“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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A fine bromance

The Way We RollThe Way We Roll by Scot Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Scot Garner is an optimistic person. I know this because no matter what he puts his characters through, no matter how bleak things look for them at the start, he always manages to end his novels with a feeling of hope.
Will, a former private school student and former resident of Garland, is a trolley jockey who works at the local shopping centre. He has just been partnered with Julian, a former juvie from West Tennant. On the surface it appears they are complete opposites and when they brawl in the carpark over a found purse, it looks like their friendship is over before it’s begun.
Of course it’s not, and so begins a bromance of epic proportions. Julian invites Will to leave his “home” under the bowling alley and stay at his place, with his mum, Mandy and brother, Duane. Will moves into the spare room and slowly the boys learn more about each other and worlds collide.
Gardner has written some fantastic characters in Will and Julian. I have a soft spot for Julian. He has a rough, street-smart facade, but he is kind, funny and deep down he really cares about people. Will is troubled, secretive, and estranged from his father, but he is a loyal friend to Julian and also to the rest of the guys in the trolley crew. Mandy, Julian’s mum, is a totally believable adult character. Sometimes the “grown-ups” in YA novels are bit players, but Mandy is full of life and good advice, and love for her boy Julian. Nishi, Julian’s steadfast and perky girlfriend, is also really well-drawn. I want to be friends with her – she’s a keeper.
Make no mistake, this book is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are hard, gritty issues at play here, but the relationship between Julian and Will, and the way it changes both their lives for the better, shows just how redemptive real, true, solid friendship can be.
When the traitorous conduct of Will’s father is finally revealed, you will, I guarantee, shake your head. There is betrayal, love, sadness, injustice and, ultimately, hope in this novel. You will fall in love with these boys and their circle of friends and family, and you will urge them on to bigger and better things as I did.
Show this book to boys 13 and up, and show it to girls 13 and up too. It’s a corker.

Pause for thought

The PauseThe Pause by John Larkin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Larkin blew me away a few years ago with The Shadow Girl, so I was keen to read this new novel. I was not disappointed.
Declan is a teen who, on the surface, seems to be well-adjusted and living a wonderful life. He has great mates, a loving family and a beautiful girlfriend. There is little to betray what is gong on underneath the surface. When his girlfriend, Lisa, is sent away to Hong Kong, Declan’s world unravels. Feeling depressed and in despair, he makes a split-second decision to throw himself in front of a train – and then time separates. In a “Sliding Doors” moment, one version of Declan jumps, and dies. A warning here, the description of his death is graphic and horrific – there is no glossing over what happens to a body when it is hit by a train. This Declan’s life ends.
The other version of Declan pauses, just for a second and is pulled back by the concerned people on the platform. They call an ambulance and Declan is taken away for assessment. The rest of the novel follows this “other” Declan – through psychiatric evaluation, trying to rebuild his relationship with his shell-shocked family, and coming to terms with how he ended up depressed enough to contemplate suicide in the first place.
This is a “what if” story, and Larkin tells it with humour and humanity. Declan’s parents are flawed, but well-meaning and their relationship gets put under the microscope as much as Declan’s life does. As the months pass by, it is clear that there are things in Declan’s past that have had a greater influence on him that anyone could have imagined, and that there are things that have been swept under the carpet by everyone around him. As the secrets unfold, you wonder how Declan has held it together for so long, and all the reader’s sympathy lies with him, as it should.
I found this an emotional read, particularly having lost a loved one to a similar incident which took Declan’s life, but it is well worth the time. John Larkin has written an important book for young adults: about choices; about love; about secrets; and about looking after yourself – telling someone when you are feeling bad, sad or alone.
I really think this book could save a life, if put into the hands of someone who thinks they have no other options. It is a life-affirming story, dark and sorrowful, but full of hope and light too.
For ages 13 and up – I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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.

Heavy content, but well written

The Sky So HeavyThe Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Claire Zorn’s The Sky So Heavy is a bleak and disturbing novel which thrusts the reader into a post-apocalpytic nightmare. Fin and his younger brother, Max, are having dinner with their Dad and stepmum when the unthinkable happens. A nuclear “test” by a neighbouring country (unspecified) has gone terribly wrong and they are plunged into nuclear winter. After an argument, Kara, the stepmum, takes off into the night and Greg, Max and Fin’s dad, goes after her. Fin and Max are left to fend for themselves in a community that is disintegrating around them. No electricity, no telephones, food becomes scarce, their neighbours start dying around them and Fin and Max make the decision to find their Dad. Along the way they draw in Noll (Arnold) an Asian boy whom Fin was guilty of bullying at school, and Fin’s friend Lucy, with whom Fin is in love.
When it becomes obvious that Fin and Max’s Dad is nowhere to be found, the group of survivors try to find their mum, a scientist, who they think will know what is going on and where to find help. Along the way there is danger and death and they are all forced to question their existence and how far they are prepared to go to survive. One way or another they all have to stand up to be counted.
There is definitely a sequel in the offing here as the conclusion is very much up in the air, and I really hope Claire Zorn is writing furiously right now! Due to a bit of swearing and the bleak content I would recommend for readers over the age of 13. A great debut novel.

A Great Vintage

Going VintageGoing Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lindsay Leavitt has written a little gem. Going Vintage has a great style that really captures the inner voice of a teenage girl without being sappy or patronising. Leavitt also manages to impart a little wisdom without being preachy or ramming it down one’s throat, which is where many other writers of YA or children’s lit fail.

Central character, Mallory, is likeable and sympathetic – she has been cheated on by her boyfriend who also has an online girlfriend. After she breaks up with Jeremy, Mallory finds a list written by her grandmother when she was Mallory’s age and it inspires her to try living “60s style”. To do this she disconnects from social media, her moblie phone and her computer. The consequences of this, at school , at home and in her friendships and relationships are more far reaching than she could ever have realised. Mallory’s sister, Ginnie, is her partner in this experiment and proves to be a feisty, strong and steadfast friend too. As the days roll by, Mallory discovers secrets and talents about herself and those around her. The dumping of technology changes her life, not just her love life, and everything becomes harder and challenging. Her parents are fighting and her Mum is secretive, Jeremy is begging her to take him back, Ginnie is looking for her first steady boyfriend, Mallory’s grandmother seems to be pushing her away and then there is Oliver, Jeremy’s cousin. His funny, gorgeous, hipster cousin. Where does he fit in to all of this? Mallory has had a tendancy in the past to quit when things got the better of her, will she quit this time?
As usual, no spoilers, but I can guarantee you will enjoy this tale of romance, family and life choices. A great book for girls who are trying to find out who they are, and for boys who want to know those girls better!
For ages 12 and up.

Nothing But Net…

Ishmael and the Hoops of SteelIshmael and the Hoops of Steel by Michael Gerard Bauer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michael Gerard Bauer’s last Ishmael book sees Ishmael and his mates Scobie,Razz, Bill and Ignatius in their last 2 years at St Daniel’s College. Smarting from his breakup with Kelly Faulkner, Ishmael is determined to make his mark on the last 2 years of school. Miss Tarango, their favourite teacher, again features and the boys undertake a massive challenge for her – to WIN the College Cup. None of them feel they are good at much at all, and the way these four (and various members of their house) plot and scheme their way through the competitions has to be read to be believed. Along with that, there is romance, tragedy and concussion – not to mention kissing your best mate’s girl. No spoilers, but I can tell you that you will smile while you are reading this book. I did, often. It’s got it all! I also found myself laughing out loud in the teachers’ staff-room at the boys’ antics. Bauer’s teenage boys are drawn from real life – I felt like I knew every one of them, and loved them all the more for that. Razz, in particular, reminded me of a boy I went to high school with – heck, they all did. I have quite an abiding affection for this novel. Don’t just think this is a novel for boys though – I think girls will enjoy this just as much, and maybe even more, than the boys. Give it a go – you won’t be sorry!

All Fired Up…

Fire in the SeaFire in the Sea by Myke Bartlett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. This book was full of surprises. The sense of unease Myke Bartlett crafted was palpable within the first few pages. I was really scared (which I loved) right from the get go. The way he turned an idyllic seaside setting in Perth into something menacing was fantastic. Central character, Sadie, witnesses a disturbing attack on an old man who later dies. Then she finds out the old coot has left her his house and possessions in his will! “Is this a ghost story?” I wondered. As I continued to read, it became apparent that this story was about to veer in an unexpected direction. I love it when that happens to me. Instead of being embroiled in what I thought was going to be a zombie/alien/ghost scenario, Bartlett instead creates a horrific Percy Jackson flipside full of gods, demons and guardians in a pitched, bloody battle of good and evil. No spoliers but I adored the protagonist, Sadie, very much- as well as her best mate Tom who reminded me of LOTR’s Sam in his devotion to Sadie. The broody, dangerous and mysterious Jake was also a delight. This was a thrilling roller coaster ride from start to finish. More please!
Ages 14 & up