A gothic horror with a literary twist

fairytales for wildeTITLE = FAIRYTALES FOR WILDE GIRLS

AUTHOR = ALLYSE NEAR

GENRE = GOTHIC, HORROR, FAIRYTALES, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP, GRIEF, MENTAL HEALTH

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Does Isola live in a fantasy world or is the fantasy simply happening in her head? When we first meet this teenage girl who lives on the edge of a “dark and scary wood”, we are certainly introduced to an unusual setting and an unusual girl. Living with her gruff and often absent dad and with a somewhat unbalanced mum to care for, it may come as no surprise that Isola often loses herself in her beloved book of fairytales and surrounds herself with imaginary friends that seem to come from a rather twisted fairyland. For the mermaids, warriors, fairies and heroes who seem to be her best friends and greatest protectors, all seem to have lived and died violently.

Yet Isola also inhabits a very real world with school and its normal assortment of friends and foes, of bossy teachers and deadlines, of swimming carnivals, tests and detentions. And she also has two boys vying for her affections.

How does a girl live a life haunted by her mother’s illness, haunted by her namesake’s short life and haunted by her fears … is Isola brave enough to face the truth of her world or will she simply waste away? Will she spurn the help of those who care for her, those who really can help her … can she break free from the horrors she has witnessed, from the ties of family?    

This novel may be a challenge for some readers, especially in the early pages as the focus and style seem to change all too rapidly but it is well worth the effort. Ultimately, readers might have different views about whether it is a clever fantasy story or a book about mental health and resilience… but there is certainly plenty to think about and plenty to enjoy in the writing.

 It is no surprise to find that this novel is the winner of a number of awards (gaining two 2013 Aurealis awards –  joint-winner of Best Young Adult Novel and winner of the Best Horror Novel) and it has been shortlisted for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year Award (Older Readers) and long-listed for the 2014 Gold Inky Awards.

This book was announced as A CBCA HONOUR BOOK!! CONGRATULATIONS TO ALLYSE NEAR.

 Highly Recommended ****(dma)

 

A sad but uplifting story

 TITLE = MOCKImockingbird bigNGBIRD  

 AUTHOR = KATHRYN ERSKINE

 GENRE = MENTAL HEALTH, GRIEF, FAMILY, SCHOOL, GROWING UP,

 INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Be warned – you will need a tissue box handy when reading this book … but it does have a satisfying ending! Caitlin Smith has faced a number of challenges in her short life but the most recent one is perhaps the cruellest, for her beloved older brother, Devon has died in a school shooting.  Devon was an important figure in Caitlin’s life, he helped explain the world to her. AS someone who experiences Asperger’s Syndrome, Caitlin sees the world in a very literal way, she likes order and consistency & she struggles socially, so she has needed lots of support in learning how to behave in social situations and in the school room … and Devon was one of her primary helpers.

To make matters worse, Caitlin’s father is struggling too and the role of raising a daughter whilst dealing with the loss of his beloved son is almost overwhelming him, especially coming only a few years after his wife died.

Cailtin is the narrator of this story so we learn first hand what it is like to see the world from her perspective. WE watch as she deals with school bullies, as she tries to make friends and most importantly, as she drags her father out of his grief in a way that inspires the small town community where she lives.

This book is about the impact of a school shooting on the families of victims and perpetrators, it is about how different people see the world, it is about family, friendship and love. You may need tissues at the ready but it is a remarkably heart warming story.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

An unusual novel about unusual characters

TITLE = CREEPY & MAUD  

AUTHOR = DIANNE TOUCHELL

GENRE = DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, MENTAL HEALTH

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

An intriguing choice as a shortlisted book for the 2012 CBCA Book of the Year (OR)

This book is aptly named as one of the narrator’s, a teenage boy, truly does seem to be a bit creepy, especially when we realise that he watches his neighbour, “Maud”, through binoculars. There may be valid reasons for his creepiness: his parents are painted in a most unattractive light and seem to be at war with each other… is it any wonder that their teenage son remains aloof from normal relationships at school. His attitude to Maud is tricky too – through his binocular watching, he learns that her father hits her and that she is self-harming (by pulling out her hair). Yet it takes a long time for him to actively support this very troubled girl.

Some chapters in the novel are told from Maud’s point of view and she does appear to appreciate Creepy as a real friend, which perhaps makes him a more likable character than he may appear from his own words. Poor Maud comes from an equally troubled family and counselling does not appear to be helping.

This novel is unlikely to appeal to all readers, dealing as it does with dysfunctional families and mental health issues: some may find the black humour quite funny whereas others may simply find the tone rather bleak and cool. Either way, it is certainly thought-provoking and may well stay with the reader long after the last page has been read.

(dma)

 

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 funny story about a special girl

TITLE = MY LIFE IS AN ALPHABET

AUTHOR = BARRY JONSBERG

GENRE = FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

This is a very funny novel – in fact, don’t read it on the train (or bus) if you don’t like to laugh out loud in public! Candice is a rather unusual little girl trying to survive in the face of family dysfunction and her own rather special way of relating to the world. There is no doubt that Candice’s family has good cause to be dysfunctional: faced with the death of a baby sister and a mother’s breast cancer, it is understandable that they are all struggling to deal with each other, let alone the world beyond their family.

But Candice has decided that this needs to stop and she is determined to bring change about – even if it results in some very comical scenes, some very witty dialogue and at least 2 ambulances! What makes the story even more engaging is that it is told (as the title suggests) in alphabetical order – for a school assignment. As Candice seems incapable of telling other than the absolute truth (even if she sometimes has to use notes to do so) the result is both entertaining and clever!

Candice may or may not be “special needs” (as one of her classmates has labelled her) but she is certainly refreshingly honest and determined. Her growing friendship with Douglas Benson (who is apparently from another dimension) is equally delightful and candidly portrayed.

You may like to read a post by the author Barry Jonsberg when he was a guest reviewer on the Inside a Dog blog or check out his blog.

This book WON the 2013 Gold Inky Award and was on the Short List for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year award (Younger Readers) before being announced as AN HONOUR BOOK!! CONGRATULATIONS BARRY JONSBERG.

Highly Recommended (dma)  ****

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) *****

A compelling blend of sadness and humour

TITLE = THE SHINY GUYS

AUTHOR = DOUG MacLEOD  

GENRE = MENTAL HEALTH, GRIEF, FAMILY, FRIENDS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 10 – 12

This should be a grim story as it focusses on 3 teens who are in a mental institution in 1985. And life in this hospital is not a bundle of laughs for any of them. However, Doug MacLeod has managed to imbue a certain sense of humour and warmth into the story- partly through his warm depiction of the characters and partly through some sharp and funny dialogue.

There is also an element of mystery underlying the novel: as the story develops we learn more about the disappearance of Colin’s young sister and the impact of her loss on Colin’s developing mental illness. WE also learn more about his family and how they have coped with grief.

Some parts of the novel may be confusing for the reader because Colin is the narrator, so when he starts to describe weird events and conversations the reader may not be sure if he is imagining them or if this is part of his mental condition. As such, the novel becomes a powerful study of depression and psychosis in a young teenager.

This may not be an easy read but it is certainly a moving tale and the reader will come away with a greater understanding of the difficulties of living with grief and of living with a mental illness.

To read more about  Doug MacLeod’s motivation & inspiration in writing this book why not check out his website.

In fact, its worth looking at the author’s blog, too – very entertaining, as you might expect from this author.

This novel is a worthy selection on the shortlist for the 2012 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers).

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

You might also like to read John Green’s book “The fault in our stars” another book which manages to balance the humour and the pain of illness in teens.

 

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) ****

A moving insight into living with autism

anything but typicalTITLE = ANYTHING BUT TYPICAL

AUTHOR = NORA RALEIGH BASKIN

GENRE = MENTAL HEALTH, AUTISM

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 AND UP

AS the title and the cover of this book suggest, the central character in this book, Jason Blake, is anything but typical. He has been diagnosed with autism and this means he views the world around him in a very different way from his family and his classmates. This novel depicts Jason’s daily struggle to make sense of the world, to try and learn the signs that most of us take for granted: to decipher facial expressions or figures of speech. And if it is a struggle for Jason to understand others it is also a struggle for others to understand Jason. Because when he gets stressed Jason tends to react in a physical way: making noises, clicking his teeth, shaking his hands. Again, this behaviour marks him out as being different from others. So school can be an absolute battle field for Jason: trying to understand and to be understood.

The one place Jason really feels safest is when he is writing stories on the Storyboard site of his computer. Here he can be himself and not worry about how the world sees him. That is until his parents buy him tickets to the Storyboard convention and he realises that the girl he has befriended on Storyboard, might actually meet the real Jason. And past experience tells him that she may not like what she sees. This is a poignant novel which clearly evokes the difficulties faced by both Jason and his family. His parents are loving and supportive but they tend to respond to Jason’s autism in different ways. And as his mother realises, they also have a lot to learn about Jason’s life. A beautiful and gentle novel.

Highly recommended (dma) *****

Struggling with grief.. struggling with food

beautiful monster good readsTITLE = BEAUTIFUL MONSTER

AUTHOR = KATE MCCAFFREY

GENRE = IDENTITY, EATING DISORDERS, MENTAL HEALTH, GRIEF, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 10 – 12

The cover of this novel is rather bleak and this is matched by the story itself. Within the first few pages, Tessa’s life is thrown asunder as she watches her younger brother die in a car accident. She and her family struggle to cope: Mum falls into a depressive illness from which she struggles to emerge, Dad tries to support her through this and Tessa’s response is to fall into the clutches of an eating disorder.

Realistically, Tessa cleverly hides her problems from family and friends for much of the novel.  A bright, intelligent girl she also plays clever mental games to maintain control over her eating.

McCaffrey has written powerful novels on difficult themes in the past but this one doesn’t quite gel. It is certainly a heartbreaking exploration of a difficult subject. However, the exceptional circumstances surrounding Tessa’s dilemma (brother’s death, mother’s breakdown) and the employment of “Ned” as a means of explaining her mental games tends to limit the resonance of the novel. In this regard, it suffers in comparison with “Wintergirls” a recently published novel about eating disorders which painfully exposes the mental anguish of sufferers in a more “every girl” manner.

Nevertheless, McCaffrey writes well and creates eminently believable characters and situations. Some teen readers may find the novel of interest – if they can get past the cover! (The title certainly provides food for thought). However, be warned that the ending may also seem a bit grim – so the novel may be more suited to older readers.

Recommended for older readers (dma) ***