Showing posts with label YA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label YA. Show all posts

Monday, 7 January 2019


Misrule by Jodi McAlister (Penguin Books, 2019) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN9780143793465

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is the third book in McAlister’s Valentine series, the other two being Valentine and Ironheart. With the words ‘This is not a fairytale’ on the front cover, the book is nevertheless filled with magic and could best be described as paranormal.

Pearl Langford’s boyfriend Finn, who is a magical fairy prince, is kidnapped by his older brother and whisked away to fulfil his destiny in their fairy kingdom. Of course, Pearl is not impressed and decides on a boyfriend rescue mission, as would any girl in love. She has told Finn she would come to get him, and she will not allow anyone to stand in her way. This involves tearing a hole in the universe and possible deaths of others, and, the question is, does Finn want to be saved?

The opening sentence is memorable: ‘One thing I never knew about grief is that it was exhausting.’ This is narrated by Pearl who has undergone the deaths of her mother, her grandmother and her friend Marie ‘killed and eaten by carnivorous water monsters’, the after-effects she has witnessed. 

Here are words from the book: ‘...she’s lying on the kitchen floor, covered in horrible rivers of blood, splatters and streams of red all over the cabinets like the most horrifying children’s painting ever, and a gash in her neck so deep I’m amazed her head is even still attached to her body.’ 

Yes, McAliser writes extremely well, but be prepared for vivid descriptions such as this one!

Described as ‘unputdownable’, Misrule is an adventure story, a mix of action, romance and wit, and is highly suitable for a YA readership.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

The Centre of my Everything

The Centre of my Everything by Allayne Webster (Penguin Random House)
PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9780143783336

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Centre of my Everything is a distinctly Australian, gritty YA novel set in the regional town of Mildura. Told in the alternating points of view of four main characters, Justin, Tara, Corey and Margo, it’s about the intertwining lives of the teens, plus their families, too.

Justin has just returned to town post-rehab and is trying to move on from his drug-addicted past. Corey is a school drop-out struggling with employment, Tara feels unloved by her mother and has a bad girl reputation, while Indigenous character Margo is intelligent and headstrong, with a plan to escape the stifling confines of her small town environment for uni in the city.

The novel opens with Corey extremely hungover, and piecing together the events of the night before – a destructive, drunken high school party, culminating in digging up bones at the local cemetery. This event drives the plot forward and links the characters in a way you never see coming, providing a gripping read.

Often confronting, the story deals with themes including binge drinking, violence and sexual assault, so it’s one for older teens and up. The writing is truly compelling, the plot tightly woven, and the voices of each character feel authentic, raw and real. 

Webster has captured the essence of teen drinking culture in a lower social economic, regional Australian environment, yet manages to infuse heart and hope.

Friday, 26 October 2018


Liberty by Nikki McWatters (University of Queensland Press) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9780702260292

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

Born in different eras, three young women share a common bond – the ‘bloodline of the sisterhood’. Jeanne Laisné discovers her ‘blood of iron’ in 1472, when she overcomes her poverty-stricken background to emerge as the heroine of Beauvais during a fierce battle. In 1797, Betsy Gray becomes embroiled in a rebel alliance that is desperate to free Ireland from English rule, and she is determined to fight with every last breath in her body.

Fiona McKechnie’s rustic naivety is destroyed when she heads to university in Brisbane in 1968 and is faced with the realities of the Vietnam War and conscription. When she discovers the Systir Saga, a book containing the names of Jeanne and Betsy, as well as all the other ‘women who were the threads that were sewn together with stitches of time and blood to make up the garment’ that is her, Fiona draws strength from her sisterhood to stand up for what she believes in.

Liberty is aimed at the YA market, and its underlying girl-power message will appeal particularly to teen girls aged 14 and above. Inspired by historical people and events, award-winning author Nikki McWatters takes three discrete story strands and skilfully braids them into a single compelling tale. While some of the dialogue is a little laboured, Nikki’s use of evocative similes and metaphors adds stunning dimension and colour to the narrative.

Passion, action and courage course through the book like the flood of feisty women whom Jeanne leads into battle. As the three protagonists proactively seek liberty in life and love, female readers especially will identify both with their empowerment and with their mantle as girls ‘who might just change the world’.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

The Bogan Mondrian

The Bogan Mondrian by Steven Herrick, (UQP)  PB RRP $19.95  ISBN: 9780702259982

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

Luke, a Year Eleven student from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’, becomes a catalyst for helping Charlotte, a girl from a wealthy family, address the domestic violence occurring in her home. Steven Herrick chose these backgrounds deliberately because, as he says, domestic violence ‘is an issue that affects people from all classes, races and religions.’

Luke’s father has recently died from cancer. Trying to come to terms with the loss, Luke sleepwalks through each day, wagging school and compulsively taking photos. When he discovers the truth about Charlotte’s home life, he realises that his own life could be worse. Much worse.

This is a powerful story, told by Luke in first-person prose, celebrating courage, compassion and friendship. It is set in Katoomba and the background and characters are clearly Australian.

The book raises questions about what it means to be a man and a father in today’s society.  On the surface Charlotte’s father is a charming, successful business man. His darker side is hinted at, not described in great detail. By contrast, Luke’s father was a gambler, a drinker and smoker -  a rough diamond who adored his family. Luke himself displays unexpected strength and kindness as does his friend, basketball-obsessed Blake.

Steven Herrick is better known for his verse-novels like The Simple Gift. The poet in Herrick is obvious as he doesn’t waste a word and uses some beautiful, evocative images. Although the subject is serious there are many moments of humour between Luke and his mother, and between Luke and a neighbour who’s teaching him to swear in Italian.

The resolution is believable and will have readers cheering. The Bogan Mondrian is highly recommended, especially for boys from Year 8 upwards.

The title might confuse some readers. Here’s the explanation: Charlotte has painted her bedroom walls in squares like a Mondrian painting, turning the room into her retreat from the world. At the end of the book Luke (the bogan) paints his room exactly the same. This time it’s not a retreat, it’s a celebration.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

A Cardboard Palace

A Cardboard Palace written by Allayne L Webster, (Midnight Sun Publishing) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN 978-1-92-522725-3

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

The back cover blurb claims this novel to be a humbling story about one boy’s desperation to escape a life of crippling poverty. And yes, the book is definitely this. But it is also so much more. A Cardboard Palace is a deeply engaging, thoughtful and ultimately life-affirming book that captures the reader from the very opening lines where action and characters are instantly present on the page. We meet eleven-year-old Jorge as he’s being clipped over the ear by his nasty boss Bill, while preparing to rob an old man with smiling eyes and a walking stick.

Jorge lives on the outskirts of Paris in a cardboard house, along with an army of child thieves. Stolen from their faraway homelands with the promise of making money for their struggling families, Jorge and the other children from this shanty town are under the control of Bill. Bill lives in an apartment with running water and a soft bed, while the children are forced to spend their waking hours stealing money and wallets from the millions of people who pour through the city centre.

The Paris of Jorge’s childhood is markedly different to the Eiffel Tower tea-towels and glossy travel brochures. The children’s Paris is harsh, dynamic and tinged with danger.

I love that we travel alongside Jorge; feeling the challenge and conflict of hunger, of criminal activity and of being unsafe. We laugh at his wonderful capacity for humour (especially sarcastic one-liners) and broader observations, and marvel at the dreams he manages to hold. We are drawn into this harsh yet remarkably human community where we’re not asked to feel sorry for Jorge, but rather to appreciate the world from his point of view. We see the obstacles in his way and hope that he’ll overcome them.

This is a captivating story that will transport both girls and boys into the action-packed and often seedy underbelly of Paris, a city that holds great sway in the collective imagination. This book is highly recommended.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Defy the Stars

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray (Allen and Unwin)  PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781471406362

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘She’s learned how to fight. Next she has to learn how to die.’

Noemi, a seventeen-year-old soldier from the planet Genesis, has three weeks to live. Her assignment to strike and destabilise the gateway to her planet will buy her people time in the war against Earth … at the cost of her own life. When Noemi veers off-course during a sudden attack from Earth, she discovers an abandoned ship with somebody onboard: Abel. A robot.

Abel is the long-lost creation of Burton Mansfield, an Earth-residing scientist whom some believe is a genius, others evil. The only ‘A’ model mech he’s ever created, Abel’s skill and cognitive reasoning is outstanding but his 30 years of isolation have produced a flaw in his programming. He has developed an ability to feel. When Abel reveals he knows how to destroy the Genesis Gate, Noemi orders him to help her secure the required items before she sends him to his death at the gate. (He is only a mech, after all.) But as they traverse the universe, and form a loyal alliance, Noemi feels uneasy about destroying him. Plus, the more she learns about the other planets the less she agrees with her home planet’s choices.

This is a fast-paced, gripping read by bestselling YA author, Claudia Gray. Noemi and Abel’s stories are told in alternating chapters in third-person perspective, and the progression of their relationship is fascinating. Abel’s near-human conscience constantly grapples with Noemi’s orders and his loyalty to Mansfield, providing much suspense in the story as to how he will act. Abel undergoes quite an existential battle as he tries to understand the motives behind Noemi and Mansfield’s opposing requests and behaviours. When caught in a terrorist attack, he:
‘… finds it hard to comprehend that humans don’t share the same directives he does. That their innermost beings don’t demand that they help protect one another’s lives. Shouldn’t that matter to a human even more than it does to a mech?’

The book is suitable for science fiction fans aged 12–18 years, but I believe it will appeal to a wider and older audience also. Outside of its planetary attacks, galactic descriptions and battleship commands is an enthralling relationship between two engaging characters … and a heartrending moral reflection on human nature.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Enigma Diaries: Forgotten Future

The Enigma Diaries: Forgotten Future by Lynda A Calder, illustrated by Johanna Lum (Little Steps Publishing) PB RRP $19.95
ISBN: 9781925117660

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

About halfway through this book, I realised it was a sequel: Hidden History is the first in this series. Any time travel book is a complex endeavour when the characters are moving back and forward between particular zones, but the storyline became even more difficult to follow with the introduction of characters who have a backstory in the previous book that wasn’t thoroughly spelled out. 

The opening is explosive, intriguing and a tiny bit confusing. Time parallelism is occurring even before it’s made clear it is. No doubt this would have been obvious to a reader of Hidden History but I didn’t quite pick it up immediately.  The Nephilim appear at Stonehenge during the summer solstice, ready to subjugate humanity, perhaps even obliterate them with their god-like powers. News reporters are waiting, alerted by the World Wide Web that this gathering on Salisbury Plain will be like no other. 

By the time James bows to the Nephilim, fifteen-year-old Cassandra Reid knows it is already too late to save the world from the unfolding disaster. Chronos has sent a time device two hundred years into the future, readying the planet for the return of the greater Nephilim brood.

Cassandra accidently winds up in the future herself when she goes to the beach with her friend Peony. There she has to escape the Nephilim, but also to get back to the past. Her time-twisting adventures as she meets up with old friends, new allies—and encounters herself in disguise—take her through to the far future and back into the past.

Although the cover suggests a New Adult audience, this book is more suited to avid Middle Grade readers and the lower end of the YA spectrum. 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Fail Safe

The Fail Safe by Jack Heath (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781925266078

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Fero and Cormanenko are back! Bestselling author, Jack Heath, has delivered an exhilarating sequel to The Cut Out. Readers of the first book will be expecting another page turner, another late night … and they won’t be disappointed.

The novel begins with Fero helping his ‘parents’ move boxes of potassium iodide into an underground bunker. He has had a bit of time to process Cormanenko’s startling revelation at the end of The Cut Out. Though it pains him to play the role of an unsuspecting son who is loyal to Kamau, his feigned ignorance is keeping him alive.

The pace of the novel is a bit different to the prequel, in that the action scenes are interspersed with Fero’s sudden flashbacks to life as Troy Maschenov. The author cleverly keeps the reader in suspense but uses the scenes from the past to drive the story forward, often in a different direction.

Repelled at some of his memories, Fero’s loyalty to Besmar and to Vartaniev quickly deteriorates. He turns to Cormanenko, an equally disillusioned agent working on a powerful plan of her own. ‘I need you to be my fail safe’, she tells him, and though Fero thinks he understands what she means, it is not until the end of the story that he truly learns.

Fero’s character development in this novel is completely plausible. I was impressed with the way Jack Heath allowed Fero to find himself without the narrative ever lagging in action.

This novel will appeal to readers aged 10 and up. Its themes of war (and its senselessness), border control, immigration, government deception and the power of social media make it an interesting novel for class discussion. Though the beginning of the novel briefly summarises what happened in the prequel, I would definitely recommend reading The Cut Out before starting this one. (Better to lose yourself in the story without trying to piece together what has already taken place!)

Monday, 4 July 2016

The Journey

The Journey by Francesca Sanna (Walker Books)
HC RRP $27.99
ISBN 9781909263994

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is a story about migration, told with compassion, deep thought and consideration. Author/illustrator Francesca Sanna, spoke to many migrants that escaped from war zones about their experiences, before deciding to create this book. These are all the stories in one, for they seem to be the same. Her voice speaks for all the voices that remain unheard.

It’s a story of loss: of the parts of their life before the war, sometimes of family members, belongings they leave behind and what they shed along the way, and of their homeland.

Here, a mother loses her husband to war. She is determined to find a safe place to rebuild a future for her children. To preserve their hope, she tells them it is an adventure. She hides her fear, but in the night when her children sleep, her emotions are released through silent tears.

There are walls to scale; visible and invisible ones. The endless roads they travel are danger traps. Then they must survive the stormy seas.

The illustrations are powerful and expressive. Dark and haunting, they depict the emotions the family experiences on their quest to reach a safe country to call home. These fears and emotions are portrayed by huge mouths, monsters, overpowering shapes and shades.

The strangeness of the future - the cities, forests and animal illustrations are magnified in size to represent the family’s imaginings. The tiny size of the people against the enormity of everything else, shows how diminished they are by their loss.

This is a stunning book. Its theme is uniquely represented by its illustrations which enhance and magnify the text. Sanna has achieved what she set out to do, and that’s to call attention to the plight of immigrants forced to take desperate measures to reach safety because of war.

This book is an ageless picture book for a more mature readership. Some younger children might find some of the illustrations scary. Adults must use their discretion.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Flyaway Girls

The Flyaway Girls by Julia Lawrinson (Penguin Books) PB RRP $ 14.99  ISBN 9780143308652

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

It is difficult for anyone who is passionate about succeeding but who does not have natural talent. This is the dilemma that ultimately faces Chelsea, the hardest worker in her gymnastics club, who aspires to making the National team and then, hopefully, the Olympics. Chelsea is obsessed with her sport and practices endlessly, often neglecting her relationships, especially with her school friends Rosie and Gemma, both musically inclined. She feels confident of achieving her goal until a new girl joins her squad.

Almost immediately Chelsea sees that Telia, despite not being as technically perfect as she is at first, has more natural talent. Before long Telia overcomes initial problems and succeeds in a way that has Chelsea convinced she never can: Telia even completes a full straight-body somersault, something that Chelsea with all her determination and practice has never been able to do. Chelsea continues to strive but she is conflicted, trying to distance herself from Telia who is friendly and seemingly not as committed as she is.

Anyone who is obsessed about success, in whatever field, can surely understand Chelsea’s jealousy of the gifted newcomer and her frustration at not being able to make the cut. She loves her sport and is willing to do what it takes, but all her work seems to be for nothing when Telia is selected instead of her for the Nationals. Hard work is not enough is the message: one needs the x factor that Telia naturally has.

Should Chelsea continue with her gymnastic career, or give up? In the end, she learns that part of growing up is learning how to accept what gifts one has and to manage the gap between what she wants and what life has on offer.

This novel, aimed at girl readers aged 10 years and up, is very focused on the skills and practices of gymnastics.  It would mostly interest any reader with an interest in the sport or one who aspires to being top of her field. 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Vietnam: My Australian Story

Vietnam: My Australian Story by Deborah Challinor (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-76015-042-6

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

It is the late 1960’s and young Davey Walker can see change happening everywhere. He is starting high school, his brother Tom has been drafted to fight in Vietnam and his mother is acting a little strange. But the surf is still great, and so with his new surfboard, his two best mates, and plenty of new pop songs to sing on the way, Davey spends as much time as possible biking to and from the surf beach.

Vietnam is the fictional diary kept by thirteen year old Davey between September 1968 and January 1970. It is not a story about the Vietnam War, although letters home from Tom with brief descriptions of the war are included in the pages, but rather a picture of Australian culture during this time. And this was a time of social change, anti-war protests, surf-culture, space exploration and music.

I particularly loved the record Davey kept of the songs which were at the top of, or climbing the charts. Davey’s comments about whether it was a song his father liked/hated, his sister loved or his mates were into, really helped form the characters in the story. As music was a very important part of this era, these inclusions gave the story a strong 60’s atmosphere as well as clearly showing the changing face of popular culture.

Diary form is an intimate way to tell someone’s story, but you do have to connect with the diarist for it to work well. It wasn’t hard to connect with Davey. He is involved with family, a loyal friend and a bit of a ‘lad’ - but he is also a complex character, very compassionate and a thinker, trying to make sense of what life has thrown up. After his brother Tom comes home from Vietnam – minus a leg courtesy of a land mine – Davey has to tell his mother Tom is not coming back to live at home.

She said, ‘He’s not our Tom any more, is he?’
I didn’t really know how to answer that. My Tom was probably always different from her Tom. So I said, ‘I think he still loves us.’

The writing is very good. The people, their motivations and their relationships, feel solid and realistic. There is a good balance between social issues, Davey’s inner life and action in the pages of his diary. There is also a good balance between the ups and the downs. While some parts of life turn out great for Davey, other parts are very sad. It did touch a chord with me and there were tears.

My Australian Story is a really solid series and a great way for teenagers and preteens to learn about different periods in Australian history.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Zarkora, The Fyrelit Tragedy

Zarkora, The Fyrelit Tragedy by Nicholas and Alison Lochel (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99 Ebook: $9.99
ISBN: 9780734416421

Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

The first book in a 4-part series, Zarkora, The Firelit Tragedy, is set in a fantasy world within which is the Kingdom of Delmor. Here live three orphaned farm children, living independent lives since the parents were stolen from them, their father being murdered by a shadowy, cloaked figure, Versalos, and their mother snatched away by him, leaving no trace. The two boys, teenagers Neleik Fyrelit and Ervine, have vowed to protect their small sister Skye from all harm and danger, especially from Versalos. 

However, while Neleik is on the river defending his title as winner of the storm-boarding Crystal Cup competition, he sees Skye overshadowed by Versalos, plucked into his voluminous cape and carried away.

Thus begins the quest to rescue Skye despite the challenge of a dangerous journey into the unknown.

Brisbane authors and siblings, the Lochels first created the Zarkora series seven years ago as a self-published work and successfully sold 7,000 copies of the first two books by releasing them into several bookshops and promoting their work relentlessly. Now their series will reach a far wider market with the benefit of a full marketing and publicity campaign by Hachette which has also given the work a respectful edit.
Without a doubt, a quest within the popular fantasy genre is a favourite among young teenagers and older primary school readers. Although I found the writing in parts to be somewhat laboured and the dialogue did not always progress the story, the characters are well rounded and the action scenes display great imagination. On occasion, the attention to detail wavers, e.g. surely the horses required more than a pat at the end of the gruelling ride? (No sign of a rub-down/nosebag to assure animal-lovers.) However, the obstacles placed in the path of the questers and the way they are handled demonstrate the authors' outstanding creativity and provide a very satisfying and exciting storyline for fantasy readers.

This first book in the Zarkora series is sure to whet the appetite for the subsequent novels and attract a wide readership.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont)
ISBN 978-1-7429-7830-7
PB $18.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

The comic book cover draws the reader into the world in which the main character, Sarah Albany (known as Alba) is firmly entrenched. Pencil in her hand, her mind wanders between reality and the fiction she draws in her cartoon frames. As the book starts, Alba and her quirky bunch of friends have all just finished secondary school in a town called Eden Valley and face the decision, what next? But the story is not just about this interesting and transient time of young adulthood. It's also about the end of the world, where Eden Valley has been named as the only place to be spared.

Alba lives with her mum in a bakery. Her father is dead and she has grown up with her friend Grady, a boy she is extraordinarily close to, but there is now one big problem between them. Grady is keen to become a lawyer and wants to go to the city to study. Alba doesn't want to make a decision to stay or go, quite happy if time could stand still. Then Ned Zebadiah ('prognosticator, seer and diviner of ancient mysteries') makes a prediction on the internet and it goes viral. Hippies stream into Eden Valley to escape the end of the world and the countdown begins. With the influx of outsiders comes Daniel, a former school mate of Alba's and now soapie star, who looks rather good with his shirt off.  

Written in first person, Alba's voice is strong, distinctive and funny. She gets off the track a bit sometimes, finds it a bit hard to focus on what is going on in front of her, but then cleverly gets back in time to move the story along. The camaraderie between the friends who have grown up together is well described and their reaction to the strangers that flock into their formerly sleepy town. Particularly skillful are the descriptions of Alba's drawing. 'I draw Cinnamon Girl close up and in profile here, her waves of hair billowing behind her and bleeding over the edges of the frames,' and 'I spend some time pencilling her solid legs, one foot in front of the other, resolutely marching through her unfilled frame.' Cinnamon Girl has a mind of her own, and is a good mirror for what Alba is going through in her life.

Melissa Keil's first novel, Life in Outer Space recently was awarded the Ena Noel award and was shortlisted for several other awards including a CBCA book of the year. The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl is Melissa's second young adult book and she has produced another humorous, warm-hearted novel. The story flows well and has characters the reader can be fond of as they struggle with coming of age problems. A bit of a love triangle and a ride on a motor bike and there's a resolution that is both apt and satisfying.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


Boy21 by Matthew Quick (Headline/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99 EBook $9.99
ISBN: 9781 4722 1290 0
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Matthew Quick has embarked on a dark and quirky story set in a poor North American town where drugs, filthy streets, and danger abounds.
Finley's life is no bed of roses. His mother died when he was just a kid and he lives with his Dad and Pop, an invalid with no legs who ever-mourns the loss of Finley's grandmother. He attends Bellmont High and the highlights in his life are basketball and his girlfriend Erin who also attends the school. She is a significant member of the girls' basketball team. Her older brother Rod assumes the role of protector and has a fierce reputation among the white and black residents of the town. The reader quickly gets the impression that it is a place you only live in if you have no choice. Both Finley and Erin have dreams of using their basketball prowess to give them tickets out.
The Coach burdens Finley with the job of companion to recently orphaned Russ, a high-profile high school basketball player from L.A. who copes with his trauma by claiming to be a space alien, Boy21. Finley is given information about Russ which he is not allowed to divulge to anyone. Finley speaks very little in any case, due to his own negative experiences, but he is not happy when he realises Russ plays his starting position in the basketball team. Right now Russ does not want to play basketball and Finley has been tasked to encourage him back into the game. If he is successful, he may have to forfeit his place and number in the team as Russ is also number 21. Surely that is too much to sacrifice.

Boy21 is an insight into lives that are oppressed by shadows of the past and which threaten them still. But it also shows how families battle along together and that some sacrifices are worth it. Quick has tackled a number of emotional and external problems to reveal a deep understanding of the way young people are affected by trauma and how friendship can help turn things around. Finley and Russ's story reflects the concept of keeping on in difficult circumstances and may encourage readers who are also finding life impossible. Boy21 demonstrates that things are never static; at some stage there is a breakthrough, often when you least expect it.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Protected

The Protected by Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5019 4
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Not since “Cat’s Eye” by Margaret Attwood have I read a novel that so compellingly and convincingly captures the blood sport that is teenage-girl bullying.
Hannah McCann is out of step with her peers and desperately wants to fit in and not rock the boat, thereby inviting the vultures to swoop and tear her to shreds. The bullying is carried out in an atmosphere of sweetness and innocence. It’s the little things -- the put downs, the sneers at her lack of cool, the accidentally-on-purpose exclusions that effectively undermine the little confidence Hannah has left, and builds up to a humiliating show-down. Hannah is left accused and sentenced by the school ground judge, jury and executioners. And in the current age of twitter and facebook, she has no respite and no protection from the unrelenting pointing fingers.
Although Hannah does not lack guts, a series of tragic events leaves her a quivering shadow of her former self. The story follows her as she rebuilds her life and makes tentative steps towards self acceptance, eventually regaining her dignity and taking ownership of her mistakes. It is only then that she can interact with others as an equal.

This story affected me at a visceral level while I was reading it and I had to put it aside a few times, as the unfolding story of Hannah’s train wreck life was so unrelentingly powerful.  Full marks to Zorn for a well crafted novel that also tackles the impact of grief upon a family.

Friday, 10 October 2014

An English Boy in New York

An English Boy in New York by Tom Easton (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4714-0149-7
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

Oh boy I was excited when I received this book in the mail. The follow up on Boys Don’t Knit, which was quite possibly the best book for reluctant teen readers I have read in years. Once again I couldn't put Easton’s book down, except when I was wiping tears from my face. I adore Tom Easton’s characters and writing style.

An English Boy in New York, is the second book in the series. Sometimes in a series it is helpful to have read the previous book, and I believe this is the case with this book. Having said that though, I believe once the reader has read into the second chapter they would be completely hooked. Ben, the main character is still very likeable although he is less flawed, or perhaps he is flawed in slightly different ways. You still want him to succeed; you want to keep listening to his ‘voice’. In the previous book, because of an ‘accident’, and subsequent punishment and probation, he won a national knitting competition. His prize, a trip for two, executive class, to New York, to appear at another knitting event. Unfortunately, due to his continued probation he is not allowed to go until his probation officer puts her job on the line and pulls some strings.

Once he has permission, a string of unfortunate events unfolds, starting with his choice of travel companion. New York is explored beautifully through the eyes of this unusual teenager and his gangster wannabe friend Gex. I could go on forever extolling the merits of this book; it has certainly been the subject for discussion in my home.

Tom Easton has had over a dozen books published. His writing talents range from chapter books to young adult novels. An English Boy in New York and Boy’s Don’t Knit are very clever. The book is perfect for reluctant teenage readers and if read in a senior classroom situation would raise healthy discussion. I found it refreshing, the serious matters of peer pressure, sex, vandalism, and theft, are raised in this story and handled in a modern yet sensitive way without being condescending or preachy. The characters are fully formed (especially his parents) and each supports the main character well.
Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of picture book The Bear Said Please and the series ‘That’s not a …” learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Come August, Come Freedom

Come August, Come Freedom by Gigi Amateau (Candlewick/Walker Books)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 9780763668709
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Gigi Amateau has created an outstanding historical factional novel on the African American slaves of the mid to late 1700s. The main character Gabriel was a real person, and it is around his life that the story is built.

Gabriel is born on the Brookfield plantation and belongs to Thomas Prosser along with his two brothers and parents. He is educated with Prosser’s son, Thomas Henry, and grows into an intelligent person who looks and acts much older than his years.

After Gabriel’s father is taken away never to return, Gabriel and his brother Solomon are sent to the smithy to learn and take over their father’s trade. It is while in Richmond, that his mind further expands when he witnesses further unrelenting injustices of white landowners against the working slaves.

He dreams of becoming like Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the Saint Domingue rebellion, known as the black general, which saw the slaves revolt and gain freedom. This is what Gabriel wanted for his people above all else. It was toward this end that plans were made for that dream to come true in October 1800.

Woven into the historical events is a powerful love story between Gabriel and Nan, the slave girl he loved from childhood. His other longing was to purchase her freedom, so their children could also be born free.

But conspiracy, treachery, and betrayal via promises of reward from people he trusted, tragically end Gabriel’s dream.

These dramatic times in American history are portrayed in lyrical prose with deep spiritual content that reflects the hearts and minds of the slaves of Virginia. Reading about their inhuman treatment and the control by whip of their owners, brought frequent tears to my eyes. But nothing could stop me from continuing.

This is a book of incredible depth and valuable historical content. It will propel the reader to further examine the history of the times and the evolution of the slave trade. It unearths the unshakable faith, strength, courage and determination to gain freedom nurtured by the African American slaves in the face of continued brutality, injustice, suffering and death.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Breakfast Served Anytime

Breakfast Served Anytime by Sara Combs (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9780763667917
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It is school holidays and Gloria sets out for ‘geek camp’- a camp for gifted students. All electronic equipment (except phone) is left behind so is best friend Carol, and her beloved grandma that has just passed on. With her grief, Gloria carries her scant belongings and a journal and pen, and joins the four student study group ‘Secrets of the Secret Word.’ All these elements will be instrumental to her metamorphosis.

It is Gloria’s narrative voice that allows us an intimate view of her feelings and thoughts.

Raised in a privileged environment by her single dad who has encouraged her to think and decide for herself, Gloria is open to all cosmic signs which she sees in everything around her. When she first sets eyes on the blue butterflies, she accepts them as a sign that camp will produce significant outcomes.

And it does. Valuable friendships, life lessons, and love reach out to embrace Gloria from unexpected places. She learns that everybody hides something, and that sharing parts of yourself can be equally comforting to the giver and the receiver.

The lyrical prose is like a gift to the reader of something valuable. The warmth and the depth of the book’s content is obvious from the first to the last page. I felt I was sharing all of Gloria’s life; a shadowed observer yet part of everything she did and felt.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Buffalo Soldier

Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781406314595
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Many things inspire artistic and memorable works like this one. Strange things, personal things, and things we’ve seen, read or experienced. Tanya Landman was mistaken for a boy until the age of fourteen. She was also inspired by the real life of the slave, Cathy Williams, who disguised herself as a man to become a Buffalo Soldier.

Landman courageously explores the notion of freedom and its complexity; the misuse of absolute power and its corruption, and the blood lust of the war era. She thrusts the history of man’s inhumanity in our faces and says, ‘I dare you to look.’

All the characters in the book regardless of colour, class and position in life, have things in common. Each group has ranks; there are levels of authority in place with orders to be obeyed without the option of choice. This common thread is an important element in the story.

The young slave girl Charlotte becomes Charlie O’Hara to join the army; her only means of survival after being freed. We travel with her from just before the Civil War until the removal of the last Apache from their reservation. This gut-wrenching and desolate content is explosive and heartbreaking. The injustices experienced by slaves and Indians at the hands of soldiers are painful. I had to stop frequently and set the book aside due to the overwhelming sadness that engulfed me.

But these dismal components share the space with a moving love story. Past all the slaughter, ugliness and desolation of war crawls love. Unexpected and uninvited, it surprises Charlie and with its power, and changes the look and feel of everything she’s part of.

This is an outstanding book that will be returned to again because of its superb narrative voice, confronting yet undeniable truths, and strong historical content. A brilliant piece of work based on history, it is one of the best books I have ever read.

Caution: this book contains highly graphic and disturbing scenes.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Swim That Rock

Swim That Rock by John Rocco and Jay Primiano (Walker Books)
HC RRP 24.95
ISBN 9780763669058
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis
Jake at fourteen years old has experienced a growth spurt of eight inches from one summer to the next. Self-conscious of his height and uncoordinated, he is seen as a freak. His dad disappeared months ago while qhahogging and is presumed drowned. Because his body was never found, Jake believes he will come home. While his mother struggles with depression, their mortgaged family diner is under threat of repossession by the local loan sharks if the repayment in not made on time.

Jake learnt a lot from his dad and is determined to use that knowledge to keep what is left of his father’s life, dreams and memories alive. This determination leads Jake to accept work salvaging and qhahogging at night from a man known only as the Captain, and who knows everything about illegal fishing and avoiding capture. The money pours in, but can Jake make enough in time to save the business?

This is an enjoyable, uplifting and humour-filled story about family, hope, friendship, community, and quahog fishing. The story is set in Narragansett Bay, New England and propelled by fantastic characters, such as Gene, and Jake and his best mate Trashman Tommy, the king of recycling. Its strong prose is illuminated by the unique sub-stories woven through the main storyline like delicate lace.

I learnt a lot about quahogs of which I knew nothing, and the illustrations positioned on the inside of the covers and on the end pages, gave complete clarity to the fishing references.