A funny and intriguing story about fate and friendship

TITLE = HOLES

AUTHOR = LOUIS SACHAR

GENRE = GROWING UP, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 7

 This book has won several awards, including the US National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (1998) and the Newbery Medal (1999). And deservedly so, as it is a terrific book which continues to be popular with young readers today.

Watch the booktrailer below to find out a bit more about the novel:

 

Music “Fuzz” by Benji Jumping sourced from the Animoto site as were most of the images in this booktrailer. All text created by dma.

Recommended (dma) ****

A sad and moving road trip with a difference

TITLE = WHILE WE WERE TWO

AUTHOR = ROBERT NEWTON

GENRE = FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, LOSS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8, 9

This is a genuinely moving story – in fact, be warned, a tissue box will definitely be needed as you read the last few pages! Dan has decided to leave home: Mum left some time ago and it is clear that home life with his angry father has not been a lot of fun. At first, Dan isn’t too happy that his younger brother, Eddie, has decided to tag along. Eddie is a sweet kid and it is obvious that Dan is very protective of him but he is also afraid that Eddie will slow him down.  Eddie is a tad slow in more ways than one but he is a kind hearted young lad and as the 2 boys make their way towards the coast, we soon see that the brothers are very close to each other. We also see that not all those people that the boys meet along their travels are kind to Eddie or good people. We learn the story behind Eddie’s slowness, the cause of his apparent brain damage and the impact that has had on Dan’s life – the burden he carries and the strength it has given him. Whilst Dan’s aim may to find their mother and reunite the family, he coaxes Eddie along with stories of joining the war effort and becoming soldiers. That’s if they can make it to the coast without mishap…

There are genuinely funny moments in this book and some wonderful glimpses into Australian life at a particular period in time but at its heart this is a tender story of two brothers and the ties that bind them together … and what might happen if they are torn apart.

Read about Robert Newton’s inspiration for writing this story here.

Shortlisted for CBCA Book of the Year 2012 (Older Readers)

 

 

Recommended (dma) ****

Growing up and moving out

black painted fingernailsTITLE = BLACK PAINTED FINGERNAILS

AUTHOR = Steven Herrick

GENRE = GROWING UP, INDEPENDENCE, FAMILIES

INTEREST LEVEL =  YEARS 11, 12

This is a quietly charming novel, especially for older students. The two protagonists are older (aged 19 and 21) but the concerns they have will be relevant for many senior students (yrs 11 and 12). For this story is very much about families, growing up and becoming independent. Brought together by accident, as James and Sophie drive across the country they take it in turns to tell their stories. We learn why they happen to be travelling in similar directions and how different they are as people. James is a quiet, timid and dutiful only son. He is a person of integrity who has, until now, allowed his parents to decide his future path. Occasional chapters look at how his parents are coping with his departure and the reader gains some sympathy for their situation.

Sophie is clearly the more headstrong of the two, having left home soon after finishing school and determinedly setting out on her own path. However, the reasons for her departure (and her current trip) are likely to draw sympathy from the reader.

Both Sophie and James realise that despite their differences they have much to learn from each other. And so a satisfying conclusion is reached.

Selected as a Notable book for the CBCA Book of the Year 2012 (Older Readers)

Recommended for older readers (dma) ****

A story of a family

HAPPY AS LARRYTITLE = HAPPY AS LARRY

AUTHOR = SCOT GARDNER

GENRE = GROWING UP, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 AND UP

Although we are told to never judge a book by its cover, the cover of this book holds clues to the story that lies within. At first the title may seem to be simply a funny pun – as the book tells the story of young Larry (or Laurence Augustine Rainbow, to give him his full name). So the rainbow coloured lettering on the cover and the floating baby just seem comic symbols of a story of growing up. However, the dog that is transfixed by the TV on the cover, hints at the darker side to this novel, for as Larry grows up we realise that his family is far from happy.

In fact, the image of the TV becomes central to the novel. In the prologue Scot Gardner explains that “A life like a film has a beginning, a middle and an end” and he compares those big budget films that have a cast of thousand to those films with a humble cast and small budget. This comparison is oft repeated in the novel and from page one the contrast between world events and the daily humdrum lives of the Rainbow family is established as a constant refrain. Initially the world events that are mentioned at key stages in Larry’s growth (birth, first birthday etc) don’t seem to relate to his own life but gradually they begin to mirror each other: bombings overseas are refected in a bomb threat at Larry’s school; wars in other countries are mentioned when Larry’s own family seems to be at war. Violence is lurking as a theme behind this story: the constant violence in world events and on a smaller scale, Larry’s growing need to learn how to respond to the violent bully (Clinton) who lives down the road, Larry’s belief that you judge a man by his actions.

This is a thoughtful & thoughtprovoking novel; it has complex themes and complex characters and demands a lot of teen readers, both in style & structure. But at the heart of novel is a story about how a family negotiates the journey all families take, as children grow and the demands of being a parent change. It is unusual in a Young Adult novel to have parents as such well developed characters – in so much teen fiction parents seem to be absent. But in this story it is truly a family trying to negotiate their growth – learning how to trust and behave with each other when under pressure from events both outside and within their own family. Despite the grief and stress that visits the family, it is an ultimately uplifting novel that mature readers will ponder long after they have turned the last page.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

When imaginary friends come to life

being hereTITLE =being here

AUTHOR =BARRY JONSBERG

GENRE =IMAGINATION, FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL =YEARS 11, 12

This is not an easy read and is the sort of novel that really pushes the reader; but the rewards of the reading challenge are great. One of the challenges is the narrative voice: for it is Leah, an elderly woman in a nursing home, who tells much of the story and this is an unusual perspective for a teen novel. Leah’s story about her childhood is quite sad: her father committed suicide when she was 5 (and she found his body in the barn) and her mother was rather cruel in her dedication to her religion, so much so that poor Leah has to give up her one and only friend. Yet Leah herself is not sad, in fact her sharp, often humouroius voice is one of the delights of the book. She has come to accept her life and has reached a point where she is happy to speak her mind, even if it may seem cruel to 16 yo Carly (who has come to interview her). The relationship these two develop is another of the books real strengths.

The structure of the book is unusual, starting with “the end” and moving to “the beginning” – and with these changes are altered perspectives, which may present another challenge to young readers. However, there is so much to enjoy in this novel: Jonsberg’s writing is often quite beautiful and Leah’s observations on life around her are often quite pointed and detailed. By novel’s end, the reader’s empathy will definitely be with Leah and the one true love of her life, Adam.

Readers may enjoy learning more about the author’s inspiration in writing this novel, taken from his website. The subject matter and approach of this novel make it more likely to be enjoyed by more mature readers who will no dount be moved by the experience. For the novel encourages the reader to reflect on the power of books and the power of the imagination.

Selected as a Notable book for the CBCA Book of the Year 2012 (Older Readers)

Recommended (dma) ***

How one family copes with life’s many challenges

stressheadTITLE =STRESSHEAD

AUTHOR =ALLAYNE WEBSTER

GENRE =FAMILIES, GROWING UP, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 AND UP

The cover may suggest this is a lighthearted read about a drama queen but in fact, it is much more. Denise (or Dennie, to her family and best friends) has a bit of a reputation for being a stresshead  and in the opening pages this seems justified, as she seems obsessed with worry over her exam results and why her boyfriend hasn’t called her for 4 days. So obsessed that she misses the early signs that there is something much more worrying on the radar: her Mum’s possible health scare. And once her Mum’s condition is known, the reader will discover that the novel is as much about families and secrets as it is about resilience and dealing with stress. And it seems that everyone in this novel has a secret!

One of the best parts about the novel is the portrait of Dennie’s family who are wonderfully real: they don’t always say the right thing, they don’t always tell each other the truth and they don’t always behave in the right way (in fact, poor Dennie has to witness her parents having a major tantrum in Maccas!!) As in all families, some members get along better than others. Friends are important too in this novel and Mum’s friend, Clara, is a wonderfully comic and ascerbic character – who can get away with her sharp tongue perhaps because she is a friend (and not family).

Although there are some serious issues in this novel (two minor characters are struggling with gay identity issues and Mum’s health issue could be life threatening) there are also many moments of humour and lightness to provide a refreshing balance to some of these concerns. The novel also ends on a positive and upbeat note.

A delightfully engaging story that should be enjoyed by teen girls in particular.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A beautiful and thoughtful picture book

and tango makes 3TITLE = And tango makes three

AUTHORS = Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell

ILLUSTRATOR =  Henry Cole

GENRE = FAMILIES

INTEREST LEVEL = ALL AGES

This is a delightful picture book about families: their differences and their similarities. Roy and Silo are two male penguins who live in Central Park Zoo and are best of friends. They swim and sing and walk together just like all the other penguin couples. And when the other couples make nests and hatch eggs, Ron and Silo try and copy them, sadly without success. Eventually, their keeper, Mr Gramzay takes pity on them and gives them a real penguin egg to hatch, and thus Tango comes into being, making their family unit complete. The softly textured, realistic and detailed illustrations in this picture book complement the gentle story line beautifully. And the Author’s note at the end (explaining the factual basis behind this tale) only adds to the warmth of the whole book. A picture book that is sure to be enjoyed by readers of any age.

A deserving winner of numerous awards.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A moving and compelling story

You-Against-MeTITLE =you against me

AUTHOR =jenny downham

GENRE = families, relationships

INTEREST LEVEL = years 10 and up

Family loyalty, truth and honesty are at the heart of this novel. 15 yo Karyn has accused Tom Parker of rape – and the repercussions are felt instantly and painfully by both families involved, in particular their siblings. Karyn’s older brother (Mikey) feels compelled to fight back and wants nothing more than to smash his fist into Tom Parker’s face … but this changes when he meets Tom’s sister, Ellie, a girl not much older than Karyn , a girl he begins to care about. And what about Ellie – could her beloved older brother really be capable of such a heinous act?? Where do family loyalties begin and end?? Who do you believe in?? Who can you trust??

There are stark differences between the families (in wealth and in father figures) but there are also intriguing similarities (especially in the role eventually played by the mothers). The reader will find themselves changing sides in judging the characters and events with each new chapter. But always our empathy will lie with Mikey and Ellie as they struggle to deal with their own sense of responsibility and their own sense of self-worth. Can their relationship survive amidst family expectations and accusations of betrayal??

And underlying it all is the exploration of love and sexuality – the “rules” and the expectations that must be navigated by every young couple as their feelings develop and grow into intimacy.

The characters are well drawn, the dialogue is real and often quite raw and the story unfolds in a credible and compelling manner. A wonderful read – but the issues at its heart make this novel more suitable for older readers.

If you enjoyed this novel you might also like to read iBoy (Kevin Brooks) – although it is more violent and more focussed on revenge.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

dare_youTITLE =DARE YOU

AUTHOR =SUE LAWSON

GENRE =FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 – 12

Ruby, Khaden ans Sas have been best friends  forever. But things are changing – within each of their families and within their friendship. Each of the teens is struggling in their relationship with at least one of their parents and it is the refusal to talk openly and honestly (on each side) that causes further hurt and misunderstanding. Nor do they seem capable of opening up to their best friends. Amidst this confusion and angst the three friends strike out to assert themselves in ways that ultimately cause far more harm than ever intended.

This is another challenging novel for older teen readers, from the author of the compelling read “After”. One of the reasons it is challenging is because there is a lot of anger in the book – so many of the teens seem to be angry with someone – often a parent, sometimes themselves. Chapters focus on each teen in turn – Sas and Ruby speak in first person, whereas Khaden’s story is told in 3rd person. Whilst this structure is easy to follow, it also adds a certain irony to the unfolding of events:  both Sas and Ruby are inclined to be dramatic and self-centred in their view of the world around them (whether they are passing judgment on their family or others) but unbeknownst to the, the reader is aware that of the 3 teens, Khaden has the most to complain about due to the physical abuse he faces at home and the absence of his mother. Yet of the 3, Khaden is the quietest, the easy going one, the peace maker, the one least likely to complain. It would be easy for the reader to judge the girls rather harshly by comparison – but Sue Lawson manages to maintain our sympathy for all 3 teens. The teen voices are authentic and their angst is very real – we feel their pain and confusion even when we are not quite sure of the cause or why they refuse to talk. The adults may not always behave well but they are also very credible in their flaws and their confusion with how to deal with their children. Some cope better than others but there is a degree of sympathy shown for all – we might not like the abusive father but when we learn that he was not always this way, we can begin to feel for him – what could reduce a loving father to this state??

“Dare you” may be an uncomfortable read at times – because of the anger, because of the shifting focus and because of the refusal of teens and adults alike to speak openly – and because of the ending. Whilst there is more hope than we might expect from the novel’s opening lines, there is also pain and heartache to be suffered (by the characters and readers alike).  A compelling read with memorable characters.

Why not check out Sue Lawson’s website to find out more about this amazing author and her other books. If you enjoy this book you might also like to read “After”. or “Finding Darcy” which also focus on teens and their battles with anger – either from family members or from wuthin themselves.

Highly Recommended for Older Readers (dma) *****

FAMILY TIES ARE NOT ALWAYS EASY

TITLE: SUNDAE GIRL

AUTHOR: CATHY CASSIDY

GENRE:FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL: YEARS 7/8

From the opening page we know that life isn’t easy for Jude. When her family shows up for parent teacher interviews we can’t help but laugh because her Dad is dressed like Elvis, her Mum wants to help organise the school play and her Gran trips up Jude’s potential boyfriend whilst knitting a really long scarf. But as we get to know Jude better, we realise that her homelife is really no laughing matter because her Mum has a serious drinking problem and her Gran has Alzheimers disease. Jude tries to hide these home truths from her friends at school, especially Kevin Carter, the boy who is keen to become her boyfriend. Jude seems to stumble from one family disaster to the next, especially when her Dad decides to remarry and her mum insists on attending the wedding. With all this pain in her life, is it possible for Jude to ever find happiness? Can she look forwrad to a happy ending. Have the tissue box handy as you read this  bittersweet novel by the ever popular novelist, Cathy Cassidy.