts.
‘The Kissing Game’, the title story, is especially memorable and with a macabre ending seems to be a warning to adolescents with problems to make sure they pick someone they can entrust themselves to. In conclusion, I’d say this is a superb and wide-ranging collection which is high on substance but doesn’t sacrifice form or humour either; being a highly stimulating work.