Miracles and mystery





This is a very unusual and intriguing story. Just days before her year 12 exams Dodie’s parents go missing and she discovers they have been hiding something in their basement. Something totally unexpected and something that requires her to take totally unexpected action. Before she knows it, Dodie and her sister Coco are on the road with the secret from the basement, and 3 boys whom they barely know. Together they are setting off for Sydney, with Dodie driving, even though she doesn’t yet have her license.

What could possibly be worth this risk? And who is out to stop them? Along the way they witness miracles and learn alittle more about each other and themselves. But as Sydney gets closer reality sinks in … can they achieve their aim or will further sacrifices be required?

Recommended (dma) ****    


A compelling story of refugees, cruelty and compassion





A compelling and moving book about intolerance and compassion. In Afghanistan young Omed incurs the wrath of the Taliban and must flee his home, his village and his country. Unable to speak (due to Taliban cruelty) Omed must rely on the sneaky, shady Snake to find a way over the sea to Australia. And when he gets there he is thrown into the brutal life of a detention centre and struggles to maintain his sanity and sense of self.

Meanwhile, in suburban Melbourne another teenage boy (Hec) also lives in a world without words. However, Hec’s silence seems to be self-imposed, a response to some emotional trauma which is only gradually revealed.

The two boys meet in a candle factory where the work is tedious and the workplace poisonous. Many of the workers are refugees or immigrants and they are not always welcomed with open arms by their Aussie colleagues.

The first half of this novel can be a tough read as it focusses on Omed’s heartbreaking struggle to stay alive in a world that is both frightening and cruel. Yet despite the bleakness, Omed’s integrity and determination shines through as well as the beauty of Neil Grant’s writing. A sense of place is vividly portrayed by Grant: whether it be rural Bamiyan, modern day Kabul or Melbourne. And the characters are equally credible; we care about their journeys and the outcome of their stories. Grant also cleverly creates a different voice for the teenaged Hec and the adult Hec, which adds to the believability of the tale.

A thought provoking and powerful novel.

And if you enjoyed this novel you might like to read other books about refugees such as “The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif” in which Robert Hillman helps Najaf Mazari tell his story of eape from the Taliban. Or the powerful “From Kinglake to Kabul” edited by the author of The Ink Bridge, Neil Grant (accompanied by David Williams).

This novel is a worthy selection on the shortlist for the 2013 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers).

Highly Recommended (dma) *****


When imaginary friends come to life

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This is not an easy read and is the sort of novel that really pushes the reader; but the rewards of the reading challenge are great. One of the challenges is the narrative voice: for it is Leah, an elderly woman in a nursing home, who tells much of the story and this is an unusual perspective for a teen novel. Leah’s story about her childhood is quite sad: her father committed suicide when she was 5 (and she found his body in the barn) and her mother was rather cruel in her dedication to her religion, so much so that poor Leah has to give up her one and only friend. Yet Leah herself is not sad, in fact her sharp, often humouroius voice is one of the delights of the book. She has come to accept her life and has reached a point where she is happy to speak her mind, even if it may seem cruel to 16 yo Carly (who has come to interview her). The relationship these two develop is another of the books real strengths.

The structure of the book is unusual, starting with “the end” and moving to “the beginning” – and with these changes are altered perspectives, which may present another challenge to young readers. However, there is so much to enjoy in this novel: Jonsberg’s writing is often quite beautiful and Leah’s observations on life around her are often quite pointed and detailed. By novel’s end, the reader’s empathy will definitely be with Leah and the one true love of her life, Adam.

Readers may enjoy learning more about the author’s inspiration in writing this novel, taken from his website. The subject matter and approach of this novel make it more likely to be enjoyed by more mature readers who will no dount be moved by the experience. For the novel encourages the reader to reflect on the power of books and the power of the imagination.

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

Recommended (dma) ***