Category Archives: young adult

Perfect by Cecelia Ahern

I loved Cecelia Ahern’s debut YA novel, Flawed.  It was fast-paced, tense and the ending left you wanting more.  After a year long wait the sequel and finale, Perfect, is finally here and it had me on the edge of my seat.

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Celestine North lives in a society that demands perfection. After she was branded Flawed by a morality court, Celestine’s life has completely fractured – all her freedoms gone.

Since Judge Crevan has declared her the number one threat to the public, she has been a ghost, on the run with the complicated, powerfully attractive Carrick, the only person she can trust. But Celestine has a secret – one that could bring the entire Flawed system crumbling to the ground.

Judge Crevan is gaining the upper hand, and time is running out for Celestine. With tensions building, Celestine must make a choice: save only herself, or risk her life to save all the Flawed. And, most important of all, can she prove that to be human in itself is to be Flawed…?

Perfect is the sequel that I hoped for.  It is thrilling, tense, action-packed, and twisty.  Celestine is forever on the run and you just know that she could be caught at any stage.  Celestine’s grandfather tells her to trust no one and she certainly finds this out throughout the course of the book.  There are those who want to help but know they need to cover their backs, those who seem trustworthy but blame Celestine for messing up their lives, and there are those who are willing to do anything to bring her down and silence her.  Celestine and her fellow Flawed find themselves in some situations that could blow up at any moment.

I have really enjoyed seeing Celestine’s character evolve, from the girl who had everything to the girl who had nothing.  She went through so much and became so strong.  Although she didn’t want to be the ‘face’ of the Flawed she took a stand for their rights and did everything she could to try to bring the system down.

In a market full of trilogies it was great to read a story that is just told in two books.  Although there were a couple of places where there was a lull in the action I felt that overall everything was covered in the two books.  By the end I felt that everything was resolved and that there is hope for the future.  Celestine’s story is set in Humming, which is only a small part of the world, so I am curious to see if Cecelia Ahern will return to this world and show us a different part.  Humming was supposed to be the test of the Flawed system but are there other places in the world who have a similar system that they adopted?

Several of the Year 7/8 girls at my school absolutely loved Flawed and are dying to get ahold of Perfect.  This second book gets a little steamy at one stage but would still be fine for good intermediate age readers, especially the girls.  Celestine is sure to be another strong female character, like Katniss, that readers will love.

 

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Lonesome When You Go Blog Tour – Interview with Saradha Koirala

Saradha Koirala is the author of the wonderful Lonesome When You Go, a YA novel that follows Paige and her high school rock band in the lead up to Rockfest.  To help spread the word about Saradha’s book, her publisher, Makaro Press has set up a blog tour.  I’m very pleased to be part of the Lonesome When You Go blog tour and today I get to share my interview that I did with Saradha about her book.  Thanks for joining me Saradha!

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  • What inspired you to write Lonesome When You Go?

I was on a train heading out to Johnsonville to see my brother and his oldest friend and just started thinking about when we all played in a band together in high school and what an excellent and tumultuous time that was in the midst of all the other dramas that those years can throw at you.

I wrote the briefest idea out on a scrap of paper there and then and talked to them about it when I arrived. We had a good old reminisce!

Our high school band’s rise and fall was pretty ordinary really and I wanted the story to be much more dramatic than that. It was a chance to revisit that time but I also ended up amalgamating a bunch of different high school experiences – as student and teacher – and a whole lot of rock and roll times, real and imagined. It seemed like a fun concept and it did turn out to be a lot of fun to write.

Being a high school teacher lent itself quite naturally to wanting to write for teenagers too, and I had an idea of what I thought some of the young women I’d been teaching might want to read about – a cool rock chick who isn’t fixated on a mysterious sparkly boy!

  • What are the songs that shaped teenage you?

I spent a lot of my early teen years listening to whatever I could find in the house, which was mostly popular tunes from the 60, 70s and 80s. It wasn’t until people started giving me mixed tapes and I could buy my own CDs that I really saw how music could change my views of self and shape my teenage identity.

Radiohead, Violent Femmes, Smashing Pumpkins, Dinosaur Jr, Stone Temple Pilots and Shihad were often on high rotation in my CD player. Music is much easier to access these days, but back then I really got to know the few albums I owned inside out! I would analyse the lyrics, read the liner notes, talk to my friends about them, sing along and all that.

I really think those bands of the mid-nineties tapped into a collective feeling that teenagers hadn’t been able to vocalise yet. They gave us permission to feel moody and outraged, while also acknowledging the sweetness we desired from the world. But it’s been a long time since I was a teenager, so maybe that’s Paige talking.

  • What genre of music best sums up your life?

Some days I would say it’s been a bittersweet folk album in the vein of Joni Mitchel’s Blue, but mostly I like to look at life as an Indie pop band full of cheesy catchy lyrics, bright colourful beats and frivolous synthesizers.

If Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan could write a soundtrack for the novel then everything in the world would make sense to me!

Actually I say that because I think he’s a master of creating story and character in very few words, but his music probably isn’t quite garage rock enough to capture the rock and roll aspect of the book.

So in that case, I’d say The Pixies. I kind of had The Pixies in the back of my mind as I described Vox Pop playing and I think they’re just an incredible band with a totally kick-ass bass player.

  • What is the most important lesson that you learned from being in a band?

Because I tend to be quite a self-sufficient person and my favourite things to do (writing and reading) are largely solo tasks, I think playing in bands taught me how to be part of something beyond myself. I never really played team sports, but was always in school orchestras, choirs, chamber music groups and, later on, rock bands.

In all those groups we had competitions to work towards, tours to organise, performances in front of sometimes many, but often very small audiences, rehearsals to get to on time and other band members to consider when making decisions and playing. It isn’t enough to just learn your part well and play it through, you really need to tap into what everyone else is doing and how they’re going, what they need and how what you’re doing affects all of that.

  • As well as being the author of Lonesome When You Go you’re also a poet.  Is the process of writing a novel similar to writing poetry for you?

They’re really very different processes for me and I’ve continued to do both simultaneously since finishing Lonesome. I enjoy being able to shift between the different forms.

When writing a novel I find I can set myself much more tangible goals – 1000 words a day, complete a particular scene etc. It’s a more continuous process too, as you’re developing and building on what you wrote last time and thinking about where you left your characters and what might happen to them next. With a novel there’s a lot of planning involved (for me, anyway) and behind the scenes stuff that helps inform my picture of the characters and their world.

I find poetry more difficult to describe in terms of a process as I’m less systematic about it. The poems come from everywhere and sometimes when I least expect them. I find I need to be open to poetry’s own schedule rather than try and force out a number of lines a day or give myself a deadline to complete something. Poetry doesn’t have to stay within a certain world or voice either, so there’s less need for continuity or meeting reader expectations.

The crafting process is probably similar for both. I think you need to be able to look at the world in a certain way to be a poet, and it’s a way of seeing the world that I really value.

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My Summer in Verse

I’ve had the chance to catch up on loads of books over the summer school holidays, which has been so great.  One of the books that I had wanted to read for a while was Kwame Alexander’s Booked.  I’d heard so many good things about this book and I had it on reserve at my public library for ages.

Not only was Booked totally brilliant, it also got me hooked on verse novels, a way of telling a story that I had previously thought wasn’t for me.  Kwame Alexander’s Booked opened up this door for me.  I loved the way that Kwame’s characters came alive using such few words.  Booked is about football and The Crossover is about basketball and, even though I’m not a sporty person, I loved the way that Kwame weaved the gameplay in with family issues, friendship and girl problems.  I especially enjoyed Booked because there is a really cool librarian called Mr Mac who always talks about books with Nick and keeps trying to give him books to read. I highly recommend both of Kwame’s books for Year 7 and up, especially boys who are super sporty but don’t really like to read.  These books might just switch them on.  I think boys would find them especially appealing because each of the poems is short so there isn’t too much reading.

Here are the verse novels that I have enjoyed recently and completely recommend.  Paper Hearts and Coaltown Jesus are aimed at teens but the others are perfect for ages 8+:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

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“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

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Booked by Kwame Alexander

In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel THE CROSSOVER,  soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.
This electric and heartfelt novel-in-verse by poet Kwame Alexander bends and breaks as it captures all the thrills and setbacks, action and emotion of a World Cup match!

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Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

“I guess it does
look like a poem
when you see it
typed up
like that.”

Jack hates poetry. Only girls write it and every time he tries to, his brain feels empty. But his teacher, Ms. Stretchberry, won’t stop giving her class poetry assignments — and Jack can’t avoid them. But then something amazing happens. The more he writes, the more he learns he does have something to say.

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Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech

February 25

Today the fat black cat
up in the tree by the bus stop
dropped a nut on my head
thunk
and when I yelled at it
that fat black cat said
Murr-mee-urrr
in a
nasty
spiteful
way.

I hate that cat.

This is the story of
Jack
words
sounds
silence
teacher
and cat.

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Moo by Sharon Creech

When Reena, her little brother, Luke, and their parents first move to Maine, Reena doesn’t know what to expect. She’s ready for beaches, blueberries, and all the lobster she can eat. Instead, her parents “volunteer” Reena and Luke to work for an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Falala, who has a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a snake named Edna—and that stubborn cow, Zora.

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Apple Sauce Weather by Helen Frost

When the first apple falls from the tree, Faith and Peter know that it’s applesauce weather, even though Peter is getting a little old for such things. It also means Uncle Arthur should be here to tell his stories, with a twinkle in his eye as he spins tales about how he came to have a missing finger. But this is the first year without Aunt Lucy, and when Uncle Arthur arrives, there’s no twinkle to be found and no stories waiting to be told. Faith is certain, though, that with a little love and patience, she and Peter might finally learn the truth about that missing finger. Paired with warm, expressive illustrations by Amy June Bates, this heartfelt tale by award-winning poet Helen Frost highlights the strength of family and the power of a good story.

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Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

When Billie Jo is just fourteen she must endure heart-wrenching ordeals that no child should have to face. The quiet strength she displays while dealing with unspeakable loss is as surprising as it is inspiring.

Written in free verse, this award-winning story is set in the heart of the Great Depression. It chronicles Oklahoma’s staggering dust storms, and the environmental–and emotional–turmoil they leave in their path. An unforgettable tribute to hope and inner strength.

(This was one of the verse novels mentioned in Kwame Alexander’s Booked so I had to read this one.  It is heart-breaking but so wonderful!)

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Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott

A novel in verse, Paper Hearts is the story of survivial, defiance, and friendship. Based on historical events about a group of girls who were slave laborers at the munitions factory in Auschwitz.

(This is a story of the holocaust unlike any I have read before.  Telling this story in verse somehow makes it more powerful)

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Coaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge

Walker shouldn’t have been so surprised to find Jesus standing in the middle of his bedroom. After all, he’d prayed for whoever was up there to help him, and to help his mom, who hadn’t stopped crying since Noah died two months ago. But since when have prayers actually been answered? And since when has Jesus been so . . . irreverent?

But as astounding as Jesus’ sudden appearance is, it’s going to take more than divine intervention for Walker to come to terms with his brother’s sudden death. Why would God take seventeen-year-old Noah when half of the residents in his mom’s nursing home were waiting to die? And why would he send Jesus to Coaltown, Illinois, to pick up the pieces?

 

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Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

Reality television shows are made about just about anything these days. You can watch people survive on an island, housewives fight with each other or follow the exploits of a group of Kiwis on the Gold Coast, from wherever you are in the world. However, would you watch a man dying of a brain tumour as his family crumbles around him? Len Vlahos’ amazing new book, Life in a Fishbowl, shows us exactly what life would be like for a family in this situation.

32604250Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone’s father is dying.

When Jackie discovers that her father has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, her whole world starts to crumble. She can’t imagine how she’ll live without him . . .

Then, in a desperate act to secure his family’s future, Jackie’s father does the unthinkable–he puts his life up for auction on eBay. Jackie can do nothing but watch and wait as an odd assortment of bidders, some with nefarious intentions, drive the price up higher. The fate of her entire family hangs in the balance.

But no one can predict how the auction will finally end, or any of the very public fallout that ensues. Life as Jackie knows it is about to change forever…

I absolutely loved this incredibly powerful story!  Like a reality TV show, Life in a Fishbowl is addictive and entertaining, but this book will also make you stop and ponder the issues that it deals with.  What lengths would you go to to provide for your family if you only had 4 months to live?  How would you feel if someone you loved was dying and you couldn’t grieve in peace? How would you cope with people who want to twist and edit your words and feelings just to make better TV?  If the person you love asked you to help them die would you do it?

Like the house that the family Stone live in, with it’s multiple cameras and multiple points of view, Len Vlahos gives us many different perspectives of Jared Stone’s situation.  I feel that these different points of view set this book apart from your average YA read.  You get the perspective of Jackie, one of the teenage daughter’s of Jared, who is struggling to deal with her father’s illness and the constant cameras that follow her everywhere in the house.  However, you also get the perspective of Jared himself (who is quickly loosing his memories and control of who he is), the ruthless TV producer Ethan (who will do almost anything to keep his show running), Sister Benedict (a nun who wants to save Jared but has questionable morals) and Sherman Kingsborough (an immature millionaire who believes that money can give him everything he wants).  Then there is my favourite perspective of the book, Glio, the anthropomorphized glioblastoma multiforme (or brain tumour).  You watch as Glio gobbles up Jared’s memories with glee, giving you a taste of family life before Glio came along.  Glio becomes more and more adventurous and hungry for experiences as the book progresses, which ultimately means the deterioration of Jared.

Like any reality TV show you there are moments where you will be biting your nails, screaming at the characters, laughing with glee as a character you hate gets what is coming to them, and ultimately wanting to binge the whole book until you’ve reached the end. Rush out and grab Life in a Fishbowl now!

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The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan

Like many of the books on my shelves The Bombs That Brought Us Together has been sitting on my shelf for a while just waiting for the chance for me to pick it up.  I’ve spent the last month reading through my TBR pile and this book shot straight to the top when I heard that it had won the Costa Book Award.  I’m so glad that I finally got around to reading it because it is a brilliant book.

9781408855744Fourteen-year-old Charlie Law has lived in Little Town, on the border with Old Country, all his life. He knows the rules: no going out after dark; no drinking; no litter; no fighting. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of the people who run Little Town. When he meets Pavel Duda, a refugee from Old Country, the rules start to get broken. Then the bombs come, and the soldiers from Old Country, and Little Town changes for ever.

Sometimes, to keep the people you love safe, you have to do bad things. As Little Town’s rules crumble, Charlie is sucked into a dangerous game. There’s a gun, and a bad man, and his closest friend, and his dearest enemy.

Charlie Law wants to keep everyone happy, even if it kills him. And maybe it will…

The Bombs That Brought Us Together is an atmospheric, tense, utterly unique read that made me smile one minute and bite my nails the next.  I was absolutely captivated by this story and the characters that Brian has brought to life.  It is clear to see why this book won the Costa Book Award.
Brian Conaghan portrays life in a war-zone and a time of unrest with honesty and with heart. You see what the day-to-day reality is for Charlie, with rationing, curfews and beatings, and you see the fear that his parents live with.  Charlie tells us about the reality of life after the bombs when he shares his list of things he did before the bombs came, including ‘got really bored because Little Town had a lack of teenage things to do.’ You also see what life is like for refugees like Pav, those people that are forced out of the country and the lives that they knew into a place where they are hated and made to do horrible jobs just to survive.  Brian also shows us the friendship and hope that exists too, even with everything else that is happening.
The way in which Brian has portrayed the war between Little Town and Old Country is brilliant.  The conflict between Little Town and Old Country bears striking similarities to wars all over the world.  There are rebels that have taken Little Town as their own and they run the place as they see fit, but Old Country wants to take Little Town back and so they invade with their bombs and their soldiers.  Pav and his family are refugees from Old Country who are now living in Little Town and they are persecuted, especially when the Old Country troops invade.  Little Town is run by The Big Man and his Rascals.  It is when Charlie and Pav get themselves involved with The Big Man that the real trouble starts.
It was Charlie’s voice that grabbed me from the first page and made me want to keep reading.  As the story is narrated by Charlie you really get inside his head and go through all of his dilemmas and the events of the story right with him.  You feel him changing as the story progresses and hope that he is going to make the right choices.  You know how much he wants to protect his family and Pav and that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe.  Things get especially tense towards the end of the book and I wasn’t sure how it was going to end.
The Bombs That Brought Us Together is one of those stories that I’m still thinking about days after finishing it.  Charlie and Pav will stay with me and I’ll wonder what they are getting up to.  I loved Brian’s writing so much that I want to go and hunt down his first book, When Mr Dog Bites, and I’m eagerly awaiting his next book (with Sarah Crossan) called We Come Apart.
Recommended for 13+ (definitely a YA read).

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Stealing Snow Blog Tour Guest Post

Danielle Paige is no stranger to putting new twists on old stories.  Her Dorothy Must Die series took readers back to the land of Oz, to a land where Dorothy returned and ruined everything.  In Danielle’s new book, Stealing Snow, she shows us the origins of The Snow Queen.  Here is the blurb:

9781408872932Seventeen-year-old Snow lives within the walls of the Whittaker Institute, a high security mental hospital in upstate New York. Deep down, she knows she doesn’t belong there, but she has no memory of life outside, except for the strangest dreams. And then a mysterious, handsome man, an orderly in the hospital, opens a door – and Snow knows that she has to leave .
She finds herself in icy Algid, her true home, with witches, thieves, and a strangely alluring boy named Kai. As secret after secret is revealed, Snow discovers that she is on the run from a royal lineage she’s destined to inherit, a father more powerful and ruthless than she could have imagined, and choices of the heart that could change everything. Heroine or villain, queen or broken girl, frozen heart or true love, Snow must choose her fate .

Danielle joins me today as part of her Stealing Snow Blog Tour to talk about her Top 5 fairy tale retellings.

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1.Cinder/ Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

She had me at cyborg Cinderella and kept me with imaginative world building and a mashup of other fairy tales.  I devoured the whole series, and I forever credit her for inspiring me to take Dorothy Must Die as far as the Yellow Brick Road would take me.

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2. Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

To a writer, Shahrzad is the ultimate heroine. She is literally saving her own life, not with magic, but with the power of her storytelling. Every night she must tell her story to Khalid or she will be killed. The sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, is sitting on top of my TBR pile.

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3. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Not a straight up retelling, more a reimagining.  Chainani treats us to the school where Malificents and Cinderellas are made. I was delighted as Sophie and Agatha find themselves in the “wrong” classes.

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4. A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J Maas

Beauty and the Beast is a forever fave, and Sarah is such a master of action and romance.

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5. Wicked by Gregory McGuire

Wicked showed every reteller how it is done. Setting the bar and exploring the world of Oz way before my Dorothy stepped onto the Yellow Brick Road.

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Bonus: The Descendants series by Melissa de la Cruz

All the Disney feels. The second generation of villains and royals is just perfection.

Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige is out now from Bloomsbury.

 

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Winners of the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

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The winners of the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced last night in Wellington.  Congratulations to all the winners and those who were chosen as finalists in the awards.  Congratulations also to the judges of this year’s awards who had the tough job of choosing the winners from all the fantastic books that were submitted.  It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.  I personally think they made some great choices for the winners.  Kids also made some fantastic choices too in the Children’s Choice Awards.

Here are the winners of the 2016 New Book Awards for Children and Young Adults:

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  • Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and winner of the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction

ANZAC Heroes by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivancic; Scholastic New Zealand

  • Best First Book Award

Allis the little tractor by Sophie Siers, illustrated by Helen Kerridge; Millwood-Heritage Productions

  • Te Kura Pounamu Award for the best book in te reo Māori

Whiti te rā! by Patricia Grace, translated by Kawata Teepa, illustrated by Andrew Burdan; Huia Publishers

  • Picture Book Award

The Little Kiwi’s Matariki written and illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson; David Ling Publishing (Duck Creek Press)

  • Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle by Kate De Goldi; Penguin Random House (Longacre)

  • Young Adult Fiction Award

Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo by Brian Falkner; Pan Macmillan Australia (Farrar Straus Giroux)

  • Russell Clark Award for Illustration

Much Ado About Shakespeare illustrated by Donovan Bixley; Upstart Press

New Zealand children enthusiastically voted for their own specially selected finalists’ list for this year’s HELL Children’s Choice Awards. Each book wins $1,000. The winners are:

  • Te reo Māori

Te Hua Tuatahi a Kuwi written and illustrated by Kat Merewether, and translated by Pānia Papa; Illustrated Publishing

  • Picture Book

The House on the Hill by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Sarah Davis; Scholastic New Zealand

  • Junior Fiction

The Girl Who Rode the Wind by Stacy Gregg; Harper Collins

  • Non-Fiction

First to the Top by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris; Penguin Random House (Puffin)

  • Young Adult Fiction

Stray by Rachael Craw; Walker Books

You can read the full media release here, including the thoughts of the judges on each of the winning books.  You can download the Winners Poster here.

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Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell

I think books, rather than people, have taught me the most about empathy, particularly as an impressionable teenager.  They make me feel what the characters are feeling and help me to understand different situations. Dianne Touchell makes your heart break for the main character in her new book about a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, Forgetting Foster.

Forgetting Foster | REVISED FINAL COVER x 2 (18 April 2016)

Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad’s stories.

But then Foster’s dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.

Forgetting Foster is one of the most heart-breaking books that I have read since Morris Gleitzman’s Once.  It is Dianne’s lyrical writing and very real portrayal of a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease that makes the story so heart-breaking.  She takes us inside the head of 7-year-old Foster and we see his family falling apart through his eyes.  We experience Foster’s confusion and hurt as the father that he loves and looks up to starts forgetting things and changing completely.  We understand his anger at being treated like a child, even though he understands more than his family thinks he does.  The power of stories to bring enjoyment to our lives and help us to remember also plays an important part in the story.

Dianne’s writing is very lyrical.  I found myself stopping reading in many places just to soak up descriptions and savour images that she had conjured.  I especially liked the image that Dianne conjures when Foster and his dad are talking about phantom itches when someone loses a limb,

‘He imagined Dad’s profile, half a face that looked a bit empty lately, and felt a stab of ghost feeling.  A funny ache that told him the stories were still inside Dad somewhere, like an amputated foot that still itches.’

The way that Dianne describes the relationship between Foster and his dad in the start of the book gives you warm fuzzies.  Sunday is always a special day with Dad, when they make pancakes together and go into town, playing games along the way.  You can feel how proud Foster is of his dad and how much his dad loves him.

Stories play an important part in Forgetting Foster.  Before Foster’s dad got sick he would tell stories to Foster all the time and encourage him to join in.  Foster’s dad tells him that ‘there are stories in everything…They are all around you waiting to be discovered.  You just have to look for them.’ He also encourages Foster to tell his own stories to whoever will listen.  Foster’s mum had an accident when she was younger and his dad tells Foster a fantastic story about why she now looks different to other people.  Stories also play an important part in helping Foster and his family deal with his dad’s illness.

Although Foster is seven in the story, Forgetting Foster is not a story for 7-year-olds.  There are a couple of swear words which, although they are in the context of the story, may alarm parents.  I think good Year 7 and 8 readers would enjoy the story and it would make a great novel study for this age group.  Forgetting Foster is a book that I think all teachers, librarians and anyone who loves a beautifully-written, heart-breaking story should read.  I’m now going to hunt down all of Dianne Touchell’s previous books and will look forward to more books from her.

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You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

Stories can take us out of our own heads and put us into the heads of other people.  I don’t think I’ve ever met myself in a story but I’ve certainly met many characters whose lives and personalities are very different from mine.  I love getting inside the heads of these characters who help me to see the world from a completely different perspective.  This is why I love David Levithan’s books so much.  His characters are very real and always stick with me long after I’ve finished the book.  David’s latest book, written with Nina LaCour, takes us inside the head of two lovesick teens, a gay boy, Mark and a lesbian girl, Kate, and their friendship that comes along at exactly the right time.

9781925355529Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

I loved You Know Me Well but I didn’t want the story to end.  I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to Mark and Kate.  I carried them around with me everywhere while I was reading their stories and I kept hoping that they were going to get everything that they wanted.  It’s a story about friendship, love, discovering yourself and having the courage to be that person.

Mark is gay and everyone knows this.  He’s in love with his best friend Ryan, and the two of them have fooled around plenty of times in the past.  Ryan, though, doesn’t seem ready for the world to know he’s gay and certainly doesn’t see himself as Mark’s boyfriend.  Things get complicated when Ryan hooks up with a guy in a bar and starts a relationship with him.  Onto the scene comes Kate, a girl in Mark’s class who he has never talked to.  Kate is running away from the chance to finally meet the girl of her dreams.  Mark and Kate get talking and realise that they have found the friend they didn’t know they needed.  They help each other to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

It always amazes me how well dual-author books work.  The two different characters and perspectives, written by these two fantastic authors, weave perfectly together.  You really get inside Mark and Kate’s heads, feeling all of their insecurities, their heartbreaks, as well as their hopes for the future.

David and Nina show you how tough life is  for LGBTQ teens as they figure out who they are, while at the same time showing you that they have the same problems as straight teens, especially when it comes to finding love. Although the story centres on a gay and a lesbian teen it’s ultimately about being proud of who you are, no matter what your sexual orientation.

I know that Mark and Kate are only fictional characters but I wish that I could check in on them from time to time and see where their lives have taken them.  Grab a copy of You Know Me Well and get to know them yourself.

 

 

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The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

Sometimes you get that feeling when you start reading a book that you know you are going to love it.  Something about it, whether the characters or the tone of the story just clicks with you.  Mark Smith’s debut novel, The Road to Winter, is one of those books for me.

9781925355123Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company.

He has stayed alive for two winters—hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.

But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley—an asylum seeker—and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush.

And Ramage wants the girls back—at any cost.

I absolutely loved The Road to Winter, from the first page to the last!  It’s a thrilling story of survival in the aftermath of a virus that wipes out the population.  There’s lots of action and twists to keep you reading, but there are also some lulls in the action that give you a chance to breath and prepare yourself for the next part.  It’s a story that I couldn’t stop thinking about either.  When I wasn’t reading I was wondering what was happening to the characters and how the book was going to end.

Finn’s story takes place in the aftermath of a virus that has wiped out a huge percentage of the population.  The virus affected females mostly so it is mostly males that have survived.  Gangs of men, called Wilders, wander the countryside and control the north where Finn lives.  With a lack of females around to keep them in check these men have lost their humanity and have become violent and ruthless.  You certainly don’t want to bump into them!  Finn has hidden himself away in his house, with a secret store of food, gas, and other supplies, and he and his dog, Rowdy, have survived by themselves fine.  However, when Rose turns up, she brings trouble to Finn’s door and his quiet life is disturbed.  Being the kind of guy that he is though, Finn has to help Rose, both to help her hide and recover and to help her find her sister, Kas.

The Road to Winter reminded me of other books that I’ve really enjoyed, including one of my favourite books, Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go.  The tone of the book felt quite similar, as Finn has to try and help the girls escape the clutches of the violent men who want to harm them.  There is the suspense of them evading capture but not really knowing if they’ll be able to outrun them.  The other similarity to The Knife of Never Letting Go that I really liked was the relationship that Finn has with his dog Rowdy.  Rowdy is his constant companion and is incredibly loyal, much like Todd and Manchee.  The story also reminded me of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet because it’s all about Finn’s survival on his own, becoming aware of the land and the ocean to find hidden trails to get around and hunt for food.

I loved Mark’s characters too, especially Finn.  While the other males have lost their humanity, Finn has held onto his and leaves the safety of his home to go out and try to find Rose’s sister.  He cares for the girls and is willing to do anything he can to protect them and keep them alive.  I loved the special moments of hope that Finn shared with the females in the story.  Even with everything that was happening to them they still managed to laugh and enjoy having full stomachs.

My only complaint with The Road to Winter is that now I have to wait to find out what happens next.  I need to know what happens to these characters and whether they can find some peace eventually.  The book comes with a money back guarantee but you are certainly guaranteed a great read and I highly recommend The Road to Winter.

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