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 +


Dead ends or a new start?

Title:  Dead Ends dead ends 2

Author:  Erin Lange

Interest Level: Year 9+

Dane has just about used up all his chances. One more mistake and he will be expelled from his High School.

Billy D has changed schools and needs help avoiding bullies like Dane. What better way for Dane to redeem himself than helping a kid like Billy D? Or at least the principal thinks so…

As reluctant as he is to help, Dane quickly discovers that Billy D needs more than a bodyguard, he needs a friend. Dane isn’t really sure anyone is equipped to be that friend. Billy D is a demanding task master who is not above threatening and manipulating Dane to make him do what Billy wants. And yet, Dane and Billy D have much in common; they both struggle to fit in and both are missing their fathers. Dane has never known his father, whilst Billy D has lost contact with his.  It is this common bond, and the resulting search for their fathers that ultimately brings both boys a little closer to adulthood.

This is Erin Lange’s second book. Her first, Butter, was a stand out for its original and contemporary approach to issues such as obesity and teen suicide. In Dead Ends Lange in her straight forward and uncompromising way, tackles disability, bullying and poverty of opportunity. There are no neat resolutions or happy endings for the characters, however, Dead Ends does leave the reader believing that the boys’ lives are better for their friendship and that there is potential for happier futures.

Recommended (ipe) ***





Not what the title suggests





This is a humorous and insightful verse novel about the lives of the students in a small country school.  There is the usual mix of characters–outgoing, shy, sporty,  academic, sad, silly and thoughtful and each has a story to tell about themselves and those around them.  The verses are simple and yet clearly capture the emotions and view point of the different narrators.  I particularly enjoyed a series of running jokes that threaded through the stories but was also moved by the subtler dramas which highlighted the importance of friendship, belonging and the value of leading by example, and with compassion.  This novel will appeal most to readers who enjoy stories that focus on people and their thoughts and feelings.  And the story behind the unusual title?  Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.  This is a 2013 CBCA Short-listed Book for Younger Readers.

Recommended (mrsk) ****

A school story like no other





As the opening chapter of this book shows all too well, Calma is a very clever girl and an A+ English student. Kiffo on the other hand, prefers to sit up the back of the class and threaten teachers. So why are they be friends? And more importantly, why are they stalking the new English teacher, who they have nicknamed “the Pitbull”? Could she really be a drug dealer and are they assisting the police by breaking into her home??

There are many laugh out loud scenes in this book as the two unlikely friends set about tracking down the truth about the Pitbull. Yet amidst the humour there will be pathos too, as we learn the back story to Calma and Kiffo’s friendship. There are some unexpected twists and turns in the plot that will no doubt surprise the reader. Be warned – a tissue box may even be needed at times!

Learn more about the author here.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A fresh and funny take on a vampire story

bloodthirstyTITLE = Bloodthirsty

AUTHOR  = Flynn Meaney



This is a delightfully fun and engaging novel which is sure to appeal to teen girls in particular. Finbar Frame is a twin. His twin brother, Luke, is athletic and popular, with loads of friends and most importantly, good with girls. Finn, on the other hand, is quiet, nerdy, tall and pale. He is anxious and timid, especially around bullies and girls.

But Finn has a brainwave: given that vampires have become so popular in books, on TV and in films, the solution to all his problems is obvious – with his pale looks and allergy to the sun – he will simply become a vampire! And so the fun begins.

And there is lot to laugh about in this engaging story as Finn tries to negotiate school and teenage life as a would-be vampire. Blissfully free of blood but full of pop references to recent books and shows, YA readers are sure to enjoy the ride as Finn learns a thing or two about honesty, truth and accepting oneself. An amusing novel with a refreshing take on vampirism, romance and reinvention.

Recommended (dma) ****

Life as an extravaganza

will-grayson-will-graysonTITLE = Will Grayson, Will Grayson

AUTHORS = John Green & David Levithan

GENRE = Relationships, Friendship, Growing up, Sexuality

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 10 and up

As the title indicates, this novel is based on two characters with the same name. John Green’s Will Grayson is rather timid about life (in fact, avoiding emotion and keeping quiet are his basic rules for existence). His best friend (Tiny Cooper) is exuberantly gay, falls in love every hour and is writing a musical extravaganza. David Levithan’s Will Grayson is depressed, moody and gay (although he hasn’t really told anyone this yet, not even his so-called best friend, Maura). Both Will’s meet under unexpected and amusing circumstances; they become intertwined when Tiny becomes the boyfriend of the sad and moody, Other Will. The journey for each Will is a little bumpy but often quite funny and refreshingly uplifting as they both learn that friendship and taking a chance can bring the best rewards…. and the best finale possible for Tiny’s extraordinary “Life of Will” showpiece!

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Love, laughter, friendship

m or fTITLE = m or f?

AUTHOR = lisa papademetriou & chris tebbetts

GENRE = Love, Friendship, Sexuality

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 9 and up

This funny story is cleverly told in alternating chapters by best friends, Marcus and Frannie. Marcus is comfortable in his gay skin and whilst he is not really expecting to find love at his school, he is happy to help Frannie in her quest to snare the gorgeous Jeffery. But the path of teen love rarely runs smoothly – especially when Marcus pretends to be Frannie in online conversations with Jeffery. Is he really doing this to support his best friend or could it be that he is attracted to Jeffery?? And just because Marcus is gay, doesn’t mean that he is always able to judge which of his classmates may also be gay… even Frannie, who prides herself on having a well-developed gaydar, may have missed some key signs…. So who should be kissing whom?? And will these teens be able to sort out their misunderstandings without losing their best friends in the process?? An amusing story which should appeal to boys and girls, gay and straight …. because at its heart is friendship and romance.

Highly recommended (dma) *****


MeasuringUp_Hi-Res_CoverTITLE = MEASURING UP




Jonah is feeling the pressure. He is in Year 12 but has no clear idea of where he wants to go when school finishes. One of his best friends seems to be taking to a life of drugs. The mother of a girl with whom he is close, is fighting a losing battle with cancer. His dad is the local town cop. And he has always felt that he lived in the shadow of his popular elder brother. The same brother who reveals he is gay but swears Jonah to secrecy. Is it any wonder that Jonah starts drinking too much and lets his studies slide? Is it any wonder that Jonah’s main obsession seems to be how to lose his virginity before he turns 18? Jonah is a refreshingly credible teenage boy trying to survive Year 12. He makes mistakes, says the wrong thing and doesn’t always know what he feels or why (especially when it comes to his brother’s sexuality). At heart he is a decent kid trying to make sense of his life and stumbling along the way; and as a narrator he has a delightful sense of humour, and is not afraid to laugh at himself. One of the joys in reading this novel is Jonah’s love of surfing – not only does he find solace in the sea and the physicality of surfing, but these scenes are also beautifully described and will be enjoyed even by the non-surfer. A great novel for older readers (the strong language and sexual themes make it more appropriate for this age group) which could be enjoyed by both boys and girls.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

An unusual science project

TITLE= Malcolm & Juliet

AUTHOR= Bernard Beckett

GENRE= Humour

Malcolm is a self-confessed nerd. He was a runner-up in last year’s Science Fair and this year aims to win the event. But his science project may just land him in more trouble than he thinks. For Malcolm decides to base his project on sex, specifically, the teenage experience of sex. As a somewhat inexperienced 16 year old, Malcolm figures he has a lot to learn about sex and with his trusty video camera at hand, hopes that interviewing others will not only help him win the Science Fair, it may also give him the know-how to win over the beautiful Charlotte (whom he secretly adores). But if Malcolm adores Charlotte, why are he and his best friend, Juliet, about to become more than just friends? And if Brian secretly adores Kevin who secretly adores Juliet why are Brian and Charlotte getting together? And who is blackmailing Juliet? Malcolm’s journey of scientific discovery will not only teach him more than he bargained for, it will take the reader on a hilarious ride in the process. Bernard Beckett has written a most entertaining book which is sure to be enjoyed by both girls and boys. The fact that it is relatively short and easy to read will no doubt also appeal to teen readers.

Recommended (dma) *****