A gentle sad story in words and pictures

TITLE = BROKEN

AUTHOR = ELIZABETH PULFORD

GENRE = GRIEF, DEATH, RESILIENCE, ABUSE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10, 11

Jem Wilson has been killed in a motorbike accident when he swerved to avoid hitting a young child. His sister, 15 yo Zara has been seriously injured and lies in a coma. This book tells her story. She is very much aware of her visitors and what they are saying to her but due to her coma, she is unable to respond to them. However, we learn from these visitors more about Zara and how close she was to her brother.

Parts of the story are also told more through images; these are the scenes where Zara is chasing down corridors searching for her brother or being chased and hiding from a shadowy figure. These sections have slightly different font, signalling that although they are Zara’s story they differ somewhat. It becomes apparent that Zara is having trouble coming to terms with her brother’s death. It also becomes apparent that when she was young, Zara experienced something dark that she has never revealed to anyone else- except Jem.

As these two story strands come together, the key question for Zara and the reader is: will she survive? And what does she need to do to actually come out of the coma.

This is an intriguing story – cleverly woven together so that the reader is trying to unravel the parts, just as Zara is trying to find meaning in her past and for her future. Whilst there are some dark events in Zara’s background they are hinted at rather than fully revealed, demonstrating the author’s sensitive handling of a difficult topic.

Nevertheless, this story is likely to appeal more to older readers.

Recommended for mature readers (dma) ****

 

A strange and violent world …that may just drive you mad!

TITLE = BZRK

AUTHOR = MICHAEL GRANT

GENRE = SCIENCE FICTION, GAMING,

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8,9

This is a weird and rather dark book. The opening chapters introduce us to a number of characters and a number of plot lines – a young teen visits his brother who is chained in a mental institute and screams insanely “beserk”. Another teen dies in an explosive plane crash which seriously injures his sister. So far we are in a violent and angry world but not a strange one.

And then we learn that a character named “The Bug Man” created the plane crash by rewiring the brain of the pilot – using bugs or biots. Sounds wrong. Sounds evil. But what if the “good guys” use a similar technology to try and combat the baddies. What if they use nanbots to rewire people’s brains too?? It takes skill to do this – to enter a person’s body and move inside to the right part of the eye or the brain so that you can control them. If you get it wrong … then you might die..or you might go mad! And why are they doing this? BugMan’s bosses  want to control everyone – so we can all live happy lives. The good guys want freedom of thought. But is freedom more important than happiness?? So important that they will risk madness?? And should freedom be gained by any means??

This is at times a fascinating story as we are literally taken inside people’s heads and over their eyeballs. It is often a violent book – as there are battles waged on the nanoscale and (more conventionally) on the macro scale (with fists and guns). It is also a dark book – with so many deaths, the stakes are high. The similarity of the strategies employed by both the good guys and the bad guys certainly makes for an interesting moral dilemma. There is no doubt the good guys have greater integrity and are more appealing – whether they are the cool Vincent or the newbies Sadie and Noah. However, it is somewhat disturbing that the good guys have all taken on names of people who have all gone mad: Vincent (van Gogh), Plath (Sylivia), Keats …

Michael Grant wrote the compelling “Gone” series but this new books is more complex and less easy to read, partly due to the nanotechnology and partly because it is less easy to emotionally engage with some of these characters – like those figures in the Gone series, they are all flawed.

BugMan is clearly a gamer and there are Games and iPad apps to accompany the novel. Check out the book’s website.

Intriguing. (dma) ***

A compelling story about families

TITLE = PAN’S WHISPER

AUTHOR = SUE LAWSON

GENRE = FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS, MENTAL HEALTH

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10, 11

When we first meet Pan she is an angry young girl who is being delivered into a foster home, clearly against her own wishes. So the reader is instantly intrigued: why has a judge ordered Pan into foster care? Where is her own family? And why does she shudder every time the name Morgan is mentioned? We follow Pan as she struggles to settle in with her new family, attending a new school and making new enemies (and one friend, Hunter). Gradually we learn more about Pan: including the fact that she has some physical injuries. How did these happen? Why doesn’t she trust Hunter?

Pan’s foster mother suggests that writing to her sister (Morgan) might bode well with the judge’s decision about Pan’s future. And so the structure of the book changes: interspersed between the story of her current life are Pan’s letters to Morgan which describe her new life and recall pleasant memories of their life as young children.

And after each of these letters is a chapter from this past but told from Morgan’s point of view. So gradually we learn that Morgan’s view of their childhood is very different from Pan’s, for Morgan spent much of her time shielding Pan from the truth of their family situation.  Gradually these story strands come crashing together as Pan faces the reality of her childhood and the consequences this brings for her current life. This is a compelling and moving novel from Sue Lawson, an absolute page turner for older readers.

This novel was shortlisted for the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary award.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

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) ****    

 

Coping with Change

TITLE = PEELING THE ONION

AUTHOR = WENDY ORR

GENRE = GROWING UP, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10, 11

Anna is a talented at karate, has just won a tournament and is crazy about Hayden. Life seems great until a car accident quite literally throws her life upside down. Suffering a broken neck, Anna discovers that the body which was once so well-trained, now has a mind of its own.  The dream of state selection becomes a distant memory as Anna must learn to deal with the pain and ongoing disability wrought from the accident.

Weeks in hospital become weeks spent at home recuperating. Anna can see her final year of school slipping away from her, along with her dreams. If she can no longer be a karate champion, if she can no longer study phys ed, then what can she do? Who is she, without her beloved physical activity?

If Anna peels back the layers of herself, what will she find?

At times sad, at times angry, Anna must learn how to live again and so must her family and friends.

A worthy Honours book in the CBCA OR category (1996)

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Watch out.. Penny’s on the way …

TITLE = LOVE-SHY

AUTHOR =  LILI WILKINSON

GENRE = IDENTITY, GROWING UP, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9, 10

Penny Drummond is a talented and determined young lady. She aims to be a leading journalist and is just waiting to find the right story with which to make her mark. She is also on every second club at her school and is well aware of her own talents. According to Penny she IS the debate team (or the reason for their success, anyway), she is the best swimmer, the best form leader, the best writer on the school magazine. Is it any wonder that Penny has little time for others and their weaknesses.

And then she finds the story she is looking for, or rather, she finds the poor victim of love-shyness. At first all she knows is that this young student at her school is sick at heart because he can’t talk to girls without fear of panic attacks. So Penny sets out to write his story (without telling him) and to cure him as well!

However, the more Penny delves into this young man’s life, the more her own starts to unravel and soon the perfect Miss Penny’s abilities begin to look less perfect and Penny is forced to re-evaluate her life.

There are some comical scenes in this book and Penny’s gradual growth in self-knowledge is to be commended but the portrayal of the love-shy young teen does not always ring true and this tends to make the middle portion of the novel a little bit uneasy.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to like in the book and fans of Lili Wilkinson are sure to enjoy her snappy dialogue and strong female character.

Recommended (dma) ***

A moving portrayal of depression

TITLE = finding Coaby

AUTHOR = David McLean

GENRE= Mental health, Depression, Family, Family discord

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 9, 10

This is a short novel and quite a compelling read. Aeisha is struggling to cope: largely due to her depressive illness but partly, too, because of her dysfunctional family. Her parents split up acrimoniously some years ago and as the story unfolds we see that her parents are still struggling to adjust themselves; in their differing ways both her mother and father seem unable to let go of their bitterness. Unknown to Aeisha, her mother has battled an undiagnosed depression herself for some time. So her father is well aware of the signs that his daughter is exhibiting but this doesn’t mean that he finds it easy to deal with.

The strength of this novel lies in its honesty. It provides a vivid and credible account of what it must feel like to live in Ash’s shoes: we see how completely overwhelmed she feels, overwhelmed with pain and sadness and tiredness. Her inability to explain her feelings is clear, as well as her desire to understand what is happening to her. Of course, none of this is made any easier when her parents struggle to see beyond their own concerns.

This could easily have become an issue-driven novel but David McLean’s strong characterisations prevent this from happening. The characters are real and their dialogue is credible. At its heart this novel is about a teenager in pain and how she and her family must learn to cope with this.  Ash’s need for support is all too evident but finding appropriate support isn’t always easy. Even well-meaning health professionals can provide barriers to a young teen who can’t articulate her feelings. The ending of the novel provides hope but also a realistic perspective.

For further reviews check out this website.

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.

 

A gripping and beautiful story in photos and words

every me every youTITLE = EVERY ME, EVERY YOU

AUTHOR = DAVID LEVITHAN

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, GRIEF, MENTAL HEALTH

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 AND UP

Stunning is the best way to describe this novel because it truly is stunning on many levels. Firstly, there is the way the story unfolds: quite literally based around photographs that the narrator keeps finding (or is he searching for them?).

Then there is the mystery surrounding the central story. We know that Ariel has gone but in the early chapters it is unclear whether she has simply left school, left town or died. Ariel was Evan’s best friend and he not only grieves for her loss but also feels guilty and responsible. The only one who shares his burden of grief and guilt is Jack, Ariel’s boyfriend. So who is leaving these photographs for them to find … does someone else know what happened that day with Ariel? As the photos are revealed so, too, is more of the back story; about the friendship between Evan and Ariel and about the fateful events on that day when she left. Has Ariel been trying to commit suicide?? And is Evan feeling guilt over helping her or hindering her?

A powerful element in this story is the depiction of Evan’s gradual decline as he struggles to deal with his grief and guilt. The more he finds out about the photos and Ariel’s life the more his own mental health seems to be mirroring her own decline. Will his refusal to let go of Ariel be at the cost of his friendship and sanity??

In true David Levithan style though, despite moments of darkness, there is hope and the possibility of a better future by novel’s end. For if the story has been about how photos can tell a story, Evan learns that he can use those same photos to tell his own story – and that the Ariel he knew and loved may not be so lost after all.

Readers will not only be stunned by the story itself but also by learning how the story came into being in the amazing collaboration between author (David Levithan) and photographer (Jonathan Farmer).

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Are some memories best forgotten??

the memory cageTITLE = the memory cage

AUTHOR  = RUTH EASTHAM

GENRE = WAR, MENTAL HEALTH, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

A powerful and emotional journey awaits the reader in this book. As the cover suggests, young Alex is close to his grandfather and when the novel opens, Alex is worried. His grandfather is becoming increasingly forgetful and putting his own life and that of his family in danger. Alex is worried that his parents will put Grandad in a home. So Alex sets out to create a scrapbook of photos to help Grandad remember his past. But what if there are some things that Grandad doesn’t want to remember? Why does he refuse to talk about the war and his beloved brother who died then? What part could Grandad have played in his death? Whilst he tries to stimulate his Grandad’s memories of war, it seems that Alex is trying to bury his own past. Alex is a Bosnian refugee, a survivor of terrible conflict, who has been adopted into this large, boisterous family. And not all his step-siblings are happy about his adoption.

So Alex has his work cut out for him: trying to avoid his step-brother’s dislike, trying to keep Grandad safe whilst also digging up his mysterious past and all the time, trying to ignore flashbacks from his own war-torn past. Gradually these stories merge together and Grandad, Alex and their entire family, will learn that it is better to face some truths, however, painful rather than live a lie. Memories may bring pain but they need not be a cage. This is an engaging story with many layers for the reader to unravel. There is plenty of action, mystery and high drama as the story unfolds. Readers will learn about the horrors of war (on those involved and those left at home) and the pain of Alzheimer’s disease. However, readers should be warned to have the tissue box handy in the final chapters : although a satisfying ending is provided it is quite a moving one as well, and many readers may find a tissue or two will be needed.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****