Tag Archives: Grief

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.

100 Remarkable Feats of Xander Maze – Clayton Zane Comber

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Harper Collins Australia

June 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460759455
  • ISBN 10: 1460759451
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD
  • Age: From 14 years

Believe me when I tell you that you will fall in love with Xander, and be sad to leave him at the end of this beautiful feel-good coming-of-age novel.

Xander loves to make lists and #1 on his list of People I Love Most in the World is his Nanna, who has lived with him and his mum since Xander’s dad died. Nanna has been Xander’s ally, confidante, support team and his very best friend and now that she has stage 4 cancer, Xander is determined to do whatever it takes to save her. Nanna wants him to make a list of 100 remarkable feats that he will hope to achieve by the end of the school year. It’s going to be a very tricky mission especially with feats like:

#2 Make a friend

#10 Kiss a girl (preferably Ally Collins)

#28 Go to a party

#58 Get a job (any job)

#87 Learn to keep secrets

#100 Save Nanna

As we read Xander’s list we get a very clear insight into his quirky personality and a poignant understanding of why his Nanna has encouraged him to both create and fulfil the remarkable feats. For someone who knows her time is short ,and who has been this beautiful boy’s stalwart support, the greatest gift she can give him is the confidence and skills to step out on his own.

When Xander’s 100 remarkable feats list unintentionally becomes a matter of public record, he is surprised to find that he has help from unexpected quarters and many of his feats are accomplished almost before he realises. Xander’s journey into friendships, new situations and stepping well outside his very narrow comfort zone is both hilarious and moving, with one of the most genuinely likeable cast of characters I have encountered in a long time.

I will certainly be giving it my best and biggest promotion at our final ChocLit meeting for this term during the coming week and I highly recommend it for your readers from around Year 7 upwards. The themes of grief/loss, resilience, identity, belonging, mental health in particular will resonate with many teens, and for your classroom program you will find the teaching guide a great resource.

Finding Francois – Gus Gordon

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Penguin Australia

July 2020

ISBN: 9780143794141

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $24.99

In over eighty books Gus Gordon has demonstrated time and again his talent at producing the type of quality books we love to share with our young readers.

This beautiful picture book is heart-warming and endearing as two little characters, both lonely and longing for real friendship, discover each other through the whimsical method of sending messages in a bottle.

Alice lives with her grandmother, who is the best creme brulee maker in the world, and while she loves her dearly is often lonely and wishes she had someone of her own age to play with and for a friend. Her message in a bottle washes up and is found by Francois, who lives with his father in an isolated lighthouse, also lonely and longing for companionship.

Their unusual friendship develops with the exchange of the bottled notes but when Alice’s grandmother dies, her heart feels too full to continue with the letters. When her new guardian comes across the message bottle, she encourages Alice to renew contact with Francois and the previously sea-borne friendship becomes a real one.

This is just a lovely and gentle look at friendship, loneliness and the pain of saying goodbye to someone well-loved and special which young readers will love.

I predict that like so many of Gus’ books this will be recognised as being an award-nominee, if not winner in the next short-list. In the meantime, I highly recommend it for young readers from around six years upwards.

The Year the Maps Changed – Danielle Binks

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Hachette Australia

APR 28, 2020 | 9780734419712 | RRP $17.99

What a glorious book with so much richness as it reveals not only a tragic episode in recent history but explores the pain but beautiful bonding in a family and community.

1999 in Sorrento is a difficult time for Fred (Winifred). Her mother died when she was very little and since then she’s lived with her adoptive dad Luca and her Pop but now everything is changing and not for the best. Pop has had to go away for a while into a rehab/nursing home and Luca’s new girlfriend and her son, slightly younger than Fred, move in. To add to that distress, and her ever-present grief, as Fred struggles to re-adjust to the changing dynamic, Luca and Annika announce that they are having a baby.

For Fred it seems like the end of everything and not even her life-long friends can help to make her feel better about the whole situation. Then a major upheaval for their small community brings unexpected connections, dramas and emotional situations which ultimately bring not only Fred’s family back into focus and closeness but forces the entire country to re-evaluate their beliefs and values.

A group of Kosovar-Albanian refugees fleeing the deadly warfare in their splintered country are brought to a centre near Sorrento in an humanitarian exercise that the then government referred to as “Operation Safe Haven”. While there are many whose compassion is extended to these displaced persons there is division within the community. Fatefully the lives of the refugees, a few in particular, become entwined with Fred and her family testing the boundaries of family trust but ultimately bringing this very different blended family into a stronger bond.

Beautifully – indeed, exquisitely- written Danielle Binks provides the reader with not only an understanding of the largest humanitarian effort provided by Australia and it’s less than humanitarian outcome but also an insight into a family’s own personal tragedy and their journey to becoming a whole.

This is a coming-of-age story that will appeal greatly to readers from around 12 years upwards as Fred deals with the immense changes in her life. These same readers will also be exercised in their own compassion and empathy which, in light of recent events, can only be a good thing.

Highly recommended for your readers in upper primary to secondary.

How To Make Friends with the Dark – Kathleen Glasgow

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y648 (4)

Harper Collins Australia

April 2020

ISBN: 9781460751060

ISBN 10: 146075106X

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 19.99 AUD

 

Here is what happens when your mother dies.

My timing for reading this could have been better really. It was the 5th anniversary of losing my girl this past week, a scant fortnight before  Miss K’s 10th birthday. So at times it completely undid me reading Tiger’s story but trust me despite the heart-breaking poignancy there is also light and hope in this narrative.

Tiger and her mother have always been a team – just the two of them – in a little house with not much money but lots of love. There are often times when Tiger is completely fed up however: no money, no new clothes (her mother eclectically selects throw-outs from other people for her daughter) and above all her mother’s almost obsessive over-protectiveness.

Like most teenagers, Tiger is ready to rebel and does so spectacularly with a massive show-down with her mum about her plans to attend the upcoming big dance with one of her best friends, Kai – the boy she’s always really liked. As the mother-daughter conflict escalates during a day of constant texts and missed calls with Tiger refusing to countenance either her mother’s attitude or the hideous dress she’s found in a conciliatory gesture, the unimaginable happens. Tiger’s mother suffers a fatal aneurism and is dead within seconds – alone and as Tiger well knows, with her daughter’s last horrible words as the last exchange between them.

With no family to take her on, Tiger is immediately thrown into the maw of children’s services and foster homes and her ‘Grief Life’ consumes her and comes close to completely overwhelming the little resilience she might muster. And then, the most unexpected development turns everything on its head. Tiger has a half-sister and indeed, a father (who happens to be in jail)  – something for which Tiger has never been prepared, given her mother’s refusal to even discuss the past.  But the trauma isn’t over for Tiger. The journey of her adjustment to her new life, new family, new emptiness, new dark is at times harrowing and heartbreaking but ultimately some hope surfaces and perhaps – just maybe- Grief Life will ease, at least partly.

This is beautifully written and Tiger’s voice is compelling throughout. Make no mistake, it’s not an easy read emotionally but very much worth it. Our individual ability to process and then live with grief is unique to each – I know this only too well – but for anyone who has been in this aching abyss of blackness this could well be a book that will prove both cathartic and affirming.

I recommend it most wholeheartedly… but for mature readers from around 14 years upwards – there is some profanity and certainly some confronting situations/incidents as well. For your school library it’s definitely for your Middle to Upper secondary students.

Find teaching notes here.

The Space We’re In – Katya Balen

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the-space-we-re-in

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.

Taking Tom Murray Home – Tim Slee

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Harper Collins

July 2019

ISBN: 9781460757864

ISBN 10: 1460757866

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

RRP $32.99

The inaugural Banjo Prize competition attracted 320 entries but it was Taking Tom Murray Home that took out the first prize with its truly authentic Australian voice. Tim Slee’s novel bristles with laconic wit, quirky characters and bitter-sweet emotions and underlines with eloquence the dilemmas faced by so many of our rural Aussies who are doing it tough.

When the bank forecloses on Tom Murray’s dairy farm he is determined to go down in a blaze – literally. He sells off his stock, empties the house of his family’s possessions and burns it down. Unfortunately Tom is trapped in the fire probably due to his weak heart problem and loses his life. His widow Dawn refuses to allow his death be in vain and decides to take his body to Melbourne for burial thinking the several hundred kilometre ‘funeral procession’ from their small rural town will offer people pause for thought on the plight of so many struggling country folk. She is persuaded to take the coffin on the back of a neighbour’s vintage horse-drawn milk cart for even more impact and so begins a poignant, fraught and dramatic passive protest.

Told from the viewpoint of Jack, son of Tom and Dawn and twin of Jenny, the journey begins with a local drama when the town bank burns down. Immediately, the whole protest/procession takes on a new and controversial aspect.  As the travellers move slowly towards Melbourne they are joined by supporters of all types, thwart the frustrated police who try to find ways to stop them and alerted to a wave of fires that are erupting around the country targeting banks and supermarkets – who are seen as the corporate buddies threatening the livelihoods and lives of the farmers. Rallied by stirring words and the community spirit the grief and loss and frustration are eased and bolstered by hope and possibilities.

The twist in the end is both a surprise and a damning indictment of the pressures put upon the families who are fighting for their survival and will give many readers cause to reflect on actions that could make a difference to those who are the ‘backbone’ of our country.

While essentially a novel that would be equally enjoyed and appreciated by readers both young and old, there is a liberal sprinkling of swearing which might preclude younger readers if you were to put this in your school library.

Highly recommended for readers from around 14 years upwards.

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle – Sophie Green

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9780733641169

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.