Saturday, 17 April 2021

Can’t Say it Went to Plan

Can’t Say it Went to Plan by Gabrielle Tozer (Harper Collins) ISBN 9781460758533 PB RRP $19.99 (PB)

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This young adult book starts at the very beginning of a holiday for three girls who have just finished school forever. Dahlia, Zoe and Samira don’t know one another but are headed to the schoolies at the same beach with their separate groups of friends. The girl’s stories, interspersed with one another, are quite different but all share one thing: everything is about to change. Can’t Say it Went to Plan is about getting to know yourself and finding out unexpected things.

Zoe has disobeyed her parents who have forbidden her to go away with her friends. Dahlia is unwillingly going on a holiday organised by her best friend, who died of cancer. Samira’s boyfriend breaks up with her and all the many plans she has made go up in smoke. Not one of these situations seem like a good start to a relaxing break, but they all turn out to be a catalyst for worthwhile changes in these girls’ lives -- once a few dramas have happened, of course, as well as a lot of fun at schoolies.

It’s a skill as a writer to swap between characters’ heads and it is done very successfully in this story. The three female characters are quite distinct and even though there are a lot of characters in the three groups of friends, it is usually clear who everyone is. There is a natural sort of diversity of characters from different backgrounds, racial, socioeconomic, and sexual orientation. The dialogue flows easily and reads as authentic for this age group.

Gabrielle Tozer is also author of the young adult books The Intern, Faking It and Remind Me How this Ends. Teenagers should find her newest book a page -turning read about a pivotal time in life. 





Thursday, 15 April 2021

Everything We Keep

Everything We Keep
by Di Walker (Omnibus Books) PB RRP $18.99 ISBN 9781760972349

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Thirteen-year-old Agatha has a happy home life until a tragedy slowly but dramatically changes her parents. Since then, Agatha has been in and out of foster care, but her latest new life is with Katherine, her husband Lawson (at sea for most of the book), and their dog Chief. This life has proved to be safe, and happy as Katherine is calm and attuned to routine, both of which Agatha wants and needs. However, as has happened too many times, Agatha is returned to her parents, to the home she hates, mostly because of her parents’ hoarding. Agatha has a pathological need for order, so when her social worker Nell insists that she return to her parents and her home (which has been somewhat tidied by strangers and neighbours for her return), she is so distressed she runs away, taking her bright orange suitcase which plays a key part in her life. It’s a long way to Katherine’s place, involving a bus and two train trips. However, Katherine is not home nor answering her phone, so Agatha needs to rely on strangers.

This is the start of a novel which, overall, is a satisfying read, full of complex problems, but ultimately imbued with hope. Gentle and compassionate, Everything We Keep is well-written as it explores themes of interest to young readers – family, belonging, anxiety, mental health, and friendship. Some people who come into Agatha’s life – particularly her new friend Tully’s mother Celeste -- cause her more problems, but once she overcomes her school-phobia, with kind adult help, she slowly begins to make friends and to see a future for herself.

Everything, however, is not smooth sailing, and Agatha is ultimately called on to learn to trust, especially adults who have often let her down. By the book’s end, her relationship with her grieving and mentally ill parents and what has caused their fractured life is somewhat resolved, and she has overcome her jealousy of Katherine’s relationship with Lawson who is finally home on shore leave. In fact, Agatha has so many problems with relationships it might prove confronting for some young readers who know little of fostering and mental illness. However, the author manages to write intelligently and wisely so that by book’s end all problems are satisfactorily solved.

It is a shame this moving novel is spoilt so often with typographical errors and with shifts in tense. Overall, though, it recommended for readers aged nine years and over.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

You’ve Let Them In

You’ve Let Them In by Lois Murphy (Transit Lounge) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9781925760699

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This book is told in first person by 13-year-old Scott who at the start of the book is in shock on reaching his family’s new ramshackle home in an overgrown garden on the outskirts of town. To make matters worse, it’s school holiday time but instead of enjoying it, Scott and his sister Natalie and father, whom he calls Leo, and his eccentric stepmother Sally, are fully engaged in gardening and renovating the home while taking care of toddler twin girls. The garden is a jungle guarded by a concrete gnome which the family dog Prawn is fascinated with and which unexpectedly starts talking to Scott. The gnome says his name is Ian. He also adds that Prawn feels demeaned by his name: it is Count Antoine de Cappaliere the 26th, of the Woodland Brethren. ‘We communicate with the animals, with the birds and trees,’ Ian adds as Scott runs away.

Unfortunately, Ian is accidently smashed which causes Prawn to howl, whine, refuse to eat, and to bear his teeth at Scott.  A séance on a Ouija board with his friends unleashes harmful spirits which Ian calls faeries. Scott has vivid nightmares and strange and scary things start to happen, the least of which is electrical appliances malfunction and Sally is injured.

In this book, the narrator’s voice is strong and energetic. Scott is an outspoken boy who uses a lot of bad language which might offend some readers (and their parents). But the book rockets along at a fast pace as the family work to repair their home and garden, complete with a fowl yard (and talking chickens). There is much humour in the book (such as a restored Ian talking with a lisp until he tears a glob of glue from his mouth).

You’ve Let Them In, aimed at readers aged 9 to 12 years, is Transit Lounge’s first book for young readers.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Upside Down Friday

Upside Down Friday written by Lana Spasevski, illustrated by Nicky Johnson (EK Books) PB RRP $24.99 ISBN 978 1 925820850                                   

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Hugo didn’t like Friday’s. It was sport day at school. His day was turned upside down. The school routine was all wrong. That is until a school buddy helps Hugo settle his tummy flutters and become brave and embrace change.

Lana Spasevski is a debut author who has captured a child’s school fears and worries simply, and with a heart-warming lightness. Her wording is gentle and real. The dialogue conveys the emotion of the story well. ‘I don’t want to go to school. It’s Friday,’ he whispered to his blanket. Her use of short sentences allows the impact of the message and emotion to be played out masterfully. ‘I’m Madison,’ the girl said. The language is delightful and endearing. She swooped over Hugo and lifted him out of his deep bed. Lana has made every word count. The ending of the story is satisfying and warm. ‘Ready,’ he said. Her use of similes gives lovely visuals for the reader. Fridays made him squeak like a mouse and scurry deep into his bed. I particularly like Lana’s childlike voice that mirrors an understanding of a child’s world.

Nicky Johnson is an experienced illustrator with her own signature style. Her drawings are beautifully coloured with soft watercolours that are both childlike and inviting. Nicky’s choice of a monkey to be Hugo matches the character well to both the story and the title. The endpapers of colourful tree branches allow us to enter and leave Hugo’s upside-down world that rights itself. Nicky’s illustrations match and enhance the text and they bring in multiple layers of meaning. She cleverly shows Hugo’s life at home, his journey to school and the schoolyard. Hugo’s friends are other jungle animals that are upside down and mirror school yard frowns. Nicky masterfully conveys emotion with movement, colour and expression and she takes the reader in and out with perspective just like a camera. The cover is instantly inviting to a child. Nicky’s style is a perfect match for books with heart.

Upside Down Friday is a picture book for 3-8 years. This book gently shows how changes in routine can create anxiety. It is a wonderful book for both parents and teachers to explore adapting to change and shows that we all have those feelings of uncertainty. This book would make a great gift to any child who worries about change.

Monday, 12 April 2021

The Breaking

The Breaking by Irma Gold (Midnight Sun) ISBN 9781925227819 RRP $29.99

Reviewed by Claire Stuckey

Hannah meets Deven in a hotel in Thailand: both young women are running away from family for quite different reasons. Deven is extremely focused and worldly, while Hannah is still finding her feet in life, and in Thailand. Focused on the dreadful treatment of elephants Deven encourages Hannah to take up an opportunity to volunteer at an elephant rescue centre. Here they work hard to assist locals rehabilitate sick and tortured elephants. After the death of a rescued elephant, Deven wants to escape, moving to a rescue location that is focused on training owners and handlers in a remote location. This work becomes even more intense.

 The girls have a short break in the capital overwhelmed with the crowds of tourists and the tawdry businesses set up to cater for their perceived needs. Hannah has come to meet an ex-boyfriend, but her feelings are mixed as she finds herself torn between her past and her present strong attachment to Deven.

Once their passion has been expressed, Deven once again seeks escape to a remote resort. While they enjoy certain relaxation with a work and pleasure routine, once again Deven finds elephant torture in the local area too difficult to ignore. 

This is an immensely powerful book exposing the cruel treatment of elephants, a profitable industry that is feed by the tourism industry. Throughout the book the developing relationship of the young women as they work together is carefully described. Although Deven appears to be strong and educated in Thai customs and language, she is also highly emotional. Hannah transforms from her naïve self to a decision-maker. Their strong emotional and physical relationship provides her with a new maturity. Vivid but disturbing the story combines a powerful expose with one women’s journey to maturity and a character driven by passionate activism. This book is recommended for readers 16 years plus as it contains scenes of animal torture and sexual references. 

Sunday, 11 April 2021

The Edge of Thirteen

The Edge of Thirteen by Nova Weetman (University of Queensland Press) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9780702263125

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

The Edge of Thirteen is a middle grade fiction novel about navigating the ups and downs of becoming a teenager. Written in the first person, the narrative follows Clem Timmins as she enters Year 8 at high school.

When long-term friendship trio, Clem, Bridge and Ellie catch up after the summer holidays, Clem realises her friends are growing up without her. Their conversations are now about periods, bras, boyfriends, and social media -- experiences that seem so far away for Clem. Regrettably, the feeling of being left out causes Clem to act in ways she wouldn’t usually.

Once school starts back, the trio’s dynamics subtly change and Clem begins spending time with some new people, including a boy named Tom. As her social world expands, so does her self-doubt and peer pressures. Clem is caught between wanting to do things her way in her own time and desperately wanting to fit in. Unfortunately for Clem, her changing world and new friendships bring her a range of frustrations and embarrassing moments.

The Edge of Thirteen includes themes of friendship, puberty and first crushes. This novel is recommended for children aged 10 years and older.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

This is the Dog

This is the Dog by Maura Finn, illustrated by Nina Rycroft (Scholastic) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9781775435853

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

This is the Dog is a picture book about a scruffier than average dog who resides in a pet store, hoping to be chosen. Saddened by the waiting and rejection, the nameless dog escapes its confines to seek adventure, yummy food, and ultimately a happy home.

The digitally created artwork includes plenty of action and captures the dog’s range of emotions beautifully. The colourful images appear in single and double-page spreads as well as spot illustrations to enhance meaning and create a sense of time.

This is the Dog is a heart-warming tale about hope, acceptance and love. It is written with great rhythm and rhyme making it an enjoyable read aloud for children aged 4 years and older. The young audience is sure to fall in love with ‘...the dog with the snuffly snout, the half-crumpled ear, the fur that sticks out’.