Category Archives: Young Adult

The Prison Healer – Lynette Noni


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 Quiet at the End of the World – Lauren James



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



Penguin Australia


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



Penguin Random House


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



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.

Letters to the Lost – Brigid Kemmerer



Allen & Unwin



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



ISBN: 9781406365825
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.

Mrs Whitlam – Bruce Pascoe



Magabala Books

Author: Bruce Pascoe

Published: Jun 2016

ISBN: 9781925360240

Ages: Middle primary, Upper primary, Young Adult


I am very quickly becoming very enamoured of Bruce Pascoe’s writing for young people (not to mention for adults). He is really deft at making his young adult characters believable and contemporary without relying on current vernacular or props to make them so.


Marnie is horse mad but from a family that precludes her from owning one of her own. But a woman in her town who has sadly lost her daughter gives Marnie not only the horse but all its tack. Unfortunately, even owning her own horse and being a competent rider doesn’t quite cut it with the other teens at pony club. Their attitude towards an Aboriginal girl in their midst is far from welcoming particularly when she is riding a Clydesdale called Mrs Whitlam.


However Marnie has a strong family and her own inner strength. When she and Maggie (aka Mrs Whitlam) rescue a child from the surf and seals a growing friendship with George Costa, the Golden Boy of the school, she becomes a heroine and her acceptance in a worthy circle of friends is confirmed.


This is an evocative text which illustrates the sometimes sly racist attitudes in Australian towns but is never ‘preachy’ which makes it all the more powerful.

Marnie and Maggie make a formidable duo and not least of all because of their individual strengths and loyalty.
Highly recommended for readers in Upper  Primary to Lower Secondary.

Zeroes – Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti





Publisher:Allen & Unwin

Imprint:A & U Children

Pub Date:October 2015

Page Extent:496


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.


Be Frank With Me – Julia Claiborne Johnson



Allen & Unwin Australia




Pub Date:February 2016

RRP $27.99

As  you know, I don’t seem to get around to reading grown up books often but there was something about the blurb for this one that begged me to read and review it.

Thank you thank you A&U for allowing me the unmitigated pleasure of doing so! Charming, funny, poignant, realistic and with a cast of unforgettable characters, this has been an absolute joy for my night time reading of the past week.

The reclusive and reputedly eccentric author M.M. Banning has been shamefully victimised by a fraud which has left her penniless. Her literary fame which rests on a single perfect novel now studied in schools all over America burns as brightly as ever but the funds have dwindled desperately.

Banning’s publisher, Isaac Vargas, despatches his most able young assistant Alice Whitley from New York to the East Coast to monitor Banning’s progress with a promised new novel. Despite having not published a word since The Pitcher, Banning’s contract for this new book is her financial salvation but the progress is not without obstacles. Alice’s mission is not just to deliver reports on the book’s progress but to ‘manage’ both Banning’s domestic life and her nine year old son, Frank.   If M. M. Banning is considered eccentric then her son Frank has not only inherited her genetic makeup but taken oddity to a whole new level.

A nine year old boy addicted to old movies, with a remarkable intelligence and a wealth of trivia hoarded away in his brain, Frank dresses in a range of outfits that transform him from a mini Teddy Roosevelt to a Clarence Darrow with equal ease and completely lacks any awareness of social mores. Needless to say, this does not stand him in good stead with other fourth-graders and indeed, many adults are taken aback by Frank’s rather unnerving personality.

Alice’s initial surprise as this strange household assaults her senses gradually turns to an unconditional acceptance of Frank and she becomes to a huge extent a surrogate parent for him.

Throw into this mix, the devastatingly attractive Xander whose presence throws Frank into paroxysms of joy, has a soothing effect on Mimi (M.M.) and thoroughly unnerves Alice.

This book has so much to offer the reader in terms of pure joy but has also a great deal to say about our acceptance of others, and society’s definition of ‘normal’.

You will not be disappointed if you look out for this one. While primarily aimed at an adult audience there is nothing in this that would prohibit being a delightful addition to a secondary library for discerning readers.

Read an excerpt here and an author interview is below (Allen & Unwin Australia).

BE FRANK WITH ME is your first novel. Tell us something about how you came to write it at this stage in your life.
Julia Claiborne Johnson: If you’re asking me why it took me fifty years to decide to write a novel, I’ll tell you this – I was a late bloomer in every way imaginable. I never had a boyfriend until I was in my twenties, didn’t have a decent job until I was pushing thirty, didn’t have children until I was almost forty and had almost no common sense whatsoever until sometime after that. Though I had made my living as a writer for most of my life, I didn’t try my hand at a novel before because I didn’t think I had a story to tell that anybody would be interested in reading.

What changed?
JCJ: I got old. I had children. Those two things may not be unrelated. By the time I topped fifty, my perspective on everything changed. For example: When my daughter was in the 6th grade, she read To Kill a Mockingbird for school. She lost her copy almost immediately, so I had to buy a second one to make the first one turn up. I hadn’t read that book since I was around her age, so when the other copy resurfaced, I read it. Oh, I thought this time around, Boo Radley has some form of autism. When I read the same book almost forty years ago, I just thought Boo was weird. Because nobody knew better in those days.

In that moment, a lot of things clicked into place for me. I went to school with a monosyllabic loner named Edgar who combed his hair straight down across his forehead and wore the same bright yellow polyester plaid sport coat to school every day. Edgar, I realize now, must have been on the spectrum. Who knew? Poor Edgar was pursued and tormented for being different, not by me; but I never stuck up for him, either. I can remember wondering what kind of mother let her son go out into the world in that stupid jacket every day. Now I know the jacket probably wasn’t negotiable. Edgar’s mother was doing the best she could. She had to pick her battles, just like me and every other mother on earth, but on an epic scale. I imagine she lay awake every night, wondering where she’d gone wrong with Edgar, worrying herself sick about what would become of her child. It hurts me to think about that now. Though I might have argued with you about this in my twenties, I have come to know that there’s no heartbreak like the kind that comes seeing your children suffer. If I’d maimed only a few of the people I wanted to for causing either of my babies a moment’s unhappiness, I’d be in prison for life.

For some time after I finished re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I couldn’t stop thinking about Harper Lee and Boo. One afternoon I was walking down my block, turning all of it over in my head again, and I thought, I bet it was hard for Harper Lee to write Boo’s character, but not as hard as it was for Edgar’s mother to raise him.

By the time I walked up my front steps, a novel I wanted to read had unspooled itself, beginning to end. The irritating thing about wanting to read it was that I’d have to write it first. Even more annoying, the beginning-to-end I ended up with wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined when I started. I wish I could tell you it didn’t take me much longer to write my novel than it did for me to think the thing up, but I would be lying. That sucker took me six years to wrestle down onto the page.

In your book, Frank is never given any kind of diagnosis. Is that on purpose?
JCJ: Look, all of us are puzzles. I grew up in the South, and there are more nuts in my family that you’d find in a holiday box of pecan brittle. Then I lived in New York City for more than a decade, a place that’s Mecca for the willfully eccentric. In California, I came to know lots of adults who couldn’t tell you the color of my eyes if their lives depended on it, who recoiled if you touched them or went on a little too long about their pet obsessions. Vintage breadboxes, anybody? But these were people who had brilliant careers anyway.

That’s why I didn’t want to stick a pin in Frank and say, Here’s what’s going on with him. The end. I wanted Frank to represent all the brilliant oddballs, real and fictional, diagnosed and undiagnosed.

Talk to us about Frank’s outfits.
JCJ: When I was young I worked as a fashion writer for magazines in New York. You wouldn’t know it to look at me – then as now, I looked like somebody who dressed in the dark from a random pile of clothes on my bedroom floor. I was awestruck by the people in the fashion department. So what if some of them couldn’t spell the same word the same way three times in the same sentence? They looked amazing. What they did with clothes and accessories was nothing short of brilliant. From them, I learned a valuable lesson: Academic achievement is not the only benchmark of genius. In fact, it’s about as common as hen’s teeth, and almost as interesting.

I suppose I could have made Frank a math whiz or a pint-sized expert on the Punic Wars, but it seemed more fun to give him sartorial flair – a look that Alice describes as “a peacock in a barnyard full of chickens” – to establish him as a kid apart from all the typical grade-schoolers on a California playground. So I dressed Frank as if he found his outfits in a pile of clothes on the dressing room floor at Brooks Brothers. Back in my fashion-magazine days, our offices were over their flagship store in midtown, so I knew that old-school haberdashery look inside out. That became Frank’s Fred Astaire aesthetic.

One last thing I ought to mention: On our first big family trip to Manhattan, my own seven-year-old son begged me to buy him a tiny three-piece pin-striped suit he unearthed in a kid’s store around the corner from our hotel. Forget surfers. My little Californian saw all those men striding through midtown in their closed-toed shoes and beautiful wool suits as titans, girded for battle. He wanted to be one of them. That tiny three-piece ensemble turns up in Frank’s story as the E.F. Hutton suit.

How did you come up with the ideas for the characters?
JCJ: Well, Mimi had to be a writer, since the whole idea was showing how much harder it is to live a situation you’ve only imagined before. I decided she’d written a book based on her eccentric brother who she’d turned her back on when they were young because she didn’t feel like her brother was her responsibility. Then I gave her a son of her own, one with similar issues. She couldn’t abandon her son because he was all hers and she was all he had.

From there, I needed to introduce an outsider who’d gradually unravel everybody else’s story. Hence Alice. I made her like a younger version of Mimi as a source of conflict. I have found in life there is nothing more annoying than seeing your worst qualities mirrored in other people. Those are the people you can’t help despising, no matter how hard you try to cut them slack. My daughter explained those two another way:  “Alice is nice you, and Mimi is mean you.” I prefer thinking of them as energetic me and exhausted me, but my daughter has a point.

After that, I wanted somebody to be the rock in the sea of crazy, so that character became Mr. Vargas. Then I needed somebody to guide Alice through the shoals of the glass house and the Dream House, so Xander was born. In my mind, Xander is twinned with Frank. Frank has too much knowledge and very little savoir faire; Xander is too handsome and too charming and too willing to skate by on that. Xander has squandered his talents; Frank may never figure out how to put his to good use. Either outcome is heartbreaking to me.

What were you thinking of when you had Mimi move into a glass house?
JCJ: If you want a literal answer, when I came up with Mimi’s house, I was thinking of the Stahl house in Los Angeles. In the end, Mimi’s house didn’t look much like that one – hers is stone out front but transparent from every other angle. But LA is full of all these amazing glass houses – between all the pricey hillside and oceanfront real estate, there are lots of views to maximize. But a glass house, when you’re obsessed with privacy? Madness, with a heaping side of hubris. Mimi’s so caught up in the trappings of success that she doesn’t stop to think, Hey, those views go both ways. Of course, by the time Alice is on the scene, every window in the house has floor-to-ceiling curtains.

On the heavy-handed metaphorical level, I confess: I liked the idea of a house that lets you see inside a life more than you might otherwise, the way a book reveals what’s going on in a writer’s mind.

Los Angeles seems like the sixth major character in your book. Do you feel that way, too?
JCJ: I do. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anyplace else – almost twenty years now – so on a practical level, it made sense to set Frank’s story here. But it’s more than that. Hollywood is the font of so much happiness in Frank’s life. It’s his Harvard and Yale and Oxford University all rolled into one. He uses them to learn how to be in a world where he feels shunned for his gifts. Movies are full of people who “know how to act.” Every time he watches a film, Frank gets a master class in the mannerisms of the actors pretending to be real people. Their conversations always play out the same way so there are never any surprises. This is enormously comforting to somebody like Frank, who goes through real life feeling like he never has his end of the script.

But I also think Los Angeles is just the sort of place Frank would pick to live in when he has to live someplace outside his head. Los Angeles is as varied and boundless as Frank’s imagination. Think about almost any place on earth, and the chances are pretty good that you can find some facsimile of it within a day’s drive of LA. A desert or a jungle, snow-capped mountains, the ocean, fake New York or Italy or Paris or Bavaria or the surface of the moon.  That’s what drew movie people here in the first place. That, and the fact that, Thomas Edison would send out flunkies to bust up your cameras if you tried to set up shop on the East Coast in violation of one of his thousand or so movie patents.

Why did you tell the story from Alice’s point of view? Why not Mimi’s, or Xander’s or Frank’s?
JCJ: Alice is the narrator because it is Alice who undergoes the most change in the “now” of the story. She arrives full of that Pollyanna attitude of hers, confident she’ll do a great job, with cheerfulness, efficiency and self-control. By the time she goes back to New York, she sees what an unpredictable mess life is. Her time in California has taught her that you can’t always control your elemental temper, children or other people any more than anybody controls an earthquake, floods or fire.

Why tell your story almost entirely in flashblacks?
JCJ: I’m not a deep thinker. I like my stories big. Tell me a big explosion of some kind is coming down the road, and I’m in.