Category Archives: Girls fiction

New books on my reading list

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.

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Impossible not to love this book

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:

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Every teenager should read this book

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+

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A peculiar reading experience

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs

Published by Quirk books, 2011

 

This is an unusual book which caught my attention due to its prolific use of old photographs. Novels combining text and image are becoming increasingly common in the library, an indication of the importance of visual literacy in our society. This novel blends text with archival photos which serve to illustrate the startling story.

Sixteen year old Jacob witnesses the horrific death of his grandfather, with significant consequences on both him and his family. The resulting mystery from the death sees Jacob travelling to a remote island off the coast of Wales to try to put together the pieces of a curious puzzle.
On the island he discovers the ruins of Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children, and further discovers that these children who existed when his grandfather was a child may still be alive today. Jacob comes to understand the true definition of “peculiar” and is swept up in a time-travelling mystery full of intrigue and suspense.
This is a fascinating read, blending fantasy, history and mystery with authentic vintage photographs. The cover is a little disconcerting – for me it does not represent the feel of the novel, nor would it entice many young adults to pick up the book. Ignore the cover. This book is worth the read and it is no surprise that it became a New York Times best seller. Watch out for the movie currently in production, to be directed by Tim Burton.

Recommended for ages 12+

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A beautiful coming-of-age story

When We Were Two

by Robert Newton

2011, Penguin, Australia

 

This is a beautiful coming-of-age novel. Set in country New South Wales, during the early part of the twentieth century, it tells the story of Dan who leaves his abusive father in search of his mother. He has barely begun his journey when he is joined by his younger brother Eddie and the family dog Bess. Eddie clearly has an intellectual disability and Bess is ill, thus Dan is unwilling to include them on his trip, however he soon succumbs to Eddie’s insistence and the trio begin their long journey.

The relationship between the brothers is immediately clear. Dan is Eddie’s champion and protector, taking on his brotherly role with tenderness and understanding. Eddie looks to Dan for guidance, strength and succour. It is obvious that both boys have suffered deeply at the hands of their cruel father.

Their journey is punctuated by meeting various characters on the road, some honourable like the Chinese gold seeker Ah Ling, others not so noble. The pivotal point in the story comes when the boys meet a small group of men marching to the coast to enlist as soldiers in the Great War. Dan and Eddie join this cluster of men, becoming a part of the small clique. During the ensuing journey they learn about the innate gentleness and kindness of good men and ultimately about acceptance and belonging.

The main themes of this book are love and loyalty. Dan, whilst burdened with guilt about Eddie’s disability, displays unselfish love and devotion to his younger brother. The relationship between the two brothers is beautiful, and Dan’s ability to provide gentle, selfless love is surprising given the role model he has had. Dan explains this by suggesting that it was his father who taught him what not to be: “Whenever a mean streak got hold of him, my father taught me kindness, and whenever he hated, he taught me love”. The men in the marching group are all affected by Dan’s guileless love. Despite this sensitivity and the gentle treatment of his brother, Dan is tough and stoic where necessary, never making excuses or shirking responsibility and as such is an excellent role model for modern young men.

Robert Newton is a talented writer. The narrative flows effortlessly and the reader is able to piece together the back story of the boys whilst being fully immersed in the current plot. Newton creates believable characters in an authentic historical context with settings, descriptions and language evoking the era in which the novel is set.

Recommended for ages 12+

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The Death Cure

 

By James Dashner
Delacorte Press, 2011

 

Rarely have I enjoyed the final book in a trilogy as much as the first. But Dashner’s The Death Cure does not disappoint.

The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials have been two of the most popular books in the library this year, and it’s easy to see why. These books deal with Thomas and the other Gladers as they firstly conquer a perplexing Maze with its deathly Grievers, then endure the ghastly Scorch Trials and the evil Rat Man. Along the way they learn aboout the WICKED organization and the sun flares that created mayhem on earth, releasing the deadly Flare virus which effectively sentenced the human race to painful extinction.

Due to his immunity and long standing involvement in WICKED experimentation, the responsibility of saving humanity resides in Thomas. This is the journey upon which The Death Cure takes us. Thomas, Minho, Brenda and Jorge lead a host of characters, both old and new, in a race to the bitter end. Along the way we say farewell to some favourites, and endure plenty of twists, turns and surprises.

The Death Cure kept me turning the pages until the very end. It neatly tied up loose ends without predictablility or cliché and I have to say, I loved the ending.

James Dashner, you are one clever writer. Parents, you simply must put this trilogy on your Christmas shopping list now.

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The dead I know

By Scot Gardner

Allen & Unwin, 2011.

 

I’m always a little suspicious of a book with a glowing endorsement on the front cover, in this case: “I have never read a book more gripping, not more triumphantly alive”. I’m even more apprehensive when said endorsement is by John Marsden, arguably the most successful Australian author of young adult fiction.  

With such strong approbation declared, I approached The dead I know with some trepidation, fearing that the publisher may have had to sell this one too hard. After devouring the book in a matter of days (which would have been hours had my family afforded me the luxury) I can happily report that nothing could be further than the truth.

This book is a glorious triumph. Glorious. Gardner tackles the difficult and sensitive topic of death with tender dignity, weaving it into the mysterious past of the protagonist Aaron Rowe.

We meet Aaron on his first day as a trainee funeral director. Aaron is clearly a troubled young man: he walks in his sleep, has nightmares, and lives in a caravan park with an elderly, confused lady he calls “Mam”. Under the benevolent guidance of the funeral director John Barton and the persistent scrutiny of Barton’s young daughter Skye, we gradually come to understand the truth about Aaron’s past.

Gardner is an established author, having written numerous books for children and young adults, receiving shortlist nominations for two: Burning Eddy (CBCA Award) and Gravity (NSW Premier’s Literary Award). Whilst I have enjoyed his previous work, it is possible that I may run out of superlatives for the quality and finesse of Gardner’s writing in this particular book.

The dead I know is both haunting and evocative. It deals with the brutality of death and does not shrink from the pragmatics of the funeral business. Yet amidst the death, Gardner is able to convey to the reader the beauty of the human spirit. The clarity and harmony of Gardner’s prose about life, love and death moved me beyond description.

In the enigmatic and troubled Aaron, Gardner manages to create a thoroughly likeable and sympathetic protagonist. The supporting characters render the reader’s faith in the decency of the human spirit. Despite the gentle complaisance of the main characters, the plot is gripping with tension building on many fronts until the the reader finally faces Aaron’s past simultaneously with him.

Marsden was right. The dead I know is a beautiful, evocative book about death, and the love and life that precedes it. All lovers of young adult fiction simply must read this book.

Recommended age 13+

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