Aidan Chambers is one of the best-known and well-loved British authors of young adult fiction, as well as an [End Page 78] influential and widely read critic of children's literature. In recognition of Chambers's importance in the area of young adult fiction, Scarecrow Studies in Young Adult Literature has just released a volume devoted to him. Aidan Chambers: Master Literary Choreographer, written by Betty Greenway, combines a study of the fictional texts, critical work, and biographical details of this award-winning literary figure.
The book is separated into seven chapters, loosely based upon the chronological ordering of Chambers's six best-known young adult works, referred to collectively as the "Dance Sequence" (Breaktime; Dance on My Grave; NIK: Now I Know; The Toll Bridge; Postcards from No Man's Land; and This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn). The first chapter is devoted to his early life and works, and each subsequent chapter arranges the facts of his life around the production of each novel in turn.
Greenway's treatment of Chambers's fictional works is thorough and insightful. Organized with a focus on the six "Dance Sequence" novels, the book draws out the main themes, techniques, controversies, strengths, and weaknesses of each novel, relating them back to the whole canon of Chambers's writing and to his life. For example, in Chapter 3, which deals with the novel Dance on My Grave, Greenway draws on Chambers's personal Web site, an interview that she conducted with Chambers, her email correspondence with Chambers, and two of Chambers's published pieces of literary criticism (from The Horn Book and Booktalk) to show the ways in which Chambers's critical ideas correspond to the themes that appear in the novel. In the beginning of this chapter, Greenway cites a quotation by Chambers in which he comments on his interest in television instant replays as a narrative technique. Greenway goes on to demonstrate the use of this technique in the boating incident that opens the novel, and she critiques its effectiveness. Throughout this chapter, Greenway shows how the novel reflects Chambers's views, theories, and life experiences. She brings in relevant biographical details, such as Chambers's first job at Southend-on-Sea, which is where the novel is set, or the connection between a character named Jim Osbourn, who is an influential teacher in the novel, and Chambers's own charismatic teacher of the same name.
Because Greenway concentrates on the connections between Chambers's life and his young adult novels, her treatment of his critical work is scattered and much less in depth than her examination of his fictional work. Greenway is not concerned in this book with providing a thorough analysis of Chambers's critical work. Instead, his critical works are referred to throughout the chapters where and when they relate to the novel under discussion and are used mainly to illustrate his views on a particular fictional device or technique. This is hardly a drawback, however, as more attention on the critical works would have been out of sync with the aims of the book and would have distracted from the flow of the discussion.
Despite its slimness (only 133 pages of actual material, including [End Page 79] the chronology), the book provides a thoroughly researched and well-balanced discussion of the six novels that make up Chambers's "Dance Sequence." The book also contains a lot of original interview material with Chambers in which he lays out his philosophical and critical positions on many of the topics under consideration. The experience of reading this volume leaves the reader with a sense that Chambers's work and life make a coherent whole (not to mention an inspiring story). I recommend this book not only to anyone with an interest in Aidan Chambers's work but also to those more generally interested in contemporary young adult fiction.
Jennifer Sattaur is currently a PhD student at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, writing on the development of the perception of childhood...