A love letter to the western suburbs of Melbourne

tigerfishTITLE = TIGERFISH

AUTHOR = DAVID METZENTHEN

GENRE = AUSTRALIAN SUBURBS, FAMILY, GRIEF, VIOLENCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 +

This is a brilliant and compelling novel. If “The Incredible Here and Now” is a love letter to the Western suburbs of Sydney, then this novel is an ode to the Western suburbs of Melbourne. It is an ode tinged with rawness and simmering violence, but also with loyalty and kindness.

Ryan is well aware that there is a bleak harshness about his suburb. There is fear lurking in the wasteland on the edge of his suburb: fear due to past violence and recent reports of a prowler on the loose. Even Ryan doesn’t want to be out in this bare wasteland at night. Yet despite this fear and darkness, Ryan clearly loves his neighbourhood and there is a lot to be loved – in the strong sense of community spirit and in Ryan himself.

Slate (Ryan’s brother) is stuck in a dead-end factory job by day and a bouncer’s job at night; simmering with anger about the consequences of past decisions.  Ariel, the new love of Ryan’s life, is trapped by her sad family history. School colleagues, Eden and Elmore are trapped by guilt. And caught between all these characters is Ryan himself; uncertain of his own future yet willing to reach out to others, however uncomfortable he may sometimes feel.

Loyalty is important to Ryan as is team work – and he uses his love of footy to guide his actions; moving forward, sidestepping where necessary, not always winning but willing to come back next week and give it a go. This is a compelling novel. Ryan’s voice is authentic and, at times, dryly funny. He sees the bleakness around him but he also sees the beauty in his community. What he perhaps doesn’t see, but what the reader will see, is how Ryan is a part of this beauty.

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

A twisting turning plot brings plenty of surprises

celia frostTITLE = THE TRUTH ABOUT CELIA FROST

AUTHOR = PAULA RAWSTHORNE

GENRE = MYSTERY, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-10

There are many surprising twists and turns in this entertaining novel. At first it seems that Celia Frost’s main problem is a rare blood disorder which endangers her life: the smallest cut could be lethal, as she could bleed out. Is it any wonder that most classmates give Celia a wide berth, for fear of causing her harm. So when we first meet Celia she is a lonely girl, struggling against school bullying.

But Celia and the reader are soon in for a surprise and we follow Celia and her Mum as their close relationship is torn apart by changing events. What began as a book about a young teen with special needs, suddenly becomes a mystery novel,  complete with a mad (or bad?) scientist, a possible kidnapping, a dodgy private eye and a special friend – who just may save the day.

Celia is a credible teenage girl, struggling to make sense of her world – a world which keeps changing shape. The other characters are equally realistic: not all may appear likeable at first but they are certainly engaging. Set in England, in particular in a poor housing estate -this is an entertaining novel by a new author.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A sad yet uplifting story

stay well soonTITLE = STAY WELL SOON

AUTHOR = PENNY TANGEY

GENRE = GRIEF, DEATH, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7+

Make sure you have the tissue box handy … this is a great read bit it is also rather sad at times. Young Stevie hasn’t exactly got things easy: her mum can’t afford for her to go on school camp, let alone buy her a horse! Her best friend seems to have dropped her (so school days are lonely) and now her brother is sick(which means lots of time in his hospital. Even her friendship with the new girl, Morgan, gets prickly sometimes – Morgan asks too many questions in Stevie’s mind… and she doesn’t always want to answer .. or maybe she just doesn’t have the answers?

The one bright spot comes from Lara, the friend Stevie makes when chilling out in the Kidz Space at her brother’s hospital. Despite the fact that Lara is 14 and Stevie is only 11, they have a lot in common: they both love horses and they both love to draw. But Lara is sick too. How does an 11 yo make sense of her world when so much keeps shifting and there seems so much to lose?

This is a lovely story about family, friendship and coping with grief…and a young girl’s obsession with horses! Girls in particular are sure to enjoy this book, especially Stevie’s numerous drawings and sketches. But be warned… tissues may be needed at certain points in the story!

Selected as a Notable book in the 2014 Book of the Year Awards (Younger Readers)

Highly Recommended (dma) ****

An intriguing insight into one boy’s mind

colin fischerTITLE = COLIN FISCHER

AUTHOR = ASHLEY EDWARD MILLER & ZACK STENTZ

GENRE = ASPERGER’S SYNDROME, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, SCHOOL

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 7 +

As the cover suggests, Colin Fischer has an unusual way of looking at the world – and this sometimes gets him into fixes. Colin has trouble reading facial cues and trouble with tone – he is a logical thinker and takes things literally. Colin has previously had an aide to help him navigate the pathways of school, but now he is adventuring out alone.. except for his trusty notebook in which he records events and keeps notes to help him cope with new experiences.

Colin has been the butt of bully boy Wayne Connelly for as long as he can remember. So when Wayne is accused of bringing a gun to school, no one is more surprised than Wayne, when Colin decides to help solve the mystery and clear Wayne’s name. But this is not out of a sense of friendship or empathy, it is simply Colin’s logical, rational mind at work – and after all, his hero is the renowned detective, Sherlock Holmes … so it makes sense that he should try and follow in his shoes. Even if this leads him to a number of firsts: lying to his parents for starters!

There is much to enjoy in this book. Whether or not the depiction of Asperger’s syndrome is accurately portrayed the novel certainly allows the reader to witness life from a different perspective. Colin is a likable young man with a credible family: his parents are thoughtful and loving but his younger brother is somewhat jealous and rarely has a kind word for his brother!  The ending may come a little too neatly for some but younger readers are sure to be satisfied with the way plot strands are resolved.

Recommended (dma) ***

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 ****

Looking at life in a new way

when mr dog bitesTITLE = when mr dog bites   

AUTHOR = BRIAN CONAGHAN

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, TOURETTES SYNDROME, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 -12

Dylan Mint is 16 yo and has Tourette’s Syndrome which means he must constantly battle against his tics: especially swearing, growling and howling like a dog. But sometimes, the more he tries to keep these things in, the more they simply want to explode out of him – like a volcano. Stressful situations only make it worse and Dylan feels he has a lot to be stressed about; especially since he overheard the doctor telling his mum that he won’t live past March!!

There is a lot on Dylan’s list to do before March. And as if this isn’t enough, he and his best mate Amir have to deal with the school bully, there is a taxi driver who keeps parking in his Dad’s spot … and his dad is doing another tour of duty. Will Dylan see his dad before March?? With so much going on in his life is it any wonder that his relationship with his Mum seems to be getting worse and Dylan is getting into more trouble than ever at the special school he attends.

Written in the first person, the reader has a unique chance to feel what it is like to walk in Dylan Mint’s shoes. He may not always be able to control what comes out of his mouth but like any teen, Dylan wants to understand the world around him and find his place in this world. He may sometimes speak crudely but beneath this, he is a thoughtful and kind young man, willing to stand up for his friends against bullying and racism.

Often quite amusing and always entertaining this is a wonderful story and Dylan is a very likable character. The language and frank discussions of sex may be confronting for younger readers but older teens are sure to thoroughly enjoy this novel.

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

A beautifully written story with a dark edge

TITLE = THE BONE DRAGON

AUTHOR = ALEXIA CASALE

GENRE = FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, REVENGE, DRAGONS, FANTASY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10-11

This is a genuinely spinechilling novel but cleverly crafted so that the chills literally creep up on you in unexpected ways. The novel’s cover looks magical but we soon realise there is a bleak layer beneath that surface appearance.

Evie is recovering from an operation which removed a fractured rib. From this rib she begins to carve a magical and beautiful dragon with whom she has night time rambles on the fens surrounding her home. There is beauty and magic in the descriptions of these nightly forays – darkness, mist and dampness suddenly look quite bewitching rather than scary  – when you have a dragon accompanying you. Dragon says he has come to protect Evie and his nightly rambles seem to help her sleep and recover more fully. But is there a darker reason for these adventures? We suspect that Evie has been badly treated by her mother and grandparents and part of the gripping feel of this book comes from our desire to learn the truth of Evie’s past. The more we guess, the more we pity her for what she has suffered and what she still suffers. For Evie is subjected to bullying from one of the lads at school – but this is where the first warning comes into the story … has Evie coirrectly interpreted events?

The reader will be on the edge of their seats as they turn the last few pages with equal amounts of awe and dread: the ending will stun and surprise and make you adjust your thoughts – not just about Evie but also about the ethics of revenge and the nature of evil. This is the true magic of this amazing and compelling novel by first time author, Alexia Casale; beautifully written but with a layer of darkness beneath each page.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A new look at the Galahad story

TITLE = PUREHEART

AUTHOR = CASSANDRA GOLDS

GENRE = MYTHS & LEGENDS, ARTHURIAN LEGEND, ROMANCE, GRIEF, REVENGE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9-11

This is a very sad and often heart-breaking spin on the Galahad legend. The first half of the story in particular seems to be filled with tales of woe: dreadful bullying at school for Deirdre, more subtle bullying at home from her Grandmother – and the one shining light in the gloom is forbidden – her friendship with Gal. And overlying this central story is a constant sense of dread and doom: we know that something bad has happened in the past between Deirdre and Gal, so bad that neither can properly remember what happened … we are desperate to learn the truth behind this mystery but also fearful of what that truth may actually be.

Surely young Gal is as pure of heart as in the legend (and the title of the story) … isn’t he?

By novels’ end, all will be revealed and the awful tale of revenge and grief will have been unravelled. Our hero and heroine must learn some painful life lessons which may make them purer of heart … but not necessarily happy little vegemites!

Fans of Cassandra Golds award winning “The Three Loves of Persimmon” will be intrigued by the author’s further foray into the world of love and understanding but the beauty and joy of that earlier novel is replaced by resigned forbearance in her newer book and the writing seems less magical.

There are some clever references to the original legend (in the naming of the block of flats where Deirdre lives, in the parentage of Gal) but the overall mood and feel of the book may be unexpected for those familiar with the story of the perfect knight, Sir Galahad, retriever of the Holy Grail, although the ending captures the essence of that tale’s conclusion and may make us look at that tale with fresh eyes.

This book gained a Notables listing in the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers)

Read more about this author who will be appearing at MWF in 2013.

Read a post about her earlier book here.

Recommended (dma) ***

When identity is hard to define life can be tough

TITLE = ALEX AS WELL

AUTHOR = ALYSSA BRUGMAN

GENRE = GENDER, SEXUAL IDENTITY, FAMILY, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 UP

Being a teenager can be hard enough at the best of times. But imagine what it is like if you are not certain of your gender: are you a boy or a girl or somewhere in between? And if you want to be seen as a girl … but your parents accept you only as a boy … life is not going to be easy.

This is dilemma faced by Alex in a book which handles sensitively and credibly a very difficult situation. This is not an issues book … it is from the very first page about a teenager trying to define their identity and trying to be accepted by others.

A moving read.

Check out this booktrailer:

 

 

 

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

 

What would you do?

TITLE = OTHER BROTHER

AUTHOR = SIMON FRENCH

GENRE = BULLYING, GROWING UP, IDENTITY, FAMILY, PARENTS,

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Kieran’s view of himself and his world is forced to change when his cousin Bon and a new girl, Julia, arrive at his school.  Kieran wants to fit in, but Bon doesn’t know anything about fitting in—he looks different, he wears the wrong clothes, he says weird things—and Julia doesn’t care about fitting in, establishing her own style and following with seeming ease.  Bon’s arrival doesn’t just threaten to upset Kieran’s relationship with the cool kids at school, but also his relationship with his parents, his sister, his Nan and his budding relationship with the elusive Julia.  This is a story about families and relationships, about bullying and fitting in, about discovering where your values lie and that the world is more complex than you think. This is a 2013 CBCA Short-listed Book for Younger Readers.

Recommended (mrsk) ****