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+
The Shiny Guys
by Doug MacLeod
Penguin, Australia, 2012
This is the first Doug MacLeod novel I have read and Mr MacLeod is my new hero. I received a copy of The Shiny Guys last Friday at a professional development day hosted by Penguin and started reading it on the train on the way home. When I arrived home all chores were ignored and I devoured the rest.
Set in a mental health institution, The Shiny Guys is an intelligent and sophisticated young adult novel. It explores the complicated issues of teenage angst, depression and mental illness via beautifully crafted characters and a compelling narrative.
Colin Lapsley is fifteen years old. His family has suffered an appalling tragedy and Colin is now a patient in Ward 44, largely due to the so-called ‘shiny guys’: huge cockroach-like red men which terrorise Colin. Whilst undergoing treatment, Colin discovers a portal to a parallel world where the shiny guys actually exist. Colin shares this exciting discovery with fellow patients Mango, his trusted friend, and the newly arrived Anthea, who promisingly sees shadows which Colin senses may be his shiny guys.
The Shiny Guys will make you laugh and cry, but most of all it will break your heart. Colin is the most wonderful protagonist and reading his narrative from the comfort of one’s lounge chair, it is impossible not to feel sadness at the reality of his tragic world. Yet this novel is not a tragedy – far from it. It is a celebration of the spirit of a unique individual and an intelligent examination of the way in which the human psyche deals with grief and suffering.
The Shiny Guys would be an excellent set text for years 9 and 10. It is rich in character and plot, and the references to Kafka will generate excellent discussion and further reading.
Recommended for ages 14+
by Ursula Paznanski
Allen & Unwin, 2012
There have been many YA books written about computer games, and the merging of the real world with the cyber world. Despite this, Ursula Poznanski manages to bring something unique to Erebos by merging the cyber world of the game (and the lives of the teens who play it) with a real life thriller.
Sixteen year old Nick Dunmore is handed a DVD by a student at his school and told that the game on it is ‘amazing’. He soon discovers this is the modus operandi of the game distributors: to surreptitiously pass the game from student to student, under very strict guidelines.
Nick installs and launches the game, agreeing to stringent conditions before gaining full admittance to the world of ‘Erebos’. The game draws him into its very realistic world, communicates with him and eerily seems to know him.
Nick, like the other players, is soon addicted but in order to stay in the game he is required to carry out tasks in the real world. This is the curious and sinister aspect of the game: the way in which it compels its adolescent participants to carry out instructions in the real world, some of which are manipulative, others of which are cruel and some of which have dire consequences.
Erebos had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Originally written in German, the English translation by Judith Pattinson is clearly excellent as the text is both compelling and riveting. It is not hard to see why Erebos is an award winner and international bestseller.
Recommended for ages 13+
by Carl Hiaasen
Orion Books 2012
This is a quirky, fun read by the very witty Carl Hiaasen. Hiaasen always provides books full of adventure interspersed with dry humour, and Chomp is no exception.
Wahoo Cray is our protagonist. He lives among a menagerie of exotic animals because his father Mickey is an animal wrangler by trade. The story begins with a rather unfortunate incident in which Mickey is hit on the head by a dead iguana, making him rather unstable for a while. Wahoo and Mickey’s world is then turned upside down by the arrival of the Expedition Survival reality television show, hosted by the very strange Derek Badger.
Derek Badger (not his real name) has fashioned himself on the late Steve Irwin, complete with mock Australian accent. That is where the comparison ends! Mickey and Wahoo are hired to wrangle the animals on Derek’s latest television adventure, and in typical Derek fashion all hell breaks loose. With clever back stories and an interesting plot that moves at a rapid pace, this is an entertaining read for teens and adults alike.
Recommended for ages 12 +
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+