Know this – you will never forget this story

You Don't Even KnowYou Don’t Even Know by Sue Lawson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We meet Alex as he drifts in and out of an induced coma in the neurosurgery high dependency unit of a public hospital. He has been hit by a bus but cannot remember how it happened. Using an alternating narrative Sue Lawson trickles out information to us about how he got there.
This narrative style is very effective as it begins to fill in the details of Alex’s life before the accident, and also lets us track his progress in the now.
It is clear that Alex’s home life is far from ideal. His family consists of his bullying, nasty and social-climbing father; his soft, weak mother; his older brother – who is turning into his dad, his younger brother Harvey who is struggling to find his own voice; and his four-year-old sister, Mia – the light of Alex’s life. Through a series of episodes showing life before the accident it is clear that Alex’s life is made hell by his constantly baiting brother and awful father, with nobody to back him up, not even his own mother. These scenes are so well realised by Lawson that I keenly felt Alex’s deep frustration and understood the occasions when he lashed out. Of course, his father always takes Ethan’s side and Alex is punished. Not only does this pattern happen at home, it follows him to school where he is pushed around by his brother’s friends and Mr De Jong. De Jong grew up with Alex’s dad and was the victim of merciless bullying during that time, so when he finds himself as Alex’s teacher the sins of the father are visited upon the son. Alex is beset on all sides. Being in the hospital is almost a relief.
Sharing Alex’s hospital room is the unconscious Mackie, a cancer sufferer – a girl who was operated on the same day as Alex. She never utters a word, but through reading her scrapbooks Alex learns about her life – her dreams, her hopes, her fears and regrets and so do we. This gives her life within the story, she is a real character and Alex feels a connection to her. As his recovery progresses Alex starts talking to Paul, a psychologist, and the rest of the story is pieced together. As we get more and more of the picture there is a growing weight in the book. We know what is coming, we can feel it, but we can’t stop, we can’t look away. I read this book in 4 hours. The glimpses into each part of the story make you want to keep going, to reach a resolution.
We learn Mia is dead, and that Alex is blamed for it. We know Alex is in all sorts of emotional and mental pain and the only person that can save him, is himself. Through talking to Paul, Alex learns to forgive himself and he finds the strength to stand alone. Alex leaves the hospital for home and no sooner has he walked through the door, when Ethan starts in like nothing has changed. It has for Alex. The resolution, when it comes, is sudden, but satisfying.
You Don’t Even Know is a book about male relationships – raising the issues of bullying, the nature of “being a man”, and the importance of being sensitive to others.
When I finished this book, I hugged it close to my chest and cried. It was a very emotional experience for me, but that is as it should be. This is a powerful novel. I LOVED it. I think you will too.
Recommended for ages 13 and up.

War Zone : Vanguard Prime #3

Firstly I must thank Steven Lochran for organising a review copy of this book for me – I was very excited to see the next instalment of this series arrive in my PO box.
War Zone is the third in the series that began by introducing us to Sam, aka Goldrush, the newest and youngest member of Vanguard Prime, a league of superheroes. In this story we find Goldrush preparing to be introduced to the world media as as the rookie member of the elite unit. Agent Alpha, the elder statesman of the crew, suddenly takes off in the midst of this preparation, leaving Goldrush and his new bestie, Machina, to wonder what is going on. Of course, in true impetuous fashion, the two young friends take off in pursuit to find out what Alpha is up to.
When they reach him, Alpha is catching up with an old friend, Robert Ross, otherwise known as Dr Ouroboros and some of the Dr’s associates : Brainchild, Lilith and Tsar Bomba. It turns out this group is trying to find a boy named Jeremy who has powers not before seen in the superhero community. The Dr says he is trying to save Jeremy from a life as an experimental subject and manages to convince Alpha, Goldrush and Machina to help him. What he neglects to tell them is that his little group is also being pursued by an elite military group known as Vanguard Ultra.
What ensues is a series of exciting and suspenseful battles across and around the city of Tokyo, Japan. Along the way we meet the Japanese version of VP (Vanguard Prime), Battle Force Zero, commanded by the imposing Mighty Senshi.
I don’t want to give away too much in terms of plot, but Goldrush certainly holds his own against the many adversaries he faces, and we see his powers starting to develop and become even greater that he dreamed they could be. I like the science fiction sensibility of these books – Lochran really creates a world where these guys could exist quite convincingly. He also throws in the odd “in joke” for those of us who are nerds from way back. I particularly loved the reference to unobtanium in this story!
It is clear at the end of War Zone that book four in is in the wind. I hope Steven Lochran is writing fast – I know there will be lots of loyal readers hanging out for the next instalment!

For ages 12 and up.

War makes monsters of men….and women

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking, #3)Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have literally just finished reading Monsters of Men and I am short of breath. That’s the kind of book this is – it takes your breath away. Of the three in the trilogy, this is by far my favourite. Todd and Viola are a romantically linked couple of EPIC proportions and this novel is a testament to the transformative power of love in someone’s life.
In this installment of the Chaos Walking series, The Ask and The Answer are at war with each other, but also with The Spackle (or as they call themselves, The Land). The allegorical connection with displaced indigenous populations is at its most evident in this novel, particularly with the arrival of a scout ship from Viola’s people being thrown into the mix. Bradley and Simone, from Viola’s home world, show the best and the worst of humans and it is often through the lens of their actions that we see how extreme the other protagonists have become.
Ben told Todd long ago that “war makes monsters of men” and this novel leaves us in no doubt that men and women are both capable of turning into monsters in war.
Hearing the voice of The Land reminded me very much of things I have read by, and about, Native Americans  and also Australia’s indigenous population’s link to the land. This is definitely a novel rich in content and philosophical points to ponder. The nature of revenge, the healing power of love, the pain of taking the life of another – all are explored here.
I cannot possibly say much more without spoilers , except to say that this series will be something I will carry with me the rest of my life. Sounds like a big call, I know, but I have rarely been as affected by a story as I have been by Chaos Walking and I urge you to read it and never let it go.
Thank you Patrick Ness, for this powerful journey.

A life-saving list

The Boy on the Wooden BoxThe Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an engaging and simply told tale of Leon’s years as a child of the Holocaust. One of the lucky 1200 Jews on Oskar Schindler’s legendary list, Leon’s life was one of hardship, loss and terrible personal suffering. To not only have survived, but gone on to emigrate to the US and build a new life, is amazing and inspiring.
It is clear right from the outset that Leon wants to share his story so the sins of the past will not be repeated. It is interesting to read his reaction when he boards a bus in the South during the 1960s. Moving to the back of the bus, as he has always done (because as Jews they were always crammed into the back of the bus), he is told not to do so because that is where the negroes belong. He recalls being confused and saddened that such discrimination could take place in a country that called itself the land of the free.
The photograph of the page of Schindler’s list that contains Leon’s name (his real name is Leib Lejzon)is poignant, as are the photos of members of his family that were lost to the Holocaust.
Whilst the subject matter is, obviously, confronting, the style is suitable for Year 5 and up and could be used as a companion to Morris Gleitzman’s Once.
Read it.

Shiny, shiny, right there behind me…

The Shiny GuysThe Shiny Guys by Doug MacLeod
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To echo some other reviewers of this novel – wow. This was not what I was expecting at all. Doug Macleod has penned a very sophisticated and involving story indeed. I was totally captured by the story of Colin Lapsley and the “shiny guys”.
The setting is a psychiatric hospital in 1985 and Colin is seeing things no-one else sees (shiny guys) on the periphery of his vision. His parents have hospitalised him following a family tragedy and little by little we learn about how Colin came to be where he is. Colin’s friend, Mango, has his own set of problems that mainly centre on him randomly hugging people and not letting go. It doesn’t bother Colin. Eventually Mango calms down and lets go. Then Anthea shows up. Reserved and focused on shooting 100 netball goals a day, she is drawn into Colin and Mango’s circle.
Colin is an eloquent and clever narrator and at times you start to wonder if the shiny guys are real – he certainly believes they are.
Bit by bit we learn more and more of Colin’s story, and those of Mango and Anthea. My heart cried a little bit at each revelation, as I further understood how these things had come to be.
I won’t post spoilers, as is my policy, but as I read the last pages over breakfast this morning and then reached the end, there was slamming of the book on the table and lots of “WHAT? Seriously? Aaargh!” from me. I will be interested in hearing comments about that ending from others. I loved and hated that ending simultaneously.
I can’t wait to see where Doug Macleod goes from here, because The Shiny Guys is brilliant.
Recommended for ages 14 and up.