Surviving the pain of first love

beyond evieTITLE = BEYOND EVIE

AUTHOR = Rebecca Burton

GENRE = SEXUALITY, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

There is a melancholy and forbidding air in the early chapters of this book. We know that Charlotte has been hurt by Evie. We also know that Charlotte is a quiet, thoughtful and reserved girl who is a tad worried about being too much like her father, who died when she was only 5, apparently as the result of his depression. Even though she is warned by a friend not too fall too hard, Charlotte does fall in love with the manipulative and mysterious, Evie, and is betrayed in the worst possible way. However, by novel’s end it is clear that for all her hurt and pain, for all her sadness, Charlotte has greater resilience than her father and is looking to a better future, whether this is with a he or a she, even Charlotte is not sure.

This is a beautifully written novel, although it seems to amble along gently, especially in the first half. The characters are beautifully drawn. Charlotte’s family, in particular, is delightfully real: her librarian Mum who reads incessantly, her Mum’s partner (Brian) who is the most true person  that Charlotte knows, her sister Amy (who is so dearly loved by her boyfriend, the kind and gentle, Noah). Charlotte is surrounded by good people, it is no wonder she manages to survive her relationship with Evie.

Recommended (dma) ****

Behind some games lurks a hidden danger

Headgames_cover.inddTITLE = HEADGAMES

AUTHOR = Casey Lever

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 AND UP

This is an intriguing novel, with a strong sense of tension in the early chapters. Five teenagers decide to play a dangerous game of Truth and Dare, where the truths they have to face reveal something of their inner fears. Gradually the fears of the five teens is revealed: fears about their sexuality, about the grieving process (after the loss of a parent), fears about never breaking out of the poverty cycle or a life of crime . However, what the teens learn is that although confronting their fears is painful, facing the truth can also provide the opportunity for them to gain a deeper understanding of themselves or for others to offer support and understanding. Friends can become important in helping all of them to survive their family situations or to build stronger bonds with the family who matter most to them. A compelling read.

Highly recommended (dma) *****

The uncertainty of growing up

peterTITLE = PETER

Author = Kate Walker

Genre = Sexuality, Identity

Interest level = Years 9 and up

Although this novel was written nearly 20 years ago it does not seem dated as the characters and the central situation are all too real. Peter’s passions are motor bikes and photography and he is s killed at both. But he isn’t quite sure where he fits in the world. His dirt biking “friends” are obsessed with proving how macho they are by taking risks, talking rough and labelling anyone who doesn’t fit in as a “poof”. His best mate is obsessed with sex and setting Peter up with a girlfriend. So Peter begins to worry about his own sexuality when he doesn’t seem attracted to these girls and even more so, when he begins to have feelings for his brother’s best friend, David, who happens to be gay. Does this mean Peter is gay?? At 15, when he hasn’t even had sex yet, how is he supposed to know and what will it mean for him if he is gay?? Especially with a father who seems to think gays are in need of a cure (in other words, a good beating). This is a compelling novel as Peter’s dilemma unfolds with increasing urgency and the ending is also realistic. A CBCA short listed book.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Life as an extravaganza

will-grayson-will-graysonTITLE = Will Grayson, Will Grayson

AUTHORS = John Green & David Levithan

GENRE = Relationships, Friendship, Growing up, Sexuality

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 10 and up

As the title indicates, this novel is based on two characters with the same name. John Green’s Will Grayson is rather timid about life (in fact, avoiding emotion and keeping quiet are his basic rules for existence). His best friend (Tiny Cooper) is exuberantly gay, falls in love every hour and is writing a musical extravaganza. David Levithan’s Will Grayson is depressed, moody and gay (although he hasn’t really told anyone this yet, not even his so-called best friend, Maura). Both Will’s meet under unexpected and amusing circumstances; they become intertwined when Tiny becomes the boyfriend of the sad and moody, Other Will. The journey for each Will is a little bumpy but often quite funny and refreshingly uplifting as they both learn that friendship and taking a chance can bring the best rewards…. and the best finale possible for Tiny’s extraordinary “Life of Will” showpiece!

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

DO REAL MEN CRY?

boys don't cry

TITLE = BOYS DON’T CRY

AUTHOR = Malorie Blackman

GENRE = IDENTITY, GROWING UP, SEXUALITY

INTEREST LEVEL= YEARS 10 AND UP

This is a gripping and gritty novel about two brothers (Dante and Adam) who take it in turns to tell their stories.  As the cover suggests, the focus for much of the novel is on Dante, whose life is turned on its head when he discovers that at just 17 years of age, he is the father of a young baby daughter, Emma. As Emma’s young mum feels she can no longer cope with a baby, Dante is left, quite literally holding the baby. And we watch as Dante struggles to cope with the new responsibility and the new direction of his life. And whilst his dad offers practical suppport Dante can’t help but feel is father’s disappointment. However, during the last third of the novel, Adam’s story gradually comes to the fore. Adam wants to live life out loud and he is open about being gay, a fact that Dante and his dad tend to ignore (Dante going so far as to suggest this is just a passing phase). However, not all of Dante’s friends are willing to simply ignore Adam’s sexuality, and this is brought home to the family in a brutal fashion. So Blackman cleverly explores not only teen pregnancy and family relationships but also issues of homophobia, as well as the confusion of those young men who cannot accept their own gay feelings. As Dante observes, boys may not cry but real men do – both gay and straight men need to open up and ask for help sometimes. And in this family, baby Emily provides a welcome key to unlocking men’s tears and bringing family together. Whilst this is ultimately uplifting novel, those readers who don’t like violence might find parts of the gay storyline difficult to read. For this reason, the novel may be more appropriate for slightly older readers.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A brilliant blend of humour and pathos

loose lipsTITLE = LOOSE LIPS

AUTHOR = Chris Wheat

GENRE = HUMOUR, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

Vistaview Secondary College seems to be peopled with rather eccentric students: from Zeynap (obsessed with wardrobe neatness), to Matilda (obsessed with dogs), to Angelo (obsessed with Georgia who is obsessed with avoiding Angelo), to Chelsea (obsessed with poking her nose into everyone’s business). Hilarious consequences ensue from all these competing obsessions and there are many truly laugh out loud moments. However, there is also room for more genuine emotion, as we see how family and friends respond as Josh carefully and cautiously reveals to each of them that he is gay. The conversations that follow are sometimes painful, sometimes poignant and sometimes laced with gentle humour. Khiem’s story also provides a counterbalance to some of the humour as this young Vietnamese orphaned refugee struggles to free himself from criminal elements of his community. All in all, a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable novel. (And if you like this one, pick up the sequel in Screw Loose)

Highly Recoomended (dma) *****

A love story for a city

banner_loveisthehigherlaw1TITLE = LOVE is the HIGHER LAW

AUTHOR = david levithan

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, GRIEF

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 AND UP

This may not be a particularly long novel (at only 164 pages) but it packs a powerful punch. The impact of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York is revealed by 3 teens, who take it in turns to tell their stories. At the beginning of the novel these 3 are only loosely connected (having all been at the same party on a previous weekend) but by novel’s end they are close friends, a strong affirmation of the novel’s title. Claire is in a classroom when news reaches them of the attacks and her first thought is of her little brother. Peter is initially oblivious to the attacks because he has his earplugs in as he impatiently waits for his favourite record store to open. He is excited and anxious about the date he has later that day with Jasper, a college student he met at the party. Meanwhile, Jasper has slept through the attacks and only becomes aware of them when his folks call from Korea (where they are visiting his grandma). As the story unfolds, we follow these 3 young people as they each try to make sense of what has happened in their hometown. Claire feels a growing sense of community, Peter tries to find solace in love and Jasper seems numb and incapable of reaching out to others. Gradually their stories intertwine and the reader will be greatly moved and ultimately uplifted by their experiences. A story that stays with you long after the last page is read.

In the author’s own words: “…it’s really the story of things coming together even as it feels like the world is falling apart — because that’s how it felt to be in New York at that time, both tragic because of the events that happened and magical in the way that everyone became their better selves in the face of it. ”  (taken from david levithan’s website)

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Love, laughter, friendship

m or fTITLE = m or f?

AUTHOR = lisa papademetriou & chris tebbetts

GENRE = Love, Friendship, Sexuality

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 9 and up

This funny story is cleverly told in alternating chapters by best friends, Marcus and Frannie. Marcus is comfortable in his gay skin and whilst he is not really expecting to find love at his school, he is happy to help Frannie in her quest to snare the gorgeous Jeffery. But the path of teen love rarely runs smoothly – especially when Marcus pretends to be Frannie in online conversations with Jeffery. Is he really doing this to support his best friend or could it be that he is attracted to Jeffery?? And just because Marcus is gay, doesn’t mean that he is always able to judge which of his classmates may also be gay… even Frannie, who prides herself on having a well-developed gaydar, may have missed some key signs…. So who should be kissing whom?? And will these teens be able to sort out their misunderstandings without losing their best friends in the process?? An amusing story which should appeal to boys and girls, gay and straight …. because at its heart is friendship and romance.

Highly recommended (dma) *****

What a gory feast!!

zombies unicornsTITLE =ZOMBIES VS UNICORNS

EDITORS =JUSTINE LARBALESTIER & HOLLY BLACK

GENRE =FANTASY, HORROR, SUPERNATURAL

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 AND UP

What an intriguing collection of stories from some very popular and talented authors. The tone of the book is immediately established in the hilarious introduction where the two editors continue what has obviously been a long running battle between them about the superiority of zombies or unicorns. Each story has its own mini intro where Justine and Holly continue to joust over the merits or otherwise of the upcomig story (depending on whether the author is on their team!) Perhaps it is to be expected that the zombie stories are often quite gory – but many are also thought provoking (Scott Westerfold) or sad (Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare) or incredibly moving (Alaya Dawn Johnson). Perhaps the surprise is the humour that underlies so many of the unicorn stories, from the farting unicorn (Meg Cabot!!) to the hilarious twist in Naomi Novik’s tale. Whilst many of the authors will be familiar to readers of fantasy, horror or vampire novels (Cassandra Clare and Libba Bray) and whilst it is great to see Aussie’s in the mix (Garth Nix and Margo Lanagan) it is also terrific to find less familiar authors in this collection (Kathleen Duey, Naomi Novik and Alaya Dawn Johnson).

Sure to delight fans of supernatural fiction, however, the frequent coarse language and sexual themes may make this collection more appropriate for more mature readers.

To follow the debate further check out this site.

Recommended (dma) ****

Impossible?? Not necessarily.

Six Impossible Things CVR SI.inddTITLE = SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS

AUTHOR = FIONA WOOD

GENRE = FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 9 AND UP

This novel is wonderful fun, from the playful cover to the final page. Although the main character (nerdy Dan) may not always think so. Poor Dan has had his life turned upside down: his dad has become bankrupt (so there goes the palatial family home and the private school) and then announced that he is gay (so there goes his parents’ happy marriage). Dan not only has to move houses and suburbs he must start Year 9 at a new school. So over his lonely summer hols he makes a list of 6 things that he wants to do with his new life – starting with kissing the girl next door (the one bright spot on his horizon), and including finding a job and helping cheer up his mum and finishing with one aimed directly at his dad (Dan wants to be a good man – not the sort to walk out on his family). Whilst Dan thinks these 6 things will be impossible to achieve he is determined neverthless. And the reader is sure to enjoy the ride as Dan stumbles along the way … and learns that being “good” is perhaps the most difficult of all … and maybe his dad was better at this than he thought. That simple little list keeps coming back to haunt him.

There is a lot to enjoy in this novel. Dan himself has a wry sense of humour so his narration of the story is often quite funny. The characters are wonderfully real and both home life and school days are well drawn. Bullying, divorce, and relationships (both family ones and burgeoning friendships) all come under the microscope – but always with a generous dash of humour. His mother’s efforts at developing a new business from home are particularly amusing. Whilst Dan sometimes makes a mess of things – especially where the girl next door is concerned – at heart he really has good intentions … so we tend to be on his side (especially as his telling of the story is so often laced with humour).

A wonderfully enjoyable novel that both boys and girls are sure to enjoy.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****