Book Reviews | by Miss Buxton

“Change” can be found in many of the books that we recommend in school at some point in the story arc, whether an action story or reflective one concentrating on the internal life of the main characters. The following recently published recommendations involve change in various ways but what the stories do have in common is that they are compulsive reading, especially helpful during these uncertain times.

Burn by Patrick Ness:

“On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957, Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron Gas Station for the dragon he’d hired to help on the farm.”

Which is how one of the best books I have read this year begins, set in a world similar to ours but very different in the fact that dragons exist. The dragon, Kazimir, supposedly without a soul is protective of Sarah and arrives in her life because of a prophecy, one which involves a deadly assassin, a cult of dragon worshippers, two FBI agents and Sarah herself.

The multiple themes of racism, sexism and homophobia amongst others, in no way detract from a story that is fast paced, compelling and right till the end you’re never quite sure how Patrick Ness will rescue his characters.

The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust, Volume 2 by Philip Pullman:

The second volume of The Book Of Dust reintroduces us to Lyra Silvertongue, twenty years of age and studying now at the university which has always been her home. Effectively following on from The Amber Spyglass which ends His Dark Materials trilogy this is not a story for children as we find Lyra older, rather sad and in serious conflict with her daemon, Pantalaimon. The murder at the beginning of the story in Oxford is the catalyst for the action which follows. Dust is ever present, as is the new presence of rose oil, created in a fantastical place in the middle of a desert and leads to Lyra and Pan leaving Oxford and travelling across Europe and Asia to find answers to the secrets which surround them.

A story which explores how we and the world around us changes and how courage can always be found if we look for it.

The Night Bus Hero by Onjali Q. Rauf:

“I’ve been getting into trouble for as long I can remember. Usually I don’t mind ‘cos some of my best, most brilliant ideas have come from sitting in detention.But recently it feels like no one believes me about anything – even when I’m telling the truth! And it’s only gotten worse since I played a prank on the old man who lives in the park.”

Hector, the narrator and central character of The Night Bus Hero is by his own admission a bully. With a couple of friends Hector terrorises their fellow pupils, is the bane of his teachers lives, has a distant relationship with his parents and generally not a very likeable person at all. Then Hector encounters Thomas, a homeless person in the local park and a sequence of events are triggered which lead Hector to decide to become the hero and prove everyone wrong!

Swamp Monster | by Emily

“Don’t go there,” they warned. “It’s not safe… there are rumours of people who have gone there and never come back. Please, don’t push your luck, Chester. It’s dangerous.” The more his parents said, the more he wanted to explore the ancient swamp-Ish forest that lies just past the end of the garden. Nobody really owned it, they’ve never wanted to, besides, what would anyone gain from that horrid place. He was about to find out.

Now that Chester was in this mysterious and widely unknown mess, choices were soon regretted and more bad decisions were made. Emerging from the shadows was a tall Swamp Monster brandishing its long branch-like arms that were already clutching on to a poor, vulnerable animal who was hanging on for dear life. Chester, on the other hand thought he knew what he was doing from those man vs monster movies that he’d seen and always wanted to be in. He wanted everyone to think he was a hero. Enough daydreaming, he was now face – to – face with a human eating beast! Just a breath away from becoming its dinner! Chester and the Swamp Monster made eye contact for the first time. Nor Chester or the Swamp Monster moved a muscle. All went silent. And for those brief few seconds everything was still.

Quick to respond to the failure of Plan A, Chester found a pile of wet, dirty fallen branches and leaves. Finally, Chester saw a lame old branch that he could barely hold it was so big. The perfect weapon. Big, sharp and good grip.

Chester wanted to go home. But this creature was stood in front of him, clueless, armed, disgusting and scared. Scared? It was scared too! Chester realized in what felt like 3 days later than he should’ve done. He wasn’t prepared for a swamp monster… So, a swamp monster couldn’t be prepared to see a kid in its forest. 1… 4… now 6 steps closer to the strange beast, still clutching that same heavy twig. Not sure if he needed it. The monster stepped back, still watching the boy. Both putting down weapons, Chester stumbled across the rough floor and tripped! Snapping sticks and rustling leaves trying to stand. Cautiously, Swamp Monster bent down to human height and helped him up with a skeleton-like hand.

Chester, after a brisk lift home (to the edge of the forest would be more accurate from his new SECRET friend. Once Chester had snuck through the back door.) everything seemed so dull… and normal.

6th Form to University | by Lucy W

I think it’s safe to say that this year was absolutely not the year anyone planned for. At the beginning of 2020, I had planned to take my A-level exams in the summer months and hopefully pass, before spending the holidays travelling before I left for uni. Instead, I spent five months at home, waiting for the government to give me my grades, so I could find out if I would be going to uni. Not really the ideal last year, but somehow we all made it through the boredom!

I set off to the University of Exeter at the start of September, which was really strange as I was going away so much earlier than all my friends. I was exceedingly nervous to meet my new flatmates, and I was also going to live in accommodation I had never even seen before. Despite all that, I made good friends with my flatmates quickly and had a lovely first week, although we didn’t have a ‘Freshers’ week. Starting my university course after six months of almost no study was quite a shock in the second week, but everyone soon settled down into a routine of study. However, this year was very strange at university as our courses were delivered with blended learning; a few in-person seminars and all of our lectures online via Microsoft Teams. It was quite a struggle to get to know the people on my course as we couldn’t meet in person, but we somehow managed to in the few practicals we had. My course, in particular, had very few contact hours and so I spent most of my time doing lots of reading, and watching lectures! Despite all of that, I have really enjoyed my course so far and I’m looking forward to my second term, where I will have the option to pick a few of the modules on offer.

The hardest challenge this term has been leaving home to live in a new area in a pandemic. I didn’t realise as I left that I would not be able to come home again until December, and so getting used to being so far from everyone was difficult. However, living in a shared flat like mine has been so useful, as you can really get to know your flatmates and enjoy spending time all together. I would also really recommend going self-catered at university. I wasn’t sure I would like being self-catered, as I thought fitting in the time to cook would be hard with the course, however, it is so nice to cook with flatmates in the kitchen, and go out for dinner together (obviously when we are not in a lockdown!).

The change from the sixth form to university has been very strange, however, I have absolutely loved being at university so far, and it has been a good time despite all the differences as a result of living during a pandemic.

Changes in the Climate Crisis | Mr Earp

On behalf of the Eco Team I have been asked to write a short article exploring the evolving response to the ongoing climate change crisis and in particular to consider if the recent transfer of power within America to the Democrat Joe Biden represents a significant moment of change in the trajectory of our response to this pressing threat.

It is worth beginning by considering the last seemingly significant global change in our climate response, which was represented by the COP21* (Paris 15) climate agreement, at which, with near unanimity the countries of the world committed to meaningful targets to limit future emissions to keep warming below the 2 degree threshold (considered by many scientists to represent the upper boundary between a much more dangerous and unstable amount of global heating and our current, already changing climate); this link is to the IPCC report on Global Warming of 1.5oC. Following so closely on the awful terrorist atrocity perpetrated in the city a short time before the summit, Paris 15 seemed to represent genuine hope for humanity and a path forwards towards a more stable, sustainable future.

However the years that followed have not lived up to the optimistic expectations that arose from Paris 15, most spectacularly with the abrupt withdrawal of the USA from the agreement under the populist President Donald Trump, who cast doubt on climate science, at times referring to climate change as ‘a hoax’ and pursuing policies in opposition to reducing carbon emissions, including removing information relating to climate change from government websites and seeking to boost oil and gas production. Whilst only one country it is undeniable that the US remains one of the most influential countries on the planet; these actions have set a poor example for others to follow and have in part contributed to the lack lustre action and failure to meet targets in many countries; the recent UK decision to open a new coal mine in Cumbria could potentially be seen in this context (although this is to be reviewed).

To gain a global perspective the independent Climate Action Tracker (see link) monitors the progress of individual countries towards meeting their climate goals and at the time of writing their analysis predicted 2.9oC of warming (i.e. well into the more dangerous, potentially ‘runaway’, phase of climate warming). A multitude of other sources paint the picture that too little is being done to meet targets and that the impacts of warming may be more severe than we realised; for example recent findings suggest sea level rise models are insufficiently sensitive and that up to 25cm of extra sea level rise could occur by 2100 (up to 1.30m relative to today, threatening cities such as New York, Shanghai and Bangkok). A further factor to consider is the argument that Paris 15 was too weak in the first place but that is beyond the remit of this article.

However the election of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the USA is seen by many as a hopeful sign that the response to the climate crisis, particularly within America, is about to become more serious; the BBC reported in November that Biden’s proposed environmental policies are the most ambitious in history, pledging to spend 2 trillion dollars in his first four years to cut US emissions, including through home insulation, investment in public transport and incentives to purchase electric cars (BBC News). Whilst election pledges can often be watered down or even abandoned entirely once a candidate takes office the early signs of the Biden era have so far been refreshingly positive; the tone was set on his very first day with the signing of an executive order to rejoin the Paris 15 climate agreement. Subsequent actions have included stopping the leasing of public lands for future oil and gas extraction and promoting an increase in the use of wind energy, the latter helping to create new jobs in the renewables sector. The positive governmental tone has been matched in some influential parts of the private sector, with the world’s biggest investment fund manager, BlackRock, threatening to divest from companies that do not disclose their plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 (Guardian).

It is to be hoped that over the coming months further positive progress is to be made, including the setting of more ambitious carbon reduction targets by the US to act both as mitigation for further climate change and as a clear example to other developed nations to take robust action. It is also to be hoped that more longer term environmental actions can be passed into legislation by the US Congress as opposed to presidential executive orders that are much easier to undo by subsequent administrations. However the recent priority given to meaningful environmental actions in the US can for now be welcomed as a positive, hopeful sign that the changes urgently needed are intensifying and that COP26 in Glasgow this November will mark an acceleration of our efforts to tackle the threats of climate change.

Image Link: https://media.npr.org/assets/img/2013/03/06/bluemarble3k-smaller-nasa_custom-644f0b7082d6d0f6814a9e82908569c07ea55ccb.jpg (26/06/21)

Will the Covid-19 Pandemic Change Human History? | Jodie W

The year 2020 brought unimaginable change to the every-day lives of almost every person on the planet, but it is difficult to know how much of this will eventually impact the future and will genuinely be remembered by those who come after us. At every stage of the pandemic thus far, we have anticipated worsening circumstances but by now, the situation has entirely surpassed most people’s wildest nightmares. For many, the pandemic and the ‘stay at home’ order which came with it have served as a catalyst for positive change, whether that be a matter as simple as making time to exercise more regularly or utilizing our free time to protest for fundamental societal change. Changes have come both on a large scale, with closures of mass retail chains such as Topshop and Debenhams, and on more banal fronts, such as the way in which the ordinary workplace has adjusted to accommodate. The pandemic has also highlighted the rising cruciality of science and technology in our everyday lives which become more and more prevalent as vaccines continue to be rolled out in Great Britain and across the world. Of course as I write this, it is largely hypothetical, but what of this momentous year will people even want to remember? Or would those who lived through it simply rather forget the events altogether?

As a result of Covid-19, society has had to adapt massively. We have had to change our habits, forcing ourselves to recoil away from others in an effort to avoid contamination and this is likely to continue as we fear a continuation of the pandemic. Although many have been disproportionately affected by the measures imposed, such as children living in homes without an internet connection missing out on vital years of education, where society has been divided in many ways, in others it has been united. Everyone has faced some form of difficulty as a result of the disease and although obviously varying in extremity, it is easy to sympathise with one another. Invariably, sharing a common problem is likely to nurture the emergence of a common purpose within society, giving the human race as a whole one polarity of opposition; Covid-19. This has, of course, been seen previously in history too. During the blitz, a 56-day Nazi bombing campaign against the British Isles during the second world war, the cabinet under Winston Churchill witnessed what many described as an ascendance of human good, with British society uniting in an altruistic effort to benefit each and every person, having each experienced the same horrific actions. However when this is reflected on today, this is rarely the focus, instead being the loss of life and destruction which took place, suggesting that whether or not society is able to unite as a result of the pandemic may not truly have a historical significance. Furthermore, although in the past moments of historical significance such as the blitz have united us, this unity is rarely able to be maintained for long periods of time and given the high political tensions which the pandemic has acted as a catalyst to provide, it is unlikely that the unity demonstrated by the ‘clap for carers’ and other similar events around the world will change human history going forward.

On the contrary, there have been mass demonstrations of continual division within society as the news regarding covid-19 eventually blurred for many, leaving room for the promotion of more constructive change. Undoubtedly, George Floyd will be a name for the history books. His tragic death at the hands of three police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was filmed by onlookers and posted online. His death led to countless protests, echoing the chant of ‘Black Lives Matter’ in an effort to raise awareness initially for police brutality but also for the need to eradicate institutionalised racism from our modern day society. This movement spread worldwide thanks to the ease of access improved through technology and social media, prompting the forced removal of the statue of Edward Colston, a known slave trader, in Bristol as well as many other drastic, memorable actions. In the United States, President Trump’s Administration’s mishandling of both these protests and the pandemic as a whole, swayed many voters towards Joe Biden in the November 2020 US Presidential Election, something which will inevitably change human history due to the drastically different policies of each of the respective politicians. The change which so many people have experienced is likely to alter the viewpoints of many individuals, leading to long term changes.

Not only has the income of so many people been jeopardised, along with the fears of an imminent economic recession but the increased time alone has forced so many people to consider who they truly are, what they value. People are now more likely to prioritise what they truly value as the magnitude and speed at which change can occur has become increasingly clear. Therefore, it seems foolish to suggest that the Covid-19 Pandemic will not bring tremendous changes to human history within society.

Furthermore, there have been drastic changes in the way in which education and the workplace will function. There has been a realisation of the necessity of technology in the workplace as almost all university lectures have been moved online with technology being the enabler so that people can work from home as instructed. It is likely that a sense of office camaraderie may become a thing of the past as the necessity to social distance is not possible in many bustling offices, resulting in the need for staggered work-shifts to ensure work spaces do not become overcrowded when not working from home, something which may have seemed unimaginable to many just less than a year ago. However, the opportunity to work from home has been positive for many as there has been a shift in the expectations of employees as they are able to prioritise their responsibilities outside of work, such as childcare, and workplace culture has adjusted to enable employees to be valued more for meeting targets rather than the time which they spend sat at a desk. It will be difficult to deny employees the option of working from home from this point onwards and this is also likely to reduce the number of people looking to commute to their workplace following the relaxation of restrictions. We may even hypothesize that the future will see the eradication of the 9-5 altogether. Although it is impossible to predict how many of these changes will be continued following the return of normality, it is easy to suggest that many of these changes in education and the workplace will be sustained, and although there may be less drastic changes than those within society, the pandemic has acted as a stimulant for changes in human history.

This pandemic has had one crucial difference from those comparable with it which happened in the past, the crucial role of technology. The tools of technology have undoubtedly saved the pandemic from having a worse impact than it may have had in a pre-technological age. Not only has technology played a pivotal role in spreading lockdown messages from governments and of course actually caring for patients ill with the virus, but it has also allowed for many people to authentically offer tools to help people cope with the lockdown measures. For example Joe Wicks, who will be receiving an MBE for his contribution to society through fitness classes which he provided daily through Youtube during the lockdown and Marcus Rashford, who will also be receiving an MBE for his contribution to the campaign against child food poverty, much of which was spread through social media. We have seen a global rise in the ease of access to medicine and doctor’s appointments, and although this has been done due to necessity it appears as though an awful lot of appointments could simply have been an e-mail or a five minute phone call. Technology has brought an unlimited sense of opportunity for change during the pandemic but it is difficult to know how much of these will be acted upon to the extent of truly changing human history or if society will simply wish to return to normality as these technological advancements make change far more gradually. It is certain that without technology, the human history of the pandemic would have been very different.

To conclude, it is evident that the pandemic will bring fundamental changes to our way of life as we move forwards. The Covid-19 pandemic has been the defining global moment of the 21st century so far and given it has had a global impact, the measures which have been put in place in an effort to prevent contamination, and of course the direct impact in terms of illness and death due to the disease itself, will change human history. It is now up to us to decide how it will do so.

Image Link: https://www.ox.ac.uk/sites/files/oxford/styles/ow_medium_feature/s3/field/field_image_main/shutterstock_1660181482.jpg?itok=HyE8LIgY (22/06/21)