Category Archives: YA fiction

The Prison Healer – Lynette Noni

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Penguin Australia

  • Published: 30 March 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760897512
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $24.99

I’m going to have a lot of my secondary students clamoring for this one. They are huge fans of Noni’s previous books, both boys and girls and this is another intriguing dark fantasy (with some dystopian touches) thriller for them to enjoy.

Set in an infamous death prison, Zalindov, seventeen year old Kiva has survived ten years of imprisonment – not for any wrong-doing as such but because she was captured along with her father who was charged with consorting with rebels.

After her father’s death Kiva took up his role as healer, then only aged 12, and has become an indispensable but hated prisoner. Seen as the Warden’s pet and the first to deal with incoming criminals by treating them and carving the ‘Z’ into the back of their hand, Kiva is reviled by the other inmates and it is only the orders of Warden Rooke that keep her relatively safe and whole.

The warring factions in Kiva’s world, the royal family and the rebels, are intent on creating division and this extends to the prisoners as well. The rising tensions within and without the prison are causing increased pressure on Kiva’s work in the infirmary and her emotional balance, held in check for so long. When the Rebel Queen is captured, gravely ill, Kiva must try to save her for two different reasons. One is that the authorities have ordered the rebel leader to be well enough to undergo the Trials by Ordeal and the other is that coded messages from her siblings on the outside have begged her to keep the queen safe, that they are coming to rescue them both. The arrival of a strangely mysterious prisoner, Jaren, threatens to upset Kiva’s balance even more and when she, in desperation, volunteers to submit to the Trials in place of the still sick queen, she must lean on the young man for help to endure and survive. At the same time, she is trying to uncover the reason for the mystery illness that is wreaking havoc with the prisoners, who are dying in droves.

This is complex and exciting with many twists and turns. Astute readers will very easily be able to piece together the various pieces of the puzzle from the cleverly inserted clues within the narrative but this will in no way detract from a satisfying read. It is quite dark and there are concepts best suited to older and mature readers: drug use/addiction, torture and violence and sexual references but that being said, I don’t feel it would be necessary to restrict this to our senior students (we put a disclaimer inside the cover for books with more mature issues/concepts).

I have every confidence that this new trilogy will prove every bit as popular as The Medoran Chronicles and with the second volume due for release in September, fans will not have to wait too long.

Highly recommended for readers from around 14 years upwards.

The Cousins – Karen M. McManus

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Penguin Australia

  • December 2020
  • ISBN: 9780241376942
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • RRP: $17.99

Attention all of you who loved One of Us is Lying! This YA thriller will get you and your readers in from the first page. I literally ate it up over just a couple of nights. Three cousins all the same age who barely know each other, having not met since they were around five years old, are suddenly thrown together for the summer. Their respective parents plus another sibling have been disinherited and disowned by their grandmother years ago, before they were even born and yet, mysteriously they have all been invited to the old family home where the famous Gull Cove Resort, Catmint House and the Story family are held in the greatest esteem.

Envy of all, rich and privileged, the older Story children were very close despite their different personalities but following the death of their father, and their mother’s decline into a morbid grief as they all began their independent lives at college and in the adult world, there comes a great shock. A bald communication from their mother’s lawyer You know what you did signals their instant dismissal from their mother’s life. So why does the mysterious Mildred Story suddenly and unexpectedly invite her grandchildren to come and be part of the Gull Cove Resort team for the summer?

As the narrative unravels the secrets, the lies and deceptions unfold in such an extremely satisfying (for we sleuths!) way that the reader is completely engrossed in the story. The cousins’ curiosity and determination to uncover the truth reveals far more than anything expected. This is truly a thriller that will delight your astute readers.

It gets a huge recommendation from me with the rider that it does have some significant coarse language and some adult themes but for your mature readers a great big tick!!! Family first – always. Right?

The Quiet at the End of the World – Lauren James

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quiet

Walker Books

ISBN: 9781406375510
Imprint: Walker
March 2019

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99

To be honest, I’m totally not a sci-fi person but this novel had me completely engrossed from the first page.

London: 2109. Population: 300.

Sixteen year old Lowrie and seventeen year old Shen are the only remaining ‘children’ on Earth after a mystery virus, eighty-five years previously, simultaneously struck every human around the globe rendering them all infertile. Their community, including their parents, are all in their eighties and fiercely protective of the two teens. The pair has been raised by their respective parents as close as siblings each with their own particular strengths and weaknesses but with a shared passion for ‘treasure hunting’ and mudlarking along the Thames. As the unused buildings of London crumble around the central district in which they live, Lowri and Shen meticulously record each of their finds, preserving history as much as possible and tracking each artefact’s heritage whenever possible.

When Lowrie discovers an old purse containing the almost antique plastic cards previously used by humans, she begins an investigation of their owner, Maya Waverley, and discovers much about the virus and its subsequent consequences that neither she nor Shen know about.

As the mystery deepens and unexpected disasters occur, the young pair is faced with the possibility of being the last remaining humans on the planet.

There are so many ‘ah ha’ moments in this that it is impossible and also highly unfair to reveal any more of the plot but suffice to say that this is a gripping narrative in which tension builds page after page until the final denouement.

As well as the riveting storyline there is much to reflect upon in this novel about such questions as the definition of ‘life’, the human condition, prejudices, selfishness as well selflessness and above all the true meaning of family and love.

It is truly a remarkable book and one which I unreservedly recommend to able readers from around twelve years up.

Just Breathe – Andrew Daddo

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Penguin Australia

9780143573623

July 30, 2018

RRP: $17.99

It must be hard to be so multi-talented *wry face*.  Andrew Daddo has certainly proven his ability as not only a media figure but a very able and engaging writer.

I’ve not been enthralled in recent times by a lot of the YA coming my way – it’s been too much ‘same oh’ for my taste but this is fresh and sparky and real in a way that will grab readers from the very start.

Emily needs to leave her country town for a while. She has a mysterious growth near her brain which requires specialist attention in Melbourne. She and her mum put on a positive and brave face as they leave home, Dad and Siss to go stay with Aunty Astrid. Emily is not only nervous about her condition but also the prospect of a new school, no friends and the unknown in general.

Hendrix is a very recognisable character. He is a boy whose father drives his own failed athletic ambitions and his hidden guilt through his son, pushing him harder and harder to achieve an Olympic dream with his running.

These two could not be very much different and yet in many ways are similar. Both face difficult challenges, both feel isolated from the normal teenage social existence and both are essentially lonely.

When they meet in the park – Hendrix running and Emily walking her new puppy – it is not a situation that seems likely to fire a romance. Yet both find themselves continually thinking about the other. Their romance develops in spite of their respective difficulties. Daddo has beautifully created the respective parents alongside the young people’s story. Emily’s mum, loving and supportive, understanding and compassionate, firm but realistic and Hendrix’ father, immovable, almost unbelievably strict and controlling, and it would seem without a shred of real paternal care and concern.

As the narrative develops and reaches its denouement the characters become fully rounded and grow to the point where the reader is totally embroiled in their lives.

I highly recommend this for both boys and girls from around 13 years upwards. There is some sexual activity and some ‘bad’ language which some find disturbing so err on the side of caution if this would not fit your collection’s ethos. However that being said it is absolutely believable and realistic and many teens would relate to its themes.

The Build-Up Season – Megan Jacobson

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Penguin Random House

9780143573388

July 31, 2017

Penguin (AU YR)

 

RRP $19.99

What a fantastic and gripping read this is! This one had to be read over two nights but it was a wrench to leave it halfway!

Ily (Iliad) Piper is a young woman who has had to face many emotional upheavals in her life and now as a young woman is dealing with the backlash of them. Her father is in jail after years of physical and mental abuse of her mother, Eve, and indeed Ily herself. Ily is living in Darwin now with her mother and her Nan but is sullen and resentful of the past few years when she has been sent away to boarding schools.  She doesn’t realise that this was a safety precaution on the part of her mum and nan, she is just pissed off with them both.  The only thing she enjoys at her new school is her rather quirky friend Mia and her Art which she hopes to turn into a career. Then she hooks up with Jared – self-obsessed, angry and a control freak, just like her father.  Despite all advice from friends including the annoying next door neighbour, Indigenous boy Max, Ily pursues the relationship with Jared and falls into the same trap as her mother had done before her.

This is a brilliant and insightful exploration of the nature of domestic abuse of women and how behaviours become patterns. Fortunately for Ily she has ‘look outs’ on her side. Her mum, her nan, Max, Mia and more are there at exactly the right moments to protect her both from Jared and from her father, recently released from jail.

There are some sensitive aspects to this which may preclude it from your secondary collection such as sexual activity, violence and profanity but truly it is such an exceptional book that examines such a topical issue I would still urge you to consider it, even with provisos.

Highly recommended for mature readers from around sixteen years upwards.

The Traitor and the Thief – Gareth Ward

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Walker Books Australia

July 2017

ISBN 9781925381504

RRP $17.99

I will confess I’m not a real steampunk aficionado (His Dark Materials excepted!) but this is a complex and interesting narrative. It’s difficult to determine an actual setting either time or place except that it is in England, opening in London, and post ‘Tedwardian’ apparently.  Proper nouns and regular words (often adjectives) are skewed to be almost but not really familiar so readers will need to be pretty sharp to follow these. I found this aspect a little disconnecting but that would be down to first statement I think.

Sin is a young orphan who was abandoned at birth by his mother, raised in an institution and subsequently came under the ‘employ’ of a Fagin-like creature called The Fixer.

During one of his usual pickpocket/petty thieving expeditions Sin is hunted and then taken by two members of a strange organisation known as COG (Covert Operations Group). This has been founded by the prodigious and well-known inventor Nimrod Barm who desires to prevent further global warfare and bloodshed for which many of his weapon inventions have been used.

It seems that COG is actively recruiting youngsters to train as espionage agents in this action to thwart warmongers and power players.  Sin is one of a group of roughly dozen latest recruits to enter a five year training program. From the start he is bewildered and somewhat sceptical but is content that food, warmth and a roof over his head is a better option than being half-starved and scampering across London roofs to avoid sheriffs.

Like all good spy stories, there are twists and turns aplenty and Sin soon finds himself embroiled with traitorous attempts to sabotage the entire project. Forced into an alliance with the school bully Sin digs deeper and deeper risking his own life as he does.

Able readers who enjoy a challenging and intricate plot will really enjoy this and certainly it offers real scope for some ethical discussions particularly in the current global political climate.

Recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards.

Exchange of Heart – Darren Groth

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9780143781578

Penguin Random House

9780143781578

July 31, 2017

Random House Australia Children’s

$19.99

If you were impressed with Groth’s 2014 novel Are You Seeing Me? you will be likewise taken with his new one and his ability to blend heartbreak and humour into one splendid story.

Munro Maddux has taken a desperate step in his grief and guilt over his little sister’s death. Evie was just 13 and had Down’s syndrome, and when she suddenly died of her supposedly low-risk heart defect Munro’s feelings of big brother inadequacies have completely undone him. Unable to rid himself of an inner voice his therapist has named the ‘Coyote’ and with his grades at school failing as well as his social interaction, he makes a huge decision to go on a student exchange to Brisbane.  It’s a long way from Canada to Queensland and Munro’s parents are not coping so well with his departure although they are trying to assuage their own grief with building a foundation in Evie’s honour.

Placed with a very understanding family, Munro with his Aussie ‘brother’ Rowan slowly begins to find his way in the social morass of Sussex High – not without some hiccups – but with an added bonus of a sympathetic Caro. But it is when he is placed at Fair Go for his community volunteering that his healing really begins. As the Life Partner for a disparate group of young people who reside in this assisted living facility for reasons Munro forms bonds that are destined to become unbreakable. Will it be enough to silence the Coyote forever?

Groth brings his wealth of experience as a special needs teacher and the parent of an autistic child to this novel breathing life into his characters at Fair Go with an astute awareness of their strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

There is a real tenderness in this novel which the reader feels palpably as we begin to unravel Munro’s real issue with his sister’s death and his growing attachment to his new life after Evie.

There is some swearing which might rule this out for some collections or restrict it to Senior but it is a beautifully written book full of emotion and empathy.

I highly recommend it for readers 15 upwards. Put in your pre-order now!

 

 

Never Say Die – Alex Rider

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Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9781406377040
June 1, 2017
Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99

How absolutely apt that as we mourn the loss of the suavest Bond of them all – vale Sir Roger Moore – the new Alex Rider explodes into our reading lives with every bit of excitement that we have come to anticipate from the teenage spy.

When Anthony said that Alex’ career had come to an end we were all pretty sad. But unexpectedly, three years after what we thought was the last book in the series, the youthful hero is back. Following on from Scorpia Rising and the defeat of the international crime ring, Alex is living in America pretty unhappily, especially as he is still grieving for Jack Starbright, believed killed.

But the world has never had a shortage of villains (as we see so clearly in the news) and from Scorpia’s ashes have risen the Grimaldi brothers – eccentric and evil identical twins every bit worthy of being in an Ian Fleming book. When Alex receives a cryptic line of email he is positive that Jack is still alive and abandons America, his host family and school to find her.

From Egypt to Saint Tropez to a lonely corner of Wales, the action is super-charged and electrifying. Twists and turns abound as we know they will from such a master crime storyteller as the Grimaldis’ ingenious plot is revealed.

While some things have changed  – Mrs Jones is now head of MI6 replacing Alan Blunt – familiar faces are back, like Ben Daniels, Alex’ especial side-kick.

Alex Rider is back: back home, back in MI6 and the thick of espionage, back with his loyal Jack Starbright and back in our reading lists. Bring on some more please Anthony! This is a dose of adrenaline that we all love!

As you are aware there is quite a bit of violence in these but it’s not horribly graphic. I recommend them to my older primary students and upwards.

By the way, the whole series has been re-issued with some very spiffy new ‘dinner jackets’ – you can predict that they are already on my ‘to order’ list!

This one comes with my highest recommendation for thrill-seekers and I eagerly await more from Anthony’s fertile imagination.

Letters to the Lost – Brigid Kemmerer

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Allen & Unwin

ISBN:9781408883525

Publisher:

Bloomsbury UK

Imprint :Bloomsbury Child

March 2017

RRP $16.99

Juliet’s mother died in a terrible hit-and-run accident. On her way home from yet another international photography mission documenting the heartbreak of war zones and disasters, she returned early at Juliet’s request and on her way from the airport was suddenly and terribly gone forever. Like so many of us who have lost someone so dear, Juliet cannot let go, especially of rituals, like writing letters to her mother as she has done all her life. Only now she leaves them at the cemetery.

Declan Murphy is known by his ‘reputation’. He’s tough looking and constantly confrontational, he’s spent time in jail, he’s doing community service and he spends most of his time skulking around trying to be invisible. Nobody knows the truth behind his attitude, not even his best friend realises the full depths of Declan’s story.

When Declan, as part of his mowing community service at the cemetery, reads one of Juliet’s letters, he is so overcome with empathy that he responds with his own comment.  Outraged beyond belief at the invasion of her privacy, Juliet responds to him with undisguised contempt and rage. And thus a strange correspondence begins.

Along with that, a close and trusting relationship between two dreadfully despairing young people who do not know each other slowly builds. Or are they strangers?

Slowly but surely each is unravelling the real identity of the other and along with that an antipathy which belies the honesty and trust of their anonymous letter exchanges.

For both the healing process and the road to hope is their unfailing support for each other as their separate tragedies unfold and their defences are lowered.

The characterisation in this is excellent – even relatively minor characters bristle with life and emotion.  I particularly like the ‘voice’ of both Juliet and Declan – though Declan’s intellect has been shrouded by other details this as well as his inherent compassion shines through. There is, as one might expect, from seventeen year old protagonists some low level swearing but it is all totally in context and expressive in itself.

There is a real twist in the tale which avoids cliché or triteness and is exactly the kind of ‘messiness’ that might happen in families. All in all it’s a terrifically engaging read and the reader develops a real affection for these characters.

Highly recommended for readers from around 14 upwards.