Say her name with love

My Brother's Name is JessicaMy Brother’s Name is Jessica by John Boyne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is important. It is raw and real and doesn’t pull any punches. The reactions of the adults are totally believable. Sam is a young boy trying to process his brother Jason’s recent revelation that he is, in fact, a girl. Their parents (mum is an MP with PM aspirations and Dad is…well, a jerk really) react with alarm and incredulity. Sam is confused and doesn’t want to lose his brother. Hurtful words are said, misunderstandings are addressed and then exacerbated, Jason/Jessica is trying to find her way in an increasingly messed up world. Jessica’s Aunt Rose, and her soccer coach, Mr O’Brien, are shining beacons of acceptance and love – and provide great counterpoints to Sam’s parents and schoolmates. I really enjoyed this novel. It’s honest and simple and does a great job. There is hope at the end, and a wonderful sense of the love of these two siblings breaking through all the other stuff and winning the day.
For ages 10 and up.

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What I like about this novel

What I Like About MeWhat I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I held it to my heart after I finished it because I wanted to hug Maisie, and her sister, and her friend Leila, and her mum (who was trying to grow), and Beamer and the lovely Seb. And most of all, I wanted to hug Jenna Guillaume, an emerging author who has captured parts of my teenage years so well it’s like she was there with me. I was Maisie – a big girl, a girl who felt invisible even though she took up a lot of room, a girl always needing external validation – but too afraid to try anything new or out of my comfort zone.
This book – it’s about knowing yourself, then accepting and loving yourself, and then SHOWING yourself to the rest of the world – and screw the consequences. It’s life-affirming, it’s gentle and sweet, and you must show it to every invisible girl or boy (or the ones who think they are – or should be) you know. NOW.
For ages 12 and up.

Three of a Kind

Take Three GirlsTake Three Girls by Cath Crowley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting book. There are three distinct voices telling the story, and we see events unfold from a number of perspectives that only enriches the experience. Clem, Ady and Kate are thrown together as part of a “wellness” program exercise and discover things about each other that ends up binding them together in deep, meaningful friendship. Each girl has her own baggage, and each commits herself to steadfast support of the other two.
Gender politics, sexual identity and finding one’s own path are the overriding themes here, with each girl having to make difficult and far-reaching choices about her life.
Not sure I personally would have given it CBCA Book of the Year (2018), but it certainly deserved a nomination, and it is a novel I would recommend highly for readers aged 13 and up.
There is power in this story, for everyone.

Boy Overboard

A Different BoyA Different Boy by Paul Jennings

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paul Jennings has done it again. This carefully crafted book has emotional resonance, complexity in narrative, and is wrapped in an engaging and approachable narrative that would suit ages 8 and up. It is a simple story, but adds complexity with alternating points of view. Anton the orphan runs away, somewhat inadvertently, and finds himself a stowaway on a ship to the “New Land”. There he meets Max, a boy who is has his own struggles – with learning and reading and life in general. Max’s mother cares for Anton, planning to adopt him as her own when they arrive at their destination. Then a near-tragedy changes everything. I don’t want to give away anything because I like to be spoiler free, but there will definitely be tugging on the heartstrings as this tale reveals its secrets to the reader.
Absolutely recommended and a lovely companion to the earlier A Different Dog by the same author.

Dem Bones….

All the Little Bones (Circus Hearts, #1)All the Little Bones by Ellie Marney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the start of a great new series by Ellie Marney. Colm and Sorsha are a hypnotic combination and the back story of being on the run was perfect to throw them together. As usual the first kiss between the two protagonists is HOT, which is an Ellie Marney speciality. Marney effectively paints a picture of circus life and show folk well, and I look forward to reading more about this cast of characters. Can’t wait for All Fall Down to drop into my Kindle!

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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.

Top Gear

Changing GearChanging Gear by Scot Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I see you, Scot Gardner. I see the vagabond in you; the rough and tumble philosopher; the man-boy trying to make sense of the world, even after living in it for years; the raconteur; and someone whose love of this land we call home runs as deep as the roots the trees he walks amongst. I see you because it is all here in this life-affirming, totally disarming novel. Until I finished this book today my favourite Scot Gardner book was The Way We Roll, but now it is this gem. Changing Gear is a triumph of noticing small things and showing how important they are.
Merrick Hilton is eighteen and on the verge of final exams. He exists between two houses, but is loved in both. Grieving the death of his much-beloved grandfather and feeling hemmed in by expectation (his own and those of the people around him), Merrick takes off on his trusty postie motorbike and heads into the landscape.
This is a road trip of self-discovery, and of self-affirmation. As Merrick travels he meets Victor, a long-time wanderer and finds himself drawn to his life of walking and camping as the landscape dictates. Victor and Merrick settle into laconic patter with ease and Merrick finds himself letting go of things he had thought to be important, and learning to value simpler things like a decent cup of tea, succulent sun-warmed strawberries and the companionship of someone with no expectations of him at all.
The questions Merrick asks himself are timeless: am I enough? Am I gay? Will I ever get laid? What comes after school? How do I recover from the loss of a loved one/best friend? His journey (ugh, hate that word, but it applies here) brings him some answers and gives him the courage and tenacity needed to find the rest.
No spoilers here, but I urge you to read this book – if you are a teenage boy, are raising teenage boys, know a teenage boy, or wondered what it is like to be one. My Aussie YA of the year so far, no doubt. Thank you, Scot Gardner, for giving us yourself in Merrick – and Victor – and showing how good writing and compelling characters can help shape confused boys into decent, caring young men.
For ages 13 and up.

Proof of Life

LIFEL1K3 (Lifelike #1)LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this book, but I knew I was in for a wild ride – it’s never boring with Jay Kristoff at the helm. Lifel1k3 is everything is promises on the cover – and more. Twists and turns abound – if you think you know where it’s going, keep reading; you’ll find yourself exclaiming words like “no way!” or “WHAT??” often as you speed through it. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because, spoilers, but I CAN say that this novel is about love and loss, identity and idealism, and turns the 3 laws of robotics on their head – more than once. The characters, particularly Lemon and Eve, leap off the page and bind themselves to you, and robot sidekick Cricket is a cracker too.
Just get your hands on it before too many people can give too much away to you. It’s a ripper.

P.S. May 2019 is waaaaaay too long to have to wait for a sequel, but if it’s as good as this one, then I guess it will be worth it!
Ages 14 and up.

X marks my heart

The Poet XThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hot tears of recognition stained my face as I finished reading this in a cafe this morning. Xiomara lives with her twin and parents in Harlem. She is fierce and feisty and has had to defend herself against unwanted male attention, thanks to a early-maturing body, for a long time. Constantly warned by her fervently religious mother about the perils of her own body, X writes poetry to escape and to make sense of a world that constantly tells her to be ashamed of who she is.

When your body takes up more room than your voice
you are always the target of well-aimed rumors,
which is why I let my knuckles talk for me.
Which is why I learned to shrug when my name was replaced
by insults.
I’ve forced my skin just as thick as I am.

X becomes involved romantically with a boy named Aman, who loves her for her words, and her heart, rather than what her body appears to promise. Encouraged by her English teacher, X joins a poetry club at school and finds her tribe; like-minded souls whose emotions spill onto the page just like hers.
The suffocation of Xiomara’s life, under the searing gaze of her judgemental and punitive mother, is palpable. Always being told what she is not allowed to do or allowed to be because she is a girl, X pours her hopes, dreams, frustration and anger onto the pages of her precious leather-bound journal.

And I think about all the things we could be
if we were never told our bodies were not built for them.

Caught kissing Aman one day, X’s life spirals out of control and what comes next for her is devastating, terrifying, and agonising. My heart ached and broke for this wonderful girl, and for her twin brother, as they faced gut-wrenching choices about what comes next.
I held this book to my chest when I finished it, trying to imprint Xiomara and her poetry onto my heart. I didn’t need to; they were already there, and there they will stay. I think this is probably the best YA I have read all year, and possibly WILL BE the best I have read all year. It will take something remarkable to top it.
Highly and enthusiastically recommended. Do not wait. Do not “put it on your list”.

Read it. Now.

A mark on the heart

The Tattooist of AuschwitzThe Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This account of a Jew forced to mark other Jews as they entered the infamous concentration camp at Auschwitz is one that is deeply affecting. Lale surrenders himself to save his family who live in a ghetto in Czechoslovakia in 1942. He finds himself transported in harrowing conditions to an even more harrowing desintation – Auschwitz. There is much darkness here in this novelised story of Lale’s experiences, but there is also radiant light too. His love for Gita, a woman he falls hard for, sustains and drives him to survive at any cost. Lale becomes a scrounger for the camp – bringing extra food to many prisoners, and making shady deals that are dangerous and vital. The most chilling passages concern the introduction of the crematoriums into the camps, and the descriptions of the clouds of ash raining down remind you of just how barbaric this period in history was. Morris’s style makes for an easy read – meaning that the prose is flowing and natural. nothing flowery, but everything is powerful.
A tale of love, hardship and survival; this novel will force you to turn the page to discover the fate of all the main players. No spoilers here, except to say that all are now dead and gone and I wonder to myself what Lale would make of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers in the camps on Manus Island and Nauru. Would he see them as any different to the camp he was condemned to?
Plenty to reflect on, and wonderful writing to enjoy.