An unusual recipe for a brilliant book

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METHOD:
1. Find a desiccated bat.
2. Mix it with some water.
3. Drink it, and
4. see what the future holds for the offspring of each and every person you come across in the next few weeks.
What could go wrong?
Glory’s present isn’t easy. Her mother has died, and her father doesn’t want to leave his chair, his computer, or the copious amounts of comfort food that seems to provide little consolation for life’s miseries. Glory’s only friend is not so friendly, and she is about to graduate school with no plans for her future. Glory obviously needs the soothsaying bat juice to provide direction for her life!

But it seems that the future is not so bright. The second American Civil War is only decades away, and Glory has a vital role to play…
This is another thought provoking book from the author of Everyone Sees the Ants, Ask the Passengers, and Reality Boy. A.S. King is an extraordinary writer, who successfully twists and morphs genre in such a way so as the reader never loses the sense that every event in the book could happen in real life. This is a book for older readers who enjoy dystopian themes but who are looking for more than a rehashed The Hunger Games.

Wonderful: (ipe) *****
Author: A.S.King
Interest Level: Year 9+

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) ***

 

 

 

 

Firebirds and fear, bluebirds and love

TITLE = THE TENDER MOMENTS OF SAFFRON SILK

AUTHOR = GLENDA MILLARD

ILLUSTRATOR = STEPHEN MICHAEL KING

GENRE = FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, PARENTS, GROWING UP, MENTAL HEALTH, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

This is the sixth book in the Kingdom of Silk series, which began with The Naming of Tishkin Silk, however The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk can be read on its own quite happily.  In the Silk family everyone has a naming ceremony and a naming book, and at Saffron’s ceremony it is hoped that the pages of her book will be filled with tiny tender moments “those that make the soul tipsy with ordinary happiness.”  However, Saffron begins to see ‘firebirds’ and experience severe head pain until one day she collapses in the middle of baking pies with her family.  This is a story of fear and pain; Saffron’s fear of what the firebirds and pain in her head may mean, and also the fear and pain of her family and friends around her, who see her suffering but initially, know neither its cause nor its cure.  It is also a story of discovery and love, for when Saffron is sent to the city to see a specialist she discovers the quality and depth of her family’s love for her and her treasured place within her small rural community.  This is a 2013 CBCA Short-listed Book for Younger Readers.

Recommended (mrsk) ****

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) *****

Summer holidays should be more relaxed than this!

get a grip cooper jonesTITLE = GET A GRIP, COOPER JONES

AUTHOR = SUE WHITING

GENRE = IDENTITY, GROWING UP, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8, 9

Cooper Jones is a regular at swim training, so why won’t he swim in the surf at his local beach? Cooper Jones has never met his dad (who left when he was just a baby), so why does he suddenly want to know all about him now? Cooper Jones and his mum have always got along quite well, so why do they always seem to be fighting now?These are some of the dilemmas facing Cooper at the beginning of this entertaining novel. Then their neighbour’s niece comes to stay and Cooper finds that he is not the only with parent woes. But as the two get closer, this brings even further complications to Cooper’s life. Cooper begins to wonder if he is just a coward like his dad – too afraid to swim in the surf, too afraid to ask his mum about his father and too afraid to face the consequences when he kisses the girl next door.

The story is set against the backdrop of a scorching Australian summer with bushfires raging across the state … as the fires burn closer, things really start to heat up for Cooper and the time for action draws closer. Is he up to the challenge?? Both boys and girls should enjoy this story which rattles along at a quick pace and has just the right balance of humour, drama and action.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A strange and funny tale from the murky past

life of a teen bodysnatcherTITLE = THE LIFE OF A TEENAGE BODY SNATCHER

AUTHOR =DOUG MacLEOD

GENRE =HOSTORICAL FICTION, HUMOUR

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 AND UP

The opening chapters of this novel may take a little getting used to – the strange world of ‘body snatching” is a little murky and it all seems a little unclear – but rather cleverly, this mirrors the experiences of the hero of the story: Thomas Timewell. For he too is caught up in events, and in a world, that he doesn’t fully understand and that drags him into new and unusual places and adventures. Clever plotting by author, Doug MacLeod allows the many and varied stramds of the story to be pulled together in a satisfying and credible manner. If some of the action seems rather dark and sinister, MacLeod fequently introduces some wry humour. The cast is sprinkled with engaging characters and our hero, Thomas, is certainly likeable. His family may be rather odd but this is all part of the fun. An enjoyable read (even if the central storyline is rather unusual in the world of YA fiction).

This novel has been shortlisted in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards (Older readers) : 2010

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) *****

DO REAL MEN CRY?

boys don't cry

TITLE = BOYS DON’T CRY

AUTHOR = Malorie Blackman

GENRE = IDENTITY, GROWING UP, SEXUALITY

INTEREST LEVEL= YEARS 10 AND UP

This is a gripping and gritty novel about two brothers (Dante and Adam) who take it in turns to tell their stories.  As the cover suggests, the focus for much of the novel is on Dante, whose life is turned on its head when he discovers that at just 17 years of age, he is the father of a young baby daughter, Emma. As Emma’s young mum feels she can no longer cope with a baby, Dante is left, quite literally holding the baby. And we watch as Dante struggles to cope with the new responsibility and the new direction of his life. And whilst his dad offers practical suppport Dante can’t help but feel is father’s disappointment. However, during the last third of the novel, Adam’s story gradually comes to the fore. Adam wants to live life out loud and he is open about being gay, a fact that Dante and his dad tend to ignore (Dante going so far as to suggest this is just a passing phase). However, not all of Dante’s friends are willing to simply ignore Adam’s sexuality, and this is brought home to the family in a brutal fashion. So Blackman cleverly explores not only teen pregnancy and family relationships but also issues of homophobia, as well as the confusion of those young men who cannot accept their own gay feelings. As Dante observes, boys may not cry but real men do – both gay and straight men need to open up and ask for help sometimes. And in this family, baby Emily provides a welcome key to unlocking men’s tears and bringing family together. Whilst this is ultimately uplifting novel, those readers who don’t like violence might find parts of the gay storyline difficult to read. For this reason, the novel may be more appropriate for slightly older readers.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Being brave and falling in love

when dogs cryTITLE = When dogs cry

AUTHOR =Markus Zusak

GENRE =Growing up, Identity, Family relationships, Romance

INTEREST LEVEL =Years 10 and up

Cameron Wolfe comes from a struggling, working class family. Whilst he might not always see eye to eye with his brothers, he will fight to the death to support them if attacked by others. He is the youngest in the family and seems to be always in their shadow – a fact of which he is aware. He is desperate to find his way in the world and desperate to find love and this novel record his journey towrads both. AS he starts to write down his feelings, Cameron finds through the written word and poetry he can articulate some of the unruly feelings inside himself. The inner howling begins to make more sense. And as he takes his first tentative steps with a girl rejected by his brother, Cameron also begins to fall in love and feel even better about himself.

Gradually, his older brothers see that Cameron is someone of whom they can feel proud – and more importantly, Cameron begins to see this in himself, too.

This is a beautifully written book but may present a challenge for some readers, with the inclusion of poetry and symbolism. However, this beauty is matched by a very credible and often raw portrait of the violence and reality of the working class family.

Interesting review and biographical details provided in this article from Answers.com

Another great synopsis and review

A worthy CBCA Honour book (OR – 2002)

Recommended (dma) ****