Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.

Title: The Moonlight Dreamers
Author: Siobhan Curham
Interest Level: Year 7+

It’s hard being yourself in a world full of people telling you what to do, how to look and who you should be. Amber is tired of being a victim to the bullies at school, just because she has two dads and likes vintage things. Rose’s famous mother is driving her crazy – the paparazzi are following them everywhere, she’s got a new yoga-loving boyfriend, and worst of all, he and his hippy daughter are moving in! Maali is used to being invisible, it’s the safest way to get through school and avoid bullies, but when she meets Ash, Maali does want to be noticed! Sky has always wanted to compete in a Poetry Slam but since her mum died and her dad seems to be moving on, she doesn’t have the confidence or support to take to the stage.

These are four very different girls; all struggling to achieve their dreams. By chance (and with a little inspiration from Oscar Wilde), they find each other and slowly gain the courage to be themselves. A heart-warming read, this story explores the lives and dreams of four girls from very different backgrounds, beliefs and families. It reminds us that we can achieve anything with the support of our friends.  And though we can sometimes lose our way, they are the ones who will help guide us back.

Highly recommended: **** (ofr)

It has all your favourite things! Adventure, maps… and a sad ending.

The-Girl-of-Ink-and-Stars-by-Kiran-Millwood-HargraveTitle: The Girl of Ink and Stars
Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Interest Level: Year 7 +

They say the day the Governor arrived, so did the ravens. And the songbirds, in their despair, flew backwards into the sea. That’s why there are no songbirds on Joya.

Isabella loves stories and her father, an explorer and renowned cartographer, is a master storyteller. But since the Governor arrived on their island, there has been no need for map making – exploration is forbidden and no one is allowed to leave the island.

When her best friend Lupe, the Governor’s daughter, goes missing – Isabella is determined to help find her. Armed with only ink, parchment, her knowledge of the stars and the stories of her father, Isabella joins the search party to navigate the island’s forgotten territories. But the monsters in her father’s stories are more real than she could have imagined, Isabella must face her fears to find her friend. The vivid descriptions and stunning rendering of the book itself will draw you into this beautiful tale of courage and wonder. The debut novel of Kiran Millwood Hargrave showcases her flair for poetry and love of short stories, embedded within this fantasy tale.

Highly recommended: **** (ofr)

 

 

They say she’s cursed…

9781925324976Title: Black
Author: Fleur Ferris
Interest Level:  Year 8 +

Death follows Ebony Marshall. That’s what the whispers say anyway. Three of her best friends have died in tragic accidents. She’s not just bad luck; she’s cursed; she’s Black.

Once it bothered her, but now Black’s used to being on her own and she’s gotten very good at pushing people away. That is, until a new boy comes to school. He’s interesting and persistent, he won’t be pushed away. But after he’s rushed to hospital, the whispers get louder… Who or what is behind these deaths? Black doesn’t know who to trust and she can’t fight on her own anymore. Can she solve this mystery before death comes for her too? Or is she really cursed..?

A gripping read from start to finish, you’ll find that this thriller has teeth. Enter Black’s lonely world, set in the small Victorian town of Dainsfield, where a young girl’s hope of moving on becomes a fight for survival. In her second thrilling novel, Fleur Ferris grips her audience and causes you to question: who you really trust? If you’re a fan of thrillers or crime novels, then this fast-paced mystery will be perfect for you.

Highly Recommended: **** (ofr)

An unusual recipe for a brilliant book

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METHOD:
1. Find a desiccated bat.
2. Mix it with some water.
3. Drink it, and
4. see what the future holds for the offspring of each and every person you come across in the next few weeks.
What could go wrong?
Glory’s present isn’t easy. Her mother has died, and her father doesn’t want to leave his chair, his computer, or the copious amounts of comfort food that seems to provide little consolation for life’s miseries. Glory’s only friend is not so friendly, and she is about to graduate school with no plans for her future. Glory obviously needs the soothsaying bat juice to provide direction for her life!

But it seems that the future is not so bright. The second American Civil War is only decades away, and Glory has a vital role to play…
This is another thought provoking book from the author of Everyone Sees the Ants, Ask the Passengers, and Reality Boy. A.S. King is an extraordinary writer, who successfully twists and morphs genre in such a way so as the reader never loses the sense that every event in the book could happen in real life. This is a book for older readers who enjoy dystopian themes but who are looking for more than a rehashed The Hunger Games.

Wonderful: (ipe) *****
Author: A.S.King
Interest Level: Year 9+

Private school…private struggle

Lucy Lam should feel like the most fortunate of girls. She has won a highly coveted scholarship to an exclusive girls’ school, Laurinda.  It is an opportunity of a lifetime; an opportunity which Lucy and her parents believe will allow her to ultimately improve her life.

As the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Lucy struggles to adapt to her new school, and the fact that she is no longer amongst the smartest and most studious in her class. Lucy’s feelings of dislocation are compounded by the hierarchical nature of the school, and the trio of girls known as the Cabinet. They are not your run of the mill clique, but three girls who believe it is their personal mission to control and manipulate the students, staff and administration of the school. Lucy faces her greatest hurdle when the Cabinet decide that she must join their group.

Laurinda  is an entertaining read, which is at times so autobiographical in tone that you may find curiosity driving you to “google” Pung’s biography. The descriptions of Mrs Lam’s life working long hours illegally as a seamstress from her garage are confronting. So too are the demands placed on a fifteen year old Lucy to attend school, study, and run a household all whilst caring for her infant brother. Pung has created a book that is highly critical of patronising programs run by some “elite” schools, but is equally disapproving of the oftentimes onerous expectations that prospective students’ families place on their young people to achieve academic success.

Highly Recommended: ipe

Author: Alice Pung

Interest Level: Year 7 +

images

Dead ends or a new start?

Title:  Dead Ends dead ends 2

Author:  Erin Lange

Interest Level: Year 9+

Dane has just about used up all his chances. One more mistake and he will be expelled from his High School.

Billy D has changed schools and needs help avoiding bullies like Dane. What better way for Dane to redeem himself than helping a kid like Billy D? Or at least the principal thinks so…

As reluctant as he is to help, Dane quickly discovers that Billy D needs more than a bodyguard, he needs a friend. Dane isn’t really sure anyone is equipped to be that friend. Billy D is a demanding task master who is not above threatening and manipulating Dane to make him do what Billy wants. And yet, Dane and Billy D have much in common; they both struggle to fit in and both are missing their fathers. Dane has never known his father, whilst Billy D has lost contact with his.  It is this common bond, and the resulting search for their fathers that ultimately brings both boys a little closer to adulthood.

This is Erin Lange’s second book. Her first, Butter, was a stand out for its original and contemporary approach to issues such as obesity and teen suicide. In Dead Ends Lange in her straight forward and uncompromising way, tackles disability, bullying and poverty of opportunity. There are no neat resolutions or happy endings for the characters, however, Dead Ends does leave the reader believing that the boys’ lives are better for their friendship and that there is potential for happier futures.

Recommended (ipe) ***

 

 

 

 

Getting lost isn’t always a bad thing

book coverTitle:  Let’s Get Lost

Author: Adi Alsaid

Interest level:  Year 7 +

This really is a book to get lost in. Leila’s journey across America and Canada to witness the Northern Lights is told from five different characters’ perspectives. As Leila travels North she meets, befriends and ultimately changes for the better the lives of Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia. It is not until the conclusion that we learn that Leila’s journey is one in which she ultimately finds herself.

It is difficult not to be deeply distrustful of publishers who promise that a book is “…for readers of JOHN GREEN…”, yet, this is definitely a book for those of us who have enjoyed stories where adolescents face and meet real life challenges. Whilst there are a couple of situations in this book that are less convincing (Leila’s challenge may be medically “questionable, for example), Let’s Get Lost is still a very good read for people who are looking for happy resolutions. A feel good book of the first order.

Recommended (ipe): ***

Weird but wonderful

Title:  Grasshopper Junglegrasshopper

Author: Andrew Smith

Interest Level:  Year 10 +

At the outset it must be said that Andrew Smith is a great story teller, with a gift for straightforward, thought provoking prose. Smith created a protagonist, Austin, who is not just confused about his life and sexuality, but finds himself grappling with the oftentimes strange (and meaningless) coincidences that occur in history. What differentiates this book from other YA fiction is the “genre morphing” that occurs. Initially the reader is so caught up in Austin’s “everyday” story, there is no way they could predict the twist in events (and genre)  that lead to Austin and his friend Robby being partly responsible for humanity’s destruction by “Unstoppable Soldiers” (which bare a striking resemblance to 6 feet tall Praying Mantises). That people from his small town, his country and the world may be abandoned to face brutal deaths barely registers on Austin’s radar, except as commentary in his oftentimes myopic family and town history. Austin has his own, more important issues to sort through: is he in love with Shann? is he in love with Robby?…can he experiment and still be straight? Ironically, he and Robby have the knowledge and power to halt the Unstoppable Soldiers, but they must choose to act. Will they?

This book is quite extraordinary, and a must read (with the warning that the themes and language are appropriate for a mature Young Adult audience) (Year 10+). Grasshopper Jungle is certainly worth the challenge, but readers should prepare to suspend disbelief before they venture into the book.  I’m not entirely sure if the conclusion is hopeful or hopeless, or in fact, whether Austin is in any way likeable. What do you think?

Recommended (ipe): *****

What do you really know about the new guy at school?

FullSizeRenderTitle: The Hit

Author:  Allen Zadoff

Interest Level: Year 9 +

Benjamin finds himself in a new town, with a new name…and on another mission. The Program has set his mission: to meet and befriend Samara Goldberg and assassinate her father, the Mayor of New York. Benjamin can’t afford to question or compromise; it could mean the difference between life and death. Benjamin’s training doesn’t allow for second guesses or falling in love…

This YA thriller is an enjoyable read even for those who might not always pick up a book in this genre. Told in the first person, author Allen Zadoff successfully situates the new kid Benjamin in an exclusive New York private school, with all its social intrigues and cliques. With his hidden assassin talents, Benjamin ably defends the school nerd, Howard, and as a consequence manages to infiltrate the tightly guarded family of the Mayor. But things go wrong and Benjamin is uncertain whether he can complete his mission.

This book is the first of a series, with the second book, The Mission, also available from the Ballarat High School collection.

Recommended (ipe): ***

Romantic adventures at boarding school in Paris

anna and the french kissTITLE = Anna and the French Kiss
AUTHOR = Stephanie Perkins
GENRE = Romance, Friendship, Relationships
INTEREST LEVEL = years 9-10

Although boarding school in Paris sounds like an incredible experience, Anna is less than thrilled with her father’s plan. It means leaving behind her best friend, her plans for her senior year, and it means leaving a fledgling romance behind. She has no French language skills at all, and how is she supposed to keep up her movie review website when she can’t even buy tickets?

Still, she manages to make friends at her new school, including her next door neighbour Meredith and the handsome Etienne. Smart, charming, beautiful, Etienne has it all…including a girlfriend. But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with a longed-for French kiss?

The first draft of this novel was written as part of Nanowrimo – National Novel Writing Month – and Stephanie Perkins has followed it up with two other novels set in and around the School of America in Paris. The other students at the school are very interesting characters who I’d like to know more about and although we don’t spend too much time seeing what Anna does in class we do get to see her experience Paris (reluctant though she is to try anything new at the start). This is a very sweet novel for romance fans – and proof, for our writers, that you can write a publishable novel in 30 days!

Recommended (emc) ***