Growing up with a disability

out of my mindTITLE = OUT OF MY MIND

AUTHOR = SHARON M. DRAPER

GENRE = DISABILITY, MENTAL HEALTH, FAMILIES 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7+

Melody was born with cerebral palsy, which means she has difficulty controlling her body movements, is confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak. Her greatest desire is to be able to communicate with others and let them know that just because her body doesn’t work properly this doesn’t mean that her brain is not sharp. She is an intelligent girl with a whole lot to say to the world – she just can’t get the words out.

Melody tells her story in first person so we are given a great chance to see what life is like for this remarkably strong young girl. She doesn’t want our pity she just wants to be understood. Fortunately, Melody has a lot of people around her who want to help: from her loving parents, to her remarkable neighbour and a caring aide at school.

Not everyone at school is helpful, though: some teachers can’t see past the wheelchair and some kids can’t see past her drooling. So when Melody tries out for the school Quiz Team there are bound to be some raised eyebrows … just how far can this young girl go, if given the chance.

This is a moving story with a very believable main character. Her story is not whitewashed: not everything goes Melody’s way and there are some moments of true heartbreak for her. But it is a powerful tale and will make readers genuinely think about the power of words, the power of speech and perhaps reconsider our beliefs about disability. This book understandably spent 9 months on the NY Times bestseller list.

Check out the author’s website: a teacher and a highly awarded author, who has some genuine understanding of Melody’s situation as she has a disabled daughter (although Sharon Draper is keen to tell readers that Melody’s story is NOT her daughter’s story)

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Two boys with a lot more in common than they believe

bleak boy and hunterTITLE = BLEAKBOY and HUNTER STAND OUT in the RAIN

AUTHOR = STEVEN HERRICK

GENRE = FAMILIES, SCHOOL, BULLYING, ENVIRONMENT 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 7

This book is about 2 boys who think they are very different from each other but in fact have a lot in common. Jesse’s family likes to be self-sufficient: they grow their own food (as much as possible), make (and repair) their own clothes and his folks tell awful jokes. Hunter is Jesse’s worst nightmare: the school bully. Yet when we first meet Hunter he just seems like a boy who cares for his Mum, who is a bit sad and lonely since Hunter’s dad left them. This is the kind side of Hunter which he doesn’t reveal at school; at school he calls people names, does his best to get out of class and is often in trouble.

Hunter assumes that Jesse (whom he calls BleakBoy) is a goody two shoes who would never do anything wrong … yet Jesse has stolen his father’s credit card, is caught smoking at school and has 2 detentions in as many days … what exactly is going on? Has Jesse truly become BadBoy? Meanwhile Hunter has offered to help Jesse and his friend, Kate, help save the whales … has Hunter become GoodBoy?

A story with a lot of heart and a lot of humour … and a very satisfying ending.

Recommended (dma) ****

The sliding doors effect … and how it affects 3 teens

the vanishing momentTITLE = THE VANISHING MOMENT

AUTHOR = MARGARET WILD

GENRE = GRIEF, MENTAL HEALTH, FAMILIES  

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Everyone faces moments in their lives when tough things happen, moments we regret or moments we wish had never happened. Just imagine what it would be like if you could go back and relive those moments  –  remove the heartache and pain … would you take up this chance? Even if it meant another version of yourself had to suffer instead of you?

This is the situation facing 3 young adults. Bob has had a dreadfully unhappy childhood, raised by a bullying step-dad – loneliness and jail seem the likely future.  Arrow  is drifting aimlessly, seemingly unable to cope with the deaths of her childhood friends. And Marika can’t stop crying since her toddler brother went missing, whilst in her care.

All 3 cross paths at a small seaside town …. Will their meeting herald a new and better future?? Or is sadness around the corner for some of them? A book with an interesting ending and with plenty for readers to think about.

A Notable book in the 2014 CBCA awards (Older Readers).

Recommended **** (dma)  

A love letter to the western suburbs of Melbourne

tigerfishTITLE = TIGERFISH

AUTHOR = DAVID METZENTHEN

GENRE = AUSTRALIAN SUBURBS, FAMILY, GRIEF, VIOLENCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 +

This is a brilliant and compelling novel. If “The Incredible Here and Now” is a love letter to the Western suburbs of Sydney, then this novel is an ode to the Western suburbs of Melbourne. It is an ode tinged with rawness and simmering violence, but also with loyalty and kindness.

Ryan is well aware that there is a bleak harshness about his suburb. There is fear lurking in the wasteland on the edge of his suburb: fear due to past violence and recent reports of a prowler on the loose. Even Ryan doesn’t want to be out in this bare wasteland at night. Yet despite this fear and darkness, Ryan clearly loves his neighbourhood and there is a lot to be loved – in the strong sense of community spirit and in Ryan himself.

Slate (Ryan’s brother) is stuck in a dead-end factory job by day and a bouncer’s job at night; simmering with anger about the consequences of past decisions.  Ariel, the new love of Ryan’s life, is trapped by her sad family history. School colleagues, Eden and Elmore are trapped by guilt. And caught between all these characters is Ryan himself; uncertain of his own future yet willing to reach out to others, however uncomfortable he may sometimes feel.

Loyalty is important to Ryan as is team work – and he uses his love of footy to guide his actions; moving forward, sidestepping where necessary, not always winning but willing to come back next week and give it a go. This is a compelling novel. Ryan’s voice is authentic and, at times, dryly funny. He sees the bleakness around him but he also sees the beauty in his community. What he perhaps doesn’t see, but what the reader will see, is how Ryan is a part of this beauty.

Highly Highly Recommended for older readers (dma) *****

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) *****

The final stunning chapter in a heartfelt series

TITLE = PARVANA’S PROMISE

AUTHOR = DEBORAH ELLIS

GENRE = REFUGEES, WAR, POLITICS, CHILDHOOD, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

The opening of this book may well surprise readers of the Parvana series: for it is set in a US Army base in Afghanistan and it appears that the young girl who is being questioned as a suspected terrorist is, in fact, Parvana! Readers will be on the edge of their seats wondering how this has come about and what lies ahead for Parvana.

And so the story unfolds in dual paths: part of the story recounts the interrogation process and Parvana’s imprisonment whilst alternating chapters take us back to see how events unfolded to bring Parvana to this point. We see Parvana working with her mother and sisters in setting up a school, trying to help her fellow refugees against great odds. For this education project is not welcomed by local villagers especially some very traditional men who see it as inappropriate for girls to be wasting their time on an education. The hatred that the school inspires may seem inexplicable to modern Aussie teens, but it is credibly portrayed and provides a threatening backdrop to the book.

Yet balanced against this is the more immediate threat of the Army officers who see Parvana as a potential source of danger. Will she survive against the emotional drain of interrogations or will she gain her freedom?? And why is she staying so silent anyway??

This novel cleverly brings the reader up to date with Parvana’s story whilst also introducing readers to the idea that foreign troops may be trying to bring peace to this region but they may in fact bring further torment for the surviving people of this war-ravaged land. A thought-provoking novel, in keeping with the rest of this wonderful series (“Parvana“, “Parvana’s Journey“, “Shauzia” are the previous titles in the series) .

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

The journey continues for a brave young girl

TITLE = PARVANA’S JOURNEY

AUTHOR = DEBORAH ELLIS

GENRE = REFUGEES, WAR, POLITICS, CHILDHOOD, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

 In some ways, this book is even tougher to read than the first story about Parvana, because now Paravana is on her own or without adults, for most of her journey. She does have other children with her: Hassan (a baby who demands her attention), crippled Asif (with whom she bickers) and friendly Leila. Unfortunately, the adults that Parvana meets on her travels seem to simply let her down: they either withdraw from the horror of their daily lives (like Leila’s grandmother) or they are unkind and selfish. Life is tough and the children must be brave and resilient and resourceful to survive; as we would expect from reading book 1, Parvana certainly rises to the occasion.

One of the refreshing things in this story is that although these kids must be brave and adult-like on a daily basis, they are clearly still kids: Parvana gets annoyed easily and in angry outbursts she can behave badly (as you would expect, under the circumstances). The humorous banter between Asif and Parvana (where he pretends to do exactly the opposite of what she wants) also provide one of the few glimpses of lightness and humour in the book.

This is a worthy sequel to Parvana and readers who loved the first book are sure to be thoroughly engaged in reading more about her adventures.

Read a review of Parvana here.

FINDING THE RIGHT WAVELENGTH FOR LIFE’S JOURNEY

wave length 2 TITLE = WAVE LENGTH

AUTHOR = A. J. BETTS

GENRE = GROWING UP, SCHOOL, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 12

The humour in this novel ensures that it is a most entertaining read. In fact it should be required reading for ALL year 12 students as it manages to take a humorous look at the stresses and strains of year 12 without trivialising the issue. There is no doubt that the main character, Oliver, is a stresshead of the highest order. He knows excatly what score he needs to get into the mining engineering course he desires, and he knows just how much study is needed. So when his books are lost on the train trip to visit his Dad’s for swot vac, Oliver is nearly beside himself with worry. How can he study without his text books??? But in his obsession with this magical score, has Oliver lost sight of what really matters in life?? Slowly, Oliver begins to look at study and his goals with new eyes. He realises that choosing a course because of the pay packet may not bring great rewards.  He realises that stress can come in many forms and that taking a more relaxed approach to life does not necessarily mean you are a failure.

There is a lot to enjoy in this novel. Betts is a poet and this is evident in some of the lyrical descriptions in her novel. She also has a good ear for dialogue and humour. The physics quotes that begin each chapter provide food for thought for the reader; are they a gentle mockery of Oliver’s current state of being? of the theorems he is struggling to learn? or a commentary on the diference between textbook study and life lessons??

An engaging novel for older readers. And if you enjoy this novel you might also like Measuring Up (in which another teen grapples with year 12 and the future beyond school).

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) *****

When imaginary friends come to life

being hereTITLE =being here

AUTHOR =BARRY JONSBERG

GENRE =IMAGINATION, FAMILY, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL =YEARS 11, 12

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) ***