Realistic, likeable, Australian and a little bit different. I picked this one up because I liked the cover (I know, I know) but I'm glad I did. Not yo...moreRealistic, likeable, Australian and a little bit different. I picked this one up because I liked the cover (I know, I know) but I'm glad I did. Not your usual teen romance :)(less)
I wanted to love this. It's so important that books dealing with trans issues are available, especially to a YA market. However, this particular book...moreI wanted to love this. It's so important that books dealing with trans issues are available, especially to a YA market. However, this particular book just didn't do it for me. The characters are annoying neo-"punks" and it's all so EASY. I'm not an expert on transitioning, but it seemed as though Finn was able to proceed with T and surgery at an unrealistic pace.
It'd be a one star review if it weren't for me being so pleased to find a trans book in my local library.(less)
I was thrilled to win a review copy of Dress Rehearsal as part of First Reads, so thank you to Ms Thurner and Fremantle Press.
I would definitely clas...moreI was thrilled to win a review copy of Dress Rehearsal as part of First Reads, so thank you to Ms Thurner and Fremantle Press.
I would definitely class this novel as Literary YA Fiction, because there is a clear focus on good writing as well as storytelling. I read a lot of lighter, less-polished YA books, and get a lot of enjoyment from them, but it's always a refreshing change to find something aimed at a younger audience that gives teens credit for being able to understand and enjoy writing that doesn't spell things out to them or influence them with current slang and fashion labels.
Thurner has a strong, individual style that is consistent throughout the novel. Her heroine, Lara Pearlman, is unmistakably flawed, but it's her sense of self-centralism and ability to mess things up that make her the kind of protagonist that Thurner's audience can identify with.
A lot happens in Dress Rehearsal - including the bank robbery and abduction spoken of in the blurb - but Thurner's style doesn't allow for the events to seem melodramatic. They just happen, and the characters deal with them in their own, flawed ways, and the audience is given glimpses of motivations, but left to work out the details by reading between the lines. More, still, can be garnered through parallels to be found between the characters' lives and the school production that has brought them all together.
Dress Rehearsal is an enjoyable read and an impressive first novel. Recommended for upper secondary readers. (less)
It's a YA novel set in Melbourne with a queer protagonist, so thank goodness it was good, because I had such high hopes for it :D
I like that the prota...moreIt's a YA novel set in Melbourne with a queer protagonist, so thank goodness it was good, because I had such high hopes for it :D
I like that the protagonist is so flawed. She really reads like a teenager. She's trying to work out who she is and what she wants and is honest about the fact that she just doesn't know. And because of this, the book feels very honest as well.
Of course, everything is far too easy, but that's the genre rather than laziness on the part of the author. (less)
This book has a dream-like quality, due to the slightly distant voice of the first-person narration. It's not a fun story, but it is a well-told one....moreThis book has a dream-like quality, due to the slightly distant voice of the first-person narration. It's not a fun story, but it is a well-told one. I never really felt connected to the protagonist, or to any of the other characters, for that matter. Prettily-told, interesting enough whilst being read, but sure to be quickly forgotten.
(Interestingly, it feels caught between the YA and Adult markets. The main characters have finished with their school years, but it's a solid coming-of-age offering.)
It's a solid 3.5-star book, but rounding it down felt more natural than rounding it up.(less)
'Patricia swallowed nervously. She didn't much like going up there alone, not knowing where any of the light-switches were, but it would be out of the...more'Patricia swallowed nervously. She didn't much like going up there alone, not knowing where any of the light-switches were, but it would be out of the question to bolt back into the living-room and ask Kirsty or Genevieve to come with her. There was this other image she was trying to create before their eyes, of a different Patricia Miggs, cool and sophisticated, who didn't need permission to go away for weekends with her schoolfriends. That image would be devastated if she went babyishly back in there and asked one of them to come upstairs with her just because of a slamming window. She made herself move and started up the staircase. Then froze, staring at a pair of feet shod in white, which were standing quite still, waiting, on the very top step.'
Patricia Miggs is excited when the two most popular girls in her new school, Kirsty and Genevieve, invite her to spend the weekend in the country with them at Kirsty's aunt's house. But things go steadily downhill when it becomes obvious that neither girl really wants her to be there. When strange things begin to happen in the house, Patricia assumes they're all part of an elaborate prank, with her as the intended victim. But are Kirsty and Genevieve behind the games – or are they the work of a tormented woman who died in the house many years ago?
When I was in year seven, Games was the book to read. The queue to borrow it out from the school library was so long that I'm amazed the school's copy didn't fall apart by the middle of the year. For many of us, it was our first introduction to the horror/thriller genre. The Goosebumps series didn't begin until the following year (and we were all too old for it by then anyway) and the Point Thrillers didn't take off at my school until a year or two later. And we were scared by Games. It was so popular because it got to us in a way that most books didn't.
Re-reading Games again as an adult, I was surprised by the way that the old feeling of spooky tension came flooding back to me. I predicted the ending quite early in the book, but that didn't relieve the feeling of uneasiness as I read on. These days, I'm almost completely immune to horror due to absolute over-exposure, but there was a residual memory there that sparked into something when teamed with Klein's excellent storytelling ability.
One of Klein's strengths was always her characters. They had flaws and back-stories and more levels than might at first be apparent. Games is no exception. Certainly, none of the three girls are very likeable, but Patricia, at least, becomes more so as the book progresses and she begins to come into herself.
Klein teams excellent descriptive language with realistic teen dialogue to create a novel that is both appealing and well-crafted. It was a pleasure to re-read Games as an adult; I found that my enjoyment hadn't been tempered at all by the passage of the intervening years.
Loathing Lola is based on a fun premise. With reality television constituting so much of modern day programming, the idea of following one of the people behind the televised faces is an interesting one. Kostakis encourages his readers to question the veracity of the 'reality' presented by such shows, both in terms of the media's manipulation of both celebrity and audience and in terms of the type of people and behaviour they promote as being entertaining and desirable.
It's a good idea and an excellent moral but, unfortunately, I believe it is overshadowed and even contradicted by the text itself. Kostakis's characters are just as stereotypical and anti-feminist as those presented by television programs such as 'Big Brother'. His protagonist is fine – if rather dull – but the women around her are highly problematic.
Katie, Courtney's 'second-best friend' (which is weird in itself – who uses a term like that at 16?) is hilariously promiscuous. She thinks nothing of doing laps of the (Catholic!) school oval in her underwear. Courtney and Tim, Katie's twin brother, joke about her having slept with entire sporting teams, because apparently that's not revolting, boys-locker-room behaviour and actually just how good friends and family talk about their loved ones. It should come as no surprise that Katie is not the kind of friend a girl can trust, because she's been represented as stereotypically hedonistic from the beginning.
Chloe is a bad person. You know this because she's overweight. Kostakis doesn't allow his readers to forget this important detail. It's mentioned almost every time that Chloe is.
Lola, Courtney's step-mother, is also a bad person. This is obvious from the moment she's introduced, because she has poor dress sense.
'Think animal prints, clashing colours, turquoise eye shadow and plastic carrot-shaped earrings. She has her permed peroxide blonde hair frizzing freely. It's a colour she claims is natural, not perhaps as natural as the brown of her two-inch long regrowth, but natural enough.'
Immediately, the reader is given an image of someone from a certain socio-economic background. We know she's not from a wealthy background, we know she's probably not well-educated and we know that she's not a woman presenting herself as a woman is supposed to present herself. What's more, she is openly sexual with her husband. Oh, and she's not thin enough either. Parts of her body 'jiggle'. God forbid.
Lucy McMahon? Needless to say, she also fits the pattern.
'Lucy's as thin, if not thinner than her cardboard cut-out pinned on the Writer's Wall. Now, there's scantily clad, then there's Lucily clad. Apparently, what she's wearing is called a top. I beg to differ. She has long, straightened, platinum-blonde hair and breasts she didn't get by starving herself and exercising. Her high-pitched I'm-a-ditz voice pierces the air.'
Poor Lucy has tried to make the grade, but it doesn't count, because it's artificial. Women in this book are inextricably tied to their appearances, with any deviation from natural perfection being linked to having a bad character.
Lazy portrayal of women aside, the book also seems to struggle to find a style and format. The first chapter is very different to read than the last, as though the book was written over an extended period of time and then never edited into a smooth whole and initially there are inserts such as brief character surveys and point form lists that disappear as the book goes on. It reads young and unrefined. Personally, I don't understand why this was published in its current form, without serious editing to remove the immaturity of both style and characterisation. It worries me that a good publisher like Pan Macmillan put out a book that represents young and older women in this way, especially when packaged with a moral about the media revering drama, scandal and skin. (less)
I picked this book off the library shelf because of the glowing recommendation from John Marsden on its front cover. He didn't let me down.
The Dead I Know is an excellent book. It's always such a refreshing surprise to pick up a novel aimed at the young adult market and find something that combines good writing talent with a story that goes beyond the usual fluffy fare. I enjoy that as much as the next person, but I also feel that there is a shortage of genuinely good and thoughtful literature in the YA sphere. With this offering, Scot Gardner shows that he has the talent to stand out from the trend-following crowed.
Better still, The Dead I Know is a quality novel that will actually appeal to teenage boys. The YA bookshelves tend to be dominated by plotlines aimed at girls, so it's great to find a book that will genuinely interest their male counterparts. While the book is set in a funeral parlour, and deals with death in a very warm and accepting manner, there are plenty of moments that will make a squeamish reader shudder and thus appeal to the teen male appreciation for the utterly disgusting. Such moments never feel gratuitous, however, and I think this is due to the calm presence of funeral director (and father figure) John Barton. Barton is an excellent character and his personal subtlety mirrors the subtlety of the book itself.
Indeed, despite the presence of the intense emotion of grief, despite the straightforward explanations of the physical processes that follow death, and even despite the final revelation of Aaron's dramatic past, The Dead I Know is an extremely understated work. It gets under your skin. The prose feels languid but, at the same time, it's difficult to put the book aside. My appreciation for it grew slowly but, by the end, I was left knowing that I had read something truly worthwhile.
I would love to see The Dead I Know studied in Australian high schools. It's so rich with themes, and the quiet style leaves a lot of room for classroom discussion of events, character motivations and outcomes. It is a coming-of-age story, in that it follows Aaron's journey towards a greater acceptance of his past and knowledge of the man he is becoming, but it is also something more than that. I very much hope that this title will soon reach the international market. (less)
Little Sister is a fast-moving novel that I found surprisingly difficult to put down. I had expected it to be a fairly generic tale of sister rivalry, but was pleased to discover that it had a deeper message and dealt with bigger issues. Said's characters are exposed to bullying, homophobia and sexual and peer pressure, but the novel avoids the moralistic tone that can often accompany young adult books that focus on such things.
Al is a sympathetic protagonist who many readers will be able to identify with. She's likeable, but realistically flawed. Extremely concerned with her image, Al is overly focussed on her sister's achievements and measures her own self worth in reference to Larrie. While she often treats the people around her poorly due to frustration, fear, lack of tact or her own feelings of inadequacy, she is ultimately loyal and kind-hearted. At times, I found her self-involvement irritating, but I never found her reactions unbelievable.
Said's portrayal of Larrie was particularly well done. As the reader views her through Al's biased eyes, her character becomes more rounded and likeable as the book unfolds. Initially, she is portrayed as self-absorbed and mean but, as we learn more about her and as Al begins to understand more about her sister – and about her own sister-related baggage – she becomes more appealing.
GLBTQ individuals are still greatly under-represented in fiction for young adults, so it is always good to discover a new author who writes such characters well. Telling a coming out story from the perspective of a family member could very easily feel forced or impersonal, but Little Sister seems to have been well-informed by Said's experiences with her own GLBTQ-identified sister.
Overall, the theme of Little Sister is acceptance – acceptance of the people around you and acceptance of yourself. It is an easy read, but one that carries a deeper message than may at first seem apparent. Said has penned a great addition to the growing catalogue of Australian YA fiction.
That said, all of those Facebook references are really going to date it in a few years' time!(less)
Wow, what a gripping novel Chasers is! It took me a couple of chapters to grow accustomed to Jesse's first person voice but, once I got a little further into the book, it was extremely hard to stop reading. Now, having finished it, I'd be picking up the sequel right away if it weren't for the fact that I have other books I'm committed to reading first.
In a lot of ways, the general storyline of Chasers is not particularly ground-breaking. It's a fairly simple tale of post-apocalyptic survival (with added zombie-like creatures) and there isn't a great deal that actually happens in the novel, but somehow James Phelan has managed to infuse his story with a power that goes beyond its surface appearance.
Chasers is more than the action-horror that it initially seems to be. Its strength lies in Phelan's portrayal of the inner workings of his protagonist. The reader witnesses the changes that are wrought in Jesse by the situation he finds himself in – not so much through his own self analysis as through his interactions both with his companions and with the city around him. More than a tale of physical survival in a ravaged world, this is an exploration of the human mind and of the ways in which an individual, emotionally injured by a traumatising situation, constructs purpose and meaning in order to carry on.
Of course, Chasers is also a fast-paced novel, with plenty of suspense to keep the reader turning the pages until the mind-blowing ending. The reader is no more informed as to the circumstances leading to the destruction of New York than Jesse is, giving the book a constant feel of urgency. Chasers raises a lot of questions, few of which are answered in this, the first book in a series. Luckily, Phelan's world and characters are interesting enough that I am more than happy to read the subsequent books in order to get some more answers.
Jesse is a sympathetic protagonist, with an authentic teen voice. He is supported by the carefully diverse characters of Dave, Mini and Anna. While it is Anna who Jesse is most enamoured of, she is possibly the least-defined of his friends. Dave is complicated and sometimes confusing, but he makes perfect sense in the end. Of the three, Mini is the most likeable. Her quiet presence adds much-needed warmth to the (necessary) bleakness of the novel. The one thing that I struggled with while reading Chasers was the absence of quotation marks throughout most of the book. There was a reason for their exclusion, but I'm unsure as to whether the stylistic choice was clever enough to warrant the confusion it sometimes allowed.
That said, I'm willing to forgive a lot from a novel that gave me such a perfect punch to the stomach in its closing pages. It's the ending that makes Chasers as good as it is. Once you get there, you realise just how artfully constructed the entire work is – and want to go right back to the beginning to read it all over again.
Chasers is Phelan's first YA novel. In a growing teen market, he is definitely an author to watch. (less)
Stolen is an extremely cleverly written book. It's essentially a book about Stockholm Syndrome, written for a young adult audience, and its greatest f...moreStolen is an extremely cleverly written book. It's essentially a book about Stockholm Syndrome, written for a young adult audience, and its greatest feature is the way that Lucy Christopher takes the reader along on the same emotional ride experienced by protagonist Gemma. At the beginning of the book, Ty – her captor – comes across as creepy and unappealing but, as he reveals more of himself and more of the past that led them both to the Australian outback, he becomes a surprisingly sympathetic character. I never found him truly likeable, because there always remains something dangerous about him, but many other readers have been completely won over by the end of the novel. Manipulating one's readers in such a fashion takes a lot of writing skill. Although Stolen has its faults, I came away from reading it with a healthy respect for the author's talent. I love a book that can mess with my head.
As suggested above, however, Stolen isn't flawless. At times, it feels over-long. There is a lot of description of the Australian outback and I'm not sure whether I'm just jaded to that, as someone who lives in Australia and has been fed images and romanticised perspectives of the outback all my life, or whether the description really does take over a little at times. For the first half of the book, I wasn't very engaged at all. I kept reading because the premise interested me and the writing style is elegant and clever, but I wasn't invested in the characters or their actions. I think the beginning of the change in Gemma's attitude towards Ty also marked the beginning of my greater interest in the novel. Perhaps it was a case of my needing more movement in terms of character development and plot or perhaps it just comes down to me being in a more receptive mood by the time I reached the second half of the book. Either way, my near-indifference was not lasting and I definitely enjoyed the latter half of the novel and the book as a completed whole.
I think that's really how Stolen should be assessed. Its power doesn't lie in its characters or even in the artfully described and ever-present setting. The true power of Christopher's work is its ability to draw its readers in and to make them feel a little of what Gemma is feeling. Her confusion became my confusion. And that's the sign of a good author.
It's an Australian book, set in Perth, and it reads a bit like she was trying for ultra-realism, but succeeded only in creating a feeling of artifice...moreIt's an Australian book, set in Perth, and it reads a bit like she was trying for ultra-realism, but succeeded only in creating a feeling of artifice and an angstful Mary Sue character. No consequences for the wrongs of anyone other than the main character, and the consequences for the main character were far out of line with her actions. I mean, there was one incident, but apart from that, I don't see how what she did was so OMG INSANE. Heh - perhaps that says more about my own sanity than anything else *g* Anyway, it was interesting enough, but I wouldn't bother reading anything from her again.(less)
Marrying Ameera is a gripping and uncomfortable tale of a girl's struggle to resist an arranged marriage that will keep her in an unfamiliar country and away from her mother, brother, friends – and the boy she really loves. It's the type of book that can't help but fill a reader with impotent rage and it is frustrating in this regard, because of how deeply Hawke makes her audience feel the unfairness of the situation her protagonist is placed in. I greatly respect authors who can make me feel such intense emotions whilst reading their work, even if they can torture me a little at the time!
I don't know how accurately Rosanne Hawke has captured the experience of a Pakistani girl being forced into a marriage she does not want and I'd be very interested to hear opinions of those who are a lot closer to that world than I (thankfully) will ever be. I can, however, say that I was very impressed with the way that she successfully avoided conflating religion with culture or a large group of people (in this case Pakistanis) with an element within that group. Marrying Ameera is not an anti-religious book or even an anti-Muslim book, and for that I was very grateful.
Ameera herself is a fantastic protagonist and feels very true to her cultural upbringing. She has a strong faith and is devoted to her family, which makes her story all the more powerful. If she were written to be just like her Anglo-Australian friends, the conflict in Marrying Ameera would become so much more one-dimensional. As it is, the novel is as much a story of her struggle to break free of her conditioning as it is a story of her horrible situation.
Given the topic of the novel, I was particularly pleased by the presence of several positive male characters, who supported Hawke's message that crimes against women are perpetrated by individuals, rather than generalised races, religions or genders. Ameera's brother, Riaz, is artfully drawn – combining realistic sibling indifference in the beginning with true love and dedication as the story unfolds. Tariq is portrayed as being so kind and understanding that it is not at all surprising that he earns Ameera's love. And, in Pakistan, young Asher plays a relatively minor role for most of the story, but nonetheless sticks fast in the reader's mind.
Marrying Ameera is not an easy book to read, but it is definitely a worthwhile one. Hawke is a strong writer, who combines an accessible young adult style with a dark and important story. One to make you think.
Deb Fitzpatrick's second novel, Have You Seen Ally Queen? is a contemporary YA offering with a literary style. The chapters are unusually brief – one is just one page – and the narrative voice is also quite short, with situations often being described through short moments in time and character interactions rather than deep insights into Ally's head.
In some senses, it felt a little like Fitzpatrick's taciturn tone undermined the character of her protagonist. The reader is told that Ally is spontaneous and unrestrained and a bit of a loudmouth, but the first person narrative often seems to give the exact opposite impression. It is difficult to know how much this was planned by the author. Should the reader consider it an indication of an unreliable narrator and an example of the ways in which Ally is struggling to discover herself as a maturing teen in a new location? Certainly, it could be read that way, but I personally found it contributed to my lack of identification with the novel's protagonist.
Ally is realistic and age-appropriate, but she doesn't give much of herself to the reader – at least not readily. Much in Have You Seen Ally Queen? is implied, rather than stated, which is a technique I love in short fiction but one that is not commonly found in novels for young readers. I'm not sure it works in this context. There is a lack of immediacy in the book, despite it being written in present tense, and this meant that I was not captured by the plot when feeling distant from the protagonist.
It's a pity that I couldn't get into the style of Have You Seen Ally Queen?, because the content of the novel is fantastic. It combines coming-of-age themes with a very real exploration of mental illness and the effect it can have on the loved ones of the sufferer. Fitzpatrick does not make Ally's mother unsympathetic, but also does not shy away from the full range of reactions experienced by Ally herself – some of which are quite critical of her mother's behaviour.
In terms of the issues it explores, Have You Seen Ally Queen? has a lot to say to young readers, so I hope that it does well, despite my personal lack of connection with its style. (less)