Surviving the dark

After the Lights Go OutAfter the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Doomsday preppers…riiiight….I was not sure if I would enjoy this as much as Lili’s other novels. Sure, I knew it would be well-researched, and the writing would be impeccable, but preppers? I shouldn’t have worried. From the first page I was drawn in and couldn’t wait to know more. Pru and her sisters, twins Grace and Blythe, live with their Dad in the remote town of Jubilee. In the first pages of the book we see the girls dodging intruders and threats, but eventually learn it’s a drill their father makes them do on a regular basis. Already the reader is made to feel uneasy because Pru is a doomsday prepper, or at least the child of one, and they are not necessarily known for their rational view of the world. Having a possibly unreliable narrator just serves to make the story more interesting. Then, the unthinkable (except for preppers) happens. There is a massive disastrous event and all of a sudden nothing that relies on electricity, or that has circuitry, works. No cars, no phones, no radio, no TV. No electric cooking, etc. To make matters worse, there’s been an explosion at the mine where Rick, the girls’ Dad, works and only a few have survived. The girls are on their own, in their bunker, with only each other to rely on. “Family comes first” their father has drilled into them since their mother left, and the girls are determined to survive, even if it means denying the other people in town much-needed assistance. When someone tells the other townsfolk of the girls’ secret, things take a turn. I will not spoil the rest of the story, but this book is an absolute page-turner. Survival, romance, betrayal, violence, death, redemption – it’s all there and Wilkinson writes her narrative with admirable restraint. There would be a tendancy for someone less experienced to pump up the hyperbole and drama, but Lili Wilkinson allows the drama to develop from small things- things that become huge in remarkable and terrifying circumstances. If you like gritty and realist fiction with a dytopian edge, this is for you.
Recommended for ages 14 and up.

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This one has heart

Tin HeartTin Heart by Shivaun Plozza

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marlowe, the central character in Shivaun Plozza’s accomplished second novel is a fantastic protagonist. Flawed, fragile, but ultimately stronger than she realises, Marlowe is finding her way back into the world after having a life-saving heart transplant. Obsessed with connecting with the family of her donor, Marlowe is frustrating, but also highly likeable. Her mum is a “vegan warrior” who only wants the best for Marlowe, but she also tries to be her friend a little too much. I didn’t enjoy this character as much as I hoped to, but Pip, her wonderfully eccentric and self-confident little brother is an absolute delight. I kind of wish younger kids could get to read Pip too, because he is such a positive character. As such, Pip is a great reflection of Marlowe, who is often down on herself and others much of the time. No matter what, Pip can find the good in almost everything. As Marlowe’s relationship with the sister of her dead donor develops, the reader can see there is disaster looming, and when Marlowe starts falling for Leo, son of the local butcher, there is conflict of epic proportions brewing. No more story elements for fear of spoilers, but suffice to say Marlowe has to confront more than a few personal demons and work on mending lots of fences before the story ends.
Plozza’s writing is heartfelt and her dialogue, as in her debut novel Frankie, is absolutely on point. Leo is a laconic smart arse, but has a heart of gold. Marlowe is trying to break away from her family, but ultimately loves them more than anything. The realities of an adolescent trying to find her place, and settle into it comfortably are familiar, and handled here with aplomb. Highly recommended for ages 14 and up.

A Great Find

FoundFound by Fleur Ferris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beth (Elizabeth) Miller lives in a small town, Deni, and has just started a relationship with local boy, Jonah. When we first meet them, Beth is trying to work up the courage to tell her father, “Bear” – a local teacher and karate instructor – about her boyfriend. Beth’s Dad disappears after the appearance of a nondescript white van and from that moment on, her entire life is turned upside down and inside out. Everything Beth thought she could be sure of in her life becomes shaky as she discovers her family has been in hiding from a dangerous, vengeful criminal who has now found out where they live.
I love how Fleur Ferris throws the reader immediately into the middle of the action in this novel. We have barely met Beth and Jonah when things begin to go pear-shaped, and the pace does not let up for the rest of the 300 pages. Beth turns out to be a highly capable and resourceful girl, because her parents have always been secretly preparing in case they were found out; but she is also incredibly fragile, trying to make sense of everything that is going on AND trying to keep herself and her family alive.
Jonah is interesting too – especially because he learns things about his own behaviour (he’s a bit of a selfish prick for a while), and he has great mates like the fantastic Warra to help pull him back into line. Willow, Beth’s best friend, is also well-drawn and the conversation between the two girls feels natural and easy.
I won’t give any more plot points away, but I CAN say that just when you think you know everything, there is another surprise or shock over the next page!
Fleur has found her stride here – a great mix of excellent scene-setting, and well-paced action – and has cemented her place as a premium writer of YA thrillers.
Highly recommended.

Consider Yourself Schooled

Teacher - One woman's struggle to keep the heart in teachingTeacher – One woman’s struggle to keep the heart in teaching by Gabbie Stroud

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a teacher you will, at some point, recognise yourself in this book. I did and, while I am not a teacher, I work closely with students every day. If you are not a teacher, you will want to walk up to every teacher you know and THANK them for what they do every day. For how they care, for the time they sacrifice, for the absolute gut-wrenching crap they have to endure most of the time to make sure your children, OUR children, get the best education possible.
This is a harrowing read. No doubt. There are moments of emotional uplift, but mostly this is a very raw, very real account of how the joy of teaching, as a profession and a calling, is being constantly eroded and demeaned by powers who have no business dictating a letter, let alone dictating what the national curriculum should be. Gabbie Stroud’s voice is loud and clear. Teacher is a highly readable and extremely well-written memoir, and a searing indictment on our education system and its “standards”. Our education system is broken. This book won’t fix that, but Gabbie’s voice, the voice of so many educators out there, needs to be heard. By everyone. Read it, cry, then resolve to never let another child sit the NAPLAN and to tell your child’s teacher they are valued, that they MATTER. A heartbreaking call to arms. A must read for EVERY parent of school-aged children, and everyone else too. Highly recommended.