Tag Archives: Family relationships

James Gong The Big Hit – Paul Collins

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Hybrid Publishers

June 2020

ISBN 9781925736441

RRP: $16.99

Fourteen year old James Gong is pretty much a fairly average teenage boy living in suburbia with a family who are also pretty average – well in most respects. His mother rescues dogs and keeps them out the back of their house, to the frequent annoyance of neighbours, and counsels her pooches with tender dedication. His father does – well, James isn’t exactly sure what it is his father does but he likes to hope that his dad is a spy since his job seems to be so well-hidden (at least it is to James). He has an older sister Caitlin who can be a real pain, like most big sisters, who is always banging on trying to save whales, trees, the environment- really whatever cause is topical.

For the most part James’ life is pretty cool. He has his besties Jay and Ethan, school is tolerable and he is just about to qualify for his black belt in taekwondo under the instruction of the exacting and ferocious Mr Choi.  When a crew from TV show My Life arrive at the hall to film a segment for the program they are mightily impressed with James’ jumping spinning side kick, so much so that they want him to star in their upcoming blockbuster movie. Wow! Hollywood fame and fortune awaits for young James – or does it?

While James is super-excited about the movie role, except for the scene that involves a KISS with a lovely young girl, there are aspects about the whole filming process that baffle him – like the lack of sophisticated equipment, or sets or indeed costumes. Little does he know that Marcie and Win the film-makers are actually pulling a tax-dodge swifty.  Added to the confusion around the movie, James is still at loggerheads with his sister, fighting his weird attraction for Caitlin’s best friend Amber who scorns him with vigour and seriously neglects his taekwondo practice resulting in a  fail in his black belt grading.

To make matters worse when the movie premieres it’s so ludicrously hilarious instead of the big action film James was expecting so that now, instead of being a Hollywood superstar,  he feels like he’s losing out big time and that he’s the biggest fool alive.

But perhaps, just perhaps there are positives in the offing. I really don’t want to give away any spoilers but let’s just say that there are a few very tricky twists in James’ story that Paul Collins has managed without the slightest hint of contrivance.

I feel there will be many readers both boys and girls who will really get into this book. They will love the action, relate to the well-developed characters, chuckle at the humour, wince at James’ ineptitude and – okay, at times ‘denseness’ – but ultimately will rejoice with him and certainly  express their emotions at the biggest ‘ah ha’ moments.

I recommend this highly for readers from around 12 years upwards who I can guarantee will thoroughly enjoy it.  If you’re looking for a great read-aloud or shared novel this will make a fabulous addition with many levels and themes to explore throughout.

Check out some teaching notes here and given the disruptions to normal services you can order your copy here right now!

The Long Distance  Playlist – Tara Eglington

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Harper Collins Australia

January 2020

ISBN: 9781460755211

ISBN 10: 1460755219

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

RRP: $19.99

Well if you told me I would absolutely fall in love with a YA (primarily) romantic novel I would no doubt have scoffed loudly. However, this is just delightful and so so much more than just romance. Eglington explores contemporary culture, family relationships, aspirations, dreams and music with such a deft and ‘spot on’ ability that this will be a sure-fire hit with your teen readers.

It’s an immediately engaging format told for the greater part through Instagram messages, Skype, email and texts, accompanied by playlists (readers will love these!) which bounce with growing rapidity between Isolde in Sydney and Taylor in Queenstown. This young pair has been best friends all their lives, with a quirky but cool family connection, until a big bust-up when each speaks their mind and a rift of Cold War proportions extends over eighteen months.

In that space of time momentous things have happened to both. Taylor, who had been a rising snowboarding champion, lost his lower leg in a car accident which has effectively rendered him gloomy and despondent. Isolde has studied  – actually lived and breathed – ballet her entire life and has her sights set on the National Ballet company but within a year she has muffed her first audition badly and also been terribly hurt in her first romantic relationship and feels similarly.

However the two do reconnect and forgive each other and over a space of almost a year their online conversations become deeper and more meaningful and are headed, for both, towards feelings that run much deeper than childhood friendship. The growing warmth between them is not without hiccups though as (don’t we all know it?) the medium of cyber conversations can lead to missteps and misunderstandings. Happily though there is a completely satisfying resolution – though the ending does lend itself to a continuation at some point down the track.

It is charming, refreshing, often humorous but also sobering at times with serious family issues with which both teens are faced. The trans-Tasman relationship will most certainly be of appeal to a wide readership and the insight into both settings, not to mention both passionate pursuits,  is fascinating.

Unlike others in this genre there is nothing which might preclude readers who may be younger or more ‘sheltered’. Even swear words are not explicit which will mightily please many who would want to include it in their collections but otherwise might have to pass it up.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards. Loved it!

The Space We’re In – Katya Balen

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Bloomsbury

November 2019

ISBN: 9781526610942

RRP $14.99

What an absolutely stunning debut novel from Katya Balen! Simultaneously heart-breaking and uplifting Balen examines the difficulties faced by a child living with a special needs sibling.

Frank is ten years old. He loves soccer and space, he loves secret codes and playing in the ‘Wilderness’ with his two best friends. He loves living in his funny dilapidated house with his loving mother and father and he sort of loves his 5 year old brother Max who is severely autistic. Really Frank is struggling with his relationship with Max and often resents the way his little brother’s condition monopolises his mother’s attention and creates general havoc in the home and anywhere else. He knows that his mother and father love him dearly but there are times he wishes that they were in the same place they were before Max arrived.

We are her world and her universe and her space and her stars and her sky and her galaxy and her cosmos too

His mum’s constant affirmation of her love for them all is the lodestone to which Max clings and the rare moments they spend together just the two of them are infinitely precious to him.

When unspeakable tragedy strikes Frank is even more at odds with his brother but gradually through the support and intervention of understanding people such as neighbour Mark as well as his friends, Frank begins to piece together a new cosmos for his family – one that is different and not always easy but one in which Max is no longer light years apart from him.

Tissues are needed for this as there was a great deal that hit a little too close to home for me and it would be best that readers of a sensitive nature should be cautioned about the often very emotional content but it is a truly fabulous read. Often the voice of a sibling who finds themselves in this situation is glossed over or idealised or even just ignored. This book addresses the very real conflict that such children can experience and shows that there can be a way forward.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards.

Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein [Young Readers Adaptation]

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Harper Collins Australia

August 2019

ISBN: 9780062935076

ISBN 10: 0062935070

Imprint: HarperCollins – US

List Price: 14.99 AUD

For everyone who has loved the series of A Dog’s Purpose (which definitely includes me and K) this book will bring much joy though at times it is both poignant and tense.

It is the story of a family in essence. Beginning with the adoption of the smart and funny Enzo by Denny, amateur (but yearning to be professional) racing car enthusiast and following the often difficult trials that ensue after Denny’s marriage to Eve and the subsequent birth of Zoe, their daughter. At first Eve and Enzo are rather in a stalemate situation, neither thinking very highly of the other but after Zoe’s arrival and Enzo’s slavish devotion to and unfailing protection of her their relationship changes.

However family life can often be fraught, indeed heartbreaking, and at times can be under serious threat of falling apart and so it is in this instance. But throughout all it is Enzo who is ever present and faithful to the preservation of the fragility of his humans. He may be a canine but he is intelligent and understands everything that is happening around him and is determined to do anything he can to support Denny and Zoe.

Funny and tender, insightful and courageous, mute but definitely expressive Enzo’s observations, humour and loyalty will make you laugh and cry. It is truly delightful.

This special edition of the best-selling novel The Art of Racing in the Rain is timed to tie-in with the upcoming movie version. I can highly recommend it for readers from around 12 years upwards.

Beverly, Right Here – Kate diCamillo

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Walker Books

ISBN: 9781406391633
Imprint: Walker
September 2019
Australian RRP: $19.99
New Zealand RRP: $22.99

Without a doubt this is the happiest review I’ve ever written. Not just because it’s another fabulous book from this much-loved author, nor just that it continues the story of Raymie, Louisiana and Beverly but for a far more personal reason.

My review copy arrived just a few days before my girl and I were going on our holiday to Tasmania so it was one of my first choices to take along with me. I read most of it in the Brisbane airport terminal then finished it off during the flight. The Kid was quite taken with the cover and then curious about the story so I handed it to her and before we landed in Melbourne for the first leg of our trip she had read the first chapter. Now for a 14 year old you may not think this a significant moment but for a child who was first assessed with an intellectual impairment at six and who has struggled for years with both spoken and written language it was a true milestone moment. In that first chapter there were just five words of which she was unsure – and after checking with me, three of them she had correct and the other two she had worked out but couldn’t quite get the context or meaning. TRIUMPH!

She is now halfway through the book and is really enjoying the story – and the effect of her success has been electrifying to say the least. Her ‘reading level’ (GRRRR) at school has escalated over eight levels at least since her last literacy group before the holidays. My heart is singing! It is such a breakthrough for her and her confidence is soaring.

So with that out of the way, let me tell you about the story itself. We know from the two previous books that Beverly’s life is far from easy and when her beloved Buddy dies she’s finally had enough and takes off. At 14 with no money and only the clothes she’s wearing she lands in a new town where she manages to find some work and is taken in by a quirky but kindly old lady who becomes Beverly’s entrée into an atmosphere of caring. As some time goes by Beverly begins to establish positive relationships and meaningful friendships and eventually is able to rationalize her old life and how she might overcome the obstacles she faces.  Her newfound insight into herself enables her to move forward with confidence and determination.

Once again Kate has given us a memorable book. For me it will always be the book that turned my girl into a ‘reader’. Thank you from the bottom of my heart Kate diCamillo.

Toffee – Sarah Crossan

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9781526608147

Bloomsbury

June 2019

9781526608147
Bloomsbury YA

RRP $14.99

Exquisitely, compellingly poignant and haunting, I was so happy that I took this to the hairdresser’s yesterday. It meant I could read it one sitting without feeling guilty about neglected house chores!

I am not who I say I am.
Marla isn’t who she thinks she is.


I am a girl trying to forget.
Marla is a woman trying to remember. 

Allison has never known her mother who died within hours of giving birth. She’s been raised by a father with major anger issues and has tiptoed around both his rages and his women all her life. The latest in this parade of women is Kelly-Anne, kind and caring, who took off but did almost beg Allie to go with her.

After years of mental abuse and finally physical battering which culminates in a hot iron smashed across her face, Allie also runs – to find Kelly-Anne but instead runs into problems. She finds herself, taking shelter, in a dingy garden shed but the house to which it belongs is not unoccupied. Marla lives there in a dementia-fog of her own. Marla mistakes Allie for her girlhood friend Toffee and so the two begin a tentative and touching relationship in which both look out for each other, bolster each other and ultimately rescue each other.

That summation does not in any way do justice to the beauty of this verse-novel or its command on the reader.

Allison and Marla become a team. Each in her own way helps the other to overcome their difficulties and insecurities as well as their basic needs for care, companionship and safety.

This is truly a beautiful book which will bring the reader to tears, but also laugh and rage and empathy.

It is more suited to older readers – around 13 years+ – but is so worth promoting to your sensitive and discerning readers. I highly recommend it for students in Lower Secondary and upwards.

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle – Sophie Green

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Hachette

JUL 23, 2019 | 9780733641169 | RRP $29.99

 

If you missed The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club which was a runaway success a couple of years ago you must make certain not to neglect this new novel from Sophie Green!

Once again readers become heavily invested in the lives of the main characters; Marie, Theresa, Elaine and Leanne, as they form a strong bond of supportive friendship. Each of these women are facing their own challenges and when they unexpectedly meet up on Shelly Beach for a dawn swim they gradually and tentatively begin to connect despite their differing ages and circumstances.

Marie still mourns the loss of her husband five years previously and more so since her oldest friend moved away to a retirement village. With her terrier Charlie Brown her only real companion she often finds herself falling into melancholy. But she’s swum every morning almost her whole life and is determined to keep it up.

Then there is Theresa, young mother of two lively children, married to an insensitive, lazy and philandering husband. Despite the support of her Nonna who lives with them, Theresa is struggling to keep her emotions under control as her marriage disintegrates.

Elaine has recently migrated to Shelly Beach with her Australian-born surgeon husband leaving two grown up sons behind in England, as well as her own successful business. Essentially she is grieving for her past life and is resistant to embracing the new one on offer. Her solace becomes habitual and increasing gin and tonics until she reaches a crisis point.

The youngest of the group is quiet reserved Leanne who is hiding a dark secret which has left her emotionally scarred and wary of everyone, particularly men.

Each has their own personal reason for the early morning swim but soon discovers that in numbers, especially a close circle of women friends, is strength. That strength becomes even more important when each of them face significant changes in their lives.

Again this is a marvellous reflection of the impact our own personal circles have on our mental and physical wellbeing. Like its predecessor it is an insightful exploration of the power of friendship, trust and genuine love.

I highly recommend it to you and if you should be looking for a title for a book club this would be a perfect fit.

 

Mercy Point – Anna Snoekstra

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Harper Collins

June 2019

ISBN: 9781460709887

ISBN 10: 1460709888

RRP: $19.99

For so many the teen years are times of angst, struggling for self-identity and confidence and feeling that one ‘fits in’. For a group of five young people in the Blue Mountains it’s even more fraught as all of them suspect they may be adopted and yet no one is telling them that it’s so.

Bonding anonymously on an online chat page, the group has no idea that in real life they not only know each other but to all intents and purposes dislike individuals in the group.

When they all decide to meet up and investigate their suspicions together, there is a good deal of shock involved when they realise just in whom they have been confiding. But their need for the truth overcomes personal prejudices as each begins to uncover long held secrets and they come together to discover their true origins.

No one would suspect that their small town could hide so much deception: the terrifying truth that awaits them is something that none of them could ever have imagined.

Told turn about by each character the group gradually bond as a team and the mysterious ‘outsider’ Sam begins to reveal more and more to aid them – and shock them

For those of us who know the mountains there are many references to well known places and events which makes the reading all the more accessible. I understand there is already a plan to make this into a tele-movie or series and it really is a highly suitable vehicle for this with its surprise twists and turns.

Despite my habitual resistance to sci fi this is a great read and aside from my knowledge of the area I found it highly engaging and thoroughly engrossing.

Highly recommended for discerning readers from around 13 years upwards.

Check out teaching notes here.

Love Lie Repeat – Catherine Greer

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Penguin

9780143791225

March 5, 2019

$19.99

I’ve mentioned before that I have in recent times been somewhat disenchanted with many of the YA novels that have come my way. There have been a few exceptions. This one, debut novel and all, is an absolute corker!

Annie and her ‘island girls’ (the kind you take with you to a desert island), Ashlin and Ruby have been a threesome forever. They are bonded so closely that nothing could ever tear them apart. While their family lives may be complex in one sense with divorces, absent fathers, family secrets they lead privileged lives with money, fashion and solid support.

When Ashlin’s hitherto unknown half-brother, Trip, arrives from Canada, asked to leave his school due to some unexplained arson attacks, the girls’ previously tight bonds of friendship begin to fray in varying degrees. Annie’s burgeoning relationship with Trip seems destined to follow some kind of roller-coaster experience as she repeatedly trusts him, rejects him, reconciles with him. Ashlin’s secret sexual identity begins to reveal itself while Ruby, ignoring Annie’s obvious interest in Trip, starts throwing herself at the boy with little regard for her friend.

Into this mix of emotional angst are the girls’ usual activities of sport, singing, holidays and fashion but all of these seem to be overcast by some sinister atmosphere and more frighteningly, inexplicable random fires.

Greer has put together an intense and gripping narrative with many twists and turns and the ending is not to be missed.

Given its fairly adult themes this is not a book I would recommend for your younger teens but I have no hesitation in promoting it to senior secondary students.

Black Cockatoo – Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler

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Magabala Books

 

Published: Jul 2018

 

ISBN: 9781925360707

RRP: $11.99

A beautiful novella that explores a coming-of-age experience for a young Aboriginal girl in the remote Kimberley region.

Mia is distressed at the increasing distance her brother is putting between himself and family. The growing turbulence within her family is hard for a 13 year old to contend with but the day she find an injured dirran (black cockatoo), her own totem animal is the start to an acceptance of the situation for her.

As she cares for the bird she begins to comprehend the wisdom of her elders around being true to oneself and one’s culture, resilience and inner strength. When Mia finally is able to release the beautiful bird she realises that she can indeed stand up for herself and weather the storms.

A short but powerful read that I would highly recommend for readers from around 12 years upwards.