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 +

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Dead ends or a new start?

Title:  Dead Ends dead ends 2

Author:  Erin Lange

Interest Level: Year 9+

Dane has just about used up all his chances. One more mistake and he will be expelled from his High School.

Billy D has changed schools and needs help avoiding bullies like Dane. What better way for Dane to redeem himself than helping a kid like Billy D? Or at least the principal thinks so…

As reluctant as he is to help, Dane quickly discovers that Billy D needs more than a bodyguard, he needs a friend. Dane isn’t really sure anyone is equipped to be that friend. Billy D is a demanding task master who is not above threatening and manipulating Dane to make him do what Billy wants. And yet, Dane and Billy D have much in common; they both struggle to fit in and both are missing their fathers. Dane has never known his father, whilst Billy D has lost contact with his.  It is this common bond, and the resulting search for their fathers that ultimately brings both boys a little closer to adulthood.

This is Erin Lange’s second book. Her first, Butter, was a stand out for its original and contemporary approach to issues such as obesity and teen suicide. In Dead Ends Lange in her straight forward and uncompromising way, tackles disability, bullying and poverty of opportunity. There are no neat resolutions or happy endings for the characters, however, Dead Ends does leave the reader believing that the boys’ lives are better for their friendship and that there is potential for happier futures.

Recommended (ipe) ***

 

 

 

 

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): ***

Weird but wonderful

Title:  Grasshopper Junglegrasshopper

Author: Andrew Smith

Interest Level:  Year 10 +

At the outset it must be said that Andrew Smith is a great story teller, with a gift for straightforward, thought provoking prose. Smith created a protagonist, Austin, who is not just confused about his life and sexuality, but finds himself grappling with the oftentimes strange (and meaningless) coincidences that occur in history. What differentiates this book from other YA fiction is the “genre morphing” that occurs. Initially the reader is so caught up in Austin’s “everyday” story, there is no way they could predict the twist in events (and genre)  that lead to Austin and his friend Robby being partly responsible for humanity’s destruction by “Unstoppable Soldiers” (which bare a striking resemblance to 6 feet tall Praying Mantises). That people from his small town, his country and the world may be abandoned to face brutal deaths barely registers on Austin’s radar, except as commentary in his oftentimes myopic family and town history. Austin has his own, more important issues to sort through: is he in love with Shann? is he in love with Robby?…can he experiment and still be straight? Ironically, he and Robby have the knowledge and power to halt the Unstoppable Soldiers, but they must choose to act. Will they?

This book is quite extraordinary, and a must read (with the warning that the themes and language are appropriate for a mature Young Adult audience) (Year 10+). Grasshopper Jungle is certainly worth the challenge, but readers should prepare to suspend disbelief before they venture into the book.  I’m not entirely sure if the conclusion is hopeful or hopeless, or in fact, whether Austin is in any way likeable. What do you think?

Recommended (ipe): *****

What do you really know about the new guy at school?

FullSizeRenderTitle: The Hit

Author:  Allen Zadoff

Interest Level: Year 9 +

Benjamin finds himself in a new town, with a new name…and on another mission. The Program has set his mission: to meet and befriend Samara Goldberg and assassinate her father, the Mayor of New York. Benjamin can’t afford to question or compromise; it could mean the difference between life and death. Benjamin’s training doesn’t allow for second guesses or falling in love…

This YA thriller is an enjoyable read even for those who might not always pick up a book in this genre. Told in the first person, author Allen Zadoff successfully situates the new kid Benjamin in an exclusive New York private school, with all its social intrigues and cliques. With his hidden assassin talents, Benjamin ably defends the school nerd, Howard, and as a consequence manages to infiltrate the tightly guarded family of the Mayor. But things go wrong and Benjamin is uncertain whether he can complete his mission.

This book is the first of a series, with the second book, The Mission, also available from the Ballarat High School collection.

Recommended (ipe): ***

Romantic adventures at boarding school in Paris

anna and the french kissTITLE = Anna and the French Kiss
AUTHOR = Stephanie Perkins
GENRE = Romance, Friendship, Relationships
INTEREST LEVEL = years 9-10

Although boarding school in Paris sounds like an incredible experience, Anna is less than thrilled with her father’s plan. It means leaving behind her best friend, her plans for her senior year, and it means leaving a fledgling romance behind. She has no French language skills at all, and how is she supposed to keep up her movie review website when she can’t even buy tickets?

Still, she manages to make friends at her new school, including her next door neighbour Meredith and the handsome Etienne. Smart, charming, beautiful, Etienne has it all…including a girlfriend. But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with a longed-for French kiss?

The first draft of this novel was written as part of Nanowrimo – National Novel Writing Month – and Stephanie Perkins has followed it up with two other novels set in and around the School of America in Paris. The other students at the school are very interesting characters who I’d like to know more about and although we don’t spend too much time seeing what Anna does in class we do get to see her experience Paris (reluctant though she is to try anything new at the start). This is a very sweet novel for romance fans – and proof, for our writers, that you can write a publishable novel in 30 days!

Recommended (emc) ***

The highs and lows of life for youngsters in the 1870’s

that boy jackTITLE = THAT BOY JACK

AUTHOR = JANEEN BRIAN

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, ROMANCE  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS

For those interested in Aussie history, this story will be an absolute delight. Set in the 1870’s in the early days of South Australia, the novel is based around the life of a youngster in a tin mining community. Jack and his family live simply in a small cottage built by his father. Mother spends all day baking and cleaning and looking after Jack’s younger brother and sister. And Jack must help out with chores before and after school (such as brining in fire wood, carrying in buckets of water and tending to the goat.

But Jack enjoys life; he loves school and has fun playing in the surrounding bushland with his best mate, Gilbert. The only thing Jack doesn’t really like is the thought of working underground as a miner, like his father. Yet he has promised Gilbert that when school is over he will join him as a miner, assuming that day is well into the future. But when Gilbert’s dad is injured, Gilbert must become the breadwinner of the family and Jack finds an awkward decision looming before him.

Can he back out of a blood promise … and what will his dad think of him if he does?? But if being underground really frightens him… what choice does he have??

Young readers will enjoy learning about the life and times during this period of Australia’s history … it might even make them reflect on how much easier our modern lives are… especially when Jack’s sister becomes dangerously ill …. There are no ambulances to ring..no medical centres to attend. And those children who complain about school might think again when they read about some of Jack’s trials and tribulations during his school life.

Recommended (dma) ****

When grief threatens to overwhelm life …

as stras fallTITLE = as stars fall

AUTHOR = CHRISTIE NEIMAN

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Robin’s happy farm life has been replaced by a rather lonely city existence. On the night of a threatening fire, her parent’s marriage has been shattered and the fallout for Robin has been equally heart-breaking: a new tiny house in a new strange city, a new school and the need to make new friends…. One of whom could be Delia ….but….

Delia’s life has also been shattered, on the same night and by the same fire. The loss of her mother has caused Delia to withdraw, her older brother (Seth) has turned to drugs and her father has turned to alcohol.

The common link between the two girls (unbeknownst to them) is not only the fire but also a strange and rare bird. Can this bird draw the two girls together … before it is too late for them … and for Seth??

This is a beautifully written book which brings alive the countryside of Australia, in all its terrible beauty. The characters are credible and their dilemmas are heartfelt whilst allowing different characters to take turns in telling the story from their point of view, is both clever and magical (when the narrator happens to be the bird).

A wonderful blend of warmth, sadness, beauty and complexity; mature readers will love this book.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****  

A very different story from Claire Zorn

the-protected-cover-aw-copyTITLE: The Protected

AUTHOR: Claire Zorn

GENRE: Family, Grief, Bullying, School

INTEREST LEVEL: Year 8, 9, 10

After her sister, Katie, dies in a car accident, Hannah’s life is more stressful than ever. She isn’t getting bullied at school anymore, but her mother hasn’t left the house since then, and her injured father is going to court in six weeks because he was driving the car when Katie died.

Hannah can’t remember the accident.

It’s almost a year later, and Hannah is talking to the school counsellor about what happened. And to Josh, sometimes – the new kid who always seems to be around. The book unfolds with lists about Katie, flashbacks to Hannah’s life before the accident, and her interactions now – conversations with the school counsellor, with her parents, with the students that used to bully her. Occasionally it’s a little hard to tell when a flashback has started – until Katie shows up. Everyone in Hannah’s life is trying to help, but some people are more successful than others.

The author, Claire Zorn, wrote The Sky So Heavy which was shortlisted for the CBCA Older Readers book of the year; this story however is quite different. Set in a town in the Blue Mountains, it’s a story that could, tragically, easily be any teenager’s story – not like The Sky So Heavy’s apocalypse. Read it if you are interested in all the ways people try to deal with death, and what you do when someone you love dies.

Recommended (emc) ****

A ghost story with plenty of twists and turns

doll bonesTITLE = DOLL BONES

AUTHOR = HOLLY BLACK

GENRE = HORROR, QUEST, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9    

Poppy, Zach and Alice have been friends for ages and have had great fun playing a special game filled with imagination and adventure. They use action figures, puppets and dolls to act out their stories, collaborating and decorating their storytelling.

But what happens when one of them is challenged to stop being childish … the ripple effect on their friendship and their storytelling game quickly stirs into action, especially when Poppy realises that the doll in her cabinet at home has a mysterious curse that can only be lifted by a road trip … by bus, at night ….

Can 3 young teens really work together on this quest without destroying their friendship? Does the doll really need help or is it just playing games with them? Can they in fact finish their quest … or will fear, anger or disappointment get in the way?

This is a clever story with plenty of mystery, adventure and friendship problems to be resolved. If you liked The Spiderwick Chronicles you are sure to enjoy this novel for younger readers from Holly Black

Recipient of a Newbery Honor Award

Recommended (dma) ****