Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Glory O’Brien is funny, fierce, flawed, and fragile. I love her. Haunted by her mother’s suicide when she was only four, Glory is fighting to become Glory. To find meaning. To discover her path in life.
When she and her neighbour/friend Ellie decide to drink the powdered remains of a long-dead bat with a beer, Glory discovers two things. Her mother’s journals and photographs in the abandoned darkroom; and the power to see people’s pasts and futures. In fact, everyone’s but her own. As well as mundane details like whose Dad was a butcher in 1953 and who will marry who and how many babies they will have, Glory also sees glimpses of a dark and desolate future following a devastating war. As she tries to deal with these flash-forwards, she is also discovering her mother through the books she left behind. This is her look into her own past. There she finds secrets and lies, some of which will impact life as she knows it now.
No spoilers, but this is a fantastic read. I couldn’t put it down – especially the last 150 pages. The writing is wonderful – particularly the dialogue. Glory’s voice is strong and clear.
Long live Glory.
For ages 13 and up.
A Different Dog by Paul Jennings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is not your usual Paul Jennings fare.
Is it well written? Yes
Does it have characters your care about? Yes
Is it a page-turner? Yes
Is it hilarious and tinged with magic realism? Nope
Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not.
The boy (we do not learn his name) does not speak when in the company of other people. On his own, or with animals, he finds his voice. Rendered mute by the heavy burden of guilt about the death of his first dog, Deefer, the boy is a child who is suffering. The boy’s mother is out of work and she and her son live life on the poverty line. It is cold, it is bleak, but she loves her son.
Trying to win a race to climb a mountain for the $1000 prize, the boy witnesses a fatal car crash on the icy road. Inside the dead man’s van is a dog. The boy rescues the dog and names him Chase. When they are alone, the boy can talk freely to Chase. When he is carrying Chase from the wreck of the car, he tells him “You’re heavy, but you’re not a burden.” This is echoed when we read a flashback to when Deefer went missing and the boy’s mother carried him home. She says exactly the same thing. The ones we love can sometimes be hard to carry, but they are no burden.
I don’t want to populate this review with spoilers, but this story is full of important things. Love, sacrifice, guilt, courage, honesty, justice, persistence, resilience, and most important of all – hope.
This would be a lovely book to read aloud to a class of Year 3 or 4 students, but could also be used for older students too.
The Beast of Hushing Wood by Gabrielle Wang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I loved the writing in this book, from a writing craftsmanship point of view, but I found this novel harder to get into than Gabrielle Wang’s previous novel The Wishbird. Ziggy Truegood is a great character – brave, self-reliant – haunted as she is by precognitive dreams of her death by drowning at the age of twelve. We meet Ziggy as her fateful birthday approaches and at the same time, Raffi and his mysterious grandfather arrive in town. Ziggy is struggling to make sense of her world – the townspeople are fighting and strange things are happening in and around her beloved woods. She finds herself drawn to Raffi and the leopard she sees padding around after him, but she finds herself unsure too – are they related to her dreams of death? Her grandfather, who lives at Gold Leaf Lodge, has good days and bad days and though he is the wisest person Ziggy knows, he can’t seem to help her unravel the mysteries of her life and her visions.
Eventually Raffi and Ziggy become friends, despite her mother’s disapproval, and Ziggy learns of Khalila, the trickster, who has returned to make trouble in Dell Hollow and Hushing Wood. Grandpa tells Ziggy to key to everything is the little jade bottle he gave her, and then Ziggy is caught up in a race to save Raffi and his grandfather, and her town.
This novel has many layers and I think it would be even better on a second reading. Unfortunately I have not had time to do that yet, but I think the nuances of the prose and the nature of the story would resonate more second time around.
It is beautiful and magical and I wish I could say I liked it more – perhaps the second time around.
For readers 10 to 100
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Although it took a while to really get going, I enjoyed this book very much. I am not usually someone who reads a lot of the magic realism/fantasy genres, but this is a book that slowly draws you in, and before you even realise it, you care about the characters and what they are going through. Finn and his brother, Sean, live on a farm in Bone Gap. Both are haunted by the sudden departure of Roza, a Polish girl they took in and cared for when she was hurt and frightened. Finn saw the man she left with, but no-one has ever been able to find out where she went or why.
Finn is obsessed with finding Roza, but he is also held back because no-one believes him when he starts seeing the man who took her back around town. He turns his mind to other things, and starts a sweet romance with Priscilla (Petey) Willis, daughter of the local beekeeper, Melissa. Strange things start happening. Finn hears the corn fields whispering to him, a magnificent black horse turns up in his barn, and he starts seeing the mysterious man everywhere.
At the same time, we see Roza in the clutches of her abductor – a prisoner who is kept in comfort, but also in solitude. She is the classic princess in the tower – without the tower. She is waiting for someone to rescue her – unless she rescues herself first.
I can’t say too much more about the story for fear of giving spoilers, but I CAN say that Laura Ruby has skillfully created a town that is both harsh and embracing, populated with characters who are, for the most part, happy in their part of the world and don’t want to rock the boat.
Petey is by far my favourite character in this book. She is feisty and vulnerable and hardened by years of mistreatment by her peers. And she is smart – probably too smart for Bone Gap – and Finn loves her for it.
The last 100 pages of this book flew by for me, and they are by far the most magical and other-worldly of the book. Bone Gap is definitely an interesting place to visit.
For ages 14 and up.