Category Archives: Young Adult

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.

Mrs Whitlam – Bruce Pascoe

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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

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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.

 

Be Frank With Me – Julia Claiborne Johnson

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Allen & Unwin Australia

ISBN:9781782399179

Publisher:Atlantic

Imprint:Corvus

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.

 

The Singing Bones – Shaun Tan

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Allen & Unwin

Imprint; Allen & Unwin Children

October 2015

ISBN 9781760111038

RRP $35.00

Along with many others a new work from Shaun Tan sends a frisson of expectation and the promise of delighted awe through me and The Singing Bones is no disappointment. From the first ‘picking up’, feeling the sleekness of the stylish binding to the leisurely inspection of each sumptuous spread, this is a volume that can be described without hesitation as a visual and tactile feast for any reader.

A foreword from Philip Pullman and introduction by Jack Zipes, leading scholar of fairy tales, herald page after page of a book inspired by the work of legendary story collectors – and librarians! – Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (the Brothers Grimm).

Rather than simply retelling the stories Shaun Tan has chosen to focus on what might be described as the ‘kernel’ of each tale; seventy-five of the Grimm’s collected folk stories in all are included. An annotated index summarises the plot of each. Stories familiar to us all such as Rapunzel, The Sleeping Beauty and Red Riding Hood are joined by far less well known tales, allowing readers to more fully appreciate the immense body of work undertaken by the two German brothers in their lifetimes.

To accompany each tale, Tan has created the most amazing sculptures of small figures which Pullman describes as “perfect realisations of the strangeness of the characters they represent”.

In an explanation at the end of the book, Tan relates how this project evolved and provides more details on his webpage (link above).  When the book was launched earlier this month, it was accompanied by an exhibition of the sculptures – cue envy of Melburnians at this point!  I think those of us in other states would like to hope we might also have the opportunity at some stage to see this stunning display of artwork.  Apparently attendees were invited to create their own little figures in clay – a super idea for your library! I recall doing this same thing with Shaun’s little white creature from The Arrival with some brilliant results from students.

I have shown this book to several colleagues today and all have exclaimed over the ‘beauty’ of it – both presentation and contents. We are already discussing adding this to our Readers Circles titles for 2016 as it is such a unique work. With amazing synchronicity it also arrived in our box of standing orders this morning, so will shortly be prominently displayed in our library.

I know this will need no recommendation to you all but regardless; I cannot endorse it more fulsomely. It is truly special and a book to be treasured!  While I do believe fairy tales are for everybody, your teenies might find these a bit sophisticated so probably around Middle Primary and up would be my recommendation.

(Watch out for this to be an award winner!)

Queensland Premier’s Reading Challenge 2015

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The 2015 Queensland Premier’s Reading Challenge was launched on Monday and for the first time is extended down to daycare/kindy children as well as up to Years 8 & 9 students.

I was extremely pleased to be invited by DET to compile the list for the 7s and 9s and included many books I have personally reviewed during the past year and highly recommend. You may like to have some ideas or suggestions for your middle year students, particularly as many of you will be looking at developing your collection in this area.

I particularly would like to thank my many publishing contacts for their superb support as I pursued titles which I had not yet encountered to add to this list.

Zafir [Through My Eyes] – Prue Mason

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ISBN: 9781743312544
Australian Pub.: February 2015
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: A & U Children
Subject: Children’s fiction
Suitable for ages: 11-14

RRP $15.99

A carefree happy boy in Syria, on the cusp of becoming a young man, finds himself and his family caught up in the tragedy of Syria’s civil war.

Prue Mason has lived in the Middle East and has already an understanding of many issues of that region. In this book, she wanted to try to explain how the violence in Syria began and of course, how it affected the ordinary people.  She comments that… Doing the research for this story has been harrowing. I’ve been in tears many times as I’ve viewed YouTube clips and read the blogs of people who are seeing their country torn apart from within. 

A recent statement from the United Nations (UNICEF)underlined the fact that Syria is one of the most dangerous places on Earth for a child – with an estimated 5.5 million affected by the country’s ongoing conflict (Time, March 2014).

When Zafir, his doctor father and equally well-educated mother, relocate from Damascus to Homs, they have no idea of the impending doom which is hurtling towards their everyday lives. As revolt and bloodshed become commonplace and the city of Homs is targeted by gunfire and shelling, Zafir’s family is torn apart and this 13 year old boy, like so many other Syrian children, is forced to grow up fast and fight to survive.

As with the other titles in this series, readers are placed in a position of understanding the uncertain and often tragic circumstances of their international counterparts and are encouraged to exercise their compassion and sense of justice.  Through My Eyes represents an important initiative in Australian children’s publishing offering both the opportunity to examine and deepen knowledge of these world affairs and also to contribute to UNICEF through the sales of the books.

Highly recommended for all Upper Primary/Lower Secondary readers – the whole series should be on your shelves. Teaching notes for this latest title will soon be available at Through My Eyes, others are already in place.