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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An intriguing tale from our past

TITLE  = NANBERRY: Black Brother White

AUTHOR = JACKIE FRENCH

GENRE = HISTORICAL FICTION, RACISM, INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 8

Set during the time of Australia’s early settlement, this story begins in 1788. Nanberry is a young Aboriginal boy enjoying his traditional way of life, until his family and tribe is all but destroyed by disease (probably caught from the new white settlers). Surgeon White rescues the lad and not only saves his life but also, he decides to adopt him, as he has no family of his own. Nanberry soon learns enough English to act as a translator for Governor Phillip. He learns to wear English clothes and eat English food, he learns to respect the white culture and some of its citizens whilst always having a love for his own tribal way of life. At times these cultures pull him in different directions, especially when there are conflicts between the local tribes and the white settlers.

Whilst Jackie French has undertaken vast research before writing this story (and she provides useful notes and references at the end of the book for interested readers) this novel is always an engaging story rather than a history lesson. Many of the characters are real people (including Nanberry himself) but Jackie French certainly brings them to life. Nanberry is a thoughtful and interesting young boy, his adopted father the Surgeon White is well meaning but unusual in many respects (few other families had a possum as a pet!). So readers are sure to enjoy reading about their life journeys and learning more about what life was really like in the early days of Australian white settlement.

It is no surprise that this book has been shortlisted, CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers (2012)

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Looking anew at Afghanistan life

shooting kabulTITLE = Shooting KABUL

AUTHOR  = N. H. SENZAI

GENRE = WAR, MULTICULTURALISM, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

There is an interesting play on words in the title of this book which only becomes apparent as the story unfolds. Most readers will probably assume that the title refers to the conflict that seems to have embroiled Kabul (capital of Afghanistan) for so long. And it is from this conflict that Fadi and his family are fleeing in the novel’s opening chapters. Unfortunately in the rush and confusion of their departure, Fadi’s 6 year old sister, Mariam, is left behind and every member of the family seems to blame themselves for this loss, none more so than Fadi. They hope and pray that Mariam has made it across the border into one of the refugee camps in Pakistan. So when the family is finally resettled in California and Fadi hears of a photo competition with first prize as a trip to India, which borders on Pakistan, Fadi sees it as his chance to redeem himself. He hopes that by winning the competition he can find a path back to Mariam.

So “shooting Kabul” becomes as much about Fadi taking photos of his new home in the US as it is about guns firing in Afghanistan. And this central story is played out against the backdrop of growing tensions in America – because as the family anxiously awaits news of Mariam, the 9/11 attacks occur in New York and this brings ethnic tension to the forefront of their lives. Fadi must battle against racial bullying at school whilst worrying about the US retaliation against Afghanistan at home.

This is a sensitive and thoughtful book which intrduces young readers to a different perspective on some international events, particularly the role of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in the history and politics of Afghanistan. A sense of compassion and tolerance breathes through the story which is enlivened by Fadi’s struggle to find his sister and peace for himself.

Recommended (dma) ****

A beautifully rich story with a simple truth

MirrorBook_smallTITLE = MIRROR

AUTHOR = JEANNIE BAKER

GENRE = FAMILY, MULTICULTURALISM, LIFESTYLE

INTEREST LEVEL = ALL AGES

This is a truly beautiful book, in conception and in presentation. In fact, this picture book deliberately tells two stories – one is read from inside the left cover of the book and the other is read from inside the right cover. So both stories are opposite each other as you open the book. Both stories focus on a small boy and the daily life of his family; and on the surface there are obvious differences in these stories – different settings, different clothes, different food and transport – for one boy is growing up in Sydney, Australia whilst the other grows up in rural Morocco. However, just as the title suggests, in other ways the stories mirror each other – for both boys have loving families, share meals together and other family activities.

So ultimately the story of this richly crafted book has a simple message: we may live in vastly different places but our lives are mirrors across the world.

As we have come to expect from a Jeannie Baker book, the illustrations built on detailed collages will detail readers and provide hours of enjoyment. If you would like to learn more about Jeannie Baker’s artistry, why not check out her website.

It is no wonder this book has been shortlisted in the CBC Book of the Year 2011 (Picture Book).

Highly Recommended (dma) ******

A brilliant blend of humour and pathos

loose lipsTITLE = LOOSE LIPS

AUTHOR = Chris Wheat

GENRE = HUMOUR, IDENTITY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

Vistaview Secondary College seems to be peopled with rather eccentric students: from Zeynap (obsessed with wardrobe neatness), to Matilda (obsessed with dogs), to Angelo (obsessed with Georgia who is obsessed with avoiding Angelo), to Chelsea (obsessed with poking her nose into everyone’s business). Hilarious consequences ensue from all these competing obsessions and there are many truly laugh out loud moments. However, there is also room for more genuine emotion, as we see how family and friends respond as Josh carefully and cautiously reveals to each of them that he is gay. The conversations that follow are sometimes painful, sometimes poignant and sometimes laced with gentle humour. Khiem’s story also provides a counterbalance to some of the humour as this young Vietnamese orphaned refugee struggles to free himself from criminal elements of his community. All in all, a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable novel. (And if you like this one, pick up the sequel in Screw Loose)

Highly Recoomended (dma) *****

A cultural dilemma

marrying ameera TITLE =MARRYING AMEERA

AUTHOR =ROSANNE HAWKE

GENRE =CULTURAL ISSUES, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 AND UP

This is quite a gripping novel, dealing with some complex issues. Ameera is an Australian girl with a Pakistani father of the Muslim faith and an Australian mother of Christian faith. This makes Ameera’s life more complex and rule bound than many Australian girls of her age: her father expects her to be a good girl and only go out with her brother along to protect her (or the Muslim brother of her friend). There are formal expectations when conversing with others – enquiries about family always come first – and Ameera shouldn’t be talking to boys anyway, let alone thinking about having a boyfriend.

Ameera loves her father and respects her Muslim background and wants to do the right thing. So she knows she shouldn’t talk to Tariq, her friend Maryam’s brother – he may be from a Pakistani family but he is Christian not Muslim – so even though he is good looking and sends her heart aflutter, he should be out of bounds. Yet when her Dad finds out she has spoken to Tariq at a party, Ameera does not expect her father to be so stern and unforgiving. When he sends her to visit her family in Pakistan as punishment, little does she expect that he may have been planning an arranged marriage with a Pakistani man – what now for Ameera’s dreams of going to uni and having a career?? What now for her broken heart and her love of Tariq?? Will she see her mother again?? Australia again… let alone Tariq??

Rosanne Hawke handles a complex situation with skill and care. She is at pains to show the beauty and richness of the Pakistani culture – from their fables and folktales to their food and clothing. The richness of their celebrations, the importance of family is strongly portrayed – and how this can be both a positive (when Ameera’s brother comes to help rescue her) and a weakness (when her uncle is so willing to sacrifice Ameera’s wishes for her father’s demands). Hawke also tries to distinguish between culture and religion as she explores the idea of arranged marriages. And whilst Ameera may fear an arranged marriage, Hawke shows that this may have more to do with the way her father has controlled the situation – not allowing her to have some say. Her female cousins in Pakistan are proof that all arranged marriages may not be so bad – in fact, if the girls themselves are included in the arrangement, it can provide fulfilment and joy.

Hawke’s portrayal of the complexity of the Pakistani culture in Australia at the start of the novel underscores the multicultural issues that lie at the heart of this novel. And the views of the younger generation provides hope for the future: her brother is still keen to uphold the Muslim faith but he sees things differently from his father – he has a more tolerant approach.

The main characters are generally well rounded – and the idea of family honour and shame is shown to be so important that even the hard line approach of her cousin can be understood (although his thuggish tactics cannot be supported). The difficulties facing Ameera at novel’s end are clearly portrayed. And the complexities of assimilating different cultures and religions are clearly portrayed too.

Perhaps the only weakness in the novel is the depiction of the love between Ameera and Tariq – they appear to become very devoted to each other when really they know so little of each other??

However, girls in Years 9 and 10 are sure to enjoy this novel. Whilst the last third of the novel is certainly gripping and full of action and suspense, there is also plenty of food for thought.

If you want to know more about the author and her knowledge of Pakistani culture then check out her website here.

Highly recommended (dma) *****