Reviewed by Chris Limb
Alan is fourteen and lives in a flat in Manchester with his heavily pregnant mum. Whilst mum believes that window cleaner dad has simply run off, Alan knows otherwise, having witnessed first hand his father being kidnapped by the mysterious beings known only as the Ninnies. The problem is that no-one aside from his school friend Amy Aziz plus Marlton and Bunty (the two strange old people who live in the flat upstairs) believe him…
This is a middle grade YA novel which, despite the cartoonish illustrations and playground name of the eponymous baddies, visits some very dark places indeed. In Alan the author has captured the thought processes and enthusiasms of a slightly geeky teenage boy perfectly –whilst he may very well feel more than simply friendship for his co-conspirator Amy it’s not something he would ever openly admit to. Besides, they’re both far too busy trying to uncover the Ninnies’ deadly secrets.
The humour and absurdity of parts of the storyline contrast nicely with the underlying eeriness of the premise, and despite the straightforward nature of the narrative there is plenty of mystery here – the origin of the Ninnies is never really explained and it is left to the reader to decide whether they come from outer space, a parallel dimension or a world of dark magic. The Ninnies themselves wouldn’t be out of place in a Stephen King novel, and their plan to enslave humanity by getting everyone addicted to potato based snacks containing disconcerting additives is an audacious one. Even if the resourceful Amy and Alan stop them this time there’s no guarantee that they won’t be back; the Buffy-esque research that the two teenagers undertake in the Esoteric Bookshop reveal that this kind of thing has been going on for centuries.
The playful horror rollercoaster of the main plot is interrupted halfway through by the birth of Alan’s baby sister Squoosh. This experience is well described, proving every bit as life changing and astonishing for our hero as the nocturnal shenanigans he’s recently been undertaking to get to the bottom of the whole conspiracy. Furthermore it gives him a renewed enthusiasm for the mission as he’s got a sister to protect now as well.
If this is a nightmare it’s one from which the reader awakes feeling invigorated and excited as well as scared. If you imagine that the ‘League of Gentlemen’ had written an episode of the ‘Sarah Jane Adventures’, which had then been novelised by Roald Dahl, you might come close to capturing the atmosphere and quality of ‘The Ninnies’.
Hints dropped in the last chapter indicate that this isn’t the last we’ve heard of Amy and Alan; I hope that the next volume of their adventures makes it into print sooner rather than later.