Facing life in the wilds of school camp

wildlifeTITLE = WILDLIFE

AUTHOR = FIONA WOOD

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, GRIEF, GROWING UP, FAMILY, ROMANCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Sybilla and Lou take turns to tell this story. Both are in yr 10 and heading off to their school’s compulsory term in the “wild” – or at least in the bush, miles away from the city in which they have grown up. Sybilla is a smart and friendly girl, inclined to be a bit on the passive side and decidedly naïve on the boyfriend stakes. Her oldest friend is Michael: a self-confessed nerd with a rather unusual view of the world; a bit of a loner amongst the rest of the yr 10s. Her best friend is the rather unpleasant, Holly. And Sybilla’s eye is on the most popular boy in the school, Ben.

Lou on the other hand, is a quiet girl, new to the school and harbouring a secret grief. For her boyfriend, Fred, was killed in a bicycle accident some months ago. Struggling to cope with her grief and struggling to find her way out of depression, Lou has changed schools, in the hope that a fresh start will help. She has a rather cynical view of the world but unlike Sybilla she has quite a sharp tongue and is the only girl in their cabin who is impervious to Holly’s bullying.

The 2 girls seem worlds apart at the beginning of this book and their stories seem to be very different; one seems light and frothy one much darker; gradually their stories begin to merge as does their friendship. This is an engaging story with very credible characters who explore quite realistically, friendship, sexual awakening and grief. A wonderful mix.

Sidenote: if you have read Fiona Wood’s previous YA novel (Six Impossible Things) you may recall Lou and Fred as minor characters.

This book has been named on the Short List for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), and then was announced as  THE WINNER!! CONGRATULATIONS TO FIONA WOOD.

Highly Recommended (dma)  for mature readers ****

When life is turned upside down….

the yr my life brokeTITLE = THE YEAR MY LIFE BROKE

AUTHOR = JOHN MARSDEN

GENRE = SCHOOL, SPORT, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-8

Josh has always loved sport. At his old school he was a sporting champion and often captained school sides. In fact, he may even have been school captain this year…if he was still at his old school. But life has changed drastically for Josh and his family: his parents’ financial crisis has forced them to move to a crummy house in a crummy town and now Josh is the new kid in a crummy school.

Josh decides to start afresh; rather than be sports mad again, he wants to sample life without his beloved cricket. But this might just put him on the outer with the other boys in his year level and with the PE teacher in particular. How will they react when they discover that Josh has been hiding his talent??

Is there more to life than cricket? And is there more to this town and more to his new school than Josh has been willing to see?

A story about sport, friendship and family with plenty of action and entertainment.

Selected as a Notable book for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Younger Readers)

Recommended (dma) ****

A thoughtful account of gay life

2 boys kissingTITLE = two boys kissing  

AUTHOR = DAVID LEVITHAN

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, HOMOSEXUALITY, ROMANCE, LOSS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 -12

As the title suggests, this novel is about two boys kissing, quite literally, but at its heart it is really about relationships and love. Craig and Harry are the 2 boys who have pledged to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss. Ex-boyfriends, they are making their world record attempt on the front lawn of their high school. Both boys are openly gay but whilst Harry’s parents are supportive, Craig’s parents are unaware their son is gay … until his Mum stumbles upon them in their record breaking attempt!

Against the background of this kiss, we also watch two other teenaged gay couples: Peter and Neil have been together for a year (again, one with his parents’ full knowledge and consent, the other in a more circumspect situation) whilst blue-haired Ryan and pink-haired Avery have only just met. AS these 3 couples navigate the course of their relationships, it becomes apparent that apart from their feelings for each other, their relationships with their parents and families is quite crucial. So the saddest story thread of all, is that of Cooper, the teenager who can barely come out to himself let alone his peers and parents. His world has narrowed to a unsatisfying virtual existence and readers will be following his story with an ever-growing sense of dread.

Whilst this novel is moving and insightful, it may take a few pages for the reader to feel truly at ease. This is because instead of dipping straight into a delightful David Levithan world of teenage characters with smart and perceptive dialogue, the first voice we hear in this novel is one of commentary, much like a Greek chorus: it gradually becomes apparent that this is the voice of gay men past – those many gay men who were lost to the blight of the AIDS epidemic. So the modern day story of the many and varied gay relationships in “two boys kissing” is filtered through this commentary from gay men of the past. And gradually this voice becomes a more natural part of the overall narrative so that it no longer interrupts the modern story but rather adds greater depth and meaning.

It is 10 years since David Levithan wrote the ground-breaking “Boy meets boy” (read a review here) – and this new novel is very much building upon that first delve into the ups and downs of  gay relationships, the highs and lows of love and life. For more info about David and/or this novel, check out his website.

This book has been Longlisted for the 2014 Silver Inky awards.

Highly Highly Recommended (dma) *****

An intriguing study of Australia’s boat people across the ages

refugeTITLE = REFUGE

AUTHOR = JACKIE FRENCH

GENRE = REFUGEES, MIGRATION, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7+

Faris is one of the boat people on his way to Australia with his grandmother. Fleeing their homeland, where violence and terror reign, they hope to meet his father who has fled to Australia some years earlier. They have spent their last remaining money to pay for passage on a flimsy, overcrowded boat; so when a storm hits them, Faris fears for his life and blacks out.

Thus begins this moving story about Australia’s long history of boat people. For when Faris awakens he finds himself in a kind of dreamland: living in the picture perfect Australia that he has always imagined – big houses, plenty of food and koalas and kangaroos roaming the streets. On a nearby beach he comes across a group of children like himself…yet different. Each one of these children has landed on this stretch of coast, each one was fleeing a moment of great terror, each one needed refuge from violence or fear before they could face the harsh reality of their lives.

AS Faris learns the stories of these other children he realises that he is not alone in seeking asylum in Australia: one may be a convict from Australia’s early times, one may be fleeing violence in Sudan, one may be setting out from Greece or Sri Lanka or Ireland. All of these children have seen desperate times, all must grow up fast if they are to survive.

In this book, Jackie French reminds us that we have a long history of migration, a long history of boat people; she puts a human face on a terrible political reality. This book may slip into a type of fantasy world in the coming together of so many characters from different time periods but the truth behind the story is very real. Beautifully told and with plenty to ponder. AS usual, the notes provided by the author at the end of the book, will add even greater depth and meaning to this thoughtful tale.

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

Highly Recommended (dma) *****     

Sleeping beauty wakes up in 2128

when we wake coverTITLE = WHEN WE WAKE

AUTHOR = KAREN HEALEY

GENRE = SCIENCE FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8, 9

Tegan Oglietti is having the best day of her life, in Melbourne, in 2027, a few years in our future. But the next thing she knows, she wakes up in a hospital – in 2128, having been asleep for over 100 years. She is the first patient who has ever woken up from stasis, and immediately becomes a celebrity, followed at the supermarket and at school. She manages to make some friends (and introduce her music class to the Beatles) but as she discovers more about the world she has woken in, she finds out that not all the changes between the Melbourne she grew up in and this new Melbourne are good, or for good reasons.

This adventure shows us what our future might be; how our decisions can change the world, even if we are sixteen year old girls who have been asleep for a century.

The author, Karen Healey, is from New Zealand but lived in Melbourne for a few years. On her website she has some extras for When We Wake: you can have a look at what the characters are wearing, listen to the book’s soundtrack, or read her essays on the Sleeping Beauty archetype that inspired the story!

This book has been Longlisted for the 2014 Silver Inky awards.

Highly recommended (emc) *****

An exciting horror adventure awaits … if you dare to read….

screaming staircaseTITLE = LOCKWOOD & CO. : The Screaming Staircase (Book 1)

AUTHOR = JONATHAN STROUD

GENRE = GHOSTS, FANTASY, SUPERNATURAL, ADVENTURE, HORROR

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 10

A bit of horror, a bit of humour and a whole lot of adventure … this book has it all. Set in a world where ghosts come out to play at night, and they like to play nasty, scary, life threatening games! Lockwood and Co is a small company of psychic investigators; for a price they will come in and rid your home of those nasty spectres, they will banish the ghosts to eternity.

Well, that is what Lucy has trained for and that is why she has joined forces with the dashing Anthony Lockwood and his side-kick, their researcher, George. The three teenagers hope to make a name for themselves, even though they are working solo, without the usual adult supervisor. However, it is hard to be taken seriously when your exploits have a tendency to go slightly awry. Customers may want the ghosts to disappear but they don’t necessarily want their house to be burnt down in the process!

This is the predicament they find themselves in early in the novel. To avoid going out of business, they must solve a mystery and take on the scariest challenge ever: a challenge that has already taken the lives of many other ghost seekers. Can they survive the night on the renowned “screaming staircase”? Will Lockwood lead his charges safely or will they pay with their lives for his recklessness?

An exciting adventure awaits readers … and the best news is, this is the first in a series of books by Jonathan Stroud – so there are plenty more to come. This book has already been nominated for a number of awards, including the Edgar award (US award for mystery writing).

Check out the website based on the series or read the interactive shortstory featuring Lockwood and his crew, here.

This book has been Longlisted for the 2014 Silver Inky Award.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

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) *****

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) *****

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)

A Sherlock Holmes rewrite set in Melbourne!

TITLE = EVERY BREATH 

AUTHOR = ELLIE MARNEY

GENRE = CRIME, MYSTERY, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, RELATIONSHIPS, LITERARY REMAKE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 – 12

What a great read from a new YA author! If you enjoy crime fiction and especially if you enjoy Sherlock Holmes , then you are sure to enjoy this novel, set in modern day Melbourne.

Young James Mycroft (whose surname recalls Sherlock Holme’s highly intelligent older brother) is a self-confessed genius, with some seriously flawed social skills. Some might call him eccentric – like his good friend, Rachel Watts. Some might just call him an annoying pest – like some of his teachers and Detective Pickup, who would actually rather like to arrest Mycroft!

When Mycroft and Watts stumble upon a dead homeless man (who was a friend of Mycroft’s) their desire to see justice done is aroused. With his intelligence piqued and an interest in forensics, Mycroft thinks he can solve the crime before the appointed detectives. Especially with his faithful sidekick, Watts, along for the ride. However, whilst Watts may be good at patching up Mycroft’s battle scars, her sense of daring may actually endanger them both.

There are delicious nods to the original Sherlock Holmes canon – in the names and personalities of the main characters, even down to the blog that Mycroft writes (as “Diogenes”). But even those readers who are not Holmes fans will enjoy this novel. It blends fast-paced action with credible characters and situations. The key characters have to battle against interfering families, school work and detention,  as they try to stay one step ahead of the game.

Is Mycroft too much for Watts to handle? Can Mycroft save Watts from herself? And are they really just friends, as they keep telling everyone? A highly entertaining story about 2 teens trying to see justice done .. and stay alive to sit their next exams!   

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

Highly Recommended (dma) *****