An intriguing story

TITLE = SHIFT

AUTHOR = EM BAILEY

GENRE = FANTASY, PEER PRESSURE, MENTAL ILLNESS, MYSTERY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10, 11

Olive isn’t the happiest of girls. She used to be part of the popular crew with her best friend, Kate. But life has taken a dramatic turn around. Her father has left home and she clearly blames herself for his departure. She has spent time in hospital after “the incident” and no longer speaks to Kate. Indeed, her only friend now is Ami, with whom she sneers at those around her. So when new boy, Lachlan, smiles at her, Olive is suspicious.

Then a new girl arrives at school: the quiet, waif-like Miranda. Soon Olive notices that Miranda is following Kate around like a shadow and before long it appears that as Miranda grows, Kate shrinks … dangerously so. Could Miranda really be a shifter … a parasite who feeds off others? And if so, what will happen when she has fed off Kate … will Olive become her next victim?

This is a compelling novel. Olive is both credible and engaging. Readers will be keen to know more about her past (including “the incident”) and on the edge of their seats as the battle with Miranda plays out. Of equal import, of course, is her burgeoning relationship with Lachlan.

It is no surprise that this novel is the GOLD INKY winner for 2012!!

Highly Recommended (dma) ****    

 

A compelling blend of sadness and humour

TITLE = THE SHINY GUYS

AUTHOR = DOUG MacLEOD  

GENRE = MENTAL HEALTH, GRIEF, FAMILY, FRIENDS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 10 – 12

This should be a grim story as it focusses on 3 teens who are in a mental institution in 1985. And life in this hospital is not a bundle of laughs for any of them. However, Doug MacLeod has managed to imbue a certain sense of humour and warmth into the story- partly through his warm depiction of the characters and partly through some sharp and funny dialogue.

There is also an element of mystery underlying the novel: as the story develops we learn more about the disappearance of Colin’s young sister and the impact of her loss on Colin’s developing mental illness. WE also learn more about his family and how they have coped with grief.

Some parts of the novel may be confusing for the reader because Colin is the narrator, so when he starts to describe weird events and conversations the reader may not be sure if he is imagining them or if this is part of his mental condition. As such, the novel becomes a powerful study of depression and psychosis in a young teenager.

This may not be an easy read but it is certainly a moving tale and the reader will come away with a greater understanding of the difficulties of living with grief and of living with a mental illness.

To read more about  Doug MacLeod’s motivation & inspiration in writing this book why not check out his website.

In fact, its worth looking at the author’s blog, too – very entertaining, as you might expect from this author.

This novel is a worthy selection on the shortlist for the 2012 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers).

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

You might also like to read John Green’s book “The fault in our stars” another book which manages to balance the humour and the pain of illness in teens.

 

Learning how to survive life’s obstacles

girl saves boy 2TITLE = Girl saves boy 

AUTHOR = Steph Bowe

GENRE = Growing Up, Families, Friendship, Romance, Relationships

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 9 and up

This is an engaging novel by a new, young author and it has already been well received by many teen readers. In the opening chapter a girl (Jewel) quite literally saves a boy (Sacha) by jumping into the local lake to pull him out. We then discover why Sacha and Jewel were both at the lake in the first place and how, in different ways, they have both experienced rather difficult childhoods. What gradually unfolds is a story of how different people cope with tough times: whether that be a death in the family, a serious illness, or relationship problems. On the surface, there seems to be a lot of death and grief in the lives of the main characters -but the author has cleverly introduced some welcome humour which lightens the mood. The “side kick” characters (especially Al), the subplot about garden gnomes and the breezy dialogue all add a light touch. There is a lot to enjoy in this novel which is told in alternate chapters by Jewel and Sacha… the ending even manages to be somewhat upbeat! 

To learn more about “girl saves boy” or its teenage author, why not have a look at her blog.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Struggling with grief.. struggling with food

beautiful monster good readsTITLE = BEAUTIFUL MONSTER

AUTHOR = KATE MCCAFFREY

GENRE = IDENTITY, EATING DISORDERS, MENTAL HEALTH, GRIEF, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 10 – 12

The cover of this novel is rather bleak and this is matched by the story itself. Within the first few pages, Tessa’s life is thrown asunder as she watches her younger brother die in a car accident. She and her family struggle to cope: Mum falls into a depressive illness from which she struggles to emerge, Dad tries to support her through this and Tessa’s response is to fall into the clutches of an eating disorder.

Realistically, Tessa cleverly hides her problems from family and friends for much of the novel.  A bright, intelligent girl she also plays clever mental games to maintain control over her eating.

McCaffrey has written powerful novels on difficult themes in the past but this one doesn’t quite gel. It is certainly a heartbreaking exploration of a difficult subject. However, the exceptional circumstances surrounding Tessa’s dilemma (brother’s death, mother’s breakdown) and the employment of “Ned” as a means of explaining her mental games tends to limit the resonance of the novel. In this regard, it suffers in comparison with “Wintergirls” a recently published novel about eating disorders which painfully exposes the mental anguish of sufferers in a more “every girl” manner.

Nevertheless, McCaffrey writes well and creates eminently believable characters and situations. Some teen readers may find the novel of interest – if they can get past the cover! (The title certainly provides food for thought). However, be warned that the ending may also seem a bit grim – so the novel may be more suited to older readers.

Recommended for older readers (dma) ***

The pain of an eating disorder

wintergirlsTITLE =wintergirls

AUTHOR =Laurie Halse Anderson

GENRE =Identity, Growing up, Mental Health

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 11, 12

This is a brilliantly conceived book but it is not easy to read, as the narrator, Lia quite literally struggles to stay alive. Laurie Halse Anderson certainly captures the mental games (and therefore the mental anguish) that can become a part of life for any teen who is suffering from an eating disorder, as Lia is. The frustration and concern of her family is also all too evident, as they fail to read the signs correctly or simply fail to understand how she deceives them at every turn, despite their best efforts to support her. The fact that Lia’s best friend, Cassie has recently failed in a similar struggle with anorexia and made a belated attempt to gain Lia’s support, only adds fuel to the fire of Lia’s guilt and exra dread and horror for the reader – as we hope that the same fate does not await Lia. The ending is all too believable.

All in all, a powerful novel but not for the faint hearted. Deserving nominee for several awards. More appropriate for older students due to the challenging content.

Recommended (with caution) ***** (dma)