An interesting blend of humour, grief and reality TV

loathing lolaTITLE = LOATHING LOLA

AUTHOR = WILLIAM KOSTAKIS

GENRE = FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

15 year old Courtney  Marrow has lost her boyfriend in a car accident and is struggling with her grief. She lives with her Mum and younger brother and has a poor relationship with her father (who recently remarried the dreadful Lola, without warning his children first). On the plus side, Courtney has a great best friend: Tim (they talk together, support each other and he is very loyal towards her). His twin sister (Katie) is another story altogether; having recently decided she will be Courtney’s second best friend …. Is she really on Courtney’s side (or only looking out for herself?)

Courtney has been selected to be the star of a reality TV show based on “a real teen” – however, she is unaware of the plotting going on behind the scenes: by supposed friend and others. Can Courtney survive the reality experience with her reputation and sanity intact??? And what about those burgeoning feelings for a new boy in her life … is it too soon after the death of her previous boyfriend?

Clearly there is a lot on Courtney’s plate and readers will enjoy watching her trying to untangle the complications in her life and her heart.

The authors second novel (The First Third) was announced as an Honour Book (OR) in the CBCA Book of The Year awards. This is his first book and it reveals the same desire to blend laughter and sadness. Although it is perhaps not quite so well handled here, there is still a lot to like about this book.

Recommended (dma) ***  

A moving story for older readers

eleanor and parkTITLE = ELEANOR & PARK

AUTHOR = RAINBOW ROWELL

GENRE = FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, SCHOOL, BULLYING, ROMANCE 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

This is a sad story as flagged from the opening page.

Park is afraid to be open about his feelings, so initially seems a bit angry with Eleanor. Eleanor seems gawky and awkward but as we follow their stories in alternating chapters, we see what hides beneath the veneer that they show the world.

Eleanor comes from a poor and brutal home where her step-father rules. He has only just allowed Eleanor to return home, after kicking her out a year ago. Her mother is afraid to stand up to her partner, so Eleanor and her siblings eat early (before he comes home) and cower whilst he shouts and their mother cries.

Eleanor’s newness and strange attire make her a target for the school bullies so school days are equally difficult for Eleanor; until Park slowly reaches out to her over a shared interest in comics and music. Gradually, their friendship blossoms, giving both of them inner strength. But does their love stand a chance when Eleanor’s brutish step-father is watching her every move… and when put to the test, will Eleanor and Park have the courage to take action .. even at a cost to their relationship?

This is a credible and moving story … although some readers may not like the ending?? Given the themes in the story, it is likely to suit more mature readers.

Recommended (dma) **** 

Growing up with a disability

out of my mindTITLE = OUT OF MY MIND

AUTHOR = SHARON M. DRAPER

GENRE = DISABILITY, MENTAL HEALTH, FAMILIES 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7+

Melody was born with cerebral palsy, which means she has difficulty controlling her body movements, is confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak. Her greatest desire is to be able to communicate with others and let them know that just because her body doesn’t work properly this doesn’t mean that her brain is not sharp. She is an intelligent girl with a whole lot to say to the world – she just can’t get the words out.

Melody tells her story in first person so we are given a great chance to see what life is like for this remarkably strong young girl. She doesn’t want our pity she just wants to be understood. Fortunately, Melody has a lot of people around her who want to help: from her loving parents, to her remarkable neighbour and a caring aide at school.

Not everyone at school is helpful, though: some teachers can’t see past the wheelchair and some kids can’t see past her drooling. So when Melody tries out for the school Quiz Team there are bound to be some raised eyebrows … just how far can this young girl go, if given the chance.

This is a moving story with a very believable main character. Her story is not whitewashed: not everything goes Melody’s way and there are some moments of true heartbreak for her. But it is a powerful tale and will make readers genuinely think about the power of words, the power of speech and perhaps reconsider our beliefs about disability. This book understandably spent 9 months on the NY Times bestseller list.

Check out the author’s website: a teacher and a highly awarded author, who has some genuine understanding of Melody’s situation as she has a disabled daughter (although Sharon Draper is keen to tell readers that Melody’s story is NOT her daughter’s story)

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Two boys with a lot more in common than they believe

bleak boy and hunterTITLE = BLEAKBOY and HUNTER STAND OUT in the RAIN

AUTHOR = STEVEN HERRICK

GENRE = FAMILIES, SCHOOL, BULLYING, ENVIRONMENT 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 7

This book is about 2 boys who think they are very different from each other but in fact have a lot in common. Jesse’s family likes to be self-sufficient: they grow their own food (as much as possible), make (and repair) their own clothes and his folks tell awful jokes. Hunter is Jesse’s worst nightmare: the school bully. Yet when we first meet Hunter he just seems like a boy who cares for his Mum, who is a bit sad and lonely since Hunter’s dad left them. This is the kind side of Hunter which he doesn’t reveal at school; at school he calls people names, does his best to get out of class and is often in trouble.

Hunter assumes that Jesse (whom he calls BleakBoy) is a goody two shoes who would never do anything wrong … yet Jesse has stolen his father’s credit card, is caught smoking at school and has 2 detentions in as many days … what exactly is going on? Has Jesse truly become BadBoy? Meanwhile Hunter has offered to help Jesse and his friend, Kate, help save the whales … has Hunter become GoodBoy?

A story with a lot of heart and a lot of humour … and a very satisfying ending.

Recommended (dma) ****

A gothic horror with a literary twist

fairytales for wildeTITLE = FAIRYTALES FOR WILDE GIRLS

AUTHOR = ALLYSE NEAR

GENRE = GOTHIC, HORROR, FAIRYTALES, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP, GRIEF, MENTAL HEALTH

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Does Isola live in a fantasy world or is the fantasy simply happening in her head? When we first meet this teenage girl who lives on the edge of a “dark and scary wood”, we are certainly introduced to an unusual setting and an unusual girl. Living with her gruff and often absent dad and with a somewhat unbalanced mum to care for, it may come as no surprise that Isola often loses herself in her beloved book of fairytales and surrounds herself with imaginary friends that seem to come from a rather twisted fairyland. For the mermaids, warriors, fairies and heroes who seem to be her best friends and greatest protectors, all seem to have lived and died violently.

Yet Isola also inhabits a very real world with school and its normal assortment of friends and foes, of bossy teachers and deadlines, of swimming carnivals, tests and detentions. And she also has two boys vying for her affections.

How does a girl live a life haunted by her mother’s illness, haunted by her namesake’s short life and haunted by her fears … is Isola brave enough to face the truth of her world or will she simply waste away? Will she spurn the help of those who care for her, those who really can help her … can she break free from the horrors she has witnessed, from the ties of family?    

This novel may be a challenge for some readers, especially in the early pages as the focus and style seem to change all too rapidly but it is well worth the effort. Ultimately, readers might have different views about whether it is a clever fantasy story or a book about mental health and resilience… but there is certainly plenty to think about and plenty to enjoy in the writing.

 It is no surprise to find that this novel is the winner of a number of awards (gaining two 2013 Aurealis awards –  joint-winner of Best Young Adult Novel and winner of the Best Horror Novel) and it has been shortlisted for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year Award (Older Readers) and long-listed for the 2014 Gold Inky Awards.

This book was announced as A CBCA HONOUR BOOK!! CONGRATULATIONS TO ALLYSE NEAR.

 Highly Recommended ****(dma)

 

A love letter to the western suburbs of Melbourne

tigerfishTITLE = TIGERFISH

AUTHOR = DAVID METZENTHEN

GENRE = AUSTRALIAN SUBURBS, FAMILY, GRIEF, VIOLENCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 +

This is a brilliant and compelling novel. If “The Incredible Here and Now” is a love letter to the Western suburbs of Sydney, then this novel is an ode to the Western suburbs of Melbourne. It is an ode tinged with rawness and simmering violence, but also with loyalty and kindness.

Ryan is well aware that there is a bleak harshness about his suburb. There is fear lurking in the wasteland on the edge of his suburb: fear due to past violence and recent reports of a prowler on the loose. Even Ryan doesn’t want to be out in this bare wasteland at night. Yet despite this fear and darkness, Ryan clearly loves his neighbourhood and there is a lot to be loved – in the strong sense of community spirit and in Ryan himself.

Slate (Ryan’s brother) is stuck in a dead-end factory job by day and a bouncer’s job at night; simmering with anger about the consequences of past decisions.  Ariel, the new love of Ryan’s life, is trapped by her sad family history. School colleagues, Eden and Elmore are trapped by guilt. And caught between all these characters is Ryan himself; uncertain of his own future yet willing to reach out to others, however uncomfortable he may sometimes feel.

Loyalty is important to Ryan as is team work – and he uses his love of footy to guide his actions; moving forward, sidestepping where necessary, not always winning but willing to come back next week and give it a go. This is a compelling novel. Ryan’s voice is authentic and, at times, dryly funny. He sees the bleakness around him but he also sees the beauty in his community. What he perhaps doesn’t see, but what the reader will see, is how Ryan is a part of this beauty.

Highly Highly Recommended for older readers (dma) *****

A sad yet uplifting story

stay well soonTITLE = STAY WELL SOON

AUTHOR = PENNY TANGEY

GENRE = GRIEF, DEATH, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7+

Make sure you have the tissue box handy … this is a great read bit it is also rather sad at times. Young Stevie hasn’t exactly got things easy: her mum can’t afford for her to go on school camp, let alone buy her a horse! Her best friend seems to have dropped her (so school days are lonely) and now her brother is sick(which means lots of time in his hospital. Even her friendship with the new girl, Morgan, gets prickly sometimes – Morgan asks too many questions in Stevie’s mind… and she doesn’t always want to answer .. or maybe she just doesn’t have the answers?

The one bright spot comes from Lara, the friend Stevie makes when chilling out in the Kidz Space at her brother’s hospital. Despite the fact that Lara is 14 and Stevie is only 11, they have a lot in common: they both love horses and they both love to draw. But Lara is sick too. How does an 11 yo make sense of her world when so much keeps shifting and there seems so much to lose?

This is a lovely story about family, friendship and coping with grief…and a young girl’s obsession with horses! Girls in particular are sure to enjoy this book, especially Stevie’s numerous drawings and sketches. But be warned… tissues may be needed at certain points in the story!

Selected as a Notable book in the 2014 Book of the Year Awards (Younger Readers)

Highly Recommended (dma) ****

An intriguing insight into one boy’s mind

colin fischerTITLE = COLIN FISCHER

AUTHOR = ASHLEY EDWARD MILLER & ZACK STENTZ

GENRE = ASPERGER’S SYNDROME, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, SCHOOL

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 7 +

As the cover suggests, Colin Fischer has an unusual way of looking at the world – and this sometimes gets him into fixes. Colin has trouble reading facial cues and trouble with tone – he is a logical thinker and takes things literally. Colin has previously had an aide to help him navigate the pathways of school, but now he is adventuring out alone.. except for his trusty notebook in which he records events and keeps notes to help him cope with new experiences.

Colin has been the butt of bully boy Wayne Connelly for as long as he can remember. So when Wayne is accused of bringing a gun to school, no one is more surprised than Wayne, when Colin decides to help solve the mystery and clear Wayne’s name. But this is not out of a sense of friendship or empathy, it is simply Colin’s logical, rational mind at work – and after all, his hero is the renowned detective, Sherlock Holmes … so it makes sense that he should try and follow in his shoes. Even if this leads him to a number of firsts: lying to his parents for starters!

There is much to enjoy in this book. Whether or not the depiction of Asperger’s syndrome is accurately portrayed the novel certainly allows the reader to witness life from a different perspective. Colin is a likable young man with a credible family: his parents are thoughtful and loving but his younger brother is somewhat jealous and rarely has a kind word for his brother!  The ending may come a little too neatly for some but younger readers are sure to be satisfied with the way plot strands are resolved.

Recommended (dma) ***

A brilliant end to a wonderful series

black heartTITLE = THE CURSE WORKERS (Book 3): Black Heart

AUTHOR = HOLLY BLACK

GENRE = FANTASY, MAGIC, FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8 +

This is the third and final book in an intriguing series. Fans of the previous 2 books are sure to be satisfied with Holly Black’s clever conclusion. As usual, Cassel Sharpe finds himself in a tricky situation: trying to keep his mother alive and out of jail, trying to keep away from a life of crime, he has signed up to help the Feds. But can he trust them? Or do they simply want to use him as so many others have used him before?

And is his heart destined to be broken…again? The only girl he has ever loved truly despises him (and given that he once turned her into a cat and his own mother once worked a spell on her, Cassel can’t really blame her). But his heart so wishes it was otherwise.

Meanwhile his best friends are fighting, a girl he doesn’t trust wants his help and the principal keeps threatening to kick him out of school. Life was never meant to be this complicated .. was it?

A  terrific book and a wonderfully inventive series … Cassel Sharpe will worm his way into your heart …even if he thinks his own heart is blackened.

Highly Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Identity and acceptance

keeping you a secretTITLE = KEEPING YOU A SECRET

AUTHOR = JULIE ANNE PETERS

GENRE = IDENTITY, GAY THEMES, FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 +

Holland Jaeger is in her last semester of school and life seems fairly comfortable: she is popular, athletic, head of the student council, has a charming boyfriend (Seth) and two close girl buddies. Yet beneath the surface, Holland is worried: her mother is nagging her about college applications, which is driving her crazy, and she feels just a tad overwhelmed by her subject load. Why has she even taken on art as a subject and is she really happy with Seth??

But things are about to change for Holland: from the time she first spies the new girl whose locker is across the hall from hers. Cece is different. Out and proud, she is not afraid to advertise her sexuality (with bold T-shirts) and she is keen to start a gay & lesbian club at her new school. Unfortunately, the school may not be ready for Cece and her gay pride. More importantly for Holland, why does she suddenly feel so attracted to this girl – she has had girl crushes before but she has never felt like this?

Forced to examine her feelings and consider her own sexual identity, Holland struggles to be accepted by her friends and family. She is shocked by their reactions and her easy life disappears before her eyes. Will she have the strength to follow her feelings and be true to herself?

This is a moving story about identity, relationships and family. It may be set in an American high school and at times seem a little dated but the characters are credible and the storyline is still relevant for Aussie readers.

Recommended (dma) ****