Young Adult Fiction

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.

Dazzled Book Review of Ready Player One

RP1I never did get to this in the cinemas, and once someone mentioned to me the book was better, I knew I had to read it first.

I picked it up one afternoon as a break from heavier reads.  It was slow going to begin with, even though I was impressed from the beginning by the vivid world that Cline created.  It’s a geek’s heaven – where 80s trivia and video game mastery score you the ultimate cool points – and a top spot in the race for a pretty cool prize. It’s a world you see that is lived largely online – in a virtual world known as the OASIS.  While the real world suffers (as it likely will), in the OASIS you can be who you want, go where you want and even take care of basic necessities like go to school or hang with friends.

When the creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves a secret prize – mastery of the whole system – hidden in an “Easter Egg” (a term gamers will be familiar with).  Naturally, an evil huge corporation is after it – and even more naturally in terms of teen fiction, it is only a few heroic teenagers that stand in their way.

After about 70 or so pages, I found this incredibly difficult to put down.  I got so caught up in the action of the storyline and the developing friendships between the characters.  I still haven’t seen the film – but if it is half as good as this, it would have been worth a watch.  Encourage young readers to get their hands on this – and not to be intimidated by its size.  It’s a great read.


Book Review of Everything I Never Told You

Everything+I+Never+Told+You+-+Celeste+NgRecently I read – and loved- Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Burning.  What a wonderful book, full of intriguing characters and situations that keep you interested for the entirety of the narrative.  If you too loved this book, and are looking for a repeat in Everything I Never Told You, you wont find it. It’s a very different book – difficult, challenging and painful to read sometimes.

It starts with a family is crisis. Middle child Lydia has gone missing.  When her body is found in the lake, the police conclude that it is suicide.  Her parents are astonished – isn’t Lydia their smart, pretty girl?  With plenty of friends?  A whole, bright future ahead of her? But her brother is less surprised.. and when he begins to share his memories of Lydia with the reader, we see a family that has been deluding itself for some time.

This is an incredibly sad story – of parents whose expectations became too much for their daughter to bear.  Nit because they didn’t love her – but because they loved her so much they wanted her to have every opportunity that they didn’t.  In this way, they began to play out their own missed opportunities through her.  And her love was so great she did everything she could to be that person they wanted – even hiding her own solitude and growing desperation for freedom. It’s hard to read stories of love gone so wrong, reminding us that even the best of intentions don’t always produce the best of outcomes. But it is a story worth telling – and probably one worth reading.  But outside of the focus on family and family secrets, very different to her other book.

Book Review of Little Fires Everywhere

little-fires-everywhere“All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control…”

This statement could be applied to all the female characters in Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. The novel starts with a real fire, and goes back to explain how it all came about. How those very real flames were the result of so much passion – and so much pressure to suppress it.

All this is sparked (see the fire pun there?) is the town of Shaker Heights by the arrival of Mia, a single mother and photographer, and her daughter Pearl. Shaker Heights is one of those picture-perfect towns with strong ideas about what is expected of residents. The type of town you think of when you hear that song ‘Little Boxes’, which is the theme to the brilliantly subversive show ‘Weeds’.

Mia and Pearl live quite differently – with minimal possessions. Their life revolves around Mia’s work – working just enough to survive and be able to practice her craft. This gives them a very different perspective to their neighbours – much to the chagrin of the Richardson family who they rent from.

And yet despite their differences, they lives of these two families become inexplicably entwined with each other’s. Pearl befriends the children – and has quite different relationships with each. These shape and change her character in ways that Mia is not quite ready for. So, when Mrs Richardson offers her a cleaning job, Mia takes it to enter into this part of her daughter’s world – only to find her own connections, especially with the two Richardson girls.

Behind all these lies the secret to Pearl’s conception, a secret which Mrs Richardson take upon herself to unravel. And she’s a journalist. While she works only for the local paper, she has some knowledge of how to uncover what is hidden. And she is very motivated to know more about these people who have somehow ingratiated themselves into her world. It is this undertaking that in some ways, sets the rest of the novel in motion.

There’s also quite an interesting sub-plot about an abandoned baby that is thought-provoking too.

I listened to this on audio and really quite enjoyed it. It’s like kind of young adult fiction that sits right on the cusp of more adult-level concepts. I’ve heard a lot of good reports about Celeste Ng, and I will no doubt read more.