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) ***

 

 

 

 

An unusual look at life

TITLE = EVERY DAY

AUTHOR = DAVID LEVITHAN

GENRE = FANTASY, RELATIONSHIPS, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10-12

A fascinating and intriguing story with quite an original premise: that a central character inhabits the body and life of a different person each day of his/her life. The amazing thing is that this character (eventually described as “A”) has been “living” life in this way for all 16 years of his/her life and quite satisfied until he falls in love.

Suddenly there is a desire to be in the same place for more than a day and to present the inner being rather than the façade of others. But can this be done? Is there indeed a inner person (as distinct from the many parts that have been played) and is A asking too much of the bject of his affections? Especialy when she is already in a relationship (with Justin, the character who A inhabited in the opening chapter)

Whilst partly about this romantic entanglement, on a broader level this novel asks the reader to ponder the different lives of others. If A can inhabit both males and females with equanimity, what does this say abot the supposed difference between the two genders? Or has As life experience simply cfreated enviable tolerance?

Cleary this story is an opportunity for David Levithan to offer snippets of stories about different types of people: those suffereing depression, those who are determinedly nasty, those in gay relationships, those in staright relationships. Levithan’s craft is that he offers these stoies without slipping into stereotypes or becoming overly didactic (although he skims danegerously close at times). But so often we care about these cahracters and their lives and we gorw to care about A – cos of the way he repsonds to the chaarcaters whom he inhabits – generally caring. But he is not flawless – as in his attitude to Justin – may be justifiable but J not as bad as he expected and caoul rightly feel cheated by A.

What really elevates this story is the quality of the writing,. Levithan is able to capture moods and emotions with a breathtakingly simple yet original line eg Sound beomes a word, lonliless of the person left behind when a door slams. Such writing truly delights the reader.

Also, the positive message that permeates the book about the affirmation of kindness and compassion. As A says at the end of the novel – univers won’t be kind to us so we have to be.

An ode to the breadth of humanity yet the simplicity at the core of our existence.

Highly Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A shocking crime leads to an unlikely friendship

TITLE = BURNING BLUE

AUTHOR = PAUL GRIFFIN

GENRE = FAMILIES, RESILIENCE, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11 – 12

This is a compelling novel: part family-drama, part mystery and crime thriller. When popular student and part-time model, Nicole Castor, has acid thrown at her face, it sets in motion an unexpected response from school refuser, Jay Nazarro. The two teens are first thrown together accidently when they meet in the waiting room of the school counsellor. Both are negotiating a return to school, both are uncertain about the reception they will receive but in other ways they seem opposites and certainly come from different worlds, financially speaking. Nicole has experienced the heartbreak of her parents’ divorce, Jay has experienced parental loss of his own and now lives with his father. Yet Nicole appears to get along well with both her parents, whilst Jay’s relationship with his dad is somewhat strained.

As the novel unfolds we learn more about the reasons for this distance and the associated incident that caused Jay to complete home schooling for so long. Home schooling has allowed Jay to learn hacking skills that may put him on the wrong side of the law but may also be invaluable in finding the person who has attacked Nicole so savagely. For after their first meeting, Jay is drawn to Nicole – partly out of a desire to seek justice on her behalf – but the more he gets to know her, the more he learns about her inner strength, her inner beauty – and this is what drives him on, at greater risk to himself.

The cleverness of this novel is that although there is a central crime at the core of the story, when the perpetrator is revealed, the true horror of the situation is also revealed and yet, as anyone who reads a daily newspaper will know the events are all too realistic. Paul Griffin creates a world where we care about the characters and what happens to them and where we will ponder the story long after the last page is read.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

When identity is hard to define life can be tough

TITLE = ALEX AS WELL

AUTHOR = ALYSSA BRUGMAN

GENRE = GENDER, SEXUAL IDENTITY, FAMILY, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 UP

Being a teenager can be hard enough at the best of times. But imagine what it is like if you are not certain of your gender: are you a boy or a girl or somewhere in between? And if you want to be seen as a girl … but your parents accept you only as a boy … life is not going to be easy.

This is dilemma faced by Alex in a book which handles sensitively and credibly a very difficult situation. This is not an issues book … it is from the very first page about a teenager trying to define their identity and trying to be accepted by others.

A moving read.

Check out this booktrailer:

 

 

 

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

 

Loyalty and horses in a time of war

TITLE = THE HORSES DIDN’T COME HOME

AUTHOR = PAMELA RUSHBY

GENRE = ACTION, ADVENTURE, BOY STUFF, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP, IDENTITY, HISTORICAL FICTION

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

This is a beautiful coming of age story, of 16-year old Harry’s growth to manhood during World War I, and of his 12-year old sister Laura back home in Queensland.  It is the story full of loyalty and courage, of the incredible bond between the Australian Light Horse soldiers and their horses which culminated in the victorious cavalry charge at Beersheba in the Sinai Desert in 1917, the last great cavalry charge and a striking contrast to the horrific events at Gallipoli and the Western Front.  The story begins when Harry and his friend Jack, underage and just home from boarding school in Brisbane, sign up for the Light Horse regiment which has bought almost all their horses for the war.  Harry’s sister Laura makes a huge sacrifice and offers her beloved horse and best friend ‘Bunty’ to Harry for him to ride to war.  The story is told through both Harry and Laura’s eyes, in a combination of letters, first persona and third person narrative which works well to capture the emotions and voices of Harry, Laura, Jack and their families and friends in a dramatic yet very human way.  Harry, who appreciates the great sacrifice Laura has made for him by giving him her precious ‘Bunty’, writes letters from ‘Bunty’ to Laura, which give an alternate perspective to Harry’s ‘official’ letters to his parents and help to strengthen his friendship with his younger sister.  The book’s title, while appearing to give away the story’s ending, in fact gives very little away.  It is up to us as readers to take the journey with Harry, Jack, Bunty and Laura to truly understand this unique period in history and the very real changes that it wrought upon the Australian people. This is a 2013 CBCA Notable Book for Younger Readers.

Highly recommended (mrsk) *****

Why not check out the book trailer below:

Images either sourced from the Animoto website or photos taken by mrsk.  Music “All or nothing” by Derby (sourced from the Animoto website).

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) ****

What would you do?

TITLE = OTHER BROTHER

AUTHOR = SIMON FRENCH

GENRE = BULLYING, GROWING UP, IDENTITY, FAMILY, PARENTS,

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Kieran’s view of himself and his world is forced to change when his cousin Bon and a new girl, Julia, arrive at his school.  Kieran wants to fit in, but Bon doesn’t know anything about fitting in—he looks different, he wears the wrong clothes, he says weird things—and Julia doesn’t care about fitting in, establishing her own style and following with seeming ease.  Bon’s arrival doesn’t just threaten to upset Kieran’s relationship with the cool kids at school, but also his relationship with his parents, his sister, his Nan and his budding relationship with the elusive Julia.  This is a story about families and relationships, about bullying and fitting in, about discovering where your values lie and that the world is more complex than you think. This is a 2013 CBCA Short-listed Book for Younger Readers.

Recommended (mrsk) ****

Wrestling with words

TITLE = LOUIS BESIDE HIMSELF

AUTHOR = ANNA FIENBERG

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

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Louis is not your typical hero but he finds himself in a situation where courage and loyalty are needed, and where he must make some important decisions and take   action.  Louis loves words and would much rather read, take notes and add to his ‘Word Bank’ than join his mates Singo, Hassan and Elena skateboarding or playing basketball.  However, Louis’ father comes from a long line of wrestlers and tries constantly to share moves and arm-wrestles with him, despite his own doubtful skill. When a burglar breaks in one night, Louis fails to use his wrestling moves but instead uses his own special skill—words—with unexpected results.  The intruder is Cordelia, an older girl who has run away from family problems and whom Louis and his mates decide to hide.  This is a humorous yet thoughtful book with great characters. Through Louis, the author celebrates the richness of language and suggests that there is a hero in all of us, and that if we are true to ourselves we can be true to others.  This book is a 2013 CBCA Notable Book for Younger Readers.

Recommended (mrsk) ****