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) *****

A moving insight into life in a refugee camp

TITLE = SHAUZIA

AUTHOR = DEBORAH ELLIS

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

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

Readers of the “Parvana” series will recall that Shauzia was Parvana’s best friend in the first book. Together they worked in the Kabul market and dreamed of one day escaping from the toil and trouble of Afghanistan and travelling to France to lie in fields of lavender.

As the title suggests, this book focusses on Shauzia’s story and how she is surviving in the refugee camp in Pakistan. Shauzia was every bit as headstrong and determined as Parvana and she is frustrated at the way of life around her. She rebels against the older women in the refugee camp and sets off alone, hoping to make it to the sea so she can travel to France, and maybe meet up with Parvana there.

However, Shauzia soon discovers that surviving on her own in the city of Peshawar is fraught with danger.  Will her headstrong nature actually prove to be a curse for Shauzia or will it give her  the will to survive??

For those who have enjoyed the “Parvana” series, this book will be a welcome addition: with strong, credible child characters and plenty of action, drama and emotion. This book is a real page turner and offers a welcome insight into refugee life which should be quite eye-opening for young Australian readers.  

 Highly Recommended (dma) *****

 

TITLE = DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT

AUTHOR = LAINI TAYLOR

GENRE = FANTASY, ACTION, ADVENTURE, ANGELS, WAR

INTEREST LEVEL = 10+

Wow!This is a wonderful sequel to a brilliant first novel. Given that the first book left readers on a knife edge wondering about the future between Karou and her angel lover, Akiva, readers will be keen to know how this situation has been resolved.

However, readers are likely to spend much of this novel on the edge of their seats wondering whether either of the main protagonists is alive or will remain alive for much longer. Because the odds are stacked against them: both the angels and the monsters are intent upon furthering the war between them and exacting revenge upon their opponents.

Indeed, it is hard to tell one side from the other: are the monsters any more monster-like than the angels when they start mimicking their retribution upon them? And can Akiva really be blamed for his revenge that took Karou’s  family from her when she seems intent on causing even more bloodshed than he and when she appears to have aligned herself with her old enemies??

There may be paralells between the worlds of these angels and monsters and current world events when it is so easy to typecast opponents as “monsters” and overlook one’s own monster-like behaviour – and for some time it seems that only Akiva can see this.

Are Karou and Akiva destined to remain on opposite sides forever, are they destined to remain separated by past actions and current allegiances – or  are they really soulmates and can  love transcend it all??

An absolute page turner with another powerful ending… who will still be standing for book 3 which will be eagerly awaited by fans??? Don’t forget to catch all the latest news about this exciting trilogy from the author’s blog.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A dark and spooky surfing story

TITLE = NIGHT BEACH

AUTHOR = KIRSTY EAGAR

GENRE = IDENTITY, FRIENDSHIP, ROMANCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 11, 12

This is a dark novel. At its heart is a gothic story about supernatural, ghostly elements which have taken over a young surfer (Kane) and are threatening to take over his step-cousin, Abbie. But even darker than this is the undercurrent of violence that lurks behind the surfing world that Abbie and Kane inhabit. From the moment Kane returns to town and punches the local surfing bully, the threat of further violence lingers around the edges of the story as we await to see if the town bully exacts revenge on Kane.

Against this dark backdrop is the central story about Abbie, a lonely girl who is looking for love and lusts after Kane, even though she fears he is not good for her and recognises that her obsession is unlikely to be returned. Abbie comes from a broken home: her dad is loving but he is starting a new family in Brisbane, so Abbie has reluctantly begun living with her Mum who seems aloof at best and critical at worst.  Her sister offers sage advice but she too is largely absent from Abbie’s world as she is off in Canberra studying and exploring her own romances. Abbies’s best friend is holidaying in Darwin and her sole remaining friend is bitter about her obsession with Kane. Whilst the artistic and creative Abbie attempts to make sense of her feelings, and discover the truth behind Kane’s ghostly haunting, she is also trying to complete her HSC project.

Eagar often writes about the surfing world, but in her hands this world has a far more sinister feel than in the world presented by other Aussie authors such as Tim Winton, largely due to the violence and power plays inherent in the male surfing fraternity.

This is dark and compelling novel and has been shortlisted for the Gold Inky 2012 (dma) ***

 

A grim and violent future

TITLE = DARK INSIDE

AUTHOR = JEYN ROBERTS

GENRE = DYSTOPIAN FUTURE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10. 11

This is a compelling and violent novel about a grim future. Told from different perspectives it may take some readers a few chapters to pice together the actual storyline. We follow a number pf different teenagers as the world around them begins to crumble, partly from natural disasters and partly from human interactions. A terrorist bomb in a school blows away Mason’s friends, whilst he is watching his mother die from a car accident in hpospital. Aries is on a bus that is damaged amidst an earthquake, losing her best friend in the disaster. Clementine watches in horror as her townsfolk turn on each other and kill her parents. Michael watches in shock as the police turn against a perpetrator of road rage. As these 4 teens struggle to make sense of the world around them and survive the violence, their journeys bring them together. Can they work together to survive? And who is the lone voice that bodes ill for the future?

A thrilling and compelling dystopian book that will have readers on the edge of their seats and craving the sequel.

Highly Recommended (dma) ****

 

A story of a family

HAPPY AS LARRYTITLE = HAPPY AS LARRY

AUTHOR = SCOT GARDNER

GENRE = GROWING UP, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 AND UP

Although we are told to never judge a book by its cover, the cover of this book holds clues to the story that lies within. At first the title may seem to be simply a funny pun – as the book tells the story of young Larry (or Laurence Augustine Rainbow, to give him his full name). So the rainbow coloured lettering on the cover and the floating baby just seem comic symbols of a story of growing up. However, the dog that is transfixed by the TV on the cover, hints at the darker side to this novel, for as Larry grows up we realise that his family is far from happy.

In fact, the image of the TV becomes central to the novel. In the prologue Scot Gardner explains that “A life like a film has a beginning, a middle and an end” and he compares those big budget films that have a cast of thousand to those films with a humble cast and small budget. This comparison is oft repeated in the novel and from page one the contrast between world events and the daily humdrum lives of the Rainbow family is established as a constant refrain. Initially the world events that are mentioned at key stages in Larry’s growth (birth, first birthday etc) don’t seem to relate to his own life but gradually they begin to mirror each other: bombings overseas are refected in a bomb threat at Larry’s school; wars in other countries are mentioned when Larry’s own family seems to be at war. Violence is lurking as a theme behind this story: the constant violence in world events and on a smaller scale, Larry’s growing need to learn how to respond to the violent bully (Clinton) who lives down the road, Larry’s belief that you judge a man by his actions.

This is a thoughtful & thoughtprovoking novel; it has complex themes and complex characters and demands a lot of teen readers, both in style & structure. But at the heart of novel is a story about how a family negotiates the journey all families take, as children grow and the demands of being a parent change. It is unusual in a Young Adult novel to have parents as such well developed characters – in so much teen fiction parents seem to be absent. But in this story it is truly a family trying to negotiate their growth – learning how to trust and behave with each other when under pressure from events both outside and within their own family. Despite the grief and stress that visits the family, it is an ultimately uplifting novel that mature readers will ponder long after they have turned the last page.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Of bullying, guns and pigshooting

pig_boy_COVER_ARTWORK_Layout 1TITLE =PIG BOY

AUTHOR = J.C. BURKE

GENRE = RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP, FAMILY

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9 AND UP

This is an engrossing story which is cleverly told. Readers will be constantly on the edge of their seats trying to figure out whether they like the main character Damon Styles (or whether they are somewhat scared by what he might be about to do). Because Damon is not a particularly likable character – he can be quite angry and rude, even to his mum and his (few) friends. He clearly has anger management issues at times and can explode aggressively. He is also fascinated by violent computer games and makes lists of people he doesn’t like. Yet the reader also has some sympathy for the boy: he has obviously been mercilessly bullied from a young age, his mother isn’t always as loving and “parental” as might be expected (in fact, Damon sometimes has to mother her) … and Damon is clearly (and understandably) terrified of the town bullies. We know he wants to get a gun but we also know that is too frightened to use one when he starts working for the local pig shooter. This book is about bullying and violence but it is also about prejudice and how easy it is to misjudge those around us – whether they be friends, foe or family.

An exciting and well written story which should appeal to boys especially with the clever twists and turns in the plot.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Being brave and falling in love

when dogs cryTITLE = When dogs cry

AUTHOR =Markus Zusak

GENRE =Growing up, Identity, Family relationships, Romance

INTEREST LEVEL =Years 10 and up

Cameron Wolfe comes from a struggling, working class family. Whilst he might not always see eye to eye with his brothers, he will fight to the death to support them if attacked by others. He is the youngest in the family and seems to be always in their shadow – a fact of which he is aware. He is desperate to find his way in the world and desperate to find love and this novel record his journey towrads both. AS he starts to write down his feelings, Cameron finds through the written word and poetry he can articulate some of the unruly feelings inside himself. The inner howling begins to make more sense. And as he takes his first tentative steps with a girl rejected by his brother, Cameron also begins to fall in love and feel even better about himself.

Gradually, his older brothers see that Cameron is someone of whom they can feel proud – and more importantly, Cameron begins to see this in himself, too.

This is a beautifully written book but may present a challenge for some readers, with the inclusion of poetry and symbolism. However, this beauty is matched by a very credible and often raw portrait of the violence and reality of the working class family.

Interesting review and biographical details provided in this article from Answers.com

Another great synopsis and review

A worthy CBCA Honour book (OR – 2002)

Recommended (dma) ****

An intriguing study of violence

violence_101 TITLE = VIOLENCE 101

AUTHOR =DENIS WRIGHT

GENRE =GROWING UP, THRILLER

INTEREST LEVEL =YEARS 9 AND UP

This is not always an easy book to read as it focusses on a very violent young man. However, it is cleverly written and quite compelling. Hamish Graham is highly intelligent and articulate. He is also very violent and that is why he is in a juvenile detention facility. Alternate chapters are written from the point of view of the tired staff who work in the facility – some of whom seem quite cynical in their attitudes to Hamish. Other chapters are told as journal entries, written by Hamish as part of his “rehabilitation”. They reveal a young man who can adeptly analyse the power hierarchy within the boys at the facility whilst also seeing through the staff and their motives. We also see a young man whose heroes are military minded leaders, who openly admires their tactics and their courage; and a boy who loves language.

But this boy (who often seems older than his years) has also been cruel and aggressive to others, often astonishingly so. The reader is likely to be drawn to Hamish – wondering what makes him tick and where he will finish up. However, whilst the ending offers a new beginning for many of the main characters (including Hamish) there are still some questions about Hamish and his aggression that appear unanswered by story’s end (anger is one thing but his cruelty towards animals??). So not all readers may feel satisfied.

An interesting study of violence however, and quite a compelling read. If you liked this book you might also enjoy Ironbark (Barry Jonsberg).

Recommended for older readers (dma) ***

Does the end really justify the means?

iBoyTITLE = iBoy

AUTHOR =Kevin Brooks

GENRE =Growing up, Identity

INTEREST LEVEL =Years 10 and up


Tom Harvey is on his way home from school, planning on catching up with a friend, when from the roof of his housing estate block of flates comes hurtling an iphone. When it hits Tom in the head, not only is he knocked out and sent into a coma for 2 weeks but also, parts of the phone become embedded in his brain, giving him extra powers. These powers allow Tom to tap into mobile phone networks, access the internet and make online banking and social network connections – all in his new ibrain! When Tome awakens from his coma to discover he has these new abilities, he also learns, devastatingly, that his good friend (and wold be girlfirend) Lucy has been assaulted by local gangs. So he decides to use his new powers to seek for revenge on Lucy’s behalf – without telling her, of course.

And so this novel takes Tom (and readers) on an interesting moral journey – because Tom realises that his ibrain gives him the ability to have power over others – it can tell him who, when, what, where and how to exact violence upon them – but it does all this in a moral vacuum. Only real Tom (not iBoy Tom) can put his actions into a moral context and consider such things as whether or not the ends DO justify the means, and whether revenge will actually make Lucy feel better, whether he is doing it more for himself, than herself.

This is indeed a powerful and a thought provoking book and makes a gripping read. But it is not for the faint hearted – there are several very violent scenes in the book – and the issues and events are therefore more suitable for older readers.

Look here for another review.

And if you enjoyed this book you might also enjoy: Kill the possum (James Moloney) or You Against Me (Jenny Downham)

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