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) ***

 

 

 

 

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) **** 

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) ****

Facing life in the wilds of school camp

wildlifeTITLE = WILDLIFE

AUTHOR = FIONA WOOD

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, GRIEF, GROWING UP, FAMILY, ROMANCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Sybilla and Lou take turns to tell this story. Both are in yr 10 and heading off to their school’s compulsory term in the “wild” – or at least in the bush, miles away from the city in which they have grown up. Sybilla is a smart and friendly girl, inclined to be a bit on the passive side and decidedly naïve on the boyfriend stakes. Her oldest friend is Michael: a self-confessed nerd with a rather unusual view of the world; a bit of a loner amongst the rest of the yr 10s. Her best friend is the rather unpleasant, Holly. And Sybilla’s eye is on the most popular boy in the school, Ben.

Lou on the other hand, is a quiet girl, new to the school and harbouring a secret grief. For her boyfriend, Fred, was killed in a bicycle accident some months ago. Struggling to cope with her grief and struggling to find her way out of depression, Lou has changed schools, in the hope that a fresh start will help. She has a rather cynical view of the world but unlike Sybilla she has quite a sharp tongue and is the only girl in their cabin who is impervious to Holly’s bullying.

The 2 girls seem worlds apart at the beginning of this book and their stories seem to be very different; one seems light and frothy one much darker; gradually their stories begin to merge as does their friendship. This is an engaging story with very credible characters who explore quite realistically, friendship, sexual awakening and grief. A wonderful mix.

Sidenote: if you have read Fiona Wood’s previous YA novel (Six Impossible Things) you may recall Lou and Fred as minor characters.

This book has been named on the Short List for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), and then was announced as  THE WINNER!! CONGRATULATIONS TO FIONA WOOD.

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

Looking at life in a new way

when mr dog bitesTITLE = when mr dog bites   

AUTHOR = BRIAN CONAGHAN

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, TOURETTES SYNDROME, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 -12

Dylan Mint is 16 yo and has Tourette’s Syndrome which means he must constantly battle against his tics: especially swearing, growling and howling like a dog. But sometimes, the more he tries to keep these things in, the more they simply want to explode out of him – like a volcano. Stressful situations only make it worse and Dylan feels he has a lot to be stressed about; especially since he overheard the doctor telling his mum that he won’t live past March!!

There is a lot on Dylan’s list to do before March. And as if this isn’t enough, he and his best mate Amir have to deal with the school bully, there is a taxi driver who keeps parking in his Dad’s spot … and his dad is doing another tour of duty. Will Dylan see his dad before March?? With so much going on in his life is it any wonder that his relationship with his Mum seems to be getting worse and Dylan is getting into more trouble than ever at the special school he attends.

Written in the first person, the reader has a unique chance to feel what it is like to walk in Dylan Mint’s shoes. He may not always be able to control what comes out of his mouth but like any teen, Dylan wants to understand the world around him and find his place in this world. He may sometimes speak crudely but beneath this, he is a thoughtful and kind young man, willing to stand up for his friends against bullying and racism.

Often quite amusing and always entertaining this is a wonderful story and Dylan is a very likable character. The language and frank discussions of sex may be confronting for younger readers but older teens are sure to thoroughly enjoy this novel.

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

Meet another strong girl in a great series

sophie bennettTITLE = GIRL v WORLD: Sophie Bennett saves the Planet

AUTHOR = MEREDITH BADGER

GENRE = IDENTITY, GROWING UP, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

A delightful addition to the Girl v World series, which employs a range of authors to tell stories of strong girls. Meredith Badger introduces us to young Sophie Bennett, who doesn’t feel strong at the beginning of this story, she simply feels like the odd one out. This is partly because of her environmentally aware family. Both her parents are strong advocates for the environment in every aspect of their lives including diet (vegetarianism), entertainment (no TV) and lifestyle (growing most of their food and reusing products, such as Sophie’s bicycle). Sophie has grown up with a similar philosophy and is well aware that this has made her very different to most of her class mates and being different isn’t always easy as a teenager; sometimes it can lead to bullying or loneliness.

When her folks have to leave her with a neighbour for a week, Sophie begins to question some of her values and ideas as she tries out new experiences with new friends. But if Sophie is trying new things, so too are some of her friends thanks to Sophie who learns that being different can sometimes be fun, too.

A quick and enjoyable read in a very popular series.

Recommended (dma) ****

A beautifully written story with a dark edge

TITLE = THE BONE DRAGON

AUTHOR = ALEXIA CASALE

GENRE = FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, REVENGE, DRAGONS, FANTASY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10-11

This is a genuinely spinechilling novel but cleverly crafted so that the chills literally creep up on you in unexpected ways. The novel’s cover looks magical but we soon realise there is a bleak layer beneath that surface appearance.

Evie is recovering from an operation which removed a fractured rib. From this rib she begins to carve a magical and beautiful dragon with whom she has night time rambles on the fens surrounding her home. There is beauty and magic in the descriptions of these nightly forays – darkness, mist and dampness suddenly look quite bewitching rather than scary  – when you have a dragon accompanying you. Dragon says he has come to protect Evie and his nightly rambles seem to help her sleep and recover more fully. But is there a darker reason for these adventures? We suspect that Evie has been badly treated by her mother and grandparents and part of the gripping feel of this book comes from our desire to learn the truth of Evie’s past. The more we guess, the more we pity her for what she has suffered and what she still suffers. For Evie is subjected to bullying from one of the lads at school – but this is where the first warning comes into the story … has Evie coirrectly interpreted events?

The reader will be on the edge of their seats as they turn the last few pages with equal amounts of awe and dread: the ending will stun and surprise and make you adjust your thoughts – not just about Evie but also about the ethics of revenge and the nature of evil. This is the true magic of this amazing and compelling novel by first time author, Alexia Casale; beautifully written but with a layer of darkness beneath each page.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

What would you do?

TITLE = OTHER BROTHER

AUTHOR = SIMON FRENCH

GENRE = BULLYING, GROWING UP, IDENTITY, FAMILY, PARENTS,

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Kieran’s view of himself and his world is forced to change when his cousin Bon and a new girl, Julia, arrive at his school.  Kieran wants to fit in, but Bon doesn’t know anything about fitting in—he looks different, he wears the wrong clothes, he says weird things—and Julia doesn’t care about fitting in, establishing her own style and following with seeming ease.  Bon’s arrival doesn’t just threaten to upset Kieran’s relationship with the cool kids at school, but also his relationship with his parents, his sister, his Nan and his budding relationship with the elusive Julia.  This is a story about families and relationships, about bullying and fitting in, about discovering where your values lie and that the world is more complex than you think. This is a 2013 CBCA Short-listed Book for Younger Readers.

Recommended (mrsk) ****

A hilariously funny series of books about friendship & growing up

TITLE =DON’T CALL ME ISHMAEL!

AUTHOR =MICHAEL GERARD BAUER

GENRE =HUMOUR, GROWING UP, SCHOOL LIFE, BULLYING, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 AND UP

Check out the booktrailer below to find out more about the first book in this great series… then do yourself a favour and read it (but not on public transport because you are sure to laugh out loud …)

No wonder this book was shortlisted in 2007 for the CBCA Book of the Year. And it is great to see that the series is ending on a high too: “Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel” (the 3rd and final book) has been shortlisted in 2012 for the same award (Older Readers).

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Music “Coquetry” by McKenzie Stubbert (taken from the Animoto site). All text created by dma.