The Reluctant Hallelujah
by Gabrielle Williams
Penguin Australia, 2012.
There’s something quite irresistible about a road trip novel. The metaphorical journey is addictive, resplendent with road trip antics and thrilling adventures. The Reluctant Hallelujah ticks all these boxes and more. Equally as enjoyable as all other road trip novels, this book has a distinct trump card: one of the passengers on this road trip is none other than Jesus Christ.
Dodie and Coco are sisters; two Melbourne teenagers living in a happy family with their thoroughly decent and down-to-earth parents. Things start to go awry and this seemingly perfect existence is threatened with the sudden disappearance of their parents. The girls are consequently befriended by Enron, the boy from across the road, who holds the answer to their predicament: a secret lies in the basement of the girls’ house. This secret is so big it has led to the disappearance of their parents and will forever change the lives of everyone: beneath a concealed trapdoor lies the perfectly preserved body of Jesus Christ.
It becomes the responsibility of the girls, Enron and two other boys called Jones and Taxi to safely deliver Jesus to Sydney. The road trip is resplendent with evil bad guys, unexpected miracles and enchanting teenage romance. And despite Jesus being the star passenger on this adventure-packed road trip, the tone is never irreverent. The characters are cleverly developed as authentic, typical teenagers whose reactions to their precious cargo and dire predicament are both believable and endearing.
This is an intelligent and entertaining read from the very talented author of Beatle Meets Destiny. Most of the novel’s value lies in its ability to entertain, however, there is scope for religion classes to ponder passages from this book and debate their own hypothetical reactions to the responsibility of transporting the Messiah’s body in a modern world.
Recommended for ages 15+
Artemis Fowl series
by Eoin Colfer,
Penguin Books, Australia.
Now it’s common knowledge among fans that the boy himself, the genius anti-hero Artemis, is brilliant. However the brilliance to which I am referring is that of Eoin Colfer’s series itself.
I was forced to read the first book in the Artemis Fowl series in 2002 when I was a teacher librarian at a boys’ school in Sydney. A group of Year 8 boys persistently nagged me to read me to read a book they had loved, which they described as ‘a fantasy book about fairies’. I politely declined, explaining that I hadn’t much enjoyed reading fairy books since my childhood Enid Blyton days. After deciphering the Blyton reference, the boys persevered (as they do), so I succumbed (as I do) and took Artemis Fowl home on a Friday. I spent that evening and weekend enjoying the most gratifying young adult reading experience I’d had since Harry Potter.
Artemis Fowl, the title character, turned out to be a twelve-year-old criminal mastermind who has cunningly secured the fairies’ book of secrets, and the fairies led by Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit are out for revenge. These are not your common bottom-of- the-garden Blytonesque fairies. No, these fairies are of the weapon-toting ass-kicking variety and I loved them as much as I loved Artemis Fowl. Full of clever writing with a great plot, packed with suspense and plenty of dry humour, I knew this book would be a success.
And what a success it has been. In the ten years since my first reading, the brilliant Irish author Eoin Colfer has written another seven equally brilliant books in the series. I now work in a different school to the one where I was first introduced to my friend Artemis, but these books have been just as beloved in my current library as they were in the other. The graphic novels which are being gradually published are also hugely popular, and Colfer’s website for the series is a favourite among the boys.
And now we are at the end of the series which Colfer has referred to as “Die Hard with fairies”. The eighth and last book, Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian, was released this week. This will be met with great sadness from my little Fowlites, but I have no doubt that like other beloved series, Artemis Fowl will be re-visited many times by its vast legion of fans.
Recommended for ages 11+
by Rose Foster
Harper Collins, 2012
Sixteen year old Kirra Hayward is extremely bright – so bright that she is accelerated into the higher maths classes at school. As a consequence of her perceived ‘bookishness’ and acceleration, she is very lonely.
Completing her homework in the school library one day, she stumbles across an internet site which invites her to crack a code. Kirra does so easily, enters her answer and thinks no more about the ‘crack a code’ website, unaware that she has just changed her whole existence. For we learn that Kirra is one of very few people in the world who have the ability to decipher the code she unwittingly cracked. She is kidnapped by an organisation called “The Industry” and so begins an exciting and fast-paced adventure thriller. Kirra initially resists The Industry and refuses to help the evil organisation but is manipulated, tortured and outwitted at every turn. The arrival of another code-breaker, Milo, creates an interesting tension and further complicates the plot.
Rose Foster is an Australian author, and it is refreshing to read about an Australian heroine in a young adult adventure thriller. Whilst the action begins in suburban Australia, it quickly becomes international in flavour adding an air of sophistication and authenticity to the criminal activity.
What I found disappointing is that this is the first book in a three-part series. For me, The Industry could have been a tight, action-packed one book story, however it seems these days publishers are keen to jump on the franchise bandwagon, especially with young adult fiction. It will be interesting to see what Foster can achieve in books two and three. Teenage girls especially will enjoy this book and appreciate seeing a tough, intelligent female protagonist in a gritty thriller.
Recommended for ages 13+
The Bodley Head (Random House), 2012
This is the book of the year, and if Hollywood doesn’t pick this story up and make a beautiful movie out of it, I will be very, very surprised.
August Pullman is a little boy living a hugely complicated life. Ten years old, he was born with extensive facial deformities which numerous surgeries have somewhat improved, but failed to fully correct. His loving family have surrounded him in a protective cocoon until now, at age ten, they think it is time for Auggie to go to school.
Thus he begins life in the middle school at Beecher Prep. The novel follows his journey as he tries to fit in as an ordinary kid, and find acceptance from his peers. Predictably, this is no easy task but what is unpredictable is the beauty of Palacio’s narrative, such as at the end of Auggie’s first traumatic day: “(Mum) said soft words that I know were meant to help me, but words can’t change my face”.
Cleverly structured and narrated from various perspectives: Auggie, his older sister Via and their acquaintances; the reader gains insight not only into August’s emotional journey, but also that of those sourrounding him. By choosing children and teenagers as the only narrators, Palacio is able to describe human reaction to disfigurement with honesty and clarity, often with brilliant humour.
This debut novel is funny, frank and incredibly heart-warming with an ending that moved me to tears. Whilst suitable for older children, I think most adults will embrace Wonder and like me, will find it very difficult to put down.
Recommended for ages 10+
The Fault in our Stars
There have been many poignant novels written about death, many of which involve a child or a parent with cancer. In The Fault in our Stars, well-known YA author John Green provides us with two teenagers with cancer, amidst a cast of grieving relatives and friends.
Hazel Grace is sixteen and has Stage IV cancer which has metastasised into her lungs. She breathes with the aid of an oxygen tank on wheels, which she has named “Philip”. She has been sent to a support group of other cancer sufferers to deal with her depression, which is where she meets cancer survivor Augustus Waters. He is good-looking and charismatic, and the two make an immediate connection.
Their story becomes a heart-wrenching young love affair, full of poignancy and heartbreak. There is a great deal of dying and cancer-related humour provided by both characters. Written by any other voice, this humour could be classified as distasteful, but coming from Hazel and Augustus the witty comments about cancer and death are funny in an inoffensive yet profound way.
The book is beautifully written, with Green depicting all the pain and suffering of various characters with simple elegance. The Fault in our Stars made me laugh, it made me think and it certainly made me cry. Green has captured the essence of pain, numbness and spirit which accompanies a diagnosis of cancer with insightful clarity; as a cancer survivor, I can attest to this. And any parent’s heart will repeatedly break in the scenes involving Hazel and her parents. Green’s understanding of the pain and perplexity of the cancer sufferer is sublime, which is why there is no fault in this superb novel.
Recommended for ages 14+
Published by Penguin, 2011
VIII is the story of Henry VIII, the Tudor king best known for having six wives and separating from the Roman Catholic Church to create the Church of England.
There have been many books written about the life of this famous monarch, but VIII stands out for a few reasons. Firstly, it is written for young adults. As such, much of the story deals with the life of Henry when he was a young boy, Hal the Duke of York. This insight into Hal the boy and his upbringing teaches us a great deal about the reasons Henry became such a monstrous ruler.
Written in the first person, VIII deliberately provides insight into the mind and thought processes of Henry VIII.Much of the plot revolves around a prophecy Hal hears as a boy, and his lifelong quest to prove the veracity of this prophecy. The novel thus evolves into a tale of mystery and suspense, leaving the reader guessing until the very end.
For history buffs, VIII provides a scintillating journey back to Tudor times with powerful portraits of the main players of the era. Meticulously researched by the author, the reader can have confidence in the historical accuracy of this tale. The tournaments described by Castor actually took place, the objects mentioned are historically correct and many of the conversations worked into the dialogue have come from historical documents.
I still not sure how much I like the adult Henry, but I really adored young Hal, his spirit and bravado. It is clear that Hal’s childhood experiences created the insecure, irrational and power hungry man who became King Henry VIII.
Recommended for ages 13+
The Future of Us
by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
Published by Simon and Schuster, 2012
The Future of Us begins in a world without social networking. Set in 1996, teenagers Josh and Emma live in a time when, according to the title page, ”less than half of all American high school students had ever even used the Internet”, and of course, Facebook was yet to be invented.
Despite this, they stumble across a glimpse of the future when Emma installs AOL on her new home computer. They mysteriously come across a website called Facebook which provides them with profiles of themselves and their lives in fifteen years’ time.
Not necessarily happy with what they see, Emma and Josh are also perplexed as to why anyone would share both intimate and mundane aspects of their daily lives with the world at large. They soon realise that their slightest action or decision in the present will change their future lives as this is reflected on their Facebook profiles. Their daily teenage lives then become inexorably linked with their future adult lives, and not always successfully.
Of course, much of their future online existence deals with relationships and the intricate web of their high school romances impacts on their future Facebook profiles. Teenage girls in particular will enjoy this real life drama with its romantic web of teen angst woven into a contemporary social network fabric.
Recommended for ages 15+
My favourite bookseller visited the library last week and I bought a large number of children’s and young adult books. From the huge pile of books purchased, these are the ones I’ve chosen to read first. (This is the first time I have seen my bookseller since last year, so some of these books are newer than others ).
The future of us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. I’ve started with this one and am half way through. Set in 1996, the plot is based on a clever premise: when a couple of teenagers install AOL on a new home computer, they somehow stumble upon their future Facebook pages. The only problem is Facebook, indeed any type of social networking, has not yet been invented. As they ponder a strange world where people display both intimate and mundane details about their lives for the world to see, they also realise that they are in control of their futures.
Pure by Julianna Baggott. The hottest thing in YA fiction at the moment. The first in a trilogy, this is a post-apocalyptic novel which is said to be utterly disturbing but impossible to put down. I can’t wait. The film rights have already been sold.
Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams. This is described as ‘subterranean fiction’, and the series has been a huge success overseas. Tunnels is the first book and the fifth was released at the end of 2011. The sixth book will be the final instalment. The movies rights have been snapped up by Hollywood.
VIII by H.M.Castor. Described as “Wolf Hall for the teen market”, this is the story of a young man named Hal who would be become Henry VIII.
The fault in our stars by John Green. Green is the author of the hugely successful Looking for Alaska. This YA novel deals with cancer and is said to be irreverent, raw and profoundly moving.
Diary of a soccer star and Diary of a Cricket God by Shamini Flint. I’ve had a quick look at these and whilst the publisher may be cashing in on the popularity of the Wimpy Kid franchise, my Year 7’s will still enjoy these books. Definitely for upper primary and Year 7. May tempt reluctant readers.
Dark Lord: the Teenage Years by Jamie Thomson . A book about a misplaced thirteen year old with a dark secret – he thinks he is a Dark Lord trapped in the drudgery of earthly existence. Said to be hilarious – I am really looking forward to this one.
Anna and the French Kiss
by Stephanie Perkins.
Published by the Penguin Group, 2010.
Yes it’s a love story. Yes it’s for teenage girls. And no, there’s not a vampire in sight!
Few romances written for teenage girls are easy to recommend. Their plots are often weak and predictable, their characters shallow and vacuous. Anna and the French Kiss breaks the mould and provides a breath of fresh air in the teen romance genre.
The plot is simple but provides plenty of opportunity for the obligatory twists and turns necessary to keep a romance interesting. Anna Oliphant is sent from her hometown of Atlanta to spend a year at the School of America in Paris. There she meets fellow student Étienne St Clair who is one part English, one part French, one part American and three parts gorgeous. He also happens to have a girlfriend. He and Anna become close friends and their obvious attraction casts a simmering tension over the story. This is classic boy meets girl, but written with style and substance . Anna is a witty, down-to earth but classy and intelligent leading lady and the supporting characters provide plenty of colour and help the plot move along nicely.
I first heard about Anna and the French Kiss at a conference last year, when a colleague was giving a presentation of great reads for kids and teens. She said that she couldn’t put this book down. After having read it, I have to agree. More importantly, my teenage daughters aged fourteen and sixteen both read Anna and the French Kiss in two days, with one declaring it is now her favourite book. High praise indeed.
It seems like I’m off to my local bookseller to buy the companion novel Lola and the Boy Next Door, and I can hazard a guess that I’ll be queuing up in a year or so to buy tickets to the movie adaptation – Hollywood will also find it impossible not to love this book.
Recommended for ages 14+.
Watch the book trailer here:
The Shadow Girl
by John Larkin
Published by Random House, 2011
Rarely have I been so moved by a novel written for young adults. The Shadow Girl swept me up into a whirlwind of emotions from the first page – I fluctuated between laughing and weeping, but more than anything I developed a sense of awe and wonderment at the resilience of the human spirit.
The shadow girl is the unnamed protagonist of this story. She is a thirteen year old who is forced to run away from her abusive uncle, her parents having been killed in violent and mysterious circumstances some years earlier. What follows is the story of her life on the streets: sleeping on trains, in sand dunes and an abandoned house, the shadow girl survives through sheer determination and perceptive intelligence. Physically she is protected by various people along the way; emotionally she is nurtured by literature and her love of learning. Enrolling herself in a local school (her subterfuge clearing the red tape) she meets a visiting author upon whom she makes a distinct impression. This real-life experience was the impetus for John Larkin to embark upon the project which would become The Shadow Girl.
It was at a literary festival last year that I first heard Larkin speak about this girl and the book he was writing about her life. I remember thinking what a departure from his usual style such a book would be and wondered if the book would work. I needn’t have worried. Blurring the lines between fiction and reality, John Larkin has produced his best work by far. The Shadow Girl introduces us to the true genius of Larkin. He writes honestly and at times bluntly, never avoiding the stark realities encountered by the girl, yet painting her story with a beautiful veneer of respectful sensitivity. The character he creates is a rich mixture, combining plenty of grit and sass with wicked humour; she is brimming with intelligence and resourcefulness. Written with perception and clarity, this book pays tribute to the protagonist, portraying her as a flawed heroine, never as a victim. The narrative structure is perfect, with chapters alternating between the shadows girl’s recounts and the café interviews between her and the author who is documenting her story.
The Shadow Girl is an absorbing read which I found impossible to put down. It is one of those rare books that is engrossing and riveting from the start, and requires serious contemplation long after. It would be an excellent related text for the HSC area of study ‘Belonging’. Every parent who reads this book will be tempted to hug their children just that little bit tighter each day, and every teenager who thinks their life is tough should read this book – it is a humbling experience.
Recommended for ages 15+