Tag Archives: relationships

This is Not a Drill by Beck McDowell

Many of the books I’ve been reading lately have focused on characters and their relationships with those around them.  I love books like this, especially when they’re narrated by the main character, because you really get inside their head and find out what they’re thinking and feeling.  In Beck McDowell’s new book This is Not a Drill you get inside the heads of two teenagers who find themselves caught up in a hostage situation in an elementary school in America.

The door swings open and a man walks in like he owns the place. He raises his fist. Gripping a handgun. Aimed directly at the teacher.

Emery finds it awkward as hell tutoring a bunch of grade-one kids with her ex-boyfriend. It’s not easy for Jake either – he knows Emery thinks he’s useless, especially after what he did to her. But when a boy’s father turns up at school with a gun, a bad situation for Emery and Jake suddenly turns deadly. The boy’s father – a soldier home from Iraq – says he just wants to spend time with his kid. But resistance from the teacher has deadly consequences. The man isn’t afraid of opening fire, even in front of the children. And one way or another, he’s not leaving without his son.

This is Not a Drill is a tense, gripping story, set over the course of a few hours.  Beck McDowell hooks you from the first page and doesn’t let you go until the very last word, breathless and with your heart pounding.  Like the characters, you feel on edge and you turn the pages quickly, but quietly, for fear that the man with the gun might hear you and all hell will break loose.  Beck packs so much into the 215 pages of this gripping story, from the affects of war on returning soldiers and their families, to the different ways that children react in traumatic situations.

Although the story is based around the event that is taking place, it’s really a story about relationships.  The relationships between the Mr Stutts (the man with the gun) and his family are central to the story, and the relationships between the other characters in the story affect the direction that the story could take.  The teacher, Mrs. Campbell has a great relationship with her students.  She stays calm for her them and helps keep them calm by distracting them.  The relationship of the two narrators is quite tense because something has happened between them, but they quickly have to put this behind them so that they can help protect the children.

The story is incredibly tense, but the children help to relieve that tension.  Even though they are being help captive by a man with a gun they still worry about the little things, like eating and going to the bathroom.  There is a particularly touching moment when the children decide to sing Edelweiss.

4 out of 5 stars

This is Not a Drill by Beck McDowell is out in Australia and NZ now so grab a copy from your library or bookshop.  Beck McDowell is joining me on Thursday for a Q & A about This is Not a Drill and how her experiences as a teacher have helped with her writing.

Win a copy of This is Not a Drill!

Thanks to the wonderful people at Hardie Grant Egmont I have a copy of This is Not a Drill to give away.  All you have to do to get in the draw is enter your name and email address in the form below.  Competition closes Monday 19 November (Australia and NZ only).

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Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

If you have read Annabel Pitcher’s debut novel My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece you’ll know what an amazing writer she is.  My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece was one of my favourite books of 2011 and I’ve been dying to read Ketchup Clouds ever since Annabel first started talking about it. Ketchup Clouds, is every bit as extraordinary as her first book and it will stay with you long after you reach the end.

Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret – a dark and terrible secret that she can’t confess to anyone she knows. But then one day she hears of a criminal, Stuart Harris, locked up on death row in Texas. Like Zoe, Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder. Full of heartache yet humour, Zoe tells her story in the only way she can – in letters to the man in prison in America. Armed with a pen, Zoe takes a deep breath, eats a jam sandwich and begins her tale of love and betrayal.

Ketchup Clouds is an utterly beautiful, heart-breaking story, told in an original and very clever way.  The whole book is a confession of what Zoe has done, to someone who she knows will understand, but won’t be able to do anything.  I don’t want to say too much about the story for fear that I’ll let some important detail slip. Annabel gives you enough detail that you know vaguely what has happened, but you just have to keep reading to find out exactly what happened and to who.  She leaves you hanging on every word and dreading what is inevitably going to happen.

There are several things that I really like about Annabel’s writing.  I really like the way that she ties up the story at the end, bringing everything together and showing you how the characters have turned out.  Like her first book, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, you feel completely satisfied at the end and you’re left amazed at how her characters have developed over the course of the story.  I also like the way that Annabel portrays the parents in the story.  The parents have their own problems that they are dealing with in their own way, and they’re not always the best parents, but deep down they love and care for their children.  They are important parts of the story and Annabel portrays them as real people, not just characters in a book.

The main reason I loved Ketchup Clouds was the relationships between the characters.  The relationship between Zoe and Stuart was really interesting, because even though we never hear from Stuart, Zoe’s tone changes the more she writes to him.  At the beginning she calls him Mr Harris, and by the end she’s calling him Stu.  She seems to get more comfortable with Stuart as time goes by and becomes less formal with him.  Zoe and her sister Sophie have quite a close relationship and they talk quite openly with each other, especially when it comes to talking about their parents.  Zoe’s relationships with Max and Aaron are quite different and Annabel does an excellent job of portraying Zoe’s conflicting emotions and the tough decisions she has to make in their relationships.

Annabel Pitcher is one of those authors whose books I’ll read no matter what they’re about, and I certainly can’t wait to see what she will write next!  I’m sure I’m not the only person who wonders if we’ll ever get to read Bizzle the Bazzlebog.  Grab a copy of Ketchup Clouds from your library or bookshop now.

5 out of 5 stars

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Every Day by David Levithan

Sometimes you discover a book that you know you are going to love without the book even being published yet.  You hear or read about the idea of the story and it sounds so exciting, clever, and original that you want to read it right now.  David Levithan’s new book, Every Day, was one of those books for me.  It was even more amazing than I had imagined.

9781921922954_large_coverEvery day a different body. Every day a different life.Every day in love with the same girl.

Every morning, A wakes in a different person’s body, a different person’s life. There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

And then A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

Can you love someone who is destined to change each day?

Every Day is one of the most extraordinary, thought-provoking, and emotional stories I’ve ever read.  Even now, 3 days after reading the final sentence, I’m struggling to put into words how much this book has affected me.  It’s completely different from anything I’ve ever read, because usually the narrator stays in one body throughout the story and they interact with the same characters.  In Every Day, A is in a different body each day, so it has to get used to being a different person (on the outside) and acting like that person.  One of the most interesting things about this book is the way that you look at the character of A.  Even though A doesn’t know if it is male or female, I imagined A as a male right from the start.  However, I think each reader will picture A differently.

Sometimes it can take you a while to put yourself in the main character’s shoes, but I immediately empathized with A and what it was going through.  You try to understand what it would be like to wake up each day as a different person, but you can’t really grasp how difficult it would be.  A has been this way from birth, so it has never known anything different.  I thought it would be incredibly difficult for a child to understand what was happening to them, but for A it was just life.  A seems to have figured out what to do each time it wakes up in another body and makes its way through the day.  Every time a new day would start, I’d be wondering, like A, who it would be waking up as.  Would A be a black girl, a gay guy, have a gorgeous body or be incredibly overweight?  Then when A has found  out who it is, how will A use that body and what will A do today.  I could totally understand why A wanted to spend every day with Rhiannon.  I’ve never had a crush on a book character before, but I would certainly want to spend every day with her.  The thing I love the most about A is the way that it respects the bodies that it is in.  A tries incredibly hard not to interfere with the lives of those people, and tries to fix mistakes that it has made while in those bodies.

Ultimately, Every Day is a love story.  A and Rhiannon’s romance is doomed to fail, because even though Rhiannon may love A, she’s not always going to love the person he is on the outside.   I loved the interactions between A (in its different bodies) and Rhiannon and you are hoping with all your heart that they can be together.  David Levithan’s ending to the story is absolutely perfect, and has to be my favourite ever ending of a book.

I was sad to finish the book, because I loved David’s beautiful writing and I didn’t want to let A and Rhiannon go.  Every Day is one of those books I want to carry around everywhere with me and tell everyone I know to read it.  Thank you David Levithan for giving me this story!

5 out of 5 stars


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Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

There are many different relationships in the young adult books on the shelves.  There are guys that long to tell their best friend they are in love with them, girls that swoon over the popular guy or loner (who happens to be a vampire/werewolf/shapeshifter), teens who long to come out but are afraid of what others might think, and those whose love of their life is right under their noses.  In Daniel Hander’s latest book, we get a different perspective on relationships and find out why Min and Ed broke up.

Why We Broke Up is the story of Min’s relationship with Ed and how it broke down.   Min delivers a box to Ed, her now ex-boyfriend.  Inside this box is a collection of objects from throughout their relationship and a letter.  Min has written this letter to explain to Ed why they broke up and explain to him why he now has this random assortment of objects on his doorstep.  She tells Ed exactly how she felt throughout their relationship and why each of these objects meant something to her.

Daniel Handler has created characters that teens (and adults) will be able to relate to and told us the story of the ups and downs of relationships.  It’s refreshing to read a story of a relationship that’s not as rosey as those in other young adult books.  You know from the title that Min and Ed’s relationship doesn’t work out and because you’re on the outside, you can see the little signs that it’s not going to last. Min has a very unique voice and it took me a while to get used to.  She’s a very observant person so she sees and hears things that a lot of others wouldn’t take notice of.  At one stage she describes a whole school day and it almost seems like she doesn’t take a breath.   After a while I found myself really liking this about her character because it’s what makes her unique and, I hate to say it, ‘different.’  The remains of their relationship, including two bottle caps, a box of matches, a toy truck and some stolen sugar, are an interesting and original way of framing the story.  Maira Kalman’s art is stunning and makes a perfect match with Daniel Handler’s story.  Min and Ed’s relationship may not have lasted but lets hope that Maria and Daniel’s does so that we see more books from this talented duo.

5 out of 5 stars

Check out whywebrokeupproject.tumblr.com to read other people’s break up stories, including some from Neil Gaiman, Brian Selznick and Carolyn Mackler.

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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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Brother/Sister by Sean Olin

Some books you can only read when you feel in the right mood, and other books have the power to affect your mood.  Sean Olin’s latest book, Brother/Sister got so inside my head that it started to affect my mood.  It has to be one of the darkest, most disturbing Young Adult books that I’ve read in a long time

The brother and sister of the title are Will and Ashley and each chapter alternates between their points of view.  Sean Olin grabs you from the first paragraph,

“How many times do I have to say it?  Yes, I see the picture.  You’ve been shoving it in my face for, like, the past forty-five minutes.  And, yes, I understand what it is.  It’s a body, obviously.  It’s a dead body.  I’m not blind, okay?”

Both Will and Asheley are being interviewed by the police and it’s clear that they have something to do with the dead body.  Through their interviews we hear about their lives and their decisions that have lead them to this point.  Their parents have never been good role models.  Their mum has mental health problems which have lead to drink and drugs so she’s always in and out of rehab centres.  Their dad decided he couldn’t handle their mum and just up and left one day.  For a while now they’ve only had each other to look out for them and Will is the protective older brother.  He loves his sister and he’ll do anything to protect her.  When Asheley’s boyfriend forces himself on her, Will lashes out and does the unthinkable.   Asheley struggles to keep it together and Will really starts to spiral out of control, believing that people will find out what he’s done and try to take Asheley from him.  But at what stage does Will’s love for his sister cross the line?

Brother/Sister is a dark and disturbing story about the relationship between a brother and sister and the lengths they will go to to look out for each other.  Sean Olin takes the reader to some dark places and just when you think the character’s situation couldn’t get worse, it does.  Sean does an amazing job of getting inside his character’s heads and showing the reader the different sides of these characters.  Both Will and Asheley have authentic voices and, even when Will was at his most unstable, I still empathised with him.  Although I found the story disturbing in parts, Sean’s writing style made me want to keep reading to see how it would end.  If you enjoyed Jenny Downham’s You Against Me, try Sean Olin’s different take on the brother/sister relationship.


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