Hopes, dreams and family

winds of heavenTITLE = THE WINDS OF HEAVEN
AUTHOR = JUDITH CLARKE
GENRE = GROWING UP, PERSONAL IDENTITY, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY
INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 and up

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)

A Grandfather's wisdom

nowTITLE = NOW

AUTHOR = MORRIS GLEITZMAN

GENRE = BULLYING, RELATIONSHIPS, HOLOCAUST  (Bushfires, Grandparents)

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 7

Whilst this is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy, the novel may seem a little twee at times; perhaps it is more appropriate for a primary school audience rather than a secondary school. Gleitzman touches on some pertinent issues: bullying, cyberbullying and surviving an extreme bushfire but Zelda seems to overcome these hardships in fairly conventional (stereotypical) ways (eg the bully needing to be saved).

Grandfather Felix seems almost too kindhearted to be true and for a seemingly bright child Zelda seems somewhat lacking in common sense at times (running away to join the firefighters because she believed she had started the fire, for instance).

However, Gleitzman has clearly tried to show the impact of past experiences on current events and the moral of his story is eminently just.

This novel has also been longlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2010

Recommended for younger readers (dma) ***

FAMILY BREAKDOWNS CAN BE TOUGH

GIVE ME TRUTH by Bill Condon

GENRE: FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL: YRS 9 & 10

 

An interesting exploration of troubled families and the impact that parent’s behaviour can have on their (teenage) children. Caitlin and David both suffer when their parents’ marriages are put under strain and neither is aware of the intertwining of their 2 families, either. The way each family deals with the stress of infidelity and the way the two young teens cope with the situation provides for interesting comparisons. Whilst one family chooses to tough things out, the other is split asunder – in a violent manner. The characters and their dilemmas are realistically conveyed and unfold in a credible (if sometimes painful) fashion. However, the book is ultimately unsatisfying because it seems to end just as things are truly getting interesting. Whilst the reader knows of the dreadful link between David and Caitlin’s parental woes, this is not revealed to the characters themselves – somewhat unbelievably. Also, the David who desperately tries to save his Dad from self harm seems far removed from the young man who meets Caitlin and her friend. There are too many unresolved issues at the novel’s end for it to be truly satisfying for the reader.

 

Joel and Cat…what a fun read!

JOEL & CAT SET THE STORY STRAIGHT by Nick Earls & Rebecca Sparrow (EAR)
Genre: Relationships
Interest level: Years 9/10/11

This is a thoroughly entertaining read. It is a clever tandem story about a tandem story! Joel & Cat dislike each other intensely but have to work together on a tandem story for Extension English. He writes like Matthew Reilly whereas she wants to write a Jane Austen type novel – so comic twists are aplenty when they have to combine their talents, taking it in turns to write a chapter of their story. Joel lives with his Mum (his Dad has a new wife & he has step sisters) whilst Cat’s Mum leaves home soon after the story starts, a fact which Cat tries to hide.

The real fun starts when Joel’s Mum goes out with Cat’s dad – against both their wishes!! Their attempts to break them up end comically, especially for Joel. Just as Joel & Cat begin to admit they like each other and start to get along – Cat confesses to something that may just tear them apart all over again!

Lively, humorous and cleverly plotted, this book develops great characters (even the minor ones) and wonderful teen voices. Laugh out loud comedy.

This novel was longlisted for the 2008 Inkys. Read more about the book here and more from the authors about how they wrote the book in  atandem fashion here.
Highly Recommended (dma) *****