Category Archives: YA fiction

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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35296530

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.

 

 

The Moonlight Dreamers – Siobhan Curham

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ISBN: 9781406365825
Imprint: WALKER PAPERBACK
Distributor: Harper Collins Distribution Services for Australia and New Zealand

Release Date: July 1, 2016

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99

 

Four teenage girls couldn’t be more different in personality, home life, culture or beliefs; yet one thing brings them together. They are all fed up with other people, whether peers or adults, telling them how they should look, what they should wear, how they should think and behave. Each feels that there is worth in their own personal expression of themselves yet each is continually bombarded with negativity or bullying from others.

Amber is an Oscar Wilde devotee with two dads and a penchant for wearing tailored clothes and collecting anything vintage. Totally over being friendless and victimised by the fashionista clique at her school she sets about recruiting some like-minded girls for a ‘moonlight dreamers’ society.

More by chance than her planned design she encounters Maali, Sky and Rose.

Maali is a shy and reserved Indian girl whose passion is photography. She has an unwavering belief in Lakshmi the Hindi goddess of good fortune and prosperity. She longs to overcome her shyness enough to talk to a boy – after all, how will she find her soulmate if she can’t even hold a conversation with the opposite sex.

Sky lost her mum when she was eleven. Since then she and her dad Liam have travelled the world like gypsies as he teaches yoga in ashrams all over the globe. Now that she’s in her senior schooling, Liam has decided that they should be more settled and they have been living in their canal boat while Liam has pursued teaching yoga to the rich and famous. Their hippie lifestyle is under threat as Liam has fallen for an aging though still stunning model, Savannah. Moving in with Savannah means also moving in with her sullen daughter Rose, who is being pressured into being as beautiful and sought after as her mother. The monumental clashes between these two are epic.  Sky yearns to be a performance poet and Rose, in an unlikely rebellion against her mother has her heart set on being a pâtissier.

The rocky road of bonding between these four girls makes for a fabulous narrative and in my opinion accurately and truthfully reflects the often turbulent nature of teen girls.

This is a story about more than just friendship. It is about being true to yourself despite the obstacles in your path.

I highly recommend it for readers from around twelve up. There are some considerations for some as there is a sexting incident and some sexual references. However, I feel that in the context of the story these are a valuable lesson about the pressures put on young girls.

I Knew You Were Trouble A Jessie Jefferson Novel By Paige Toon

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  • i-knew-you-were-trouble-9781471118807_hrSimon & Schuster Children’s UK |
  • 336 pages |
  • ISBN 9781471118807 |
  • November 2015

List Price

AU$ 16.99

NZ$ 18.99

 

The second in a series this is a light read for your senior girl readers. Full to the brim of parties, jetset lifestyles, rock and roll and hot boys this will appeal to girls from around 15 up.

Jessie Pickerill has had a very ordinary life so far, living with her mother and stepfather, going to school, gossiping about boys – all the normal things. But since her mother died in a freak accident, she has discovered the truth about her real father who is none other than Johnny Jefferson, possibly the most famous rock god of them all.

After a six week stay in L.A. experiencing life with her father, his wife and two little boys not to mention some exciting new friends, especially a certain young up-and-coming rocker called Jack, Jessie is attempting to settle back into her regular life while trying to keep the secret of her true parentage.

A visit to England from her dad and his family sees that secret blown apart becoming a media frenzy and Jessie needs to get away from school, her home and stepfather and new boyfriend, Tom. Can she sustain her home relationships while living in L.A. till the storm blows over? Which place will she decide is her true home? And which boy will she choose?

A holiday read for your older girls who might be looking for some escapist respite from assessments and assignments.

 

Zeroes – Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

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ISBN:97819252665

Publisher:Allen & Unwin

Imprint:A & U Children

Pub Date:October 2015

Page Extent:496

zeroes

RRP $19.99

 

When three highly respected authors collaborate on a novel, you might expect something extraordinary and Zeroes delivers just that. This is a slam-dunk in-your-face novel that brings something quite out of the box to readers.

Meet six unique teenagers:

Nate aka Bellwether – the ‘Glorious Leader’ has a power of persuasion which can bring others to his way of thinking. He is also super-organised and has disposable income.

Ethan aka Scam – with his ‘other’ voice is uncanny, all-knowing and completely uncontrollable

Chizara aka Crash – who can be driven crazy by electronics hammering her senses, can mentally dismantle any circuit and is slowly developing an ability to repair these

Riley aka Flicker – blind twin who can however see through the eyes of others

Thibault aka Anonymous – who is so mentally invisible to other people that even his own family has no memory of him

Kelsie aka Mob, the newcomer – who can infuse a group of people with whatever emotion she chooses.

With their disparate and not always advantageous powers the Glorious Leader has ambitions to blend this group into a force with which to be reckoned.

In just one week, their lives and their shared inexplicable skills are completely revolutionised when Scam becomes embroiled in both the theft of drug money and a bank robbery which has been undertaken by a group of men including Mob’s disreputable father.

This is exactly the kind of scenario for which Nate has been waiting – a chance to weld his unlikely and often unwilling friends into a team.

This is fast-paced and a real page-turner written with a real slickness that will engage teen readers both boys and girls.

Highly recommended for readers from around 13 upwards. Read an excerpt here.

 

The Stars at Oktober Bend – Glenda Millard

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ISBN:9781743315897

Publisher:Allen & Unwin

Imprint:A & U Children

Pub Date:February 2016

Age: 13 – 17

 

I am always in awe of those multi-talented writers who can turn their hand to such a wide range of text types. From picture books to novels for younger readers to such as this for young adults, Glenda Millard is one of those amazing talents.

Alice Nightingale is fifteen but twelve, trapped in an acquired brain injury following a violent and traumatising attack which tore her apart along with her family. Unable to cope with the rigours of ordinary life such as school she is protected and loved by her brother and her ailing grandmother. Isolated and lonely, Alice expresses her perfect thoughts through her broken speech poetry and her creativity by making unique and beautiful fishing flies.

Manny James is a refugee from a dark and turbulent warzone and is desperately trying to put ugly and terrible memories to rest. He lives with a kind older couple who are wise with their understanding of differences and staunch in their support of a sensitive young man.

He is intrigued when, on one of his night time runs, he sees Alice on her rooftop – hair streaming, arms wide – and then when he finds one of her poems he is driven to know her. Alice’s first sight of Manny similarly mesmerises her.

carved from ebony

polished with beeswax

a saint from the book of kells

a warrior

a dream with

embroidered-on hair

neat tight french knots

i wanted to

touch them

read them like Braille

run my fingers along

the lumpy scar that joined

shoulder to elbow

i wanted to

know why it was there

what had shaped this boy?

 

The story of Alice and Manny is haunting, touching and powerful.  They both have extraordinary obstacles to overcome not the least of which is the ignorant small town bigotry which seems to abound in so many places.

Told in two parts from these young people, the text is lyrical and full of beauty as Alice and Manny overcome the wrecks of their childhood lives and cleave to each other for strength.

This is a novel that will move you and I highly recommend it for discerning readers from around 13 years up.

 

Hello, Goodbye & Everything in Between – Jennifer E. Smith

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Hachette Australia


  • ISBN:
    9781472235565
  • Publication date:26 Apr 2016
  • Page count:256
  • Imprint:Headline

RRP $19.99

If, like me, you have often struggled to find a romance for tweens without graphic or inappropriate content, this is one to put on your list.

From the author of The Statistical Probability of Love at First and The Geography of You and Me this is the thoroughly enjoyable story of Clare and Aidan – and a list.

These two seniors have been an item for the final years of high school and along with their best friends, Stella and Scotty, are about to embark on the thrilling but anxiety-making adventure of college.

The conflict lies in the fact that these two are bound for colleges on opposite sides of the country and their last night is one of very mixed emotions. Clare has made a list – that’s something she is very good at – and the pair re-visit their favourite haunts, the scenes of ‘firsts’, catch up with their friends and toss the problem of whether to break up or not back and forth. The very thought of being apart after their two years of being virtually inseparable is completely distressing for both and they postulate on whether it might be less painful to break up rather than let the relationship die away from long distance constraints.

Along with their own personal dilemma the night holds many other complications as tensions run high while they hang out with each other and others. Of all the events that impact on the pair probably the most confounding is that Stella and Scotty who have sniped at each other incessantly since kindergarten have suddenly become a couple. And it is this that influences their respective thoughts as much as anything else.

All in all this is a really engaging novel with very likeable characters for which the reader can really care. One cannot help but wish them the happiest of endings as they are such funny and endearing people.

Recommended for your romantically inclined readers from around 12 years up.