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 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) **** 

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) ****

Choices always have consequences … some may be unexpected …

dead dogTITLE = DEAD DOG IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT

AUTHOR = ARCHIMEDE FUSILLO

GENRE = FAMILY, GROWING UP, VIOLENCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

This is a dark novel with a sense of brooding violence and anger lingering at the edge of every page. Primo has a lot on his plate: his father is in a nursing home and his girlfriend wants to break up with him. His home-life hasn’t got any easier since his brothers have moved back in, bringing all sorts of problems and pressures with them. How can somebody concentrate on their VCE studies with all this going on?

AS Primo tells his best mate, Tony, smart guys sometimes make dumb decisions … and it seems like Primo is talking about himself … first with his dad’s beloved car and then with the dead dog. What seemed like a good idea at the time may turn out to be a very very bad idea once it has been executed. And trying to fix one bad idea with another bad idea is surely never going to work? But hindsight is all very well – it is not going to help if the thug from work wants revenge, it is not going to help when he has to tell his mother the truth … as Primo learns all too well.

And ultimately that is what becomes important in this book: any one can make mistakes but it is how we deal with these mistakes, how we learn (or if we learn) that can make us grow up to fight another day… in a better way. Will Primo see that before his world comes crumbling down around him …and what will he learn about his family in the process? A book which may be dark but which also shows that strength doesn’t always come from a fist and dignity can be found in unlikely places.

Recommended (dma) ***** 

An unusual novel about unusual characters

TITLE = CREEPY & MAUD  

AUTHOR = DIANNE TOUCHELL

GENRE = DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, MENTAL HEALTH

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

An intriguing choice as a shortlisted book for the 2012 CBCA Book of the Year (OR)

This book is aptly named as one of the narrator’s, a teenage boy, truly does seem to be a bit creepy, especially when we realise that he watches his neighbour, “Maud”, through binoculars. There may be valid reasons for his creepiness: his parents are painted in a most unattractive light and seem to be at war with each other… is it any wonder that their teenage son remains aloof from normal relationships at school. His attitude to Maud is tricky too – through his binocular watching, he learns that her father hits her and that she is self-harming (by pulling out her hair). Yet it takes a long time for him to actively support this very troubled girl.

Some chapters in the novel are told from Maud’s point of view and she does appear to appreciate Creepy as a real friend, which perhaps makes him a more likable character than he may appear from his own words. Poor Maud comes from an equally troubled family and counselling does not appear to be helping.

This novel is unlikely to appeal to all readers, dealing as it does with dysfunctional families and mental health issues: some may find the black humour quite funny whereas others may simply find the tone rather bleak and cool. Either way, it is certainly thought-provoking and may well stay with the reader long after the last page has been read.

(dma)

 

Family drama

TITLE = FATHER’S DAY

AUTHOR = ANNE BROOKSBANK

GENRE = FAMILY, PARENTS, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

Sam has always felt like the odd one out in his family – he has a close relationship with his mother but things have always been tougher with his dad. Often he has felt that his dad has come down harder on him than on his other siblings. Suddenly he finds out that there may be a reason for this … and this knowledge quite literally turns his life and his family upside down.

Uncertain about his place in his family, uncertain about whom to call dad .. Sam flees on his beloved boat, for time away and time to think. But alone in the wild things could go horribly wrong. Who can he turn to in his hour of need and is it too late to repair the damage with his parents… whoever they may be??

Another sensitive account of family difficulties faced by teens through no fault of their own – just as Sam’s friend Molly faced problems in Anne Brooksbank’s earlier novel, “Mother’s Day“. This new book can be enjoyed even if you haven’t read Mother’s Day but the similarities in circumstances faced by the main characters will give readers something to think about.

The dialogue in Fathers Day may be less credible than in the earlier novel but the emotional turmoil faced by Sam is vividly conveyed. Should be enjoyed by both girls and boys.

And look out for “Big Thursday” Anne Brooksbank’s latest novel – which features another male character (Sam’s friend, Nat) thrown into the deep end when his dad’s business fails.

Recommended (dma) ****

A moving story about a girl caught in a family split

TITLE = MOTHER’S DAY

AUTHOR = ANNE BROOKSBANK

GENRE = FAMILY, DIVORCE, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

Molly has lived with her dad and his second wife, Ro, for as long as she can remember and she feels happy and comfortable in their lakeside home. And she dearly loves her step-brother, Locky. But she is aware that all is not going well for her dad and Ro … they seem to be constantly bickering .. and maybe Locky doesn’t love her as much as she thought?

So when her long distant mother makes a reappearance in her life, Molly is ready to get to know her better … maybe even ready to move in with her mum and grandmother, even if this means being miles away from Dad and Locky.

But what if she changes her mind? jhat if her dad changes his mind too and wants to fight to have her back  … will lawyers and courts get between Molly and a happy future? Is there a chance for happiness when divorce and remarriage has changed her family so much??

This is a sensitive and credible story about the difficulties sometimes faced by youngsters caught between parents who no longer love each other… how do you decide who to live with and can you still love both parents when they don’t love each other? Molly’s story is often touching and heartfelt and it has a satisfying outcome.

And if you enjoy reading this book you might like to read “Father’s Day” and “Big Thursday” written by the same author and set amongst the same group of friends – looking at other teens (this time boys) who are caught in awkward family arrangements too.

Highly Recommended (dma) ****   

An exciting new dystopian series

TITLE = 1.4

AUTHOR =MIKE LANCASTER

GENRE = DYSTOPIAN FUTURE, SCIENCE FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8,9

This is a compelling science fiction thriller which poses an intriguing future world. Mention of the WorldBrain and filaments which extend from the hands, would suggest this is a future where technological advances have progressed beyond our expectations. However, key elements of this new world have a familiar ring: a communication network called the Link accessed by LinkPads and SocNetworking (including FaceSpace and MyBook).

And at first, the central story line seems comfortingly familiar: filled with classrooms, college courses and a boy afraid to tell his science loving dad about taking a course in literature. However, gradually, it becomes a story about power and control and how science and technology can contribute to both. If all the world is connected by the Link then can’t this be used (or misused) to control people?? For who, ultimately, controls the Link??

Just as importantly, if a brilliant scientific mind has failed to see a key element in the problem he is trying to resolve, couldn’t this mean that his solution could be more dangerous than the problem itself? This theory is put forward by a student in a class discussion at the beginning of the story but quickly repudiated by the teacher. However, when the same claim is made at the end of the story it will resonate more strongly with the reader because by this stage, there is far more at stake: this is no longer a class discussion, this affects the future of the world and in particular, Vincent and Alpha, two characters  we have come to care about.

This is a very clever story which will make readers think about the connectedness of our own world and the future that may lie ahead. Although it is a sequel, readers don’t have to know the first book to enjoy this one, as enough detail is provided to acquaint us with the storyline. Intriguingly, whilst the ending is quite powerful, the door is left open for further books.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A thriller set in a small Italian village

TITLE = I’M NOT SCARED

AUTHOR = NICCOLO AMMANITI

GENRE = GROWING UP, MYSTERY, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10, 11

It is a long hot summer in the small village in Italy which young Michele calls home. There are only 4 dwellings in the village and the few children tend to roam around the surrounding hillsides for amusement. It is whilst out with his friends that Michele comes across a hole which appears to hold a body. Closer inspection by 9 yo Michele proves that the body is that of a young boy who is being kept captive.

Michele keeps his discovery a secret from his friends. But just as he is ready to turn to his parents for help, he discovers that they, and all the other adults in the village) are involved in the kidnapping of this boy.  With the introduction of other adults who are mean and bullies, Michele realises that his life is in danger, too, not just the hostage boys. Who can a 9 yo turn to for help .. or should he just forget about the youngster?? Is he wiling to risk his own life for the sake of a boy he barely knows??

A compelling drama with enough twists and turns in the plot to keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Highly Recommended (dma)*****

A compelling story about families

TITLE = PAN’S WHISPER

AUTHOR = SUE LAWSON

GENRE = FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS, MENTAL HEALTH

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10, 11

When we first meet Pan she is an angry young girl who is being delivered into a foster home, clearly against her own wishes. So the reader is instantly intrigued: why has a judge ordered Pan into foster care? Where is her own family? And why does she shudder every time the name Morgan is mentioned? We follow Pan as she struggles to settle in with her new family, attending a new school and making new enemies (and one friend, Hunter). Gradually we learn more about Pan: including the fact that she has some physical injuries. How did these happen? Why doesn’t she trust Hunter?

Pan’s foster mother suggests that writing to her sister (Morgan) might bode well with the judge’s decision about Pan’s future. And so the structure of the book changes: interspersed between the story of her current life are Pan’s letters to Morgan which describe her new life and recall pleasant memories of their life as young children.

And after each of these letters is a chapter from this past but told from Morgan’s point of view. So gradually we learn that Morgan’s view of their childhood is very different from Pan’s, for Morgan spent much of her time shielding Pan from the truth of their family situation.  Gradually these story strands come crashing together as Pan faces the reality of her childhood and the consequences this brings for her current life. This is a compelling and moving novel from Sue Lawson, an absolute page turner for older readers.

This novel was shortlisted for the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary award.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****