It's interesting to realised just how dated this book is upon re-reading it as an adult. I loved it in upper primary school, and it was still a fun re...moreIt's interesting to realised just how dated this book is upon re-reading it as an adult. I loved it in upper primary school, and it was still a fun re-read, but I found the family dynamics really hard to handle. Marcy's father is emotionally (and almost physically) abusive, and that's not really dealt with in a way that I found satisfying as an adult in the year 2013. Similarly, I'm not sure that her mother's journey rang true to me. Certainly, it would only be believable in a conservative religious setting in this day and age, but even in 1974, I think she may have read a bit as a stereotype from the past. All that said, I think the book's greatest quality is its ability to show the psychological reasons for the person Marcy is. This is surprisingly subtle at times. (less)
I remember this being one of my less-liked Robin Klein books when I read them all as a kid, most likely because I read them in mid to late prim...moreRe-read
I remember this being one of my less-liked Robin Klein books when I read them all as a kid, most likely because I read them in mid to late primary and I think this one would have felt a bit irrelevant to my own life. Actually I probably read this one in grade five, as that was when it was first released. Regardless, drugs weren't really a thing I'd encountered much in fiction and at all IRL.
I think it's important to consider the fact that this book was published in the 1980s when thinking about how it deals with drug use. While it's done quite subtly, I can imagine that it was a HUGE deal to be openly writing about drugs for the MG/YA market at the time. It's done nicely, too - with Klein's usual ability to combine her talent for writing for a young audience with genuine good writing. She's such a loss to the MG market now that she's unable to write (and hasn't been able to since 2005).
Absolutely Normal Chaos is a lightly-styled novel, with a deeper message about family and belonging. Its protagonist, Mary Lou, has a strong voice, wh...moreAbsolutely Normal Chaos is a lightly-styled novel, with a deeper message about family and belonging. Its protagonist, Mary Lou, has a strong voice, which is emphasised by the narrative being presented in the form of a journal. Her perspective is pleasantly flawed, and the reader views the other characters through her eyes. This is most obvious in the case of Carl Ray, who is represented in an ever-changing manner throughout the book.
Sharon Creech has a capable writing style and Absolutely Normal Chaos was an easy enough book to read and keep reading, but I'm afraid I came away from it with no real feelings about her universe or the events the characters were involved in. I didn't care enough about any of the characters to feel any emotion for their disappointments and successes, which meant that I read the novel on a very surface level. I enjoyed the budding romance between Mary Lou and Alex in the opening stages of the novel, but quickly grew disinterested, and found a few aspects of the plot a little melodramatic.
There's nothing really wrong with Absolutely Normal Chaos, but there also wasn't anything in it that really grabbed me, either. A light summertime read for middle grade readers who like diary-style fiction and who don't mind an over-abundance of double-barrel Christian names!
I am a Sweet Valley girl rather than a Baby-sitters Club girl but, back in primary school, when the Baby-sitters Club books were first being released...moreI am a Sweet Valley girl rather than a Baby-sitters Club girl but, back in primary school, when the Baby-sitters Club books were first being released in Australia, I was still a very big fan. You used to be able to get the new one every few months in the Scholastic school book clubs, and I built up a small collection of the first dozen or so books due to this. That was around the time I got into Sweet Valley High, though, and I outgrew the Baby-sitters Club not long after I started reading them. Still, for that short period in time, there was that wonderful series of books that told primary school children that they could babysit tiny children and earn money – even though they were only tiny children themselves! Okay, so perhaps it wasn't very realistic...
It's a long time since I last made any concerted effort to read the Baby-sitters Club titles. I picked up Kristy's Great Idea at a library book sale a couple of years back, and was quite disappointed upon re-reading it. And then I discovered this, the final ever book at another library book sale, and decided it would be good to see how everything concluded.
Unfortunately, as a conclusion, Graduation Day is rather underwhelming. In one sense, it's nice that the characters are still true to their beginnings. In another, however, it feels like very little has changed since the first couple of dozen books, if not since the very beginning. It really seemed like the characters were still dealing with the same-old same-old problems and emotions and, although I could see that the time machine and multiple perspectives were intended as a tribute, to me it felt a little forced and bitty. All of the old club members were there, but ones like Dawn were barely present at all.
The thing that most irritated me about Graduation Day, however, were the fonts used to mimic handwriting. These were okay when they were legible, but a lot of the time, they weren't! I didn't read Jessi's chapter at all, because the writing was just plain ridiculous, and had to skip a few others as well. Handwriting fonts are cute when they're easy to read (like Dawn's, for instance), but when they're not, they're frustrating and a waste of a reader's time.
It's sad that the Baby-sitters Club didn't go out with greater fanfare than Graduation Day allowed. But everything has to come to an end eventually, and at least Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia and Stacey were given a proper good-bye.
This really reminded me of Jacqueline Wilson at her best - strong, family-focussed, issues fiction. It's great to see that genre of children's writing...moreThis really reminded me of Jacqueline Wilson at her best - strong, family-focussed, issues fiction. It's great to see that genre of children's writing being well represented in Australian fiction.
As you can see from the blurb, Boys Beware is not a particularly realistic novel. Generally, parents do not leave two twelve-year-olds and a thirteen-...moreAs you can see from the blurb, Boys Beware is not a particularly realistic novel. Generally, parents do not leave two twelve-year-olds and a thirteen-year-old in their own flat to fend for themselves for eight weeks. Even if their aunt is downstairs, it isn't exactly an advert for good parenting. Or good sense, for that matter!
Of course, such pragmatic observations are of no interest at all to this book's young audience, for which it serves as a wonderful wish-fulfilment fantasy. For the age group Boys Beware is aimed at, nothing could seem more exciting than getting to live on your own for a couple of months. No doing what you're told. Eating whatever you want. Holding unsupervised parties. Fantastic!
As the title indicates, however, Boys Beware isn't just about three sisters living by themselves. Largely, it recounts the endless quest of Emily and Tash to meet boys and capture them make them their boyfriends. There's also a lot of time spent discussing their sister, Ali, who they feel is a hopeless case when it comes to making the most of herself and finding her own boy toy.
The best thing about Boys Beware is easily the wonderful first-person voice of Emily. It really makes the novel stand out from other books with a similar focus. Chatty, slangy and completely believable, the narrative is just spot on. Tash and Ali are also great characters. I really enjoyed Emily and Tash's relationship – with the occasional short-lived tension quickly smothered by their genuine supportive friendship – and the clever characterisation of Ali. The book is very much told from a flawed perspective, and this is why Ali works so well. The reader can see her assets, but her sister, the narrator, struggles a little!
Boys Beware is a fun novel that should be enjoyed by middle grade readers - and by older readers looking for a quick and entertaining read.
For a novel aimed at a middle grade audience, Passion Flower is surprisingly dark. Absent (emotionally or physically) and negligent parents seem to be...moreFor a novel aimed at a middle grade audience, Passion Flower is surprisingly dark. Absent (emotionally or physically) and negligent parents seem to be a staple of modern Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, but Jean Ure takes it to extremes here. At first, Stephanie and the Afterthought (sister Sam) just have to put up with their parents' separation and their father moving south to Brighton. But then their mother decides she needs some time away from them and heads abroad to Spain, sending then to stay with their irresponsible father. While initially this involves him feeding them junk food and leaving them to fend for themselves, it quickly evolves into something a lot more scary and dangerous. It becomes a bleak account of just how irresponsible and selfish a parent can be.
I think I would be fine with this if Passion Flower were an 'issues' novel, or even if there were something reassuring for readers at the end. Instead, however, it's packaged as contemporary fluff, with a cartoon cover and a light-hearted blurb, and even reads as such for a good portion of the book. Due to this, I wasn't really sure what to make of it.
On the upside, Ure's character voice is great and the first-person protagonist, Stephanie, is a likeable and believable character. The Afterthought is also very enjoyable and the two sisters have a realistic relationship. I also liked the background presence of Stephanie's best friend, Vix, who provided a link to normality.
Passion Flower is a quick read with a strong voice – but it packs a punch that younger readers may not be expecting.
When Allen & Unwin announced the release of The Tunnels of Tarcoola, I knew I needed to read it, because it sounded just like a modern,...more(4.5 Stars)
When Allen & Unwin announced the release of The Tunnels of Tarcoola, I knew I needed to read it, because it sounded just like a modern, Australian version of all of the Enid Blyton adventure and mystery stories I adored as a kid and still gain a great amount of pleasure from as an adult. Luckily, once I got my hands on a copy, I wasn't disappointed at all. Jennifer Walsh has done a great job of taking a tried and true format for children's mystery fiction and updating it to make it her own.
One of the great things about The Tunnels of Tarcoola is the way that it has such a strong sense of place. Set in Sydney, it has a very Australian feel with a solid historical foundation. Much of the mystery in the novel concerns events that happened during the Second World War, and Walsh does an admirable job of explaining the basics of the war to young readers without it feeling too didactic at the expense of plot or action. I was particularly impressed by the appropriately age-targeted Holocaust discussion.
While the mystery that the friends stumble upon has its roots in the past, the novel remains relevant to modern readers due to to its engaging characters. It takes a little while for the reader to get to learn about the cast's individual quirks, but the characters are well distinguished both in terms of personality and their interactions with each other. There's a very small amount of romance here, but it's at an age appropriate level and doesn't detract at all from the main focusses of the novel.
I did feel a little uneasy about the use of the term 'slutty' at one point, particularly as it was used to describe a group of twelve-year-old girls. It's misogynistic at the best of times and, given its meaning, I don't think the word has a place in a middle-grade novel. Likewise, the recurring theme of the police being dismissed as an option because they wouldn't do anything about crimes against children struck me as being a dangerous opinion to be put forward in a book for young people – especially when it is a parent figure expressing that point of view. That said, I understand why this stance was taken in terms of plot advancement.
All in all, however, The Tunnels of Tarcoola was an extremely enjoyable read, with a great mystery and characters that are easy to become invested in – from Kitty, David, Andrea and Martin right through to the elderly Clarissa Woolf. There's plenty of action and exploration, too, which ensures that it really is a worthy addition to the children's mystery genre.
I would have no hesitation in recommending The Tunnels of Tarcoola to middle grade readers – or, indeed, to people of all ages who love the Famous Five books and other Enid Blyton series.
It's hard to believe that April the 15th will be the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Sue Lawson has marked the event with the rel...moreIt's hard to believe that April the 15th will be the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Sue Lawson has marked the event with the release of her latest novel for young readers, Forget me not. It's a book that should appeal both to those who are familiar with the Titanic's story and those with little knowledge of the tragedy. In it, Lawson tells the tale of one family's experiences on board the ship, from the beginning of their journey to the events of the sinking and its immediate aftermath.
Forget me not focusses on Thomas and Eve, brother and sister, with chapters alternating between their perspectives. While Eve's chapters are written in first person, Thomas's are in third, which is an unusual technique that didn't entirely work for me as a reader. I can guess at Lawson's reasoning behind this stylistic choice – and did guess at it from the beginning of the novel, which rather muted the ending for me – but the change tended to bring me out of the text a little and I probably would have found the reading experience a little smoother if both perspectives had been related in the third person.
Apart from this small matter of personal taste, I thought that Eve and Thomas were well chosen as the co-protagonists of Forget me not. They allow readers to view life on board the Titanic from the perspectives of both male and female passengers – a fact that becomes particularly important once the boat begins to sink and it is the women and children who receive priority access to the lifeboats. Thomas is on the verge of adulthood and his frustration with not being treated as the man he wishes to be is well portrayed. Similarly, Lawson does a good job of presenting the conflict between Eve's wishes for herself and her mother's opinions of what constitutes proper behaviour for a girl or woman in the 1910s.
I particularly enjoyed Hugh as a secondary character. Like Thomas, he's on the line between childhood and adulthood and, as such, he can be a little changeable when it comes to his interactions with Thomas and Eve. He's always kind and reliable where needed, though, which should make him a favourite with a lot of readers. Thomas and Eve's father is also an extremely likeable character – possibly even my own favourite. In contrast, it is a lot more difficult to appreciate their mother, even if the reader later learns to be sympathetic as to why she is the way she is.
Forget me not is a little slow-moving for the first half of the book, but this rapidly changes once the Titanic hits the fatal iceberg. Lawson has a talent for making her action both exciting and emotive, which is an excellent skill to have when dealing with real life disaster in a fictional frame. I think it would be extremely difficult for a reader to set down the novel once it reaches the point of the Titanic's impact with the iceberg, so engrossing is the narrative in the latter part of the text.
Forget me not is a solid historical novel for younger readers, which should help to spark an interest in the real life events that it is based upon. It should particularly appeal to readers at an upper primary or lower secondary level, but the story of the Titanic is so timeless that older readers should find a lot to appreciate as well.
I'd be interested in re-reading this at some point, because I wasn't very excited by it in primary school, not really being a sci-fi kid, but would pr...moreI'd be interested in re-reading this at some point, because I wasn't very excited by it in primary school, not really being a sci-fi kid, but would probably enjoy it more now.(less)
This series blew me away when I read it in upper primary school. I would have been inspired to pick it up by the Disney movie, but I found the books s...moreThis series blew me away when I read it in upper primary school. I would have been inspired to pick it up by the Disney movie, but I found the books so much more exciting. I've never re-read the series, as I've never stumbled across the first book in the local library, so I'm not sure whether it would hold up as well as an adult who usually steers clear of fantasy, but my memories of the books are very fond. (less)