Tag Archives: friendship

Pop! by Catherine Bruton

There are so many different types of reality shows on TV these days, involving everything from singing and dancing, to cooking and building.  Suzanne Collins took the reality show idea and turned it into a fight to the death in The Hunger Games and in Catherine Bruton’s new book, Pop!, one of her characters has worked out the rules of talent TV and reckons she knows how to play the system.

The first round of auditions was a bit mad. All these wannabe popstars sitting around trying to look wacky/soulful/tragic (delete as appropriate) to catch the attention of the TV cameras.

At least we had a cracking back story. The story of me, Agnes, Jimmy and baby Alfie; the tears, the tragedy, the broken homes and feuding families, the star-crossed lovers. And only some of it was made up.

If I say so myself, it was genius: a sure-fire golden ticket to stratospheric stardom. Or at least that was the plan…

Pop! is a terrific story full of moments that will make you laugh, cry, cringe, jump for joy, and possibly want to slap a certain character.  The story is told from the point of view of the three main characters; Elfie, Jimmy and Agnes.  Elfie is the smart-ass who always comes up with crazy schemes that Jimmy gets roped into.  Her mum is incredibly unreliable and always walks out when times get tough, so Elfie is often left to look after her baby brother Alfie.  Jimmy and Elfie have been best friends for as long as they can remember, so Jimmy always gets involved in Elfie’s schemes.  Jimmy is a fantastic swimmer and his dad trains him hard so that he might get a chance to go to the Olympics.  It’s one day when Elfie and Jimmy are hanging out under the bridge that Elfie announces their next big scheme – they’re going to enter the Pop to the Top talent contest.  Their only problem is that they don’t really have any talent.  Then they hear a girl singing.  That girl is Agnes, the daughter of one of the ‘immos,’ the immigrant workers who have taken the jobs of local workers at the power station.  Agnes has an amazing voice and so Elfie ropes her into being in her girl band for Pop to the Top.  Agnes and Jimmy have no idea what they are getting themselves in for, and as Elfie weaves more and more lies, their lives and the lives of those around them spiral out of control.

Catherine Bruton has created three very different characters who are all doing what they believe is right.  Even though Elfie creates these twisted versions of their lives, she is only doing so to try and win the money that she thinks will solve all their problems.  She cares so much for her dad and her little brother and wants to give them the life they deserve.  Jimmy and Agnes go along with Elfie’s scheme because they want what’s best for their families too.  At first Elfie made me laugh with her plans and her fake back stories, then she made me want to slap her, but by the end of the story she had redeemed herself.  Agnes is a really interesting character because she really grows throughout the story.  At first she’s quiet and withdrawn because nobody, apart from her family, talks to her.  Not only is she the daughter of an immo, but she also doesn’t speak much English.  She says that she is a collector of words and she picks up new and interesting words from listening to conversations.  Throughout the story she grows in confidence and manages to settle the moths in her stomach when she sings.

I absolutely love Pop! and the wonderful characters that Catherine has created. Whenever I watch a reality show now I’ll be looking out for people who know Elfie’s Rules of Talent TV.  If you love Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books, like Millions and Framed, then Pop! is definitely the book for you.

5 out of 5 stars

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Ransomwood by Sherryl Jordan

Every now and again a book comes along that surprises you.  I find myself reading a lot of Young Adult science fiction because I like the sound of the story and I love the different versions of society that authors can create.  A completely different type of story caught my eye recently, one by a New Zealand author who I love.  That book is called Ransomwood, by award-winning New Zealand author, Sherryl Jordan.

Spurned by her lover, and with her uncle threatening to marry her off to his odious widowed brother, Gwenifer is almost relieved to be sent away to escort the magistrate’s old, blind mother to Ransomwood, where the tears of the statue of the Holy Mother are said to have healing qualities.

Together with Harry, the village halfwit, who is escaping a sentence of hanging for being in charge of an ox that trampled a child almost to death, they embark on a perilous journey … each of them looking for a different kind of healing.

Ransomwood is a story of gossip, friendship, loyalty, suffering, acceptance and identity.  It’s the story of three very different people thrown together to go off in search of a cure for their ailments and medicine for a dying girl.  There is Halfwit Harry, the village idiot, whose fault it is that a little girl was trampled by oxen; Mother Dorit, an old crone who is thought to be a witch and is hoping to cure her blindness; and Gwenifer, who was caught with another boy who was betrothed.  Each of the pilgrims is hoping to achieve something by journeying to Ransomwood to collect the tears of the Holy Mother.

As we follow the pilgrims on their journey, you learn that there is more to them than the other villagers have assumed.   One quote from Mother Dorit that I love is about the gossip that flies around the village.

“If every word of gossip in Grimblebury was a bumblebee, the buzzing about the village would be enough to deafen the Good Lord Himself.  And if every gossip word were true, I say there’d be a blessed silence, and not one drop of honey to be had.  Nor anyone stung, for that matter.”

Mother Dorit is much more than the witch that others believe she is.  She’s a wise, kind soul who cares for Gwenifer and Harry and reassures them that everything is going to be alright.  Gwenifer is far from the girl of loose morals that others believe she is either.  She wishes to escape the clutches of her uncle and his horrible brother, and make a life for herself, where she can decide where life takes her.  Mother Dorit encourages her to follow her dreams by saying “If you have a dream, pick it up in both hands and shake it in the face of fate, and fight till you make every bit of your dream come true.”  She grows incredibly throughout the story and even puts herself in danger to help her friends.  My favourite character by far though has to be Harry.  Although everyone (even Gwenifer at first) believes him to be a half-wit and should be treated like one, he is probably the wisest of the pilgrims.  He truly regrets the awful thing that happened to Tilly and wants to make things right.  He is incredibly loyal to both Gwenifer (who he affectionately calls ‘Gwennie’) and Mother Dorit and will do anything to protect them on their journey.  One of my favourite parts of the book is when they are attacked by a group of men and Harry fights back with his pilgrim’s staff.  He’s also incredibly gentle and loving, and adopts a bantam along the way that he nurtures.  Harry actually reminded me of a bulkier version of Forrest Gump (think ‘I love you Gwennie’).

Sherryl Jordan’s writing is absolutely beautiful and she had me hanging on every word.  She transports you to an England of long ago, where everyone lived off the land, you slept on the hard ground or scratchy straw, you cooked over a fire, and it took you days or weeks to get to where you wanted to go.  Ransomwood will certainly be a finalist in next year’s New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, if not the winner of the Young Adult category.

5 out of 5 stars

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Every now and again a book comes along that gets completely under your skin.  You get so emotionally invested in the characters that when you’re not reading their story you’re thinking about them and their situation, and hoping that things will all work out for them.  Even when you’ve finished the story you can imagine what they might be doing next and wondering what their life might be like months and years down the track.  I found myself completely wrapped up in the story of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters in John Green’s latest masterpiece, The Fault in Our Stars.

The narrator of the story is Hazel Grace, a 16-year-old girl living with cancer.  When her mother decides that Hazel is depressed she sends her to a Support Group run in her local church.  At first she hates the experience and loathes having to tell others about her condition and listen to others tell about theirs.  But then she meets Augustus Waters, a friend of Isaac who attends the Support Group.  Augustus is also living with cancer and has lost a leg to the disease, and Hazel finds herself intrigued by him.   They start to hang out together, reading each others favourite books and sharing their experiences.  Hazel has always wanted to know why her favourite book, An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten, ended the way that it did and after Augustus’s correspondence with the author they are invited to Denmark to meet him.  It’s the trip of a lifetime and one that they’ll never forget.

The Fault in Our Stars is a heart-breaking, brilliant story that will have one laughing one minute and crying the next.  It’s the sort of story that makes you want to stop after each chapter and digest what you’ve just read.  There is so much in this book about making the most of our lives, living your dreams, and leaving our mark on the world.  I loved the relationship between Hazel and Augustus, and some of their conversations were hilarious.  Isaac was one of my favourite characters because of his humour and the ways that he coped with life.  Ever since I read John Green’s second novel, An Abundance of Katherines, a few years ago I’ve eagerly awaited his next book.  He’s one of those authors that make me feel like he’s written the story just for me.  I have this real connection to his characters because I see parts of them in myself.  I think it’s partly because of the first person narration of his books, which is something I love because you can get right inside the character’s head.  Hazel and Augustus are two characters that will take up permanent residence in my head and their story is one I won’t forget.

5 out of 5 stars

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The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Have you ever read a book that makes you want to pull the characters into your arms, rock them gently and tell them everything is going to be OK?  This is exactly what I wanted to do the whole way through Katherine Applegate’s beautiful story, The One and Only Ivan.

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla.  Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain.  He rarely misses his life in the jungle.  In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog.  But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home – and his own art – through new eyes.  When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

From the opening lines, ‘I am Ivan. I am a gorilla.  It’s not as easy as it looks,’ you are transported into Ivan’s head and see the world through his eyes.  You read everything Ivan thinks and remembers, sees, touches, tastes and smells.  Ivan comes out with some real pearls of wisdom and I found myself writing down so many quotes that I wanted to remember later.  Things like,

“In a Western, you can tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and the good guys always win.  Bob says Westerns are nothing like real life.”

There is a real sadness to the story, because these once great majestic beasts are locked away in cages, but the friendships between them help them to deal with their situation and add humour to the story.  It’s these friendships and Ivan’s need to protect Ruby that bring a sense of hope.  Ivan wants Ruby to have a better life than the one that he has lead, locked up in the mall.  Katherine Applegate’s writing is absolutely beautiful and I wanted to savour every word.  The stream of consciousness writing style she has used for this book means that she has obviously chosen her words very carefully.  Her writing is incredibly descriptive and, like Ivan, she paints a vibrant picture for you.  This is my one of my favourite descriptions,

“Because she remembers everything, Stella knows many stories.  I like colourful tales with black beginnings and stormy middles and cloudless blue-sky endings.  But any story will do.”

I can’t recommend The One and Only Ivan highly enough.  It’s a story that will affect you and the characters will stay with you long after you close the covers.

 5 out of 5 stars

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The Un-forgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

When you speak a different language from everyone else or come from a different culture it can be hard to fit in and make new friends.  In his new book, The Un-forgotten Coat, Frank Cottrell Boyce tells us the story of two brothers from Mongolia who just want to fit in.

The Un-forgotten Coat is told from the point of view of Julie, who is chosen by Chingis and his brother Nergui to be their ‘Good Guide.’  As their ‘Good Guide’ Julie looks after them and helps them to fit into their school and life in England.  Julie and her classmates learn all about Mongolia and that Chingis and Nergui had to leave their home because they were being chased by a demon.  Julie wants to be invited around to their house like her other friends but she can’t even figure out where they live.  When she discovers where they live Julie and her mother are not welcomed and Julie doesn’t understand why.  One day Chingis and Nergui disappear and Julie’s teacher tells her class that they weren’t supposed to be in England and were sent back to their own country.  Julie never sees or hears from them again until she makes a discovery on the internet many years later.

The Un-forgotten Coat is a story about friendship that leaves you with a smile on your face.  It shows you how hard it can be for people of other cultures to fit in, but how they just need friends to help them along the way.  There are some really funny parts in the book, especially when Chingis and Nergui are learning how to play football.  I really liked how Frank Cottrell Boyce has used Polaroid photos to help tell the story and I think it would be interesting to write your own story just using the photos.   Frank Cottrell Boyceis a great storyteller, and if you like his other stories including Millions, Framed and Cosmic, you’ll love The Un-forgotten Coat.

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