Getting lost isn’t always a bad thing

book coverTitle:  Let’s Get Lost

Author: Adi Alsaid

Interest level:  Year 7 +

This really is a book to get lost in. Leila’s journey across America and Canada to witness the Northern Lights is told from five different characters’ perspectives. As Leila travels North she meets, befriends and ultimately changes for the better the lives of Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia. It is not until the conclusion that we learn that Leila’s journey is one in which she ultimately finds herself.

It is difficult not to be deeply distrustful of publishers who promise that a book is “…for readers of JOHN GREEN…”, yet, this is definitely a book for those of us who have enjoyed stories where adolescents face and meet real life challenges. Whilst there are a couple of situations in this book that are less convincing (Leila’s challenge may be medically “questionable, for example), Let’s Get Lost is still a very good read for people who are looking for happy resolutions. A feel good book of the first order.

Recommended (ipe): ***

The sliding doors effect … and how it affects 3 teens

the vanishing momentTITLE = THE VANISHING MOMENT

AUTHOR = MARGARET WILD

GENRE = GRIEF, MENTAL HEALTH, FAMILIES  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Everyone faces moments in their lives when tough things happen, moments we regret or moments we wish had never happened. Just imagine what it would be like if you could go back and relive those moments  –  remove the heartache and pain … would you take up this chance? Even if it meant another version of yourself had to suffer instead of you?

This is the situation facing 3 young adults. Bob has had a dreadfully unhappy childhood, raised by a bullying step-dad – loneliness and jail seem the likely future.  Arrow  is drifting aimlessly, seemingly unable to cope with the deaths of her childhood friends. And Marika can’t stop crying since her toddler brother went missing, whilst in her care.

All 3 cross paths at a small seaside town …. Will their meeting herald a new and better future?? Or is sadness around the corner for some of them? A book with an interesting ending and with plenty for readers to think about.

A Notable book in the 2014 CBCA awards (Older Readers).

Recommended **** (dma)  

A gripping read

KILLING-WOODS-Final2-196x300TITLE = THE KILLING WOODS

AUTHOR = LUCY CHRISTOPHER

GENRE = CRIME, MYSTERY, ADVENTURE, HORROR  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

This is a clever but quite chilling tale told by 2 key characters: Emily and Damon. Emily is the daughter of a battle-shattered man who has been arrested for the murder of a teenager in the woods behind their house. The doctors and police have decided that her dad’s wounded mind has led him to mistakenly kill the girl whilst in the throes of a flashback. Emily refuses to believe that her dad is guilty of the murder so she wants answers: why was the teenage girl (Ashlee Parker) in the woods on that night anyway? Was her dad simply trying to save the girl as he had saved many woodland creatures in the past?

Damon was Ashlee’s boyfriend. He too wants answers – whilst he firmly believes that Emily’s father is the guilty party, he was actually in the woods with Ashlee on that fateful night  … but a combination of drink and drugs means he cannot clearly remember what happened. He is haunted by the suspicion that he could or should have saved her. Worse still, could he have anything to do with her death?

Can Emily and Damon trust each other enough to find answers for both of them? And what about their own close friends – are they helping or hindering the police investigation … can they be trusted?

A gripping story which is a real page-turner from go to whoa. Like Emily and Damon, the reader will be keen to piece together the events which have led to Ashlee’s death, but will we see the truth before they do?

Why not check out the author’s website to learn more about this gripping novel and her other award winning books?

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A sad but uplifting story

 TITLE = MOCKImockingbird bigNGBIRD  

 AUTHOR = KATHRYN ERSKINE

 GENRE = MENTAL HEALTH, GRIEF, FAMILY, SCHOOL, GROWING UP,

 INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Be warned – you will need a tissue box handy when reading this book … but it does have a satisfying ending! Caitlin Smith has faced a number of challenges in her short life but the most recent one is perhaps the cruellest, for her beloved older brother, Devon has died in a school shooting.  Devon was an important figure in Caitlin’s life, he helped explain the world to her. AS someone who experiences Asperger’s Syndrome, Caitlin sees the world in a very literal way, she likes order and consistency & she struggles socially, so she has needed lots of support in learning how to behave in social situations and in the school room … and Devon was one of her primary helpers.

To make matters worse, Caitlin’s father is struggling too and the role of raising a daughter whilst dealing with the loss of his beloved son is almost overwhelming him, especially coming only a few years after his wife died.

Cailtin is the narrator of this story so we learn first hand what it is like to see the world from her perspective. WE watch as she deals with school bullies, as she tries to make friends and most importantly, as she drags her father out of his grief in a way that inspires the small town community where she lives.

This book is about the impact of a school shooting on the families of victims and perpetrators, it is about how different people see the world, it is about family, friendship and love. You may need tissues at the ready but it is a remarkably heart warming story.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A novel about footy, fans, grief and life

TITLE = THE WHOLE OF MY WORLD

AUTHOR = NICOLE HAYES

GENRE = FOOTBALL, MYSTERY, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIPS, GRIEF  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9-11

Shelley Brown is hoping for a fresh start: a new school, new friends, new interests – a new life. Since the loss of her mother, Shelley and her dad are drawing a line between the past and the present, so Shelley jumps at the chance to attend footy training with her new friend, Tara. After all, football has always been Shelley’s passion especially her beloved Glenthorn Football Club. Attending Thursday night training also gives Shelley a chance to befriend the new player, Mick Edwards.

Shelley and Tara are obsessed by their footy team and this novel is cleverly structured to reflect this passion: every chapter and section references the game, from “The Draft” to the “Pre-Season” to “The end-of-season Trip”. And the plot unfolds cleverly too: whilst most readers will accept Shelley’s lingering grief at losing her mother, midway through the novel the full story behind Shelley’s loss is revealed so we understand more fully the deep pain behind her journey of rebirth.

In a sports mad country like Australia it is intriguing to shine a light on that obsession:  the euphoria of the fans when their team wins, the despair when they lose and the relationship they have with the players themselves. However, this is more than just a football yarn; set against the football background is a bigger story about grief and loss, about family ties and family breakdown, of burgeoning love and the resilience needed not only to face another football season but also to face life’s many ups and downs.

Even those who don’t love football will find a lot to enjoy in Shelley Brown’s world.

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

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

An unusual novel about unusual characters

TITLE = CREEPY & MAUD  

AUTHOR = DIANNE TOUCHELL

GENRE = DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, MENTAL HEALTH

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

An intriguing choice as a shortlisted book for the 2012 CBCA Book of the Year (OR)

This book is aptly named as one of the narrator’s, a teenage boy, truly does seem to be a bit creepy, especially when we realise that he watches his neighbour, “Maud”, through binoculars. There may be valid reasons for his creepiness: his parents are painted in a most unattractive light and seem to be at war with each other… is it any wonder that their teenage son remains aloof from normal relationships at school. His attitude to Maud is tricky too – through his binocular watching, he learns that her father hits her and that she is self-harming (by pulling out her hair). Yet it takes a long time for him to actively support this very troubled girl.

Some chapters in the novel are told from Maud’s point of view and she does appear to appreciate Creepy as a real friend, which perhaps makes him a more likable character than he may appear from his own words. Poor Maud comes from an equally troubled family and counselling does not appear to be helping.

This novel is unlikely to appeal to all readers, dealing as it does with dysfunctional families and mental health issues: some may find the black humour quite funny whereas others may simply find the tone rather bleak and cool. Either way, it is certainly thought-provoking and may well stay with the reader long after the last page has been read.

(dma)

 

A shocking crime leads to an unlikely friendship

TITLE = BURNING BLUE

AUTHOR = PAUL GRIFFIN

GENRE = FAMILIES, RESILIENCE, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11 – 12

This is a compelling novel: part family-drama, part mystery and crime thriller. When popular student and part-time model, Nicole Castor, has acid thrown at her face, it sets in motion an unexpected response from school refuser, Jay Nazarro. The two teens are first thrown together accidently when they meet in the waiting room of the school counsellor. Both are negotiating a return to school, both are uncertain about the reception they will receive but in other ways they seem opposites and certainly come from different worlds, financially speaking. Nicole has experienced the heartbreak of her parents’ divorce, Jay has experienced parental loss of his own and now lives with his father. Yet Nicole appears to get along well with both her parents, whilst Jay’s relationship with his dad is somewhat strained.

As the novel unfolds we learn more about the reasons for this distance and the associated incident that caused Jay to complete home schooling for so long. Home schooling has allowed Jay to learn hacking skills that may put him on the wrong side of the law but may also be invaluable in finding the person who has attacked Nicole so savagely. For after their first meeting, Jay is drawn to Nicole – partly out of a desire to seek justice on her behalf – but the more he gets to know her, the more he learns about her inner strength, her inner beauty – and this is what drives him on, at greater risk to himself.

The cleverness of this novel is that although there is a central crime at the core of the story, when the perpetrator is revealed, the true horror of the situation is also revealed and yet, as anyone who reads a daily newspaper will know the events are all too realistic. Paul Griffin creates a world where we care about the characters and what happens to them and where we will ponder the story long after the last page is read.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Magic may not seem all that magical sometimes…

TITLE = MAGIC OR MADNESS Book 2: MAGIC LESSONS

AUTHOR = JUSTINE LARBALESTIER

GENRE = MAGIC, FANTASY, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-10

As a sequel to “Magic or Madness” this book will satisfy readers who loved the first book in this trilogy. This is an unusual fantasy series, as having magical powers appears to be more of a curse than a wonder, for Reason and her friends and family. Either you use your magical powers and die young (like JayTee’s mum) or you don’t use your powers and go mad (like Sarafino, Reason’s Mum and Tom’s mother). Having learnt this the hard way in Book 1, Reason and her friends are hoping that Esmerelda’s magic lessons will teach them how to save their magical energies so the 3 young friends can live a little longer.

However, things don’t quite go to plan. It seems that Reason’s hated father may be trying to steal more of their magic by breaking down the special doorway that provides a link between Reason’s Sydney home and New York. Whilst Reason finds herself back in New York desperately trying to find answers, the others have a different battle on their hands. There is betrayal and uncertainty from many sides as the 3 teenagers struggle to work out who they can trust and what secrets to tell.

The novel draws to an exciting end which provides answers to some questions for our young magic makers but will also make readers keen to lay their hands on the final book in the trilogy. Is history about to repeat itself in the Cansino family or will Reason find a way to help herself and others??

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Firebirds and fear, bluebirds and love

TITLE = THE TENDER MOMENTS OF SAFFRON SILK

AUTHOR = GLENDA MILLARD

ILLUSTRATOR = STEPHEN MICHAEL KING

GENRE = FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, PARENTS, GROWING UP, MENTAL HEALTH, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

This is the sixth book in the Kingdom of Silk series, which began with The Naming of Tishkin Silk, however The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk can be read on its own quite happily.  In the Silk family everyone has a naming ceremony and a naming book, and at Saffron’s ceremony it is hoped that the pages of her book will be filled with tiny tender moments “those that make the soul tipsy with ordinary happiness.”  However, Saffron begins to see ‘firebirds’ and experience severe head pain until one day she collapses in the middle of baking pies with her family.  This is a story of fear and pain; Saffron’s fear of what the firebirds and pain in her head may mean, and also the fear and pain of her family and friends around her, who see her suffering but initially, know neither its cause nor its cure.  It is also a story of discovery and love, for when Saffron is sent to the city to see a specialist she discovers the quality and depth of her family’s love for her and her treasured place within her small rural community.  This is a 2013 CBCA Short-listed Book for Younger Readers.

Recommended (mrsk) ****

An exciting and moving tale of the aftermath of war

TITLE = THE GIRL FROM SNOWY RIVER  

AUTHOR = JACKIE FRENCH

GENRE = WAR, FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS, FRIENDSHIP, ROMANCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

This is a most engaging novel. It picks up a few years after the conclusion of “Waltzing Matilda” and is set in a similar area (indeed, Matilda makes a brief appearance). The story focuses on Flinty, a resourceful 16 year old who finds herself running the family farm, as both her parents have died and her older brother has gone droving. Yet in many ways , this book is about the impact of WW1 on families and friends, for Flinty’s life has been irrevocably changed by this war – as have the lives of most of the folk who live in her valley. Hardly a family remains untouched – either by loss of a son in battle or by the mental scars carried by the returning soldiers – be they sons, brothers or sweethearts.

We watch as Flinty struggles to cope both emotionally and physically and we see the importance of not only family but also the broader community. There is a lot to enjoy in this novel and the mysterious ghost that Flinty meets only adds to the anticipation felt by the reader as the story unfolds.

Sure to be a big hit with teen readers especially those who enjoy stories with links to Australian history. Whilst Jackie French believes that this book is number 3 in her sweeping “Matilda” saga, each of the 3 books she has written so far are also capable of standing alone. So the reader does not need to have read “Waltzing Matilda” or “A Rose for the Anzac boys” to enjoy this novel.

(However, you may like to check out a review on this blog for A Rose for the Anzac boys)

No wonder this book was longlisted for the 2012 CBCA Book of the Year Awards.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****