Private school…private struggle

Lucy Lam should feel like the most fortunate of girls. She has won a highly coveted scholarship to an exclusive girls’ school, Laurinda.  It is an opportunity of a lifetime; an opportunity which Lucy and her parents believe will allow her to ultimately improve her life.

As the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Lucy struggles to adapt to her new school, and the fact that she is no longer amongst the smartest and most studious in her class. Lucy’s feelings of dislocation are compounded by the hierarchical nature of the school, and the trio of girls known as the Cabinet. They are not your run of the mill clique, but three girls who believe it is their personal mission to control and manipulate the students, staff and administration of the school. Lucy faces her greatest hurdle when the Cabinet decide that she must join their group.

Laurinda  is an entertaining read, which is at times so autobiographical in tone that you may find curiosity driving you to “google” Pung’s biography. The descriptions of Mrs Lam’s life working long hours illegally as a seamstress from her garage are confronting. So too are the demands placed on a fifteen year old Lucy to attend school, study, and run a household all whilst caring for her infant brother. Pung has created a book that is highly critical of patronising programs run by some “elite” schools, but is equally disapproving of the oftentimes onerous expectations that prospective students’ families place on their young people to achieve academic success.

Highly Recommended: ipe

Author: Alice Pung

Interest Level: Year 7 +


An intriguing study of Australia’s boat people across the ages





Faris is one of the boat people on his way to Australia with his grandmother. Fleeing their homeland, where violence and terror reign, they hope to meet his father who has fled to Australia some years earlier. They have spent their last remaining money to pay for passage on a flimsy, overcrowded boat; so when a storm hits them, Faris fears for his life and blacks out.

Thus begins this moving story about Australia’s long history of boat people. For when Faris awakens he finds himself in a kind of dreamland: living in the picture perfect Australia that he has always imagined – big houses, plenty of food and koalas and kangaroos roaming the streets. On a nearby beach he comes across a group of children like himself…yet different. Each one of these children has landed on this stretch of coast, each one was fleeing a moment of great terror, each one needed refuge from violence or fear before they could face the harsh reality of their lives.

AS Faris learns the stories of these other children he realises that he is not alone in seeking asylum in Australia: one may be a convict from Australia’s early times, one may be fleeing violence in Sudan, one may be setting out from Greece or Sri Lanka or Ireland. All of these children have seen desperate times, all must grow up fast if they are to survive.

In this book, Jackie French reminds us that we have a long history of migration, a long history of boat people; she puts a human face on a terrible political reality. This book may slip into a type of fantasy world in the coming together of so many characters from different time periods but the truth behind the story is very real. Beautifully told and with plenty to ponder. AS usual, the notes provided by the author at the end of the book, will add even greater depth and meaning to this thoughtful tale.

No wonder this book gained a Notables listing in the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers)

Highly Recommended (dma) *****     

A new land, a new identity … a new love





There is a very good reason that Kate Constable was the winner of the CBCA Young Reader award last year for Crow’s Country): she is a wonderful storyteller. Her latest novel is a delightful story about a young girl who is finding her way in life, in a country which is also finding its way: both are seeking independence.

Julie is quite literally facing a new chapter in her life. Having been at odds with her mother for some time, is it any wonder that she has been shipped off to spend the summer holidays with her father? However, Julie hasn’t seen or heard from her dad since she was 3 years old and he lives in a different country: New Guinea. Julie is both appalled and fascinated by 1970’s New Guinea. She falls in love with the scenery, which is evocatively described by Kate Constable, and she warms to the shy locals. However, Julie finds some of the sights and smells a tad overwhelming and she is dismayed by some of the attitudes displayed by her father’s expat friends.

Julie is a credible, warm and intelligent girl. She is sensitive to the nuances of relationships and aware of cultural differences but this doesn’t mean that she always knows how to deal with difficult situations without causing offence. However, by novel’s end, Julie has a clearer path forward: a clearer sense of herself and her relationship with this strange new land.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A compelling story of refugees, cruelty and compassion





A compelling and moving book about intolerance and compassion. In Afghanistan young Omed incurs the wrath of the Taliban and must flee his home, his village and his country. Unable to speak (due to Taliban cruelty) Omed must rely on the sneaky, shady Snake to find a way over the sea to Australia. And when he gets there he is thrown into the brutal life of a detention centre and struggles to maintain his sanity and sense of self.

Meanwhile, in suburban Melbourne another teenage boy (Hec) also lives in a world without words. However, Hec’s silence seems to be self-imposed, a response to some emotional trauma which is only gradually revealed.

The two boys meet in a candle factory where the work is tedious and the workplace poisonous. Many of the workers are refugees or immigrants and they are not always welcomed with open arms by their Aussie colleagues.

The first half of this novel can be a tough read as it focusses on Omed’s heartbreaking struggle to stay alive in a world that is both frightening and cruel. Yet despite the bleakness, Omed’s integrity and determination shines through as well as the beauty of Neil Grant’s writing. A sense of place is vividly portrayed by Grant: whether it be rural Bamiyan, modern day Kabul or Melbourne. And the characters are equally credible; we care about their journeys and the outcome of their stories. Grant also cleverly creates a different voice for the teenaged Hec and the adult Hec, which adds to the believability of the tale.

A thought provoking and powerful novel.

And if you enjoyed this novel you might like to read other books about refugees such as “The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif” in which Robert Hillman helps Najaf Mazari tell his story of eape from the Taliban. Or the powerful “From Kinglake to Kabul” edited by the author of The Ink Bridge, Neil Grant (accompanied by David Williams).

This novel is a worthy selection on the shortlist for the 2013 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers).

Highly Recommended (dma) *****


An intriguing tale from our past

TITLE  = NANBERRY: Black Brother White




Set during the time of Australia’s early settlement, this story begins in 1788. Nanberry is a young Aboriginal boy enjoying his traditional way of life, until his family and tribe is all but destroyed by disease (probably caught from the new white settlers). Surgeon White rescues the lad and not only saves his life but also, he decides to adopt him, as he has no family of his own. Nanberry soon learns enough English to act as a translator for Governor Phillip. He learns to wear English clothes and eat English food, he learns to respect the white culture and some of its citizens whilst always having a love for his own tribal way of life. At times these cultures pull him in different directions, especially when there are conflicts between the local tribes and the white settlers.

Whilst Jackie French has undertaken vast research before writing this story (and she provides useful notes and references at the end of the book for interested readers) this novel is always an engaging story rather than a history lesson. Many of the characters are real people (including Nanberry himself) but Jackie French certainly brings them to life. Nanberry is a thoughtful and interesting young boy, his adopted father the Surgeon White is well meaning but unusual in many respects (few other families had a possum as a pet!). So readers are sure to enjoy reading about their life journeys and learning more about what life was really like in the early days of Australian white settlement.

It is no surprise that this book has been shortlisted, CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers (2012)

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A beautifully rich story with a simple truth

MirrorBook_smallTITLE = MIRROR




This is a truly beautiful book, in conception and in presentation. In fact, this picture book deliberately tells two stories – one is read from inside the left cover of the book and the other is read from inside the right cover. So both stories are opposite each other as you open the book. Both stories focus on a small boy and the daily life of his family; and on the surface there are obvious differences in these stories – different settings, different clothes, different food and transport – for one boy is growing up in Sydney, Australia whilst the other grows up in rural Morocco. However, just as the title suggests, in other ways the stories mirror each other – for both boys have loving families, share meals together and other family activities.

So ultimately the story of this richly crafted book has a simple message: we may live in vastly different places but our lives are mirrors across the world.

As we have come to expect from a Jeannie Baker book, the illustrations built on detailed collages will detail readers and provide hours of enjoyment. If you would like to learn more about Jeannie Baker’s artistry, why not check out her website.

It is no wonder this book has been shortlisted in the CBC Book of the Year 2011 (Picture Book).

Highly Recommended (dma) ******

A cultural dilemma

marrying ameera TITLE =MARRYING AMEERA




This is quite a gripping novel, dealing with some complex issues. Ameera is an Australian girl with a Pakistani father of the Muslim faith and an Australian mother of Christian faith. This makes Ameera’s life more complex and rule bound than many Australian girls of her age: her father expects her to be a good girl and only go out with her brother along to protect her (or the Muslim brother of her friend). There are formal expectations when conversing with others – enquiries about family always come first – and Ameera shouldn’t be talking to boys anyway, let alone thinking about having a boyfriend.

Ameera loves her father and respects her Muslim background and wants to do the right thing. So she knows she shouldn’t talk to Tariq, her friend Maryam’s brother – he may be from a Pakistani family but he is Christian not Muslim – so even though he is good looking and sends her heart aflutter, he should be out of bounds. Yet when her Dad finds out she has spoken to Tariq at a party, Ameera does not expect her father to be so stern and unforgiving. When he sends her to visit her family in Pakistan as punishment, little does she expect that he may have been planning an arranged marriage with a Pakistani man – what now for Ameera’s dreams of going to uni and having a career?? What now for her broken heart and her love of Tariq?? Will she see her mother again?? Australia again… let alone Tariq??

Rosanne Hawke handles a complex situation with skill and care. She is at pains to show the beauty and richness of the Pakistani culture – from their fables and folktales to their food and clothing. The richness of their celebrations, the importance of family is strongly portrayed – and how this can be both a positive (when Ameera’s brother comes to help rescue her) and a weakness (when her uncle is so willing to sacrifice Ameera’s wishes for her father’s demands). Hawke also tries to distinguish between culture and religion as she explores the idea of arranged marriages. And whilst Ameera may fear an arranged marriage, Hawke shows that this may have more to do with the way her father has controlled the situation – not allowing her to have some say. Her female cousins in Pakistan are proof that all arranged marriages may not be so bad – in fact, if the girls themselves are included in the arrangement, it can provide fulfilment and joy.

Hawke’s portrayal of the complexity of the Pakistani culture in Australia at the start of the novel underscores the multicultural issues that lie at the heart of this novel. And the views of the younger generation provides hope for the future: her brother is still keen to uphold the Muslim faith but he sees things differently from his father – he has a more tolerant approach.

The main characters are generally well rounded – and the idea of family honour and shame is shown to be so important that even the hard line approach of her cousin can be understood (although his thuggish tactics cannot be supported). The difficulties facing Ameera at novel’s end are clearly portrayed. And the complexities of assimilating different cultures and religions are clearly portrayed too.

Perhaps the only weakness in the novel is the depiction of the love between Ameera and Tariq – they appear to become very devoted to each other when really they know so little of each other??

However, girls in Years 9 and 10 are sure to enjoy this novel. Whilst the last third of the novel is certainly gripping and full of action and suspense, there is also plenty of food for thought.

If you want to know more about the author and her knowledge of Pakistani culture then check out her website here.

Highly recommended (dma) *****