A ghost story with plenty of twists and turns

doll bonesTITLE = DOLL BONES

AUTHOR = HOLLY BLACK

GENRE = HORROR, QUEST, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9    

Poppy, Zach and Alice have been friends for ages and have had great fun playing a special game filled with imagination and adventure. They use action figures, puppets and dolls to act out their stories, collaborating and decorating their storytelling.

But what happens when one of them is challenged to stop being childish … the ripple effect on their friendship and their storytelling game quickly stirs into action, especially when Poppy realises that the doll in her cabinet at home has a mysterious curse that can only be lifted by a road trip … by bus, at night ….

Can 3 young teens really work together on this quest without destroying their friendship? Does the doll really need help or is it just playing games with them? Can they in fact finish their quest … or will fear, anger or disappointment get in the way?

This is a clever story with plenty of mystery, adventure and friendship problems to be resolved. If you liked The Spiderwick Chronicles you are sure to enjoy this novel for younger readers from Holly Black

Recipient of a Newbery Honor Award

Recommended (dma) **** 

A moving story for older readers

eleanor and parkTITLE = ELEANOR & PARK

AUTHOR = RAINBOW ROWELL

GENRE = FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, SCHOOL, BULLYING, ROMANCE 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

This is a sad story as flagged from the opening page.

Park is afraid to be open about his feelings, so initially seems a bit angry with Eleanor. Eleanor seems gawky and awkward but as we follow their stories in alternating chapters, we see what hides beneath the veneer that they show the world.

Eleanor comes from a poor and brutal home where her step-father rules. He has only just allowed Eleanor to return home, after kicking her out a year ago. Her mother is afraid to stand up to her partner, so Eleanor and her siblings eat early (before he comes home) and cower whilst he shouts and their mother cries.

Eleanor’s newness and strange attire make her a target for the school bullies so school days are equally difficult for Eleanor; until Park slowly reaches out to her over a shared interest in comics and music. Gradually, their friendship blossoms, giving both of them inner strength. But does their love stand a chance when Eleanor’s brutish step-father is watching her every move… and when put to the test, will Eleanor and Park have the courage to take action .. even at a cost to their relationship?

This is a credible and moving story … although some readers may not like the ending?? Given the themes in the story, it is likely to suit more mature readers.

Recommended (dma) **** 

Facing life in the wilds of school camp

wildlifeTITLE = WILDLIFE

AUTHOR = FIONA WOOD

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, GRIEF, GROWING UP, FAMILY, ROMANCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Sybilla and Lou take turns to tell this story. Both are in yr 10 and heading off to their school’s compulsory term in the “wild” – or at least in the bush, miles away from the city in which they have grown up. Sybilla is a smart and friendly girl, inclined to be a bit on the passive side and decidedly naïve on the boyfriend stakes. Her oldest friend is Michael: a self-confessed nerd with a rather unusual view of the world; a bit of a loner amongst the rest of the yr 10s. Her best friend is the rather unpleasant, Holly. And Sybilla’s eye is on the most popular boy in the school, Ben.

Lou on the other hand, is a quiet girl, new to the school and harbouring a secret grief. For her boyfriend, Fred, was killed in a bicycle accident some months ago. Struggling to cope with her grief and struggling to find her way out of depression, Lou has changed schools, in the hope that a fresh start will help. She has a rather cynical view of the world but unlike Sybilla she has quite a sharp tongue and is the only girl in their cabin who is impervious to Holly’s bullying.

The 2 girls seem worlds apart at the beginning of this book and their stories seem to be very different; one seems light and frothy one much darker; gradually their stories begin to merge as does their friendship. This is an engaging story with very credible characters who explore quite realistically, friendship, sexual awakening and grief. A wonderful mix.

Sidenote: if you have read Fiona Wood’s previous YA novel (Six Impossible Things) you may recall Lou and Fred as minor characters.

This book has been named on the Short List for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), and then was announced as  THE WINNER!! CONGRATULATIONS TO FIONA WOOD.

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

More drama and fun for Sadie (the blue haired hairdresser)

scissors sistersTITLE = SCISSORS, SISTERS & MANIC PANICS 

AUTHOR = ELLIE PHILLIPS

GENRE = FRIENDSHIP, RELATIONSHIPS, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7- 9

A sequel to “Dads, Geeks, and Blue-haired freaks”, the story picks up about 6 months later: Sadie is still obsessed with hair and with becoming a hairdresser only now she has a part-time job and is attending Hairdressing college once a week. She and Tony are still going out together .. so life should be just rosy for Sadie, now shouldn’t it???

Unfortunately, when Sadie loses her job her chances of entering (let alone winning) a famous  hairdressing competition seem to have gone down the drain.  But in true Sadie fashion … she is not going to let that small mishap stop her … not if she has anything to do with it. However, could her obsession with the competition put her relationship with others at risk – especially with her boyfriend Tony? And what exactly is going on with her cousin, Billy … they used to be so close but now…

And as if life couldn’t get any more complicated… how would Sadie feel about finding out about a new sister??

Once more, the emotional turmoil of Sadie’s life seems to be set on high as she tries to attain her hair-dressing dreams and survive her family intact. More fun, more drama, more mayhem.

Even if you haven’t read the first book in this series you are sure to enjoy this new excursion into Sadie Nathanson’s tumultuous and hair-obsessed life. (Alternatively, go and read book 1 first and then pick up this one – read a blogpost here)

A thoroughly enjoyable romp!

Highly Recommended (dma)  *****       

Meet another strong girl in a great series

sophie bennettTITLE = GIRL v WORLD: Sophie Bennett saves the Planet

AUTHOR = MEREDITH BADGER

GENRE = IDENTITY, GROWING UP, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

A delightful addition to the Girl v World series, which employs a range of authors to tell stories of strong girls. Meredith Badger introduces us to young Sophie Bennett, who doesn’t feel strong at the beginning of this story, she simply feels like the odd one out. This is partly because of her environmentally aware family. Both her parents are strong advocates for the environment in every aspect of their lives including diet (vegetarianism), entertainment (no TV) and lifestyle (growing most of their food and reusing products, such as Sophie’s bicycle). Sophie has grown up with a similar philosophy and is well aware that this has made her very different to most of her class mates and being different isn’t always easy as a teenager; sometimes it can lead to bullying or loneliness.

When her folks have to leave her with a neighbour for a week, Sophie begins to question some of her values and ideas as she tries out new experiences with new friends. But if Sophie is trying new things, so too are some of her friends thanks to Sophie who learns that being different can sometimes be fun, too.

A quick and enjoyable read in a very popular series.

Recommended (dma) ****

A sad but uplifting story

 TITLE = MOCKImockingbird bigNGBIRD  

 AUTHOR = KATHRYN ERSKINE

 GENRE = MENTAL HEALTH, GRIEF, FAMILY, SCHOOL, GROWING UP,

 INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7 – 9

Be warned – you will need a tissue box handy when reading this book … but it does have a satisfying ending! Caitlin Smith has faced a number of challenges in her short life but the most recent one is perhaps the cruellest, for her beloved older brother, Devon has died in a school shooting.  Devon was an important figure in Caitlin’s life, he helped explain the world to her. AS someone who experiences Asperger’s Syndrome, Caitlin sees the world in a very literal way, she likes order and consistency & she struggles socially, so she has needed lots of support in learning how to behave in social situations and in the school room … and Devon was one of her primary helpers.

To make matters worse, Caitlin’s father is struggling too and the role of raising a daughter whilst dealing with the loss of his beloved son is almost overwhelming him, especially coming only a few years after his wife died.

Cailtin is the narrator of this story so we learn first hand what it is like to see the world from her perspective. WE watch as she deals with school bullies, as she tries to make friends and most importantly, as she drags her father out of his grief in a way that inspires the small town community where she lives.

This book is about the impact of a school shooting on the families of victims and perpetrators, it is about how different people see the world, it is about family, friendship and love. You may need tissues at the ready but it is a remarkably heart warming story.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Surviving the ups and downs of life … with a grin

TITLE = A MONTH WITH APRIL-MAY

AUTHOR = EDYTH BULBRING

GENRE = HUMOUR, FAMILIES, FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

Poor April-May February (yes that is her name!) seems to have it all going against her. Her mum and dad have recently divorced (despite her best efforts to put a stop to their separation) and her first day at her new school is a disaster. Having made an enemy of her teacher, Mrs Ho, April-May thinks she can sort things out with a bit of mischief and behind the scenes hi-jinks … but things don’t always go to plan for April-May and she may just have dug an even deeper hole for herself.

For an intelligent girl (she is a scholarship student, after all) she doesn’t always seem to think things through very clearly. But whilst many of April-May’s misadventures may seem quite funny, what if they put people’s lives at risk?? And will she jeopardise her scholarship and her friendship with Melanie, for a boy??

This is a clever and funny book. Although it is set in South Africa, so some of the words may seem a bit different, the school-based story is easy to follow and quick to read. A glossary of South African terms can be found at the end of the book (but most readers will probably pick up on the meanings via the context of the story).

It is refreshing to read a new author and to learn that schoolgirl troubles in South Africa are not so different from what we might find here in Australia.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A compelling and moving read

thirteen reasons whyTITLE = THIRTEEN REASONS WHY

AUTHOR = JAY ASHER

GENRE = MENTAL HEALTH, DEATH, GRIEF

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 1O AND UP

This is an absolutely compelling novel which has been very cleverly constructed. It is almost like reading a suspenseful mystery novel where we are trying to discover the murderer. We know at the beginning that a teenage girl (Hannah) has killed herself about 2 weeks ago. And we learn that prior to this she compiled 13 tapes, which explain the reasons why she died. Each of the 13 people whom Hannah felt was responsible for her death is meant to listen to the set of tapes and send it along to the next person on the list.

Hence the mystery. For as in any crime novel, the reader wants to unravel the causes of Hannah’s death. But there is a second layer of mystery, too. For the young man who opens the tapes at the opening of the novel, is Clay Jensen and he is both horrified and perplexed that he should be on Hannah’s list. He tells us that he loved Hannah from afar, too shy to ask her out – he meant her no harm. So why is he on the list?? This is a question for both Clay and the reader to unravel. Is he really a nice guy, as he says?

And so the novel unwinds: alternating between Hannah’s voice on the tapes and Clay’s reactions to her words. The blend of the 2 voices allows the reader to get a fuller picture of how events unfolded and the truth behind her story. We see both Hannah’s pain and the pain of those she left behind. And this allows the novel to end on an upbeat note, despite the circumstances behind the story.  Suicide is never an easy topic for a YA novel but woven into this story is a central message about truth and honesty, about friendship and betrayal but most importantly about seeking help when we need it and about reaching out to those we think are in pain. A compelling novel for older teens.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Facing life’s challenges

whisperTITLE = WHISPER

AUTHOR = Chrissie Keighery

GENRE = IDENTITY, GROWING UP, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9, 10

Demi Valentino is a likable young girl who worries about her place in the world and her place in her family. She is facing a situation that many teens face: starting a new school, trying to make new friends but fearful of losing old ones, falling in love, thinking about her career. But Demi has an extra hurdle to face, for two years ago she lost her hearing after a serious bout of meningitis. And this is why she has decided to start at a new school, away from her much loved childhood friends, and against her mother’s wishes. Demi believes that if she wants to achieve at school (to get her dream job) she needs to be able to understand what is going on around her, so in the opening chapter of this novel, she attends her first day at a school for the deaf.

Attendance at a deaf school is initially a challenge for Demi but it does introduce her to the broader deaf community, including the feisty, Stella. The two girls develop an uneasy friendship because Stella comes from a deaf family so she is a fierce advocate of the deaf community. Demi finds she has a more delicate balancing act to consider, given that her family and old friends come from the hearing world. However, their battles are always woven into the story in a realistic and engaging manner so that it does not become an issue driven story with a message to push. Character and plot drive the story along and make it an enjoyable reading experience.

For much of the novel Demi seems to be shrouded in self-doubt: can she still achieve her dream now that she is deaf? has she misjudged her friends and her step-sister? Can the cute boy really like her for herself, despite her deafness? Yet she also shows remarkable resilience as she faces up to the challenge that life has presented her with.  Gradually, she learns that she isn’t the only one with battles to face.

This is a compelling novel which will encourage teen readers to reassess their own values and understanding of life’s challenges. It is sure to appeal to girls, in particular.

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

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

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) ****