Frankie by Shivaun Plozza
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Frankie Vega is hard work for those around her. Her boyfriend Mark broke up with her because she’s so angry all the time. Her Aunt Vinnie is perpetually frustrated by Frankie’s violent outbursts and seeming inability to obey rules of any kind. And Frankie herself struggles to understand why she continues to make risky and dangerous choices.
Frankie feels like an alien in her own life, and then Xavier shows up. A kid with the same eyes and nose as her mother. A kid who says he knows her mother because they share her. A kid whom Frankie likes instantly. Then as suddenly as he appeared, Xavier is gone. The only clues to his whereabouts: his amazing street art and a partner in house-breaking, Nate. Nate with the clear blue eyes and the casual wit. Nate, who is trouble with a capital T. Frankie makes up her mind to find Xavier and ends up finding herself.
This book is gritty. Set in the streets and homes of Collingwood, it’s as real as it gets. Plozza doesn’t pull any punches about writing down and dirty, but her affection for the area shines through. And the dialogue. The conversations in this novel are superb. Nothing particularly flowery, thank goodness, just simple, honest words spoken by entirely believable characters.
He shrugs at me like he doesn’t care either way.
And yes, part of me is tempted. But the rest of me knows that when Nate says ‘talk’ he doesn’t mean about Xavier. Hell, he doesn’t even mean ‘talk’.
“I thought you said you didn’t live here.” I look at the creepy house and remind myself that this boy spent the afternoon in the Collkingwood cop shop. That I met him robbing a house.
Walk away, Frankie.
There’s a flash of something dark in his look before he clutches his heart and laughs. Nice-guy act over. “Ouch. You don’t like being hit on, do you?”
“I love it. It makes me ecstatic.”
“Then you should know your ‘ecstatic’ face and your ‘bitchy’ face are exactly the same.”
I think about kicking him in the balls. Apparently my ‘I’m going to kick you’ face is different enough from my ‘ecstatic’ face because he takes a quick step backwards.
“You’ve been a big help, ” I say. “And when I say ‘help’ I mean ‘arsehole’. Why won’t you tell me about my brother?”
“Whatever.” With a salute Nate saunters off toward the house. “Go home and quite wandering down dark streets – all kinds of people about.”
“You ought to know,” I call. But it’s too late; he’s gone, sucked into the darkness.
I love this kind of writing. I can’t wait to see what Shivaun Plozzacomes up with next.
For ages 14 and up.
One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you want something un-put-downable for a rainy day, this is the book for you. Five kids go into detention, only four survive. The dead student, Simon, is a loner who was about to publish secrets about the other four on his blog. Life-changing secrets. The other four students: Nate, Bronwyn, Addy, and Cooper would not ordinarily even speak to each other at school, but fate throws them together in a quest to discover who the killer is.
I enjoyed reading this story very much. There are plenty of YA tropes to name-check. There’s a jock, a nerd, a rebel/outsider, and a popular girl. What McManus does really well, however, is to just subvert them enough to make them interesting instead of stereotypes. The one quibble I had was the ending was not as convincing as I would have liked. But the rest of the book is great.
There is a rumour going around that this may be turned into a TV series. I look forward to seeing if the rumours are true!
For ages 14 and up (mild language)
Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is unlike any biography I had read before. Nevo Zisin is honest, raw and vulnerable in their telling of their life so far, but this is a book about courage. Courage to accept yourself, courage to trust others, courage to step forward and courage to tell others about your experiences. Nevo was designated female when born (biologically female), but struggled with BEING female in a heteronormal landscape. I heard Nevo speak at Reading Matters 2017 (#YAMatters) and I was prompted to read more about their life after their amazing presentation.
Finding Nevo is written with disarming candour, and a fantastic light touch. This makes it easy to read, as well as an important text in the increasingly diverse YA lexicon. Whilst I came to the book as the mother of an out and proud lesbian, I admit I initially struggled with pronouns – but as I read further things began to make sense to me. I hope many, many people will read this and finish it changed by Nevo’s wit, charm, and quest for acceptance and understanding.
For readers 13 and up.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read this book primarily because I was preparing for a young adult reading conference where Jennifer Niven was giving a keynote and appearing in some panels. I was aware of comparisons to TFIOS and I had heard a lot about the story from my students, so I thought I owed it to Jennifer to read it. I am so very glad I made the effort.
The opening scenes had me worried – and I was prepared to put it down – until Violet and Finch were thrown together (after Finch had saved her in the bell tower) for the geography project. I loved this device. Making them grow a relationship based on a task they had to perform actually felt realistic to me, rather than the two of them just hanging out because of the bell tower incident.
As it became evident that Finch was bipolar, and that Violet was harbouring huge survivor guilt after a car crash in which her sister died, I was willing the two of them together. I wanted them to save each other.
Finch’s manic episodes force Violet to be part of a world she has been hiding from; to step forward into the light and exist again. As she does this, little by little Finch starts to retreat into himself until he has nowhere else to go. I don’t want to write much more in the way of plot, because I want readers to pick this up and discover it’s magic for themselves. What I do want to say is more to some of the people who have pretty much trashed this novel in their reviews.
Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinions about this book, and not everyone is going to enjoy this story. It can be hard going at times, and there are some who might find it quite distressing. That said, it should be remembered that Jennifer Niven has stated that this novel was born of very real personal loss. This was clearly a way of honouring and processing that. As someone who experienced something similar at the age of 21, I embraced this novel, this tribute, and I respect it. For some to say Jennifer has “copied” other novels is simply untrue and does her a disservice. This is a story told from the heart. Her heart.
Read it, don’t read it. Your choice. But don’t discount it and how it might reach out to just one person who might need it, at just the right time.
Recommended for ages 14 and up.