Who is Pookie Aleera anyway?

Pookie Aleera is not my BoyfriendPookie Aleera is not my Boyfriend by Steven Herrick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This gentle verse novel from Steven Herrick is fantastic. I loved all the characters, especially Cameron and Mick, and most especially Laura and Mr Korsky. I laughed, I cried and I felt the life in all the students of 6A and those who surround them. Mick is a bit of a rough diamond – a rogue with a heart of gold. Mr Korsky could be the groundskeeper in so many schools – a guy who is proud of the job he does – making the school grounds look nice, but also a bloke who sees the best in all the kids. Laura, the quiet girl on the outskirts of “the gang” could have been me at that age. I identified with her shyness, and longing to be part of something bigger.
There is a lot of longing in this book – Mr Korsky misses his best friend Walter, Pete misses his grandfather, Cameron misses his phone (sorry, in joke)….
The language Herrick employs is superb, and the message that poetry and playing with language is fun is well and truly communicated in Ms Arthur’s class. The poem where the children are asked to describe the words “Night Sky” is wonderful. “It’s where shooting stars write their name” “It’s lightning graffiti!” – all just fantastic language play. The verse where Ms Arthur tells the class they can borrow anything they want from the library EXCEPT poetry- and over half the class walks out with just that. All inspired stuff. I get the feeling Steven Herrick may have used that trick himself!
I really enjoyed this book. Maybe I’ll find a tree to wedge an apple into….
For ages 8 and up.

Guantanamo Boy – Confronting and uplifting

Guantanamo BoyGuantanamo Boy by Anna Perera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Khalid is a 15-year-old growing up in Rochdale, Manchester. He goes with his parents to visit relatives in Pakistan. Pakistan is a dangerous place, and Khalid’s father goes missing, with no explanation. Khalid hits the streets of Karachi to find him.

Unable to locate his father, Khalid goes back to the home of his cousin, Tariq, where his family is staying and is confronted by men in black balaclavas. These men abduct him and take him to a secret location. This begins a nightmare for Khalid. His captors do not believe he is only 15. They accuse him of terrorism, of being a member of Al-Quaida, and after many abuses and indignities he ends up at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre. What follows is a gruelling 2-year journey for Khalid, through torture and hopelessness. His family and his lawyer battle for months to secure his release and eventually he is reunited with his family, but with a very different view of the world.

Engrossing, affecting, harrowing and full of hope.

Recommended for ages 12 and up

Yes, they do.

Boys Don't CryBoys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Danté is waiting for the postman to deliver his much-aniticpated exam results. Next stop, Uni and a career as a journalist. When the doorbell rings he is unaware that his life is about to change, in so many ways, forever.

Standing on the doorstep is a girl he had a one night stand with nearly 2 years ago – and she’s carrying a baby. Melanie has had enough. She doesn’t want to be responsible for baby Emma anymore. It’s Danté’s turn to be the parent. Of course, this throws all his plans into disarray. To Danté, Emma is a huge hassle and one he is keen to try to fob off onto his father and Adam, his brother. They have problems of their own. His dad has a son who didn’t practice birth control, and Dad is suddenly a grandad. Adam is gay, and trying hard to live a “normal” life – one that involves him not getting smashed up every weekend. The book follows Danté’s journey as a new parent – his highs and lows, the frustrations at having his social life curtailed and his growing love for Emma. It also shows the journey of his father and brother as they come to terms with life with a granddaughter and niece. All of them discover things about themselves and each other that bring them closer together than they had ever thought possible.

This is a realistic, sympathetic and well-written novel that is full of struggle and, ultimately, hope.

Recommended for ages 14 and up

True stories are sometimes the hardest to tell

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Arnold Spirit, or Junior as he prefers to be known, is a Native American teenager living on a reservation. He is skinny, wears glasses, and has a chequered medical history which includes having water on the brain as an infant. He is beaten up on a regular basis because he is considered too different, sometimes by people twice his age. He accepts this as the normal way of things on the “rez” and is very matter-of-fact as he tells the reader about it. This makes the abuse even more disturbing and confronting to read.

Junior, does, however, possess a well-developed sense of humour and loves to draw cartoons to help him make sense of his life and the world. These cartoons are part of the novel. Things start to change (and not necessarily for the better) when Junior starts at the rich white school off the rez, about 22 miles away. Junior endures what many kids the same age could not – countless beatings, alcoholic parents, a lack of food, exhausting walks to and from school when there is not enough pertol money to drive him, and the deaths of friends and family around him. What shines through constantly is his spirit. This book is sometimes hard to read, but it is worth sticking with it to the end because it ends on a note of hope.

Gripping debut novel

All I Ever WantedAll I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mim is almost seventeen. She lives with her mother in a suburb that is harsh, gritty and makes her feel trapped. She has set herself rules to live by – in the hope that she will one day escape. Only one problem. She’s starting to break her rules.

Nine days from her seventeenth birthday, Mim’s life takes a turn she didn’t expect. She is breaking lots of her rules, not just one or two, and it is looking like she will be stuck in her dead-end suburb, turning out exactly like her drug-dealing mother. In Mim’s eyes that is a fate worse than death. As she struggles to escape an out-of-control situation, Mim begins to realise that maybe she belongs in her home town more than she realises. That those people – her Mum and all the rest of them, are HER people. This debut novel from Vicki Wakefield is a gripping read about identity, belonging and finding your place in the world.
For ages 14 and up.

Broken memory, broken heart

Broken Memory: A Story of RwandaBroken Memory: A Story of Rwanda by Elisabeth Combres
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

April 1994. Rwanda is at war with itself. The Hutus and the Tutsi’s. On April 6th, after the assassination of the Rwandan president, the Rawandan army begins massacring the Tutsi population. Almost one million Tutsi citizens are killed. Emma’s mother is one of them.

Emma is five years old when her mother is brutally murdered by Hutu rebels. When they arrive at her house, Emma’s mother hides her behind the sofa telling her “you must not die, Emma!” These last words stay in Emma’s mind and make her determined to survive, no matter what the odds. After her mother’s death she finds herself swept along in a sea of refugees – ending up at the door of an old woman who takes her in.

Mukecuru becomes Emma’s substitute grandmother and gives her a sense of family. Slowly Emma begins to reach out to others, especially a boy named Ndoli, who has also lost everything and was horribly injured during the massacre. Ndoli befriends and old man and eventually so does Emma. The Old Man is someone who has been sent to Rwanda to help refugee children return home and begin healing the injuries of the past.

After a long time, he takes Emma home, where she sifts through what is left of her burned down house. As she sifts through the rubble, she picks up some of her mother’s possessions and turns them over in her hands. This triggers memories from her past that had been buried for a long time. She begins to remember her mother’s face, which had faded in her mind, and she breaks down amongst the rubble. This is a turning point for Emma. Her life will never be the same.

Recommended for ages 12 and up

I like what THIS Tony Abbott has to say

FiregirlFiregirl by Tony Abbott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tom is in Year 7 at Junior High in the US. He shares everything with his best friend, Jeff – except his crush on Courtney. Tom fantasises about rescuing Courtney from all sorts of situations and is always trying to impress her. Into their lives walks Jessica Feeney – a new girl like no other they have met before.

Jessica has survived a terrible fire, which left her with horrific scars. Some kids, including Tom’s friend Jeff, cant’ even look at her without feeling sick and disgusted. Rumours start about Jessica’s involvement in the fire, especially when she reveals her sister died as a result of it. Tom, who lives next door to Jessica, soon discovers that al is not as it first appears. As he gets to know Jessica he learns some scars go even deeper than burns. Tom’s friendship with Jessica makes Jeff jealous and impresses Courtney. During a class president campaign, Tom learns a lot about himself and his classmates – and what is really important. He learns what true strength and courage are all about. Jessica only stays at Tom’s school for 3 weeks, but knowing her changes Tom forever.

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

No calm before this storm

Before the StormBefore the Storm by Sean McMullen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Emily and Daniel live a sheltered and priveleged existence in Melbourne circa 1901. Into their world come Fox and BC, solidiers from the future, who need their help to save the world.

Fox and BC belong to the Imperial Army, an elite military unit from the year 2001. Australia’s first parliament is due to open in a matter of days and Fox and BC are on a mission to make sure nothing(like a bomb blast) disrupts it. Emily and Daniel and Daniel’s friend, Barry the Bag, must use every resource at their disposal to prevent the future of Fox and BC from coming into existence.
Along the way, Emily discovers a strength she never knew she had, and Daniel learns that he is braver than he ever thought possible.
This is a rollicking tale of Victorian values and future sensibilities told with humour and suspense. Highly recommended.

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Wrong boy, right book.

The Wrong BoyThe Wrong Boy by Suzy Zail

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hanna Mendel is living in a ghetto in WWII Hungary. One horrible night she and her family are rounded up and thrown onto a truck bound for Auschwitz. This is not what Hanna had planned for her life, and things are about to take an even more unexpected turn.

Hanna, her sister Erika, and her parents have managed to remain happy, after a fashion, since being made residents of the ghetto. Food is meagre, but they get by, and Hanna is still able to practise on her beloved piano. She had planned to become a concert pianist, but those plans had to change when the Jews in her town were made prisoners in their own homes. Late one night the Nazis enter her house and tell Hanna and her family that they are closing the ghetto and they are being “resettled”. Before the soldiers return to take them away, Hanna’s father takes them all into the back garden and silently counts out steps, holding his hands up with numbers to let them know how many steps he has taken. He buries the family’s valuables in the earth and makes sure everyone knows where it is – all in total silence. Hanna has no idea how important this simple ritual will become for her.

At the last minute, as the soldiers are forcing them all out the door the next day, Hanna runs back to her piano and yanks off the loose C-sharp key her father never got around to fixing. Erika helps her to sew it into the lining of her jacket so she can keep it with her. Forced onto a crowded train car, with nowhere to sit and surrounded by 200 people, Hanna and her family endure a nightmarish journey to their new “home” Auschwitz Labour Camp. In the Camp, life quickly takes bad turn after bad turn for Hanna and her family. Her father is sent to another part of the Camp and they never see him again. Hanna’s mother increasingly disassociates herself from reality, reminding Hanna to practise her piano and planning her next recital. Erika becomes her rock and someone who sees the ugly truth about where they are. Mistreated by the Jewish guard in her dormitory, starving and filthy, Hanna grasps at the opportunity to play the piano when she gets it. Only one problem – she is to play for the Commandant in his house.

When she “audtitions” for the Commandant in his house, Hanna thinks she has no chance of being selected, but the Commandant’s son, Karl, chooses her. This decision will change the course of her life – not only in the camp, but for the rest of her life – period. She receives new clothes. but she can only wear them in the Commandant’s house. Hanna receives extra rations, which she tried to share with her sister, only to find her sister is persecuted by the rest of the female prisoners for having extra food. Hanna’s life is lived between the house and the camp. The Commandant likes her piano playing and she is there a lot. His son Karl usually sits in the corner, sullen and not making eye contact with her at all. She thinks he hates Jews. She is wrong.

I don’t want to tell you any more of the plot because it is yours to discover, but the second half of the book becomes filled with suspense and tragedy. I was unable to put it down for the last 80 pages or so – I just had to find out what happened. This is not an easy book to read at times, but it is sensitively written and Hanna is a fantastic, real, central character. The story raises all sorts of questions about people’s expectations of one another based on the most basic of details and also about how just one person can make a difference. This book will stay with me for a long time.

Recommended for ages 12 and up.