It’s 1985 and Kirrali Lewis is a new student at Melbourne University. Raised by her white adoptive family in a country town, Kirrali is adamant that sIt’s 1985 and Kirrali Lewis is a new student at Melbourne University. Raised by her white adoptive family in a country town, Kirrali is adamant that she is there to become a corporate lawyer. She’s got no intention of becoming involved in indigenous politics, nor does she want to learn more about her cultural background – despite the encouragement of her adoptive family. But a series of events leads Kirrali to look for her birth parents, and she finds herself in a completely different place than she ever imagined.
I was really excited about this book when I discovered it. I love early University stories and this was telling a story we don’t see that often. I particularly liked the way the story changed once we met Kirrali’s mother – using ‘flashbacks’ to explore her point of view and her relationship with her parents and Kirrali’s father. This information could have been included through exposition dumping, but I think this way was much more interesting and provided a better view of the world Kirrali was born into.
Kirrali is a really interesting character. She’s determined and intelligent, but she’s not perfect. She has a feeling of country girl naivety which feels really true, and her growth feels natural throughout the book. The supporting characters feel very real as well; they have the flaws and characteristics of real people and combine to create a very real feeling world.
This is Jane Harrison’s first novel, she is best known as a playwright. I think this background is evident at times – her dialogue tends to be spot on, but it’s not always backed up by the other parts of the story. There are times when I would have liked to get more into the character’s heads, but I felt like I was kept back a bit by the author. Nevertheless, this is an excellent story which I really enjoyed. I highly recommend it.
Sydney’s world is upside down. Her charismatic (and problematic) brother, Peyton has been sent to jail after a horrific drink driving accident. Her paSydney’s world is upside down. Her charismatic (and problematic) brother, Peyton has been sent to jail after a horrific drink driving accident. Her parents are completely wrapped up in his world (or their own world) and she’s beginning at a new, very different school where she knows no one. But a chance visit to a pizza parlour introduces her to the Chathams, a family willing to take her in, share their world and support her when her family continues to drift apart.
I’ve been reading Sarah Dessen books for a few years now – since I discovered them for my classroom – so I kind of knew what to expect going in. Dessen has created a world for her characters – a series of locations and features which repeat from book to book (it’s always a little exciting to try and spot the familiar things from other books.) However, some of her books definitely lean on the darker side than others. Saint Anything is definitely one I consider darker.
Interestingly, it’s not Sydney’s new friends or her ‘dangerous’ new school (moving from a private to a public school) where the danger lies. Instead it’s in the obsessive behaviour her mother shows towards being the best mother over for her incarcerated brother and in the downright creepy behaviour of her brother’s friend Ames. I just wanted to kick her parents for not seeing how inappropriate Ames was and how much uncomfortable he made Sydney feel – Dessen does a brilliant job of making their interactions incredibly upsetting to the reader.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the way Sydney developed friendships with the Chatham family, especially Layla and Mac and moved on to develop friendships with their friends. The whole growing nature of friendship felt very natural – heightened because they’re in a high school environment, but still with a level of slowness about it as they learned more and more about each other and began to trust each other.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to the 12yr and up audience – there’s an awful lot to enjoy in it, and I can see it being one which is shared and passed around and enjoyed.
Disclaimer: Tansy and Stephanie are friends. However, I’d purchased the subscription to RAF before I knew they’d have stories in it
I think I learned aDisclaimer: Tansy and Stephanie are friends. However, I’d purchased the subscription to RAF before I knew they’d have stories in it
I think I learned about Review of Australian Fiction through the Galactic Suburbia podcast while they were discussing Australian awards. It’s a really interesting idea – new Australian short fiction published every two weeks covering a wide range of authors. Plus the price – especially the subscription price – is incredibly reasonable for what you get.
This particular issue came out just before Continuum where Tansy was Guest of Honour and Stephanie was in charge of programming, so I knew I would be meeting both of them and wanted to read it before then. However, I wanted to read both stories again before I reviewed them – and I’m thrilled that they both stood up to my initial thoughts.
Both stories create worlds both familiar and completely new, but in totally different ways. In Fake Geek Girl we find ourselves in a world where magic is the Real and the philosophy and literature and engineering we know are the Unreal. It’s a story of family – both the family/family connections we come with and those which we build around us. We’re plunged into the middle of it all, into a group of friends revolving around the band three of them belong to – a band which sings songs about geeky pursuits, even though the charismatic lead singer isn’t directly involved in those geeky pursuits.
It’s a world where magic sits beautifully alongside the world we know so well. There’s social media and a magical equivalent, there’s fire detectors and excess magic detectors. But there’s also a tension there which is wonderful. It’s very much a world I’d love to see more of and characters I’d like more stories about.
The Dàn Dàn Miàn of the Apocalypse is set in an apocalyptic setting around Melbourne and also looks at family and communities – those we have and those we build. It’s firmly set into the consequences of climate change (you can read some more of Stephanie’s thoughts here – she’s passionate on the subject and it’s a great read) but particularly the human impacts and how that influences our relationships with each other. Plus the Dàn Dàn Miàn sounds fabulous. (Side note – reading this after our trip to Melbourne and our journey on Puffing Billy in a similar area was very different to the reading it before we went)
Review of Australian Fiction is doing some really interesting things, and I highly recommend supporting them with a subscription. If you’re not interested in that, though, I cannot recommend these stories enough. They’re thoughtful and interesting and contain great world building, while allowing the reader the scope to build the world a little ourselves.
This is the beautiful follow up to Ruby Red Shoes, and I’m so thrilled that I was able to find both the books at the same time so I could read straighThis is the beautiful follow up to Ruby Red Shoes, and I’m so thrilled that I was able to find both the books at the same time so I could read straight from one to another. (I’ve also noticed these books popping up in a few more of my local book shops, which is excellent to see.)
In this story, Ruby and her Grandmother are on their way to Paris where they connect with family and explore the city. There’s not much more of a story than that, much like the first book. Instead, we the readers are given a tour through a world both different and familiar to ours, a little like a good travel narrative. We see more of what Ruby’s thinking here, through her letters home to her french speaking chickens and through the notebook entries she makes – almost always about noticing beautiful things.
The beauty of Paris is something which is strongly shown through the book, both through the whimsical illustrations and through the gorgeous, descriptive text.
“The sun is barely awake when Ruby sleepily opens one eye and hears the song of Paris wafting through the window. “It’s a chorus of tooting scooters, bicycle bells, delivery trucks inching down narrow laneways, ladies shoes clipping on cobblestone pavements and a harmony of delicate chinks as coffee cups kiss their saucers.”
You could definitely get a wonderful writing project inspired by the way Ruby writes about what she sees. I really love the way the book shows how Ruby records more than just plain descriptions, showing how she makes connections to the rest of her world. Of course there could also be a great project of writing Ruby Red Shoes fanfiction, sending her off to different parts of the world.
The Ruby Red Shoes books are a little different compared to a lot of other childrens books. They don’t feel like picture books, yet they’re not really beginner reader or middle grades books. I get the feeling we’re going to see more and more books of this kind moving into the future, particularly as graphic novels are now more present and available. Hopefully more stories about Ruby Red Shoes are also in the future.
I first heard about Ruby Red Shoes when I was wrapping up the 2014 Readings Children’s Book Prize (where its sequel was shortlisted). It certainly looI first heard about Ruby Red Shoes when I was wrapping up the 2014 Readings Children’s Book Prize (where its sequel was shortlisted). It certainly looked beautiful, but at the time neither the original or its sequel were easily found in my local bookshops or department stores, so I filed it away in the ‘nice to read it if I ever find it’ part of my mind.
Thankfully, a month or so ago, I did find both the books at my local Target (of all places) and my son then pulled them out of one of my many ‘to read’ piles and insisted on them. So we cuddled together on the couch and were introduced to the lovely world of Ruby (and her Red Shoes)
There’s really no plot to this book. Instead it’s an extended introduction to Ruby and her world and the philosophy her grandmother is using to bring her up. Ruby is a white hare who lives in a beautiful caravan with her grandmother, who wants her to be an aware hare – to treat the feelings of others with great care. We learn about her garden and her Francophile chickens who prefer croissants and baguettes to breadcrumbs and cheat at passionfruit soccer.
This is an incredibly calming book. The illustrations are soft and pretty with lots of gentle curves and the text is full of comforting words and phrases like ‘warm and cosy’ and ‘places to drift off and snooze’. My particular favourite paragraph talks about the caravan Ruby and her grandmother share and how it’s full of things they love:
“There are generous teacups for hot drinks feathery quilts to snuggle up in jars of colourful buttons and posies of flowers in pots and jugs”
This reminded me of so many friends and the way they fill their homes with warmth and beauty. To share this with a child is like sharing an ideal of a warm and cosy home, while reminding them that things we cherish aren’t necessarily the big and expensive.
As soon as we finished reading it (well, around the time my son was insisting we read it again), I knew I wanted to share this little gem of a book with other people. With the friends who create little nests for their families, for my mother in law who would just fall absolutely in love with the chickens, with my mother who would fall in love with the art throughout and with other children who’d just like to step into such a beautiful world.
This would also be a wonderful book to use in the classroom when talking about settings and feelings of a story. I think there could also be a particularly interesting conversation about books and stories without plots and of course it would be brilliant for a quiet readaloud during a hectic day....more