When courage and resilience are needed

TITLE = ZAC & MIA 

AUTHOR = A J BETTS

GENRE = ILLNESS, FRIENDSHIP, RELATIONSHIPS, DEATH & DYING

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 – 12

Zac and Mia are both suffering from cancer. Zac is an old hand at this, given that his leukaemia was diagnosed some time ago. He has been through several unsuccessful bouts of chemo and now he is back in hospital having a bone marrow transplant, which means he is in isolation: only doctors, nurses and his mum can visit him whilst his body recovers. Zac seems tolerant and practical about his condition and where it has left him (currently playing endless games of scrabble with his mum!) but he has also done his research and knows the cancer stats. He knows his odds of survival have been reduced by the failure of the initial treatment.

He also knows that the odds for Mia are much better. Mia is the newbie on the ward and the 2 teens hook up via FaceBook where Zac tells her she is lucky (because her type of cancer is treatable and survivable). However, Mia doesn’t see herself as lucky. In fact she seems determined to fight the doctors, her mum and the facts about her illness. There is no mention of her cancer or treatment on her FaceBook page so her friends are clueless about what she is going through. And she seems to know little about her condition too – freaking out when she starts to lose her hair. Can Zac help Mia through her treatment … or does Mia have lessons in store for Zac??

This story is told by the 2 teens themselves. The first third is in Zac’s calm voice but then Mia takes over  5 months later and we see from her point of view, what life has been like for her and how Zac and his family are coping. Can she really run away from her cancer and will Zac want to follow her?

A moving and compelling book about a difficult topic (almost as good as John Green’s amazing “The Fault in our Stars” – why not read this if you haven’t already – a review can be found here)

This book has been Longlisted for the 2014 Gold Inky award.

Deb Marshall  (Highly recommended) *****

The Accident

 

TITLE = THE ACCIDENT 

AUTHOR = KATE HENDRICKS

GENRE = FAMILY DYSFUNCTION, RELATIONSHIPS, LOSS AND GRIEF

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7- 9

This is a compelling story which gives you plenty to think about.

This may not seem an easy read, initially: as the story is told from 3 different characters and in 3 different time periods (before, after, later). Sarah always tells the “later” story. She has clearly been badly injured in “the accident” referred to by the title of the book, and has now started at a new school. Will tells the “after” sequence; the link to the accident is not made clear for the reader until about 50 pages in – what is instantly obvious though is the dysfunctional nature of Will’s home life. Dad has long gone and Mum spends most of her time upstairs, writing – only occasionally making forays down to see her children. AS the middle boy, Will feels like he has been bossed and bullied by his 2 sisters: Lauren (the elder) has been particularly brutal whilst Morgan’s indifference is just as difficult for him to bear.

The “Before” part of the story is told by Eliat. Like Sarah and Will, Eliat is studying yr 12 but unlike them she is also raising a 2-year old daughter whilst living in foster care.

What gradually becomes apparent is that all 3 teens are living in various stages of dysfunction as they and their 3 families attempt to come to terms with new circumstances in each other’s lives. Sarah’s family has been directly impacted upon by the accident, whilst Will’s family has been more indirectly affected. AS their stories unfold we become engaged in the growth of these 2 teens as they attempt to make sense of, and survive their families – can they affect those who are suffering around them as well as themselves??

Eliat’s link to “the accident” of is less certain through most of the novel but given that hers is the only story told “before” and given that her life appears to be spiralling out of control, the last section of the novel will be particularly gripping for most readers as we sit on the edge of our seats wondering exactly how Eliat and her daughter are going to be linked to the horrific car crash … and dreading the outcome.

What may begin for many readers as a bit of a mystery story soon becomes more of a family drama as we watch the way the teens and their parents (or foster-parents) respond to their circumstances and attempt to change things for the better … or will they?

This is a thought-provoking and compelling read.

Highly recommended (Deb Marshall)

Portraits of Celina

 

TITLE = PORTRAITS OF CELINA

AUTHOR = SUE WHITING

GENRE = GOTHIC, MYSTERY, FAMILY, ROMANCE, GRIEF

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 – 11

 

Celina disappeared at the age of 16 when she was walking to catch the bus for school. The house she grew up in has long since been abandoned …till now.

Bayley, Seth and Amelia are distant relatives of Celina’s. Their family has been fractured due to their father’s sudden and accidental death. Mum is simply not coping, so they have left Sydney in the hope of saving Amelia from self-destruction. They have moved into Celina’s old home … and she appears to be haunting Bayley’s life. Is the past going to repeat itself?

There are some real gothic elements in this story, even though it is set in rural Australia in the heat of summer – the ghostly haunting seems to pervade the atmosphere – the hot summer silence of the Australian bush seems heavy with dread. Yet the book is realistic too: from the squabbling siblings to the credible characters of Oliver, Bob and Anne. A great combination: gripping and spooky as well as fast-paced with plenty of twists and turns in the plot. The last few chapters are particularly ‘edge-of-the-seat’ as we watch the action and mystery build to a climax.

Highly Recommended (Deb Marshall) *****

You don’t even know

TITLE = YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW

AUTHOR = SUE LAWSON

GENRE = FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, GRIEF, GROWING UP, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 – 12

Alex’s life should be great:  he lives in a big house with a swimming pool and goes to a prestigious private school; he is a water polo champion and has a part-time job which  he loves. But there is not a lot of joy in his home life.  His domineering father seems to constantly see the negatives in Alex and puts him down. Is it just because Alex is different to his dad? Certainly, his older brother, Ethan,  can do no wrong but then he  is the mirror image of his father, right down to being on the school rowing team. Ethan even sounds like Dad when he speaks to Alex and knows just how to push his buttons. Alex is constantly frustrated that he can’t seem to stand up against either his father or his brother. Maybe they are right and he is hopeless after all??

The only bright light at home comes from his little sister, 4 year old Mia who adores Alex and is adored in return. Alex will even wear  dress-up wings and play tea parties with his cute little sister, who he is teaching to swim. But when this book opens, Alex is in the neurosurgery unit of a hospital recovering from a serious head injury. How did this happen and why won’t he even mention Mia’s name?

This book is a compelling read –we desperately want to know what has brought Alex to this point (whilst also dreading  the discovery) and as the story of Alex’ life unfolds,  we have a great deal of empathy for a young man who wants to do the right thing, even if no –one else will acknowledge his efforts. Will he survive his family or will they break him?

The structure of the story may take a little getting used to as it is told in alternating parts:  the current story of Alex’s recovery in hospital and the back story (where we go back some months and learn about Alex and what lead to his hospital stay). The two strands gradually come together towards the end of the novel in a dramatic, page-turning climax. This is a compelling  read, even if it is heartbreaking at times, but  it never slips over into melodrama or sentimentality – Sue Lawson tells her story well.

No wonder this book gained a Notables listing in the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers)

Highly Recommended (Deb Marshall) *****

Where things come back: a novel

 

TITLE = WHERE THINGS COME BACK

AUTHOR = JOHN COREY WHALEY

GENRE = FAMILY, GROWING UP, FRIENDSHIP, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

This book is so hard to put down – from the very first page, to the final thought-provoking chapter!  It is a story with separate strands which gradually merge into a nail-biting finish.

First there is Cullen Winter’s story. Life for 17 year old Cullen seems ever so boring:  he lives in a boring, small American town, he has a boring part-time job, he only has one friend and the girl of his dreams hardly knows he exists. And at the very start of this novel he has to identify the body of his teenage cousin then watch his Aunt’s life dissolve into despair and anguish. The one bright spark in his life is his younger brother, Gabriel who Cullen adores. Where Cullen is lonely, Gabriel is self-contained. Where Cullen is cynical, Gabriel is optimistic. So when Gabriel goes missing … how will Cullen and his family cope? Especially when the rest of their town seems more interested in possible sightings of a long-lost woodpecker, than sightings of Gabriel.

Meanwhile, across the globe, Benton Sage is struggling to cope as a missionary in Ethiopia. Despite a deep desire to fulfil a religious purpose and an even deeper desire to please his exacting father, Benton returns home a broken young man. Does he have a future? Can his actions ever have an impact on others?

This is a novel about the power of friendship, the importance of family and the significance of second chances. It is beautifully told and despite the apparently grim storyline, there are many moments of humour to brighten the gloom.

Lovers of Catcher in the Rye will enjoy this novel … as will many thoughtful teen readers.

Highly recommended ( Deb Marshall)

Boy meets boy

TITLE = BOY MEETS BOY  

AUTHOR = DAVID LEVITHAN

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, HOMOSEXUALITY, ROMANCE, LOSS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 -12

This novel was acknowledged to be a trend-setter when it was first published, as few Young Adult novels at that time had put gay characters fair and square in the centre of the story, and such a wonderful story, at that. Paul has known that he was gay from a very young age and he has the full support of his caring family, friends and school. So life seems unfailingly good. However, through Paul’s friends, we see that not all gay young men find life so easy: Noah has been badly hurt in a past relationship, Kyle is afraid to acknowledge his own gay sexuality whilst Tony feels he must hide his gay self out of respect for his deeply religious (but loving) parents. As Paul attempts to navigate the path of friendship and burgeoning love, there are moments of laughter and moments of real tenderness. This is a beautifully crafted and uplifting story.

Highly Recommended (Deb Marshall)

Pretty girl

TITLE = PRETTY GIRL

AUTHOR = J C  BURKE

GENRE = THRILLER, FRIENDSHIP, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10-12

Four girls went to boarding school together and were the best of friends: Sarah, Talullah, Paige and Jess. They hoped to all get into the same uni and board in the same college residency. But their first year at uni has turned into one tragedy after another: Paige has been hospitalised with a serious head injury after a disaster in the college swimming pool (was it an accident? Was she on drugs?) and Jess has died after falling off the laundry roof. What has gone so terribly, terribly wrong?? Can Talullah and Sarah find answers or are they too busy living their own lives to delve too far … in fact, what lies in wait for them?

Told alternately by Sarah and Paige, the reader will probably piece together the circumstances before the girls themselves and what begins as a compelling read will become an urgent one – it is like watching a horror movie and wanting to scream at the girls “No … don’t do that” … but will they hear you before it is too late???

A gripping psychological drama that older girls are likely to enjoy.

Highly Recommended (Deb Marshall) *****

The Industry

 

TITLE = THE INDUSTRY

AUTHOR = ROSE FOSTER

GENRE = DYSTOPIAN FUTURE, ACTION, THRILLER 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9, 10

 

This book starts slowly as we meet Kirra , a bright maths students at an ordinary school in an ordinary suburb. When she is kidnapped, simply because she was able to answer an online coded puzzle, readers may at first be a tad disbelieving. Could such an organisation exist and thrive in the modern world: an organisation which kidnaps students and imprisons them, tortures them until they agree to work for them? Could such a group really survive and not be caught?

 

As the plot thickens and more characters appear, the action comes thick and fast and soon readers are on the edge of their seats, trying to determine who can be trusted. Is there such a thing as a good guy amidst the attacks and counterattacks?

 

What began slowly ends with a real punch!

 

 

 

Recommended  (DMA)

 

The First Third

 

 

TITLE = THE FIRST THIRD

AUTHOR = WILL KOSTAKIS

GENRE = FAMILY, HUMOUR, FRIENDSHIP  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 +

Family is very important to Bill, and his Greek grandmother is his lynch pin. When she becomes ill and gives him a “bucket list” of things to do before she dies, Bill is desperate to succeed even if the 3 tasks seem impossible:

  1. Find your mummy a husband (how does a 17 yo fix his mother up for a date??)
  2. Get Simon a girlfriend in Sydney (Bill’s older brother lives in Brisbane and is gay … he can hardly ungay him!)
  3. Fix Peter (Bill’s younger brother hasn’t spoken to him for some time and Bill doesn’t know why … how can you fix something when you don’t know what broke it in the first place?)

Fortunately, Bill has some help on his quest from his best mate, Sticks (his real name is Lucas but he has cerebral palsy and needs crutches to get around – hence the nickname). Sticks offers lots of practical (and not so practical) help – and sometimes the results are quite funny. And in the midst of all this, Bill is wondering about his own (non-existent) love life – why do the girls he kisses keep running away?

Bill learns a lot about friendship and family on his journey – there are plenty of laughs and warm moments in this book, but make sure the tissue box is at hand too – especially in the last few chapters.

The praise for this book is clear: it has been Shortlisted for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers) and Longlisted for the 2014 Gold Inky award.  

Highly Recommended for both girls and boys (DMA)