Solving a mystery can be difficult for a youngster

picture me goneTITLE = PICTURE ME GONE

AUTHOR = MEG ROSOFF

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, GRIEF, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

Meg Rosoff always writes interesting books with unusual and thought-provoking themes and this book is no exception. 12 year old Mila and her father are about to travel from London to NYC to see her dad’s best friend, Matthew, when they receive news that he has gone missing. Mila has always wanted to thank Matthew  because he once saved her father’s life, although she is also aware that if not for Matthew, her father would not have been mountain climbing, so his life would not have needed saving!

When they arrive in NYC they meet Matthew’s wife and baby son before heading off on a road trip with Matthew’s dog, to a cabin in the woods where they hope to find the missing man. Whilst they search for her father’s friend, Mila is also thinking about her own strained friendship with Catlin who is going through a tough time as her parents have just split up.

Against this backdrop, Mila is trying to make sense of the man she is hoping to find. Matthew has always been described as a kind of heroic adventurer but is he really? What makes a man run away from his family … would a hero do this? There is also the mystery to be solved about a car accident many years ago. Is this the first time Matthew has run away? Mila has many questions she would like to ask Matthew … and as their search goes on, she begins to doubt the world of adults and she begins to learn a bit more about the meaning of friendship, whilst also rethinking her relationship with her own father.

This isn’t a simple read but it is certainly a moving and thoughtful book that has much to offer readers.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A novel about footy, fans, grief and life

TITLE = THE WHOLE OF MY WORLD

AUTHOR = NICOLE HAYES

GENRE = FOOTBALL, MYSTERY, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIPS, GRIEF  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9-11

Shelley Brown is hoping for a fresh start: a new school, new friends, new interests – a new life. Since the loss of her mother, Shelley and her dad are drawing a line between the past and the present, so Shelley jumps at the chance to attend footy training with her new friend, Tara. After all, football has always been Shelley’s passion especially her beloved Glenthorn Football Club. Attending Thursday night training also gives Shelley a chance to befriend the new player, Mick Edwards.

Shelley and Tara are obsessed by their footy team and this novel is cleverly structured to reflect this passion: every chapter and section references the game, from “The Draft” to the “Pre-Season” to “The end-of-season Trip”. And the plot unfolds cleverly too: whilst most readers will accept Shelley’s lingering grief at losing her mother, midway through the novel the full story behind Shelley’s loss is revealed so we understand more fully the deep pain behind her journey of rebirth.

In a sports mad country like Australia it is intriguing to shine a light on that obsession:  the euphoria of the fans when their team wins, the despair when they lose and the relationship they have with the players themselves. However, this is more than just a football yarn; set against the football background is a bigger story about grief and loss, about family ties and family breakdown, of burgeoning love and the resilience needed not only to face another football season but also to face life’s many ups and downs.

Even those who don’t love football will find a lot to enjoy in Shelley Brown’s world.

This book has been Longlisted for the 2014 Gold Inky Award. 

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

An intriguing paranormal series begins

TITLE = DARKNESS RISING Book 1: THE GATHERING

AUTHOR = KELLEY ARMSTRONG

GENRE = NATIVE AMERICAN INDIAN MYTHOLOGY, PARANORMAL ROMANCE, IDENTITY, FRIENDSHIP, SCHOOL, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10, 11

This is a compelling and engaging story. At the beginning it seems like it will be just a teen story about high school romances and friendship but as it goes on, more mysterious elements begin to emerge. Maya has always had a strong affinity to nature and amazing powers to heal animals. But are these powers linked to her pawprint birthmark?? Are they a sign from her Native American background? Could she be a witch … or something more?

And what about bad boy Rafe – is he as bad as he pretends to be? And what is so strange about his sister?

With the death of her best friend Serena hanging over both Maya and her best friend, Daniel, there seems to be an edge to the story that lurks mysteriously and gradually takes on a more urgent note. When an unwelcome journalist turns up dead, both Maya and Daniel are concerned about the implications – what is there to hide in this small town of St Clouds?

Readers will be sitting on the edge of their seats as the pace and action increases over the final chapters. A real cliffhanger of an ending ensures that readers will eagerly await Book2 in this engaging paranormal series.

Recommended (dma) ****

Learning about life can sometimes be funny

Title  = losing it                                                                                                    

Author = Julia Lawrinson

Genre = Growing up, School, Relationships, Friendship, Homosexuality

Interest Level = Years 11, 12                                                                

Four girlfriends set themselves a challenge in the final year of school: to lose their virginity before schoolies week. Each girl takes it in turns to tell the story of her attempt to meet this challenge. Some stories are outrageously funny, some are tender, some are eye opening. And whilst not all the girls meet the challenge they all learn important lessons: about intimacy, about their own sexuality and about respecting themselves and others.

Due to the explicit focus on sexual themes, this book is more appropriate for more mature readers.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

An unusual timeslip story

only ever alwaysTITLE = only ever always

AUTHOR = Penny RUSSON

GENRE = GRIEF, DEATH & DYING, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9, 10

Some readers may find the beginning of this novel to be rather confusing as it switches quickly between the two very different worlds of Clara and Claire. Claire’s world is one of safety, love and happiness. However, this world is shattered when she learns that her beloved Uncle Charlie has had an accident from which he may not recover. Clara’s world is already shattered: she appears to have no parents, she lives in a wreck of a house and she scrapes a living together by scrounging. However, Clara does have two friends: the streetwise Groom, who clearly adores her, and the enigmatic Andrew, whom she adores. When Andrew becomes ill, Clara sets out to save him and so becomes embroiled in an even seamier side of life.

The literal link between these two stories is a musical globe which enables the girls to move between worlds. Whilst Claire’s globe is whole, Clara’s is shattered. There are other links, too: the quaint old ladies who live next to Claire also feature in Clara’s world (in a more evil form), Andrew’s battle against death mirrors Charlie’s and the stray yellow dog seems to move in and out of both worlds.

There are many confusing elements in this story: Clara’s world is a trifle hard to understand at first and the frequent transition between the two worlds at climactic points in the story, can be rather jarring. Claire’s narrative is also told in an odd style which can seem either too stilted or too poetic for a thirteen year old. However, for those readers who stick with it, there is also a lot to enjoy in this novel, especially as the two stories draw closer together. And the ending is quietly satisfying.

Selected as a Notable book for the CBCA Book of the Year 2012 (Older Readers)

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) *****

Learning how to survive life’s obstacles

girl saves boy 2TITLE = Girl saves boy 

AUTHOR = Steph Bowe

GENRE = Growing Up, Families, Friendship, Romance, Relationships

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 9 and up

This is an engaging novel by a new, young author and it has already been well received by many teen readers. In the opening chapter a girl (Jewel) quite literally saves a boy (Sacha) by jumping into the local lake to pull him out. We then discover why Sacha and Jewel were both at the lake in the first place and how, in different ways, they have both experienced rather difficult childhoods. What gradually unfolds is a story of how different people cope with tough times: whether that be a death in the family, a serious illness, or relationship problems. On the surface, there seems to be a lot of death and grief in the lives of the main characters -but the author has cleverly introduced some welcome humour which lightens the mood. The “side kick” characters (especially Al), the subplot about garden gnomes and the breezy dialogue all add a light touch. There is a lot to enjoy in this novel which is told in alternate chapters by Jewel and Sacha… the ending even manages to be somewhat upbeat! 

To learn more about “girl saves boy” or its teenage author, why not have a look at her blog.

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) *****

Surviving the pain of first love

beyond evieTITLE = BEYOND EVIE

AUTHOR = Rebecca Burton

GENRE = SEXUALITY, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

There is a melancholy and forbidding air in the early chapters of this book. We know that Charlotte has been hurt by Evie. We also know that Charlotte is a quiet, thoughtful and reserved girl who is a tad worried about being too much like her father, who died when she was only 5, apparently as the result of his depression. Even though she is warned by a friend not too fall too hard, Charlotte does fall in love with the manipulative and mysterious, Evie, and is betrayed in the worst possible way. However, by novel’s end it is clear that for all her hurt and pain, for all her sadness, Charlotte has greater resilience than her father and is looking to a better future, whether this is with a he or a she, even Charlotte is not sure.

This is a beautifully written novel, although it seems to amble along gently, especially in the first half. The characters are beautifully drawn. Charlotte’s family, in particular, is delightfully real: her librarian Mum who reads incessantly, her Mum’s partner (Brian) who is the most true person  that Charlotte knows, her sister Amy (who is so dearly loved by her boyfriend, the kind and gentle, Noah). Charlotte is surrounded by good people, it is no wonder she manages to survive her relationship with Evie.

Recommended (dma) ****

A love story for a city

banner_loveisthehigherlaw1TITLE = LOVE is the HIGHER LAW

AUTHOR = david levithan

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, GRIEF

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 AND UP

This may not be a particularly long novel (at only 164 pages) but it packs a powerful punch. The impact of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York is revealed by 3 teens, who take it in turns to tell their stories. At the beginning of the novel these 3 are only loosely connected (having all been at the same party on a previous weekend) but by novel’s end they are close friends, a strong affirmation of the novel’s title. Claire is in a classroom when news reaches them of the attacks and her first thought is of her little brother. Peter is initially oblivious to the attacks because he has his earplugs in as he impatiently waits for his favourite record store to open. He is excited and anxious about the date he has later that day with Jasper, a college student he met at the party. Meanwhile, Jasper has slept through the attacks and only becomes aware of them when his folks call from Korea (where they are visiting his grandma). As the story unfolds, we follow these 3 young people as they each try to make sense of what has happened in their hometown. Claire feels a growing sense of community, Peter tries to find solace in love and Jasper seems numb and incapable of reaching out to others. Gradually their stories intertwine and the reader will be greatly moved and ultimately uplifted by their experiences. A story that stays with you long after the last page is read.

In the author’s own words: “…it’s really the story of things coming together even as it feels like the world is falling apart — because that’s how it felt to be in New York at that time, both tragic because of the events that happened and magical in the way that everyone became their better selves in the face of it. ”  (taken from david levithan’s website)

Highly Recommended (dma) *****