“To be heard”

Catching Teller CrowCatching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This glorious book. This lyrical, mystical, earthy book. I loved it. Ambelin and Ezekial Kwamullina have woven together two different narrative perspectives and made them seamless. Beth Teller, a ghost, is tethered to her grieving father after being taken too soon in a car accident. Her father, a police detective, has been sent to a town to investigate a suspicious fire and death. In the course of the investigation Beth and her Dad meet Isobel Catching, thought to be a witness to the fire. Catching, the second narrator, tells her story in a verse novel style and hers is a strange and compelling tale. As we read these stories side-by-side, we start to see connections in them. Other people in the town go missing, Beth’s Dad starts digging into the town’s past, and unravels a mystery that spans twenty years.
The imagery used in Catching’s story, with connections to animals and the landscape, along with Beth’s emotional attachment to her father, and a growing attachment to Catching, move this story along at a deceptive pace. This is an easy read, but the themes are raw and real and definitely not for a junior audience. I would suggest ages 13 and up would be the way to go here.
Highly recommended reading.

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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.

A Sparkling Biography

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and DisasterThe Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This biography is as illuminating about the biographer as it is of her subject. Sarah Krasnostein lays herself bare many times in this fascinating account of the life (or lives) of Sandra Pankhurst. Sandra reveals little sections of her life story to Krasnostein, forcing her to piece together all the disparate parts, sometimes filling in the blanks with her best guess. As we travel the road of Sandra’s life with her biographer, we get a definite sense of a person who has undergone terrible trauma herself, and now helps other people deal with theirs, in various ways, as her job.
Sandra is the classic unreliable narrator, sometimes choosing not to include details which Krasnostein later uncovers. The fact that any of it leads to an immensely satisfying conclusion is testament to Krasnostein’s easy writing style and willingness to “go with it” when speaking with Sandra; and to Sandra Pankhurst’s dogged determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what.
Drawn to this initially because of the professional cleaning aspect (Pankhurst cleans death scenes, crime scenes and hoarders’ houses for a living), I found myself staying because I cared about Sandra, AND because I felt connected to her biographer who, by her own admission, struggles with the task she has set herself in documenting Sandra’s life.
Sandra’s clients help Krasnostein turn a light on her own life and experiences and the book is the richer for it. This is biography at its finest, despite its flaws -and it has plenty.
I can ignore the chinks in its armour, though, because I found this story compelling. I hope lots of other people do too, because as a tale of triumph in the face of overwhelming odds, it is a testament.

The Darkest Night

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle, #1)Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this after reading Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman‘s Illuminae and Gemina and I was not sure what to expect. I had heard this was very different, but I did not realise HOW different until I read the first chapter. This book, centred around the complex Mia Corvere and her quest to become an assassin, is full of bloody action, shady characters, and a pace that never lets up. If you like your fantasy full of swords and sweat, this is for you! Couple that with fantastic character development and shadowy powers over darkness and you have an amazing read. I can’t wait to read Godsgrave because this certainly left me wanting more. Won’t write more for fear of spoilers, but I highly recommend this first book in the Nevernight Chronicles.
Due to some language and mature content I would suggest ages 15 and above.

Hannah the Heartbreaker

The ProtectedThe Protected by Claire Zorn My rating: 5 of 5 stars I read this book in 3 hours. It’s that good. Hannah’s sister Katie is dead. Killed in a car accident in which Hannah’s dad drove, and Hannah was a passenger, the accident happened almost a year ago. With a court case approaching the pressure is on for Hannah to remember what happened in the accident. But she can’t. Or won’t. Hannah’s mum spends most of her days in bed,m not talking to anyone. When she does venture out an argument with Hannah’s dad usually ensues and it is a miserable existence for all of them. We learn that Hannah has been bullied ever since starting high school 3 years ago and that Katie was not the sister she should have been. In fact, Hannah’s life was a living hell and Katie was a bystander – not bullying, but not standing up against it either. Through a series of flashbacks we learn just how horrible Hannah’s life was – until her sister died and everyone started treating her differently. Hannah is one of the most hearbreaking characters I have read in reent years. She is gentle, sensitive, intelligent and good listener, but also timid and socially awkward. As I read about this girl who is not understood by anyone in her family I remembered the teasing I faced in my early high school years – about being the tallest, the one with the biggest boobs, and the nickname that stuck right up until year 12, FA (Fat Arse). Hannah doesn’t reach out to her parents for help, because she knows that nothing they can do or say is going to make a difference. She wants to break free of her isolated life, but can’t because she is held back by her memories of Katie and the accident. Hannah felt very real to me and Claire Zorn writes her perfectly. The way she talks, the way the other characters talk, feels authentic. Anne, the school counsellor, is wonderful – the right mix of concern and warmth, without being schmaltzy and Mrs Van, Hannah’s next door neighbour is a peach. Josh, the developing love interest, is great but he was a little Augustus Waters for me at first. He got better as the novel went on and seemed a perfect foil for Hannah in the end once his posturing was over. This is a great book for anyone who has experienced the pain of not quite fitting in, and the tiny fluttering joy of finding someone who wants to stick around and help you find a niche. This book has been long-listed for the 2015 Inkys and I am confident it will be on the shortlist – you read it here first. Suitable for ages 13 and up. Highly recommended.

A Narrow Road to an Emotional End

The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say about this book that has not been effusively said already? I am sorry to say I put off reading this book for a while because I knew some of it dealt with POWs along the infamous railway in Burma. Whilst the passages about the camps and the railway are harrowing, I feel for the first time after reading them that I finally have an inkling of how horrendous these places, and their place in history, were. Flanagan does not step back the atrocity, he takes it on and it is a memorable and emotional experience. As one by one members of Dorrigo Evan’s company die or cholera, malnutrition, gangrene or beating by the Japanese colonel and his guards, part of him dies too and us as well.

Not all the imagery is horrific, thankfully, and Flanagan’s prose soars. His descriptive powers are elegant and precise.
“Backdropped by woodlands of writhing peppermint gums and silver wattle that waved and danced in the heat, it
was hot and hard in summer, and hard, simply hard, in winter.” (p. 4)
This can only be an Australian landscape being described here. A few pages on, there is a superb description of a game of kick to kick in the school yard, with its pecking order and etiquette (recently featured in the sport section of the Sunday Age) that captures it perfectly.

“The smell of eucalypt bark, the bold blue light of the Tasmanian midday, so sharp he had to squint hard to stop it slicing his eyes, the heat of the sun on his taut skin, the hard, short shadows of the others, the sense of standing on a threshold, of joyfully entering a new universe while your old still remained knowable and holdable and not yet lost – all these things he was aware of, as he was of the hot dust, the sweat of the other boys, the laughter, the strange pure joy of being with others”

Sublime.

Dorrigo Evans is an enigmatic character and the book swings back and forth between his life before and after WWII, and the years in the POW camp where he served as doctor. In his life before the war, Dorrie has an affair with Amy, who happens to be his uncle’s wife. Amy is his touchstone through the rest of his life – as the one woman whom he really truly loved.
As well as Dorrigo’s story, we also glimpse the lives of some of the Japanese officers and guards after the war, as well as some of Dorrigo’s men who survived the Camp.
I will not give spoilers here, but my favourite part of the book occurs quite late in the story, at a place called Nikitaris Fish Shop. As you read the novel, look for this name – you will understand once you reach the end of the novel. The other moment I found very affecting involved Dorrigo finding out more about Darky Gardiner (a prisoner brutally bashed to death in front of the other prisoners over the course of several hours) – it was truly a gasp-out-loud moment.

Thank you, Richard Flanagan, for being a beacon in the Australian literary landscape, both as a writer and a damned fine human being too.

Defintiely a book for ages 16 and up. Anyone younger would find it too much to bear I think.

Taking Ross to Ross

Ostrich BoysOstrich Boys by Keith Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blake, Kenny and Sim have just lost their best mate, Ross, to a car accident. Having attended the funeral and coming out dissatisfied with the way Ross’s life was celebrated, the three teenagers decide to make a pilgrimage to the town of Ross, in Scotland, a place Ross once tried to runaway to. Only one problem, they have to steal his ashes first.
With that mission accomplished – messily – they embark on a 2 day train journey to Ross and thus begins an adventure and a journey of self-discovery for them all. After Kenny leaves his backpack (containing most of their money for the trip and Kenny’s ticket) on a train during a frantic interchange things take a wild turn.
Relying on each other, the boys talk about Ross and share recent memories of him that start to paint a picture they don’t recognise as their friend who would “stand up to anyone”. It is clear that Ross is still having a marked effect on their lives – even from his urn in Blake’s backpack.
Keith Gray writes young men very well – he speaks their language and I found these boys believable, sad, hilarious and likeable. I look forward to reading more books by Keith Gray very soon.
Did they get Ross to Ross? That would be telling…..

Rocked My World

The Whole of My WorldThe Whole of My World by Nicole Hayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. The fact that AFL is a major character in the book really helped. The fact that I read it around the 1 year anniversary of losing my Dad in a car accident really helped too. It was a case of the right book at the right time for me.
Shelley and her Dad are living the lives of ghosts following the death of her mother and brother in a car accident two years ago. Still caught in their grief, they are in limbo – feeling guilty if they are happy about anything. Josh, Shelley’s childhood friend and her brother’s best mate, is always in the background offering support to Shelley which makes her uncomfortable, but she can’t pinpoint why and neither can we – yet.
Shelley starts at a local Catholic school on a scholarship halfway through Year 10 and hopes it is a new beginning, a chance to “draw a line between one day and the next”. There she meets Tara, a football tragic like herself, and Shelley is drawn into the world of the fanatic Glenthorn supporters who attend training, and everything else they can wangle their way into. Mick (Eddie) the new recruit from WA befriends Shelley and she is thrilled. Slowly Shelley’s life feels like it is taking a turn for the better. However, as the football soaked part of her life takes off, Shelley finds her family, and her new friend Tara, don’t understand it. Tara withrdraws from her, her father bans her from going to training and Josh can’t understand why Shelley is happy to go to the Glenthorn games, but not his own Raiders games (where she and her brother also played).
This is a gentle book, which encourages you to stick with Shelley, even though she sometimes is VERY naive and more than a bit frustrating. I will not post spoilers, but there are revelations in the last third of the book that helped to make sense of it all and I was very satisfied with the ending – feeling quite happy and uplifted. Definitely recommended for anyone over the age of 12.

A wake-up call

When We WakeWhen We Wake by Karen Healey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in Melbourne, this is sci fi writing at its best. Tegan (Teeg) is a sixteen year old girl, loving life her best mate Alex and her new boyfriend Dalmar. Her life changes irrevocably the day she attends a climate change rally in the city centre. A sniper, aiming at the Prime Minister, shoots Tegan instead. Her world goes black and she wakes up, 100 years later in a research facility. Everything she knew is gone – in an instant. Her mother, her friends, the world she knew has disappeared. Luckily Tegan is a resourceful and strong-willed girl and she learns to adapt quickly to her new surroundings. It is clear she is a pawn in a much bigger game than she could ever have anticipated.
The novel doesn’t pull any punches about the effects of climate change and touches on many related issues without being preachy, which I really liked. It treats the YA reader as someone with intelligence and curiosity. The things that happen to Tegan, framed in the future science (and society) that Healey uses so well, are totally believeable and genuinely scary.
I also loved the use of song titles from Tegan’s beloved Beatles as chapter titles. It just shows – good music is good music even 100 years from now!
I am pretty sure there must be a sequel in the wind, or already here, so I must seek it out asap! I am anxious to find out what happened after the last page. Highly recommended.

Six lives, six stories

SixSix by Karen Tayleur

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great book. A book about that time in a teenager’s life when they are teetering on the precipice of adulthood, looking back over their shoulder at their childhood and knowing there is only one way to fall. It’s a book about friends, school, growing up and all the awful stuff that goes with it.
Karen Tayleur’s prologue lets us know that this story is not going to end well.
“…inside the overturned car, a mobile phone breaks into a musical ringtone. It is someone checking up on a daughter or a son or a friend. But no one will answer it.”
With this ominous beginning we enter the world of 5 friends who become linked by an unusual event – the discovery of a body in the local woods. The beginning of the story is related by Sarah, who I would call the chief protagonist. Friends Sarah, Poppy, Virginia, Finn, and Nico stumble across the corpse as they take a shortcut home. They don’t tell anyone about it. Nico places his shirt over the dead girl’s face and then, realising it may implicate him in the death (although he is innocent) seeks to retrieve it. When his girlfriend Poppy returns to get the shirt (Nico has been in trouble with the police in the past), it is gone. The book follows the ins and outs of the characters’ lives after their grisly discovery and how each of them deals with the fallout and the worrying mystery of the missing shirt.
Each of the characters tells part of the story and slowly a picture builds of the group and a sense of impending tragedy starts to gain momentum.
Sarah is studious and wants to be a doctor, Poppy believes she has psychic powers, Nico just wants to lay low, Finn has recently faked a break-up with Virginia so they can continue seeing each other after her parents forbid it. Virginia is the typical “popular” girl – caught up in the banal and superficial. Cooper is obsessed with Virginia.
In the background, they are all getting ready to attend the Senior Formal and there are relationship issues to deal with too.
Nico is struggling with guilt about the dead body, and with someone who taunts him with phone calls telling him they know about the missing shirt. Cooper, desperate to land Virginia, manages to get her as his formal date. Sarah yearns for Finn, who seems to be interested in her, despite Virginia’s protestations, Poppy worries about everyone – especially the troubled Nico and her best mate Sarah, who seems to be pulling away from her.
The night of the formal arrives and it is heavily laden with guilt, recrimination and revelations. No spoliers, but the six end up in the same car together and the novel ends as it began, with Sarah speaking to us.
I really enjoyed this story. The device of using the six characters to fill in the story works well, as does the clever use of nursery rhyme lines at the beginning of each chapter, emphasising the leaving of and longing for childish things and the inevitable push to adulthood.
An Australian coming-of-age story, but easily accessible to teenagers from anywhere, I commend you to read it.
Ages 14 and up