Family troubles

comet boxTITLE = THE COMET BOX

AUTHOR = Adrian Stirling

GENRE = FAMILY, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 AND UP

Andrew’s safe, suburban family life has recently been shattered by the disappearance of his eldest sister, Amelia. He knows Amelia fought with her parents before she ran away, but he doesn’t know what they fought over and his parents don’t seem willing to share. When Amelia is finally found and returned to the family home, life still does not return to normal because Amelia’s fury hangs over the family like a cloud – her refusal to forgive and forget makes for an uneasy peace, at best. Over the course of the summer holidays, Andrew discovers that secrets seem to lurk behind the façade of every family in his neighbourhood but his campaign to open his neighbours’ eyes to the truth goes horribly wrong. So it is understandable that although Andrew is shocked and dismayed when he finally uncovers his own family’s secret, he displays a better understanding of his parents’ situation than his sister has managed.

This novel is a compelling read. Stirling captures the suburban setting and the era (1986) with great authenticity and a lyrical touch. The characters are credible, given the period and setting of the novel. And, as in Stirling’s earlier work, the readers’ view of the characters is likely to change. Whilst we may at first feel some sympathy for Amelia and her sense of betrayal – her refusal to show any tolerance or compassion, ultimately makes her a rather unlikable figure – particularly her lack of concern at the impact her actions are having on her loving brother. And there is plenty of food for thought – and room for discussion – in the central themes of the novel and the decision made by Andrew at the end.

Highly Recommended for mature readers (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) ***