Young Adult Fiction

Disappointed Book Review of The Girls

the girlsI started this novel by Emma Cline ages ago on audio, when it was the “book of the moment”.  Then I figured perhaps it was worthy of actually sitting down and reading so I could fully appreciate the impact it was having.

But The Girls was a let down – it never really felt complex or exciting.

It starts with Evie, a girl neglected in the midst of her parents separation who becomes fascinated with a girl call Suzanne – both beautiful and dangerous,.  Suzanne is one of many young women infatuated with the bohemian Russell, essentially a cult leader.  The girls live strange lives on a property near Evie’s home – where the work the land but in a haphazard way. This results in them needing to forgo, charm or steal some basic essentials.  Evie undergoes a series of gradually less palatable initiations from shoplifting, dug-taking, breaking and entering to sleeping with a man who promises Russell a record deal.  But she never becomes capable of the final act the text promises – a murder in Russell’s name carried out by her beloved Suzanne and other followers.  Evie is kicked out of the car on the way there. Nonetheless she feels implicated and the nearness of the act haunts her, as if she is wondering what she would have done had she arrived to understand what was expected of her.

The novel switches between past and present, where an older Evie appears to have made little of her life and repeated some of the same mistakes.

I struggled to get into this, and put it aside for a while to read something a little more pacy.  I’d be interested to debate with anyone who loved this – help me see what all the fuss is about.


Book Review of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

hank greenI added this one to my reading pile not only because I enjoy John Green’s writing, but because of the amazing video content John and his brother Hank have created together.  I figure if Hank had tried his hand at writing, more amazing things would likely be on offer.

It took me a little while to get into An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.  This is possibly because the writing feels so different to his brothers.  (And why shouldn’t it?) Also firmly within the Young Adult Fiction world, Hank’s writing is a little darker than John’s, and a little less focussed around a mental health theme.  So it took several chapters to find my rhythm here.

Hank imagines a world in which a series of robot-like statues magically appear.  The statues are extra-terrestrial in origin, and inscrutable as to their purpose.  Young April May finds the first late one night outside a Chipotle in New York. Stunned by the artistry, she quickly calls a friend and they post a YouTube video praising the artist for this surprise installation.  She awakes to find herself an internet sensation, and the robots, which she has dubbed CARL, in every major city in the world.

What follows is April’s own story of fame as well as the world’s reaction to the Carls, with some hints as to the Carls’ own agenda.

April is an interesting character, flawed and honest about it.  Unlikeable at times in ways that are quite different to his brother’s work. But nonetheless, I ended up enjoying this and would look forward to any more writing Hank Green decides to do.

Book Review of Audrey Niffenegger’s Raven Girl

raven girlI found this short book in a library sale. Picking it up for our book nooks, I could not resist reading it myself first.  After all, The Time Traveller’s Wife was a pretty great read, I even if I didn’t enjoy Her Fearful Symmetry.

Raven Girl is a lot of things.  Niffenegger says she wanted to create a Fairy Tale for our times, and in many ways she has.  It has the slightly disturbing nature of those real Grimm’s fairy tales – this probably isn’t a tale that Disney will make into a movie.  It’s definitely not for small children either – despite being shaped much like a children’s book and full of illustrations.

It begins with a postman, who falls in love with a Raven.  After some time, they have a child, who is human in shape, but Raven in mind and speech.  As she grows older, she comes to realise that she must take steps – radical ones even – to make the exterior match the interior.

This is an unsettling story in an era of body dysmorphia, But I guess at it’s heart, it is about being different and embracing your differences.  And the illustrations are beautiful.  I’m not sure this is for the younger boys at school, but might be an interesting short read for a more mature student who might find much to ponder in this.


Book Review of Sea Prayer

sea prayerFans of Khaled Hosseini might be disappointed to find that his latest release is actually a children’s book – and I say this only as a fair warning as I nearly paid a lot of money for this online until I realised.  Not because I don’t have respect for children’s books which are often beautiful, thoughtful and worthy of attention.

Sea Prayer – while not perhaps one for every fan’s collection – is a moving and very relevant story of a refugee father telling his son of what they left behind, and reassuring him that the journey ahead though difficult, will bring them to safety.

It’s lovingly illustrated and if I had a little person, I would read this to him/her. Very pertinent in the world where we imprison our refugees in fear that we will not be able to cope with their settlement here.

The book is inspired by the story of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee, who died trying to reach the safety of Europe in 2015. More than 4000 other lives were lost attempting similar journeys.

Book Review of Theodore Boone

theodore booneTheodore Boone is a budding lawyer – hard to be anything else when his parents are partners in a law firm. Theo has grown up surrounded by the law, and is a welcome guest in the chambers of many judges in the local courthouse. He also gives free advice to his peers – which is what sparks the action of this light-weight but entertaining novel.

Theo is avidly following an exciting local mixer case playing out in his favourite judge’s courtroom, when he unexpectedly gets some crucial evidence from a source unwilling to be revealed. But without revealing that source, the information won’t be admissible. And Theo’s not sure he can let a murderer go free…

Just precocious enough to be impressive without painful, Grisham walks that fine line here in creating an eighth-grade Wunderkind, who still in the end recognises he can’t manage it all and must bring in adults at some point.

I read the entire book whilst holed up waiting for a small surgery. It was the perfect mix of simple but engaging to pass the time and keep that mind focused where I wanted it. Likely for younger readers and while I don’t read a lot of John Grisham, no doubt for his fans as well.  And the start of a whole series as well that might hook him a new audience.


Book Review of The Golden Age

The-Golden-Age-by-Joan-LondonI picked this one up as an option for VCE English next year.  It is a lovely, soft, and lyrical novel surrounding the patients, nurses and families who visit The Golden Age, a hospice for children with polio in the 1950s.

At the centre of the novel is Frank, an intense Hungarian Jew who emigrated with his family to Australia after the rise of Hitler.  Frank was introduced to poetry by another man he connected to in hospital, who died whilst receiving treatment in the dreaded iron lung.  Armed with a prescription pad in lieu of proper notepaper, Frank writes down free verse that inspires him – and he is largely inspired by beautiful Elsa in the girls’ ward.

This is a quiet story of connecting and losing connection.  I found it slow in places, but was still committed to getting to the finish.  I’d be hesitant putting it on a text list for this reason too.  This is no easy read and the payoff is subtle and perhaps, short lasting.  Lacks deep impact.

Book Review of Station Eleven

Station ElevenEmily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven skips back and forward between the world as we know it today, and a dystopian landscape 20 years in the future where most of humanity has been wiped put by a superflu.  Starting over, survivors cling to many things to give life meaning… artefacts from the past (many of which tie the narrators together) and religion especially.

It’s a land where an unraided house is a rare luxury, and the knives tattooed on your wrist signify the lives you have been forced to take.  Some turn to the prophets who seem to dominate the isolated towns… others choose a life of wandering, not sure they will ever find a safe place to call home.  For these, memory is painful – “the more you remember, the more you’ve lost”.

It’s hard to determine a central character… but the action centres around two things.  The first is an actor who dies of a heart attack just as the pandemic becomes apparent.  The second is a science fiction world portrayed in a comic book carried by Kristen, a young survivor.  This world is the Station Eleven of the title – a space station that provides a haven for those who survived an alien takeover from Earth.  No wonder she holds it so closely… when a safe place seems so hard to find here.

There are a lot of beautiful and poignant moments here – not the least of which is the irony of a world in which Star Trek: Voyager provides ancient wisdom “Survival is insufficient”.  This is the mantra of a group of troubadours travelling and performing Shakespeare across a world that in many ways, seems to have lost hope.  What incredible juxtaposition.

This is a readable but clever book that is on the VCE English text list for 2019.  Worth consideration.