Tag Archives: john larkin

Top 10 reads for summer

This list is my personal one. As much as I enjoy young adult fiction, the summer break means I don’t have to read as much of it and can enjoy a few indulgences. These are the books I am going to read, re-read or that I read last summer and now recommend to you:

1. Shall we Dance? by Maggie Alderson.

I read this last summer and it was divine. Maggie Alderson weaves the romantic world of vintage fashion into the modern world of motherhood and relationships. I loved this book so much it deliberately takes first place at the top of the list.


2. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

This is wrapped and waiting under the tree for me. It’s P.D James appropriating the characters of Pride and Prejudice to create a classic murder mystery, set in 1803.


3. The Shadow Girl by John Larkin

I had to put one young adult fiction on the list. Read my review of this wonderful book here.


4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It’s time to re-read this in preparation for Baz Luhrmann’s movie in 2012. I last read Gatsby in 1986, so it’s definitely time for a re-visit.


5. All that I Am by Anna Funder

This is another one on my summer wish list. I have read numerous glowing reviews of Anna Funder’s first novel, which has been compared to Suite Franҫaise and The Reader.


6. Lola’s Secret by Monica McInerney.

Summer wouldn’t be summer without Monica McInerney. For twenty years she has moved between Australia and Ireland, working as a writer and producing best-selling novels. I secretly covet her life.


7. How Now, Brown Frau by Merridy Eastman

This is the third memoir by Merridy Eastman, following There’s a Bear in There and Ridiculous Expectations. This one caught my interest as it recounts Merridy’s move to Bavaria to begin a new life with her German fiancé. Having lived in Bavaria for a short time as a teenager, I knew I would connect with Merridy’s experiences. What I didn’t expect was to enjoy her humour and wit so much.


8. Worse Things Happen at Sea by William McInnes and Sarah Watt.

Part biography, part love story, this is a poignant collection of reminiscences. Sarah Watt, the celebrated filmmaker, died from breast cancer earlier this year. For this reason alone, the book is somewhat confronting, but it is also a powerful salute to the vitality of the human spirit and the beauty of love.


9. Emma by Jane Austen

I re-read an Austen every year, and this year it’s Emma’s turn.


10. Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich.

What can I say? Stephanie Plum, Lulu and Grandma Mazur just make me laugh.




Filed under Top 10 lists

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+


Filed under Boys fiction, Girls fiction, Reviews, Young adult