The Wishbird by Gabrielle Wang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Lyrical and compelling like the very best of songs, The Wishbird is a triumph of simple storytelling and immediately engaging characters. So drawn into this story of Boy and Oriole was I, that I ended up finishing it in one day!
Boy is a child of the streets, forced into a life of crime to survive when his parents are taken away for being musical – illegal in the City of Soulless (once known as the City of Solace). Oliver Twist and Boy have much in common – both orphans who are forced to work for a hard and cruel task master and live in squalor.
Oriole has lived in a Banyan tree in the Forest under the care of The Wishbird, Mellow, for as long as she can remember. She, too, is an orphan, but cared for by the gentle and simple birds she has led a very different life to Boy. She has the “Singing Tongue” and when she uses her voice it is magical.
Mellow is dying, and Oriole is sent to the walled city of Soulless to see the King and beg him to reunite with his Wishbird, Mellow in order to save them both.
Oriole and Boy connect and together they start a quest to save the kingdom, the King, Mellow and themselves.
There are villains, and heros in disguise, all supported by the beautiful, lilting language of Gabrielle Wang. I could not put this story down once I had met the characters. Gabrielle’s delighful drawings appear throughout, which was an added bonus – helping me to see the characters as she imagined them.
I would give this 10 stars if I could!
For ages 10 and up. Wonderful.
My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What a quirky, funny and likeable girl Candice Phee is. 12 years old and trying so hard to draw all the important people in her life towards happiness, she is a delight from the first page. Candice has a very interesting way of looking at the world. She is very literal, sometimes using that trait to be deliberately obtuse with the adults around her, and reads the dictionary every night. She has no friends at school until the fabulous Douglas Benson from Another Dimension shows up. He understands her “uniqueness” as he is similar (while being completely different) to Candice. From Douglas with his “facsimile” parents, to Rich Uncle Brian, to Candice’s depressed mother and the school bully Jen Marshall, this novel is brimming with memorable characters. Because I want everyone to discover the joy of Candice Phee, I am not even going to HINT at plotline, but this is an immensely satisfying journey over a few months in Candice’s life. You will rejoice at the end and want to read it all over again because it is over.
Good job Candice, and great job Barry Jonsberg. The Gold Inky was well-deserved!
Ages 12 and up.
Cry Blue Murder by Kim Kane and Marion Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this thriller/mystery novel. I decided to read it because the word of mouth reviews from my students were all very positive. Kane and Roberts use lots of interesting devices to keep interest high including police interview transcripts; newspaper reports and of course the email relationship between Celia and Alice.
Hallie Knight is missing and Celia and Alice are connnected by their concern about her whereabouts and fate. Celia goes to a school in Hallie’s neighbourhood and Alice has friends who know Hallie, but Alice herself is at boarding school in Mildura. The two girls strike up an online friendship bound by their interest in the case. It soon transpires that whilst the girls have different family situations, there are also similarities too and they quickily becomne firm friends.
When Hallie is found after several weeks, the mystery only deepens as she describes her abductor and the police try to track him down.
All the while, Alice and Celia grow closer, bonding over the circumstances and details of the case, as well as sharing the innermost workings of each other’s lives. As the police narrow-in on their prime suspect, Alice and Celia start making plans to meet up in person and turn their friendship into a going concern as Alice has been allowed to come home from boarding school for good.
I can’t say anymore as it will be full of spoilers, but I can tell you I saw the ending coming from miles away. This is more due to my wide expereince of crime thrillers rather than any flaw in the narrative, and I completely understand how swept up and involved younger readers would become in this story. Alice and Celia are likeable characters and you are quickly drawn into their developing friendship.
The ending is satisfying, however, and I look forward to the next offering from Kane and Roberts, particularly if it is in this genre. I would love to see this made as a series by someone like ABC3. I would certainly watch it, even knowing the outcome, because I think it would make fantastic television.
Highly recommended for ages 13 and up, and especially for girls who love their emails and online chatter.
The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a wonderful book. Ambelin Kwaymullina has created a believable and disturbing world where those with “talents” are considered to be abnormal. Ashala is part of The Tribe, who live in the Firstwood in exile. Still learning the full exent of her abilities, Ashala is captured and taken to a detention centre where she is held prisoner by her former ally, Justin Connor, under the powers of Chief Administrator Neville Rose. There, with her abilities blocked by a collar, she is tortured with a machine that can pull memories from her mind.
There is genuine tension built in the accomplished first novel. The real prospect of Ashala being forced to give up her secrets and her feeling of helplessness are tangible. Of course, that is not to say she gives up – quite the contrary. She is a fighter – tencacious and quick thinking, she gives the guards and Rose plenty to think about.
No spoliers here, but there is a second book in the series (released late 2013) so it is okay to get invested in the characters!
Kwaymullina’s portrayal of a dystopian world is effectively realised, with all the characters feeling quite fleshed out, even when they only seem like bit players. Perhaps that is groundwork for the next book. Whatever it is, it works really well. More please.
Ages 13 and up.
Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What a interesting grab bag of genres this turned out to be. Starts off as a sci-fi/fantasy, then morphs into a kind of quest, and then turns again into a high-tech thriller. Man Made Boy is definitely not a novel that can be placed in one genre alone. This, of course, makes it accessible for a number of readers, and that is great because I really enjoyed this book.
Boy is 16 going on 17, and has lived all his life in the theatre his parents, and a group of “monsters”, call home. The Monster and The Bride constructed Boy (which is interesting in itself and probably material for a whole other book) to complete their family and his day to day life consists of running errands and fixing any computer or technology issues the company might have. He is quite a dab hand at programming, and has all the same issues as a “real” boy would have. He likes a girl (Liel), but is worried about how he looks (he has stitched skin everywhere); he wants to know what the world outside is like, but he is restricted by his parents.
Everything changes when Boy is allowed to accompany Ruthven, the head of the company, out into the world of humans. Once he has met humans, Boy is determined to leave the Theatre and live in the human world. He gets the address of an online friend and starts his adventure. Before he leaves, he releases some computer code he has been working on into the ether. When nothing seems to happen he forgets about it and sets about making a life for himself on the “outside”.
Weird things start to happen. Firstly Liel turns up and wants to live with him, then his roommate diappears without a trace. Money starts arriving inexplicably in the mail for him. Then a female presence starts talking to him through his computer – and other technology. This becomes a problem, and then things get even more complicated when he meets other “monsters” and is coerced into a road trip with the granddaughter of Jekyll/Hyde.
I won’t reveal anymore plot here, but there are many twists and turns along the way for Boy and his companion. So many touchstones of adolescence appear in this book it could have dissolved into cliche, but it doesn’t. In fact, it is gloriously unsentimental, but also engaging and clever.
I certainly have never read anything quite like it and I imagine once word gets out, this would make a fabulous movie.
Suitable for ages 14 and up, I urge you to read this one. You won’t be sorry.
More Than This by Patrick Ness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book opens with a death. A boy drowns in the ocean, and Ness describes it with disturbing detail. Then the boy wakes up on a concrete path outside a house, naked but for a few strips of cloth, and he(and the reader) is VERY confused.
Where is he? When is he? Why are there no other people around? Is this some kind of Hell, or worse, purgatory – where he is in limbo in some way?
Patrick Ness is my favourite sci-fi/fantasy writer of the moment. I am devouring everything he has written, and when this newest work landed on my desk I was excited – for good reason. After all, any author who uses a Peter Gabriel quote at the beginning of their book has to be taken seriously and given my reading time.
When I began reading, I expected this to be about life after death, reincarnation or reanimation – typical sci-fi fare. I should have known better. Patrick Ness is anything but typical. After the Chaos Walking series, I should have realised that this would have depths to be uncovered.
Seth’s life is shown to us through a number of flashbacks that seem to be dreams. It is revealed that when Seth was eight, a terrible event took place in his family that changed it forever – and Seth feels responsible. It is clear that he carries a lot of guilt, but that is just the beginning of his pain. Just before his death, Seth was in a relationship with the charismatic Gudmund. Someone found a photo of Seth and Gudmund on Gudmund’s phone and sent it to everyone at their school, with devastating consequences.
It is very clear that at the time of his death, Seth was not a happy person.
He is not happy in his new reality either. Making up his mind to kill himself, Seth sets out for a hill with a long drop, to end the loneliness and feeling of emptiness inside. On the way he meets Regine and Tomasz. They have similar experiences of this weird world and Seth begins to wonder if any of it is real – if they are real.
The three form an uneasy alliance and set out to find out the truth of where they are and why. Along the way they learn nothing is as it seems.
To say anymore would be spoiler territory. I really enjoyed this novel. It veered off in a direction I was not expecting and I LOVE that when I read. The fact that Patrick Ness makes it all seem so possible is a testament to his amazing writing talent. Read it. Allow yourself to become immersed in the narrative and burst out at the other end, gasping, much like the drowning boy in the opening pages. You won’t be sorry.
Suitable for ages 14 and above.