Tag Archives: Survival stories

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.

We Are Wolves – Katrina Nannestad


Harper Collins Australia

October 2020

  • ISBN: 9780733340888
  • ISBN 10: 0733340881
  • Imprint: ABC Books – AU
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD

One book about children surviving in the conflict of war that has always remained with me was Journey into War by Margaret Donaldson. It was one I used often with upper primary children and it offered so much scope for discussion and reflection. I have long lamented that I don’t have a copy of my own as it is out-of-print. Now at last I have a truly worthy alternative.

The Wolf family must leave their home and everything they know as the Russian army swarms into East Prussia. Carrying as much as they can Mother, Liesel, Otto, baby Mia and their grandparents join a long procession of refugees in an arduous trek in search of safety. But such escapes are rarely easy and when the children find themselves completely alone and lost, they must do whatever they can to survive and for Liesel, protecting her little brother and sister is her primary concern. Surviving in the depths of winter is a nigh-impossible task for any children but to do so with the last violence of a war raging around is another entirely.

So the Wolf children become indeed wolves. Living like wild creatures, often without shelter, stealing food and clothes, raiding where ever they are able just to stay alive. They are not the only child casualties of the terrible war that has ravaged their country and, at times, they join forces with other wildlings. When they are caught up by Russians things look very grim for them but fortunately one of the soldiers becomes their friend and helps them along their way.

Eventually the children find themselves in Lithuania where they are taken in by a kindly elderly couple and finally have some respite and safety. They grieve desperately for their family – parents and grandparents – but are at least able to feel secure and cared for. Even in the darkest times miracles can happen and the outcome for the Wolf children proves that hope, warmth and kindness can exist in the worst of circumstances.

Young readers will be mesmerized by the gripping adventure and the challenges faced by the children and will be uplifted by their grit and resilience. Katrina Nannestad has wrought a novel that will hold its place for many years.

Highly recommended for your collection and if your teachers are searching for a fresh and engaging class read this would make a perfect suggestion.

Playing Atari with Sadam Hussein –Jennifer Roy, Ali Fadhil



Bloomsbury Australia

November 2018

ISBN 9781786074669

Imprint: One World

RRP: $14.99

Like most everyone in the Western World, of a certain age, I clearly remember the days of the early 90s watching the endless news updates about the raging conflict that was Desert Storm, the first Gulf War.  And I confess, though I was vaguely aware of the political machinations of both sides I was no expert nor had only a very sketchy notion of what it meant for Iraq. Of course, I had read or heard all the information about Hussein’s terrible despotic control and rumours of the atrocities and torture that were common. Yet I had, on the other side of the world, no real knowledge.

Ali Fadhil was eleven years when the war began. He and his family had already survived one war – that between Iraq and Iran – and since that time their life had moved on with ease. A large comfortable home, servants, the trappings of comfort and for Ali, his prized Superman comic collection, video games and an obsession with American TV and film. In fact, his command of English was exceptional due to his fervent interest in all things American.

Suddenly Ali and his family are plunged into a nightmare of bombings, food and water scarcity, the extreme anxiety for their safety and a city crashing down around them all. Ali’s recount of that time is told in such a way that young readers can fully appreciate the terror such an experience might hold without being overly graphic and with touches of humour as, like any kids, there are sibling squabbles even in the midst of dark times.

The narrative also clearly demonstrates the distaste and despair so many ordinary Iraqis felt at the hands of such an out-of-control ruler whose prime objective was his own self-preservation and self-aggrandizement with no thought or concern for his country or its peoples.

Fortuitously, Ali’s family survived the first and indeed the second Gulf War intact, something not many Iraqis would. Their closeness as a family, their respect for each other and the strength of the parents is a testament and key to this.

Ali’s fluency with English notwithstanding such learned phrases as ‘Book ‘em, Danno’ and ‘Pity the fool!’ eventually lead him not only to the important post of translator at Hussein’s trial but became a passport to his beloved America in 2008, where he was joined by his siblings a year later.

This is an important book both for younger and older readers, particularly in these uncertain times where ‘hate’ seems to be a universal currency particularly among those who should be leading the way to a global peace.

I highly recommend it for discerning readers from around ten years upwards.