The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ruby’s little brother, Anton, died in a terrible, family-shattering way – when her drunken father crashed into him with his car. Ruby and her Mum exist in a sorrowful, grey, joyless haze of cigarette smoke and TV dinners – and six months after the funeral things don’t look like they are going to change anytime soon. Well-meaning Aunty Cath turns up to “help” and her loud and bright demeanour forces Ruby into the outside world for relief. This is when she sees Fox, the angelic looking boy who will change her life, for the first time. He hands her a bottle of water and on it is a label: “Boundless Body, Boundless Mind”. Intrigued by this mysterious boy and the cryptic label, Ruby has dinner with Fox and his “family”. Ruby finds herself drawn to these people and their intelligent conversation, revelling in the anonimity and the temporary escape from her grief.
Gradually Ruby starts to tie herself to the Institute of the Boundless Sublime, and when she moves in with them as a Sublimate, her descent begins. I can’t reveal much more, for fear of giving you spoilers. What I will say is that as a twenty year old I read quite a bit about cults – lots of true stories of escape – and this book captures the level of self-talk and rationalisation required to be a “true” devotee really well. It also captures how damaged people can so easily be taken over by such a cult.
Lili Wilkinson has obviously researched well for this novel. It feels like she has lived it – some of the content, the descriptive detail is so visceral I had to stop reading for a couple of minutes to let it sink in. This is a raw, deeply moving and engaging novel. I cared so much about Ruby, about what was happening to her – I wanted to shout out, “No! Don’t do it!” more than once.
There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes too. One particular twist, towards the end of the book, literally made me gasp out loud because I did NOT see it coming at all. I love it when writing makes me do that! I was absolutely gripped by this story, and I will be pushing it into the hands of as many readers as possible.
Dark, terrifying and heartbreaking, this is a novel that reinforces the true meaning of family, and eloquently champions owning everything in one’s life – the good and the bad, the pain and the bliss – because that is what life really is all about.
Recommended for ages 13 and up
Black by Fleur Ferris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is Fleur Ferris‘s second novel and it is fantastic. Ebony Marshall has been touched by tragedy in her life, losing both her best friend and boyfriend to accidents. Some in Dainsfield think she is cursed, and her nickname, Black, makes her a target for some people who believe she is dangerous. When her latest boyfriend, Aiden, has an unfortunate accident after the formal and ends up in a coma, things take a sinister turn. Family secrets are revealed and Black finds herself caught up in stuff that only belongs in a horror movie. Mystery, suspense, romance, a little bit of horror and violence, and characters you really care about are the features of this book.
Black is feisty and fierce (not in a cliched way) and smart too. Nice to see a girl interested in science as the central character for a change. Ed, the lab technician at the water plant where Black works, (and which her Dad runs) is a fantastic character and a wonderful confidente for Black as she navigates the peaks and troughs of her life in Dainsfield.
As with Ferris’s first YA novel, Risk, the voices of the characters ring true. There is some really authentic sounding dialogue between the kids and between the adults too. This is certainly one of the great strengths of her writing. The other thing Ferris excels in is setting. Dainsfield feels real, especially the forest Black must traverse when inspecting the dams as part of her job. It felt cold, isolated and a little bit creepy as she made her way through it.
I also liked the resolution of the book. There was a real sense of danger and urgency as event played out and like Risk, the ends were tied up, but not neatly. There were enough frayed edges on the ribbon to make it feel like something that could happen in real life.
Highly recommended for ages 13 and up.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Loved it. Great to see old friends again (although not as many as I would have liked – Neville, anyone?) and to meet some new ones. Scorpious Malfoy is my new favourite character, bar none. Albus Potter is a sulky ungrateful douchebag – NOT what I expected at all. Initially struggled with the play format, but once I got into the story it didn’t matter anymore.
Don’t want to write too much that is specific (because, spoilers), but highlights include:
1. Draco Malfoy becoming the character I always hoped for;
2. A journey back to Godric’s Hollow;
3. Snape’s razor sharp wit;
4. Ron and Hermione, and Ron and Hermione (read it and you will understand);
5. The possibility of a new generation of novels (yes, I WANT to believe it will happen) featuring these new characters.
Sure, it has flaws, but all great stories do. Sometimes you just have to let yourself be carried along enough to not care about them. I look forward to the promised novelisation of this play, because I think it will read better and allow some more emotional investment in the new characters as well.
I already want to read it all over again.
Risk by Fleur Ferris
Taylor and Sierra are best friends, but their relationship can sometimes be a bit of a love/hate thing too. When they are both talking to Jacob Jones in an online chat room, Taylor thinks he will only be interested in Sierra. She is rapt when Jacob gets in touch with her and wants to arrange to meet up. Riley, another friend, encourages Taylor to get out there and grab this guy. Imagine Taylor’s hurt and surprise when she discovers Sierra has been contacted too, and is meeting Jacob tomorrow, straight after school.
Taylor says nothing, and sighs as Sierra runs off to be with her “dream guy”. After a prearranged phone call, to make sure everything is okay, Sierra tells Taylor she is going off on a date with Jacob. And that is the last Taylor ever hears from Sierra.
When she doesn’t come home on Saturday, Taylor’s not particularly worried. She has done this kind of thing before. Taylor’s friend, Callum, who is becoming more than a friend, is the only one who thinks something bad might have happened. Taylor shrugs it off and then 1 day turns into 2 days and the police are brought in after Taylor confesses about what is going on to Sierra’s mum.
Amid the blame, and guilt, Taylor still can’t believe that anything really bad has happened to Sierra – after all, she was all set to meet up with Jacob herself.
After a series of events that I cannot reveal because of spoilers, Taylor attempts to locate Sierra’s abductor herself and, along with Riley and Callum, finds herself in a murky world of internet scamming and lies she never knew.
I found this book to be very believable – especially the jealousy between friends, the denial that something is really wrong, and the developing relationship between Taylor and Callum. The first kiss between Callum and Taylor is exquisitely written and evoked long-forgotten memories in this reader. Fleur Ferris really captures the voice of her characters well, and the details in the story show her background in law enforcement.
Very definitely a cautionary tale, and a fantastic thriller to boot. More please.
For ages 12 and up.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wade Watts lives in a high-rise made up of relocatable homes, that teeters above a dirty grimy 2044 world. Like most people on the planet, he lives most of his life inside the Oasis – a virtual world where he goes to school and socialises. Ten years ago, the inventor of the Oasis, James Halliday, died leaving no heir. Halliday left riddles littered through the Oasis that contain clues to winning the biggest prize of all – complete control of Oasis and Halliday’s huge fortune.
This novel took a little while to get going but, once the rules were established and I allowed myself to become immersed in its world, I strapped myself in and went along for the roller coaster ride.
If you are a child of the 80s, you will find many points of reference here. Games, music, movies, books – the whole 80s zeitgeist is used in so many ways it’s hard to count them all. Everything from the music of Rush, to PacMan, to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, to Family Ties and so much more.
There is great tension created as Wade (as his avatar Parzival) makes his progress through the game and runs up against friends (the awesome Art3mis and the loyal Aech) and enemies (Nolan Sorrento, head of the rival gaming company; Sixers; Shoto and Daito) in his quest to be the first through the third gate in the game. As someone who left “real” gaming behind years ago, it has made me quite nostalgic about the old days of Galaga and Frogger and Space Invaders that were my first video game experiences.
The stakes are incredibly high because if Sorrento and his minions (the scary Sixers) gain control the Oasis will change forever and be unavailable to all but the highest bidders. The fabric of Wade’s society is built around Oasis and reliant on its egalitarian ideals to continue.
It is difficult to say much more without revealing spoilers, but I can say this novel has some great messages to impart about friendship, about knowing people on the inside, about how appearances can be deceiving, and mostly about self-belief and self-worth.
It has been described, accurately, as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix”. I just loved it, and I can’t wait to see the movie Stephen Spielberg makes of it. He just bought the rights and that is really exciting.
Recommended for ages 13 and up, and especially for children of the 80s.