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





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 compelling and moving read

thirteen reasons whyTITLE = THIRTEEN REASONS WHY




This is an absolutely compelling novel which has been very cleverly constructed. It is almost like reading a suspenseful mystery novel where we are trying to discover the murderer. We know at the beginning that a teenage girl (Hannah) has killed herself about 2 weeks ago. And we learn that prior to this she compiled 13 tapes, which explain the reasons why she died. Each of the 13 people whom Hannah felt was responsible for her death is meant to listen to the set of tapes and send it along to the next person on the list.

Hence the mystery. For as in any crime novel, the reader wants to unravel the causes of Hannah’s death. But there is a second layer of mystery, too. For the young man who opens the tapes at the opening of the novel, is Clay Jensen and he is both horrified and perplexed that he should be on Hannah’s list. He tells us that he loved Hannah from afar, too shy to ask her out – he meant her no harm. So why is he on the list?? This is a question for both Clay and the reader to unravel. Is he really a nice guy, as he says?

And so the novel unwinds: alternating between Hannah’s voice on the tapes and Clay’s reactions to her words. The blend of the 2 voices allows the reader to get a fuller picture of how events unfolded and the truth behind her story. We see both Hannah’s pain and the pain of those she left behind. And this allows the novel to end on an upbeat note, despite the circumstances behind the story.  Suicide is never an easy topic for a YA novel but woven into this story is a central message about truth and honesty, about friendship and betrayal but most importantly about seeking help when we need it and about reaching out to those we think are in pain. A compelling novel for older teens.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Hopes, dreams and family

winds of heavenTITLE = THE WINDS OF HEAVEN

Timid Clementine is in awe of her cousin, Fan, who is pretty and carefree and a dreamer. Poor Clementine is a worrier – she worries about school, about friends ,about boys and about her future. Yet, oddly, of the two girls, Clementine seems to be the one with least to worry about: she has loving parents who support her and encourage her to make the most of her opportunities, she is a capable student and her brains will enable her to study at university and carve out a career that will take her out of the working class suburbs she was born to. For this, her parents are grateful. Fan,  on the other hand, lacks a loving and nuturing home: her father left years ago, her beloved sister has also departed, leaving behind a bitter and angry mother – who is known to drink a little too much at times and beat poor Fan. Whilst the two cousins love each other dearly, they are too far apart geographically to help each other in a meaningful way.

Despite the contrast in their upbringings, it is Fan who seems the happier girl: she may be a dreamer but she also loves life and is generous and happy by nature. She yearns for love and mistakenly thinks she has found it with one of the town boys. Teenage marriage and  motherhood prove to be much more difficult than she had dreamed, especially when her mother abandons her. Fan despairs for her children and her ability to care for them properly. Clementine can see the change inher cousin but is unable to help: their lives have drifted apart in too many ways.

This is a beautifully written book but also one of great sadness, as Fan, in particular, struggles to deal with the consequences of some of her youthful decisions. Clarke develops a strong sense of place: be it Fan’s isolated country house or the streets of Sydney inhabited by her cousin, Clementine. And the characters in this novel are also strongly and credibly drawn. However, the central themes of the novel are more appropriate for older readers (late secondary) – for they require mature reflection and may trouble younger readers.

This novel has been short-listed for the CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers) 2010.

*** Recommended for mature readers (dma)