Not what the title suggests

TITLE = POOKIE ALEERA IS NOT MY BOYFRIEND

AUTHOR = STEVEN HERRICK

GENRE = SCHOOL LIFE, GROWING UP, IDENTITY, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

This is a humorous and insightful verse novel about the lives of the students in a small country school.  There is the usual mix of characters–outgoing, shy, sporty,  academic, sad, silly and thoughtful and each has a story to tell about themselves and those around them.  The verses are simple and yet clearly capture the emotions and view point of the different narrators.  I particularly enjoyed a series of running jokes that threaded through the stories but was also moved by the subtler dramas which highlighted the importance of friendship, belonging and the value of leading by example, and with compassion.  This novel will appeal most to readers who enjoy stories that focus on people and their thoughts and feelings.  And the story behind the unusual title?  Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.  This is a 2013 CBCA Short-listed Book for Younger Readers.

Recommended (mrsk) ****

An intriguing story

TITLE = SHIFT

AUTHOR = EM BAILEY

GENRE = FANTASY, PEER PRESSURE, MENTAL ILLNESS, MYSTERY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10, 11

Olive isn’t the happiest of girls. She used to be part of the popular crew with her best friend, Kate. But life has taken a dramatic turn around. Her father has left home and she clearly blames herself for his departure. She has spent time in hospital after “the incident” and no longer speaks to Kate. Indeed, her only friend now is Ami, with whom she sneers at those around her. So when new boy, Lachlan, smiles at her, Olive is suspicious.

Then a new girl arrives at school: the quiet, waif-like Miranda. Soon Olive notices that Miranda is following Kate around like a shadow and before long it appears that as Miranda grows, Kate shrinks … dangerously so. Could Miranda really be a shifter … a parasite who feeds off others? And if so, what will happen when she has fed off Kate … will Olive become her next victim?

This is a compelling novel. Olive is both credible and engaging. Readers will be keen to know more about her past (including “the incident”) and on the edge of their seats as the battle with Miranda plays out. Of equal import, of course, is her burgeoning relationship with Lachlan.

It is no surprise that this novel is the GOLD INKY winner for 2012!!

Highly Recommended (dma) ****    

 

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) *****

Coping with Change

TITLE = PEELING THE ONION

AUTHOR = WENDY ORR

GENRE = GROWING UP, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10, 11

Anna is a talented at karate, has just won a tournament and is crazy about Hayden. Life seems great until a car accident quite literally throws her life upside down. Suffering a broken neck, Anna discovers that the body which was once so well-trained, now has a mind of its own.  The dream of state selection becomes a distant memory as Anna must learn to deal with the pain and ongoing disability wrought from the accident.

Weeks in hospital become weeks spent at home recuperating. Anna can see her final year of school slipping away from her, along with her dreams. If she can no longer be a karate champion, if she can no longer study phys ed, then what can she do? Who is she, without her beloved physical activity?

If Anna peels back the layers of herself, what will she find?

At times sad, at times angry, Anna must learn how to live again and so must her family and friends.

A worthy Honours book in the CBCA OR category (1996)

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A wondrous story indeed

TITLE = WONDER

AUTHOR = R.J.PALACIO

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, FRIENDSHIP, IDENTITY, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

This is an amazing book which is sure to touch the hearts of everyone who reads it. On one level, it is a story about an “abnormal” boy who is trying to live a normal life but more deeply, it is a story about kindness and friendship, a story about how we live our lives.

Young August Pullman has been born with a facial abnormality that is so severe it shocks most people when they first see him. After being home schooled all his life, August’s parents have decided that at 10 years old he should start school. And this novel describes his first year in middle school. Cleverly, the book starts in August’s voice but then allows other key characters to tell their version of events, too. So we hear from his 15 year old sister, Olivia, about how her life has been shaped by August’s predicament and we hear from some of his friends at school, Jack and Summer amongst others.

As could be expected, school life does not go smoothly for August as some students struggle to see beyond his “freakish” looks, to find the funny, smart boy beneath. Realistically, even so-called friends, like Jack, don’t always behave kindly when pressured by peers. The book is as much about the struggle all teens face trying to fit in, whether that be August and Jack in Middle School, or Olivia and her friends at High School.

August is lucky to have a truly loving family who support him and he develops some great friends at school. But as Jack and Summer realise, kindness and friendship bring their own rewards. The ending might bring a few tears to some eyes but this is a truly remarkable book which urges young readers to think more meaningfully about the way they live their lives.

Read an interview with the author here.

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) *****

What if you woke up in someone else’s body????

flipTITLE =FLIP

AUTHOR = MARTYN BEDFORD

GENRE = SUSPENSE, MYSTERY, SUPERNATURAL, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9, 10

Imagine you woke up one morning and discovered that you were inside someone else’s body! So the person in the kitchen cooking you breakfast must be your mum but you have never met her before. You put on a school uniform but you don’t know which school you go to or what subjects you study, let alone who your friends are. And to make matters worse, six months have elapsed and you don’t know why.

This is the dilemma which faces Alex one morning. So he spends the first part of the book trying desperately to work out what has happened to himself and his former family whilst trying to live the life of the boy whose body he now inhabits, a boy named Philip, or Flip to his friends (which gives a dark irony to the novel’s title).

Alex struggles to come to terms with his new self, let alone the reasons that lie behind the switch. Then he must decide what to do about it … because now it isn’t only himself that may be affected  – now he has to consider Philip’s future and the impact his actions may have on TWO families.

This is a compelling story which is made to seem quite credible. Alex’s story is grounded in real, everyday events (like walking the dog or trying to decide where to sit in the classroom) and sticky situations (when he gets arrested whilst trying to get in touch with a former friend). The ending is gripping and believable and should satisfy most readers. A great suspenseful read.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

On one summer’s night a lot can happen!

graffiti-moonTITLE = GRAFFITI MOON

AUTHOR = Cath Crowley

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, FAMILY, GROWING UP, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

This is a beautifully written story which is set over one hot, summers night in Melbourne as a group of teens celebrate the end of Year 12. Cath Crowley is able to use wonderful imagery because the teens who are telling the story are both artists, so they tend to describe their surroundings in a very visual manner. A number of recent teen novels have employed the convention of alternating voices to tell the  narrative but in “Graffiti Moon” this technique is employed in quite a sophisticated manner because the voices tend to overlap; so as one chapter ends (with Ed’s perspective on an event or conversation, for instance) the next chapter will go back so that Lucy can give her (quite often, differing) perspective on the same situation. This allows the reader to have insights beyond those of the characters. There is a certain symbolism in the artistic perspectives of both major characters, too: Ed is a graffiti artist who uses broad expanses of walls to share his view of the world with others  (and he tends to look at life from a broad perspective, too) whilst Lucy tends to worry obsessively about details, so it is no surprise that her artistic canvas takes the form of glass blowing (where she can capture images from her life in miniature).

On the surface, it would seem that Ed and Lucy are diametrically opposed with their approach to life and their past history (of a failed dating experience which ended with Ed’s broken nose) would tend to reinforce this view. However, on this night, Lucy has asked Ed to help her find the graffiti artist Shadow who she claims to adore and the reader is aware that Shadow and Ed are one and the same. As the night progresses we realise that Ed and Lucy are made for each other – if only they could see this too!

This is a thoroughly engaging novel and particularly apt for readers who are in Years 11 or 12 as the two main characters spend some time musing about their futures, the role of art in their lives and different ways of making a living. The challenges faced by some young people with learning difficulties, the significance of self esteem in enabling young people to take on challenges and the importance of supportive parents and mentors, all come into play over the course of an adventurous and ultimately rather magical night for Ed, Lucy and their friends. The loyalty of friends and the need for empathy is also explored in an entertaining manner.

A delightful read – it is easy to see why it has been shortlisted in the CBC Book Awards (Older Readers) 2011.

Highly Recommended (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) *****

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) *****