Growing up in a country town

TITLE  = A STRAIGHT LINE TO MY HEART

AUTHOR = BILL CONDON

GENRE = GROWING UP, FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS, FRIENDSHIP,

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 – 12

This is an engaging and moving story. Until now, life for Tiff has been pretty routine, growing up near the quiet town of Gungee Creek, even if her “family tree is kind of twisty-turny”. She has been raised by Reggie and Nell, family friends of her aunt, who took her in as a baby when her Mum died. Now her only surviving “family” are Reggie, who she views as a kind of grandfather, and Bull, Reggie’s stepson and the local cop, who is the closest thing she has to a father.

However, life is about to change for Tiff. Firstly, she has just finished Year 12 and is about to start work experience at the local newspaper. As a book worm, Tiff fancies herself as a writer and hopes for a cadetship at the paper (the first step to becoming a journalist). But starting a job is still a big step … and Tiff soon finds that journalism may not be an easy path – especially when she has to work with “The Shark”. Then, her best (and only) friend, Kayla, suddenly announces that she is moving away – and not just to a new town, but right across the country to WA. To add to her uncertainty, Tiff meets an unusual boy named Davey – does he present the possibility of her first romance? And, of course, there is the worry about Reggie’s health.

Tiff is a gentle, kind and thoughtful girl, a bit shy and a bit uncertain about life… but who isn’t at 17 years of age? And the other characters in the book are equally credible and engaging; Bull in particular providing some gentle Aussie humour. However, be warned, you may need the tissue box handy towards the end of the novel.

No wonder this book was shortlisted, CBCA Book of the Year, OR (2012)

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Parents can be hard to cope with at times!!

girl aloudTITLE = GIRL, ALOUD

AUTHOR = EMILY GALE

GENRE = MENTAL HEALTH, BIPOLAR DISORDER

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7/8

With its bright pink cover and bold lettering, it would be easy to assume that this novel is going to be yet another YA “girls” book about a teenage drama queen. But we soon realise that while Kass may be a bit on the dramatic side, maybe she has good reason for this. Her father appears to have his ups and downs. Down times are known as GTDs (Grey Trackie Days) when Dad literally does little but smoke and drink and stay in his room. But Up Times are even worse because this is when dad goes into overdrive regarding his daughter. His latest idea is that Kass should be entered into the “X Factor” show – whether she wants to or not, whether she has any talent to display or not. Kass is aware that her dad had a mild form of bipolar disorder but she doesn’t really understand what this means. So she worries that maybe she causes her dad’s swings in mood or even worse, that maybe she will inherit his illness.

And whilst this forms the backdrop to the story, Kass has plenty else to worry her: is her mother having an affair? How can she save her brother from the gangs? Why does she have to fall in love with the same boy as her best friend? And what is going on with her friends anyway? Teen girls in particular are sure to enjoy this novel as poor Kass tries to navigate her way through the trials and tribulations wrought by family and friends … drawing to a satisfying conclusion. Reminiscent of a Georgia Nicolson novel  but with a bit more substance and heart!

Recommended (dma) ****

An engaging tale about living with OCD

zelah green 2TITLE = ZELAH GREEN: One more little problem

AUTHOR  = VANESSA CURTIS

GENRE = MENTAL HEALTH, OCD, DEPRESSION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8 AND UP

Zelah Green has more challenges than most teens of her age. One of these challenges is OCD, a condition which she is trying to control (rather than have OCD control her life). For Zelah, daily life is very much about the rituals of her OCD: the need to jump up and down a certain number of times at the top and bottom of the stairs, the need to brush her hair the same number of times each morning, the need to clean EVERYTHING thoroughly. It even affects the sort of foods she is willing to eat.

However, at the beginning of this novel, Zelah has her OCD pretty much under control – partly because her gentle, depressed Dad and his new partner, Heather (who lives next door) are willing to make room in their lives for her rituals. Unfortunately, life suddenly changes for Zelah. First Heather goes away on business. Then Caro comes to stay. Caro is a self-harmer who spent time in the same hospital as Zelah last year. She is a strident, in your face, kind of girl, who intimidates Zelah. And when Zelah’s old friend, Fran returns, the feathers really fly.

As Zelah’s life spirals out of control, her OCD rituals get stronger and stronger, until she is almost at breaking point. But who is going to crack first – Zelah or Caro… or Dad?? And who will finally come to the rescue??

This is an amazing little book. It is easy to read and the action moves along at breakneck speed. The characters are credible and the dialogue sparkles. But it is the injection of humour into Zelah’s voice which really engages the reader and makes us care so much for her and her family and friends. A thoroughly enjoyable book.

Highly Recommended (dma) ****

Loyalty, betrayal and war

the bridgeTITLE = THE BRIDGE

AUTHOR = JANE HIGGINS

GENRE = WAR, REVOLUTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Action packed from the opening page, this is an exciting tale of a future world that bears striking similarities to our own. A world which is at war and divided – by race, by religion, by a lack of compassion and understanding. So it is not surprising that betrayal and loyalty lie at the heart of this novel.

Nik is a clever student and expects to be selected for training as an ISIS soldier so he feels understandably hurt and betrayed when things don’t go to plan. So when his school is bombed and ISIS questions his loyalty Nik is puzzled. Why does his surname cause such anger?? Nik knows little of his parents, having lost them as a youngster – his sense of family lies with his close friends and he risks his life to help them.

Even crossing the bridge to the Southside to try and rescue his friend Fyffe’s 8 year old brother. The sense of threat and peril in the Southside is all too real as Nik and Fyffe struggle to stay alive and find her brother – whilst putting their own lives at risk.

There are many twists and turns in the plot and Nik (like the reader) is not quite sure who to trust. Strategy and plotting (and counter plotting) become important. And loyalty – to a cause and to one’s friends.

Finally Nik must question everything he has ever believed in – and discovers that sometimes physical frailty belies inner strength.  Against the backdrop of war, Nik learns who he can trust and what to trust in himself. This is an action packed adventure story with a powerful and credible ending which will leave readers with plenty to think about long after the last page has been read.

A worthy winner of The Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, 2010

Highly 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) *****

Daring to take a leap of faith … to fall in love

dash and lilyTITLE = DASH & LILY’S BOOK OF DARES

AUTHOR = RACHEL COHN & DAVID LEVITHAN

GENRE = HUMOUR, GROWING UP, ROMANCE, FAMILIES

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 AND UP

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have joined forces once again to create a truly enjoyable reading experience. Readers of  “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” will thoroughly enjoy the adventures of Lily and Dash – whilst the earlier novel unfolded over the course of one evening in New York, the action here takes place over the crazy Christmas – New Year holiday period. Once again the setting is New York and each character (and writer) takes it in turns to tell of their unfolding (and quite often funny) adventures. Dash hates Christmas whereas Lily loves the season. Dash has a minimalist family – his parents having divorced rather messily some years ago and he is spending Christmas alone –  whilst Lily comes from a large family. So how can two seemingly different people ever come together??? Well, all it takes is a red journal hidden on the shelves of a bookstore …. and an adveurous spirit … and before you know it they are both pushing each other to explore the world they thought they knew … to find out a little more about themselves … and just maybe a little romance will be kindled along the way.

A book to warm the heart …

Highly Recommended (dma) *****


Teenage angst … with a strong dose of fun!

finding freia lockhartTITLE =FINDING FREIA LOCKHART

AUTHOR =AIMEE SAID

GENRE =GROWING UP, IDENTITY, FR!IENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 8 – 10

All Freia wants is to fit in but it seems like this is more dificult than it should be. Her parents are a tad old fashioned, so they wear clogs and cardigans to the supermarket (!!??) and insist on referring to “The Book” for parenting advice – so short skirts, makeup and parties have to be negotiated carefully. At school, her best friend Kate seems more interested in joining the popular gang of “B”s (Belinda, Bethanee and Brianna) – a group Freia shares little in common with – so every lunchtime now becomes a battle to avoid humiliation. School used to be a success story for Freia but now she has to work hard to even get average results and she is aware just how disappointing her parents find this (as she appeared to be genius material in primary school)! To make matters worse, Freia has been roped into helping out in the school play – and has been teamed up with the new boy with the bad reputation – surely the nickname Skeletor says it all.

As Freia tries to navigate the obstacles of parents, peers and school, she has trouble determining which is the right path for her – and she learns some valuable lessons along the way – about judging others and about being true to herself.

Freia has a fresh and funny approach to her dilemmas – so there are lots of funny moments in this delightful novel by new author, Aimee Said. A book that is sure to be enjoyed by teenage girls in particular.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

How does a modern girl survive without her mobile?!!?

mobile covers 2.pdfTITLE = I LOST MY MOBILE AT THE MALL

AUTHOR = WENDY HARMER

GENRE = HUMOUR, TECHNOLOGY, CYBERSAFETY

INTEREST LEVEL – YEAR 8 AND UP

When Elly loses her mobile phone she feels disconnected from her social world. How can she keep up aith the latest goss with her best friend, Bianca, and her gorgeous boyfriend, Will?? Thank goodness she still has FacePage so she can stay in touch!! Then Bianca’s boyfriend posts embarrassing photos of Elly on his FacePage – from photos on Bianca’s phone! How can she face her schoolfriends now??

When her computer is stolen so she can no longer keep in touch via social networking sites, Elly should feel even more bereft. However, by this time, Elly has begun to wonder about the benefits of revealing your private life to the world via Facebook type sites – especially after all those photos of Will….

This novel raises some serious issues in a wonderfully humorous way. The morality and the wisdom (and even the legality) of sending photos around via mobile phones or social networking sites is seriously questioned. But laughter is at the forefront the whole time – partly because Wendy Harmer’s protagonist, Elly is just a bit of a drama queen! Partly because Wendy Harmer is such a wonderfully comic writer.

One of the funniest books you are likely to read (and yes you will LOL so don’t read it in public if this will cause embarrassment!) Whilst there might be some important lessons for Elly to learn (about face to face communication and friendship and trust) the reader will have a lot of fun along the way.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Learning about true friendship

faking sweetTITLE = FAKING SWEET

AUTHOR = J. C. BURKE

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Calypso wants revenge on her ex-friend, Jess who she claims stole her boyfriend. When Holly moves to Sydney and to Calypso’s old school, she is ideally placed to enact revenge on Calypso’s behalf. But is Jess the nasty girl that Calypso has painted her … or could Holly have got things all wrong?? The more she gets to know Jess, the more she begins to have doubts about the whole revenge plan. And what is going on with Calypso – one minute she is texting Holly five million times a day to make sure Holly is up to date with “The Plan” the next minute she has blocked Holly from her MySpace page!?

Gradually Holly begins to question the meaning of friendship and betrayal. How do we judge a true friend? The novel also highlights the way modern technology (especially the ubiquitous mobile phone and social networking sites) can be used to manipulate people and spread rumours. There is a delicious sense of humlour underlying the novel which adds to the enjoyment of seeing just how far so-called friends will go when it comes to revenge!

An engaging novel, sure to appeal to young girls in particular.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

And if you enjoyed this novel, you might like to read some of the author’s other books about girls and friendship: The Starfish Sisters .

Or read what the author herself has to say about her books.

SURVIVING YEAR 12 …

MeasuringUp_Hi-Res_CoverTITLE = MEASURING UP

AUTHOR = G.J. STROUD

GENRE = IDENTITY, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 11, 12

Jonah is feeling the pressure. He is in Year 12 but has no clear idea of where he wants to go when school finishes. One of his best friends seems to be taking to a life of drugs. The mother of a girl with whom he is close, is fighting a losing battle with cancer. His dad is the local town cop. And he has always felt that he lived in the shadow of his popular elder brother. The same brother who reveals he is gay but swears Jonah to secrecy. Is it any wonder that Jonah starts drinking too much and lets his studies slide? Is it any wonder that Jonah’s main obsession seems to be how to lose his virginity before he turns 18? Jonah is a refreshingly credible teenage boy trying to survive Year 12. He makes mistakes, says the wrong thing and doesn’t always know what he feels or why (especially when it comes to his brother’s sexuality). At heart he is a decent kid trying to make sense of his life and stumbling along the way; and as a narrator he has a delightful sense of humour, and is not afraid to laugh at himself. One of the joys in reading this novel is Jonah’s love of surfing – not only does he find solace in the sea and the physicality of surfing, but these scenes are also beautifully described and will be enjoyed even by the non-surfer. A great novel for older readers (the strong language and sexual themes make it more appropriate for this age group) which could be enjoyed by both boys and girls.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****