Category Archives: YA fiction

We Were Wolves – Jason Cockcroft

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Walker Books Australia

June 2021

ISBN: 9781839130571
Imprint: Andersen Press
Australian RRP: $26.99
New Zealand RRP: $28.99

There are some seriously fabulous YA books coming out of the UK recently – and I’m not trying to take anything away from our local authors at all – it’s just that every single UK title I’ve read, probably in the last year, has completely blown me away. This is another of them.

Dark and intense, it is the story of one boy’s relationship with his da, set amid the angst and terrible sadness of PTSD. The nameless narrator, referred to as Boy or the boy, relates the events he experiences living with his dad, in a caravan in the woods. Actually, it’s more the events he experiences once his dad is ‘banged up’ and he struggles to work things out on his own. It’s not that he can’t go home to his Mam, but more, the intense loyalty he feels towards his father, with his certainty that he is the only one who can ‘get through’ to his dad in the moments of danger. Boy knows he can manage in the caravan on his own but it’s the dark forces circling, like the Bad Man, Toomey, and the hidden beasts lurking that are his biggest enemy.

His meeting with Sophie is paramount in his struggle to keep a grip on some kind of hope and lifeline to normality but even more than this, has been the arrival of an elderly dog he calls Mol(ly) – both of these become his comfort and bolster in the danger he faces.

This is not an easy read. There are kids who will struggle with it – not because it’s difficult technically, but because it is quite confronting emotionally but those who persist will be well rewarded. There are many teens for whom life is not easy, but the lifeline/s offered by friends, family and others are so important , and equally important, is for us to put such books into the hands of young people.

This is another beautifully presented book I have read in the last week or so – with a striking dust jacket, fabulous end papers and evocative illustrations.

I will be definitely be book talking this one at our first ChocLit meeting when term begins and I highly recommend it for your astute readers from around 14 years upwards.

It’s Not You, It’s Me – Gabrielle Williams

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Allen & Unwin

August 2021

ISBN: 9781760526078P

Imprint: A & U Children

RRP: $19.99

Yes, that tag line – Freaky Friday meets Pretty Little Liars – really hits the mark. This is one helluva time-travel that not just the life-swap but the cities/continents/decades swap as well! And what a ride it is, especially when there’s a serial killer thrown into the mix.

Holly Fitzgerald, of Melbourne, has just finished celebrating her 40th birthday lunch with friends when she wakes up on a footpath – make that, sidewalk – in LA in the body of a 16-year-old girl named Trinity. Literally, what the……? Holly stumbles her way through meeting a neighbour (cute boy – Australian, coincidentally), going to her ‘home’ and then adjusting to a ‘family’ whilst feverishly trying to piece together what on earth has happened to her, and how – and most of all, where then is Trinity?

The one resonant fact shared between her actual life and this strange 1980s faux life in LA is an orange Brother typewriter – second-hand and vintage in Melbourne but shiny and new here in Los Angeles. Of course, the odd synchronicity of a Holly Hobbie doll, identical to one she was given as a newborn, being on Trinity’s bed does strike her as a little strange as well.

When Brother Orange, the typewriter, starts delivering furious messages from Trinity, trapped in what she scornfully refers to as Holly’s boring, middle-aged existence and demanding the situation be fixed, Holly needs to work through a lot of unanswered questions about her past, her life and the connections between herself and Trinity’s family. – and at the same time, save both their lives from the Mariposa Murderer.

This is, by turns, hilarious and clever, fascinating and frightening, but above all a real page-turner as the reader demands to know what on earth is going on and why. There is a smattering of swearing which may bother you for your younger secondary readers but mature readers from 13 or 14 upwards who enjoy a thrilling narrative will relish this one as it explores the eternal questions of ‘what if’ in a very original and engaging manner. Oh, and absolutely stunning cover art!

Highly recommended for Year 8 upwards – it will be on my list for my next ChocLit meeting for sure!

Pumpkin – Julie Murphy

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Harper Collins Australia

July 2021

  • ISBN: 9780063134867
  • ISBN 10: 0063134861
  • Imprint: HarperCollins US
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD

Seriously, you could hardly get a better book to read during (another) lockdown than this deliciously funny and heart-warming companion novel to Dumplin’. I can guarantee your readers will fall in love with Waylon Brewer and the accompanying cast of characters in this romp through senior years in West Texas.

Waylon has been ‘out’ since 9th grade so he’s pretty used to being viewed as the fat, gay kid and feels he has survived pretty well. He feels confident about himself (but not really), he can out-sass the taunters (though it gets tedious) and he is looking forward to finishing school and heading off to Austin for college with his twin, Clementine. As it happens, Clem is also gay – as Waylon says, their parents won the queer lottery – and is in a steady relationship with Hannah, quirky and a little bit bolshie. Their parents are totally at ease with their children’s sexuality – Mom: the ‘wokest middle-aged woman in Clover City’, Dad: ‘small-town guy but not small-town minded’ and their eccentric Grammy is every bit as flamboyant as Waylon, whom she calls Pumpkin.

Things start to go a little awry for Waylon though. The little ‘thing’ he’s been having secretly with a guy in town and hoped might turn into a relationship goes down the gurgler, he finds out that Clem is not going to college in Austin but intends to go to Georgia, leaving him in the lurch according to his reckoning and then to top it off his preferred drag queen misses out on the season finale title of his favourite TV show. In a fit of pique more than anything, Waylon attempts his own home-made drag video and when it suddenly goes very public all over town there is a whole lot more to deal with.

Part of the fall-out from the video is that Waylon/Pumpkin, as well as Hannah, is nominated for Prom Queen and King respectively, in a move intended to be a cruel joke. But with absolutely splendid gumption the pair decide they are going to go for it and along the way impress their school, their families and their community with their utter grit and integrity. Oh! and during the course of all this, Pumpkin finds the boy of his dreams, although of course, not without some dramas.

I repeat this is just a joyful read. It is so heart-warming to see the growing friendships and relationships, to watch these characters grow throughout the plot, and to revel in the positive interactions and, of course, the successes.

I was anxious about whether we would be able to include it in our general collection (if you are a church school you will also have constraints) but it is neither offensive nor crass, there is very little swearing and that quite low level, and the obvious positives more than justify me including it. I will restrict it to our Year 8s upwards but that will be my only move in that regard (and of course, if my 7s have parental permission they can access these in any case).

I can highly recommend this for your teen readers and I suspect it will be in very high demand when we get back to school this week (yayyy for lockdown being finished!) and I can book talk it to my Choc Lit kids. It gets a very glittery 5-star rating from me – along with as many other sparkly bits as Pumpkin would enjoy!!

Echo in the Memory – Cameron Nunn

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Walker Books

June 2021

ISBN: 9781760653118
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

Beautifully timed for NAIDOC Week this new YA novel, which explores the convergence of two periods of Australian history with the common thread being the one family name, will both shock and illuminate many readers regarding some of the darkest moments in our history and how they continue to impact lives today.

Two boys separated by two hundred years are both exiled from all they know; both having faced traumatic circumstances. When Will is sent to his grandparents’ isolated farm in rural NSW it feels like the ends of the earth. As he struggles to deal with his grief over his mother’s death and the abandonment of his father he begins to have what appear to be flashes of memory of this unfamiliar place. However, the memories are not his he quickly realises but whose are they? He begins to realise that his surly and recalcitrant grandfather also has these memories, something which gradually brings the two closer together.

The memories relate to ‘the boy’ whose story is set in 1829 and is told in the first person. The harsh and unforgiving life for a child convict is revealed as each piece of history unfolds. In addition is the shocking revelations of the treatment of the local First Australian peoples, which is graphic and disturbing. In the present, Will’s story is told in the third person and his struggle to reconcile the hurt and grief of his family circumstances gradually begins to be resolved as he forges a new, although very different, kind of life on the farm.

Cameron Nunn has done much research into child convicts using primary sources which include original records and interview transcripts from the London courts, and this forms the basis of both his Ph D and his fiction. For students of history, or those seeking to better understand the often dangerous and certainly traumatic life for a child transported across the world, with little or no hope of ever returning to their family and original home, this is a must read.

It is written with older students in mind – suggested Year 9 upwards – and if you employ a ‘read around your topic’ approach to your history subjects, it will be very much worth adding to your collection. You will find the teaching notes hugely beneficial as an addition to your planning.

Highly recommended for your discerning readers from around 14 upwards.

Cardboard Cowboys – Brian Conaghan

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Bloomsbury

May 2021

ISBN: 9781526628602

Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing

RRP: $12.99

This is another of the really cracking YA novels I have read in the last few weeks – and another that was a binge read as my heart went out to the main characters, and I became deeply invested in their journey.

12 year old Lenny is deeply unhappy. For many kids, their first year in high school is full of wonder and adventure with new experiences and friendships, but for Lenny it represents misery and isolation, as he relentlessly bullied and fat-shamed by other kids (and a very nasty PE teacher). Only one student attempts to reach out to Lenny, but in his state of despair, he fails to see the overtures for their worth. Given Lenny’s home life has been difficult in the past few months this exclusion and torment seems doubly hard to take. With his older brother gone away, for reasons not clear at the start, Lenny’s best mate and protector is far from his side, and both his parents seem too distracted and caught up to take much notice of him, so not surprisingly Lenny feels completely and utterly wretched.

He takes to cutting school and wandering the canals of Glasgow where one particular bench becomes his special place for thinking. When he unthinkingly chucks an empty soft drink can into the canal though, he finds himself face to face with a very irate and, it soon appears, homeless man. Bruce and Lenny build a friendship that is both unusual and completely moving. They recognise themselves as outcasts, cut off from the normal mainstream of society, and both are struggling to heal from trauma. In doing so, these two will move you to tears of both laughter and poignancy as their unlikely partnership as the ‘cardboard cowboys’ becomes an effective means of starting the healing process for both.

Their road trip north to discover Lenny’s brother, Frankie, is a catharsis for the unlikely friends and one that brings the frayed fabric of both lives a little closer to mending. The backstory of both is confronting but not in a way that will traumatise younger readers, rather it will give them pause for thought on the ease with which people can be thrust into circumstances which cause immense pain and evoke those feelings of empathy that we aspire to instil in our young people.

With its themes of homelessness, bullying, isolation and self-discovery this is an extremely worthwhile book to put into the hands of your astute readers from around Year 6 upwards. I have absolutely no hesitation in naming it as one of my top YA reads so far this year and highly recommend it to you.

A Weekend with Oscar – Robyn Bavati

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Walker Books

July 2021

ISBN: 9781760653040
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

I had already ordered this for our library collection based on the publisher’s promo so receiving it as a review copy was especially welcome and I am not disappointed. This is a beautiful funny and poignant coming-of-age story that will enchant your lower secondary students in particular. As an additional and very welcome ‘bonus’ it explores the sometimes fraught, but also enriching, experience of having a sibling with a disability.

Jamie is 16 and lives with his mum and his younger brother Oscar, who has Down Syndrome. Life has been tough for the past year following the death of his father and often Jamie thinks he should be helping his mum more, though she insists she is fine and that Jamie should continue to focus on his senior studies. While his grief is still very palpable and Jamie often finds it difficult to contain his grief, his emotions definitely improve when he meets Zara, who has recently arrived at his school. It is particularly apt that Zara also lives with a sibling with a disability but even before the pair discover that, they connect as like-minds who have similar goals and aspirations.

When their mum needs to go away to Perth for a weekend, Jamie volunteers to take care of Oscar. After all, he knows Oscar’s routine and needs inside out and he is confident he can manage but after a weekend filled with mishaps, Monday rolls around and Mum does not appear. At first, it seems this is because a huge storm has delayed flights but days slip by and both Jamie and Oscar begin to be agitated – for very different reasons. Jamie’s challenge to manage his little brother and his needs and find his mum and bring her home makes for one of the most delightful YA narratives I’ve read in some time.

Living with a disability is not easy. Living with someone with a disability is also, often, not easy – and especially, I would say for a young adult. This is a novel that explores this aspect of disability with real sensitivity, humor and resilience. I loved reading this so much that I consumed it in one binge read one night last week (yes last week of term when I was dead tired – pretty good indication how great it is really!!).

Will be talking this up big time with my ChocLit readers and certainly promoting it widely in the library after the holidays.

Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 7 upwards – it’s just a pure delight.

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.