Review: In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner

In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner

Published: Wednesday Books
Released: March 13 2018 (in the US)
ISBN: 9781250143839

Read: November 9 2017

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Klee Alden has been very badly messed up since his father’s death. In trying to repress his despair and grief, naturally he makes things worse, and the first chapter sees Klee reacting to a situation in a dangerous and harmful way. When he wakes up to find himself in the ‘Ape Can’, a mental health facility for young people, we can see it’s going to be a long journey for him.

The story cleverly uses flashbacks and hallucinations to reflect Klee’s troubled state of mind. As the story progresses, and Klee starts to stabilise the narrative becomes less dream-like, and more direct. Secrets are revealed slowly, and we are led through the past eight months of Klee’s life, slowly and deliberately. Some of it is very hard to read, but Klee himself is a likeable character, one that readers want to see improve. We also want to know what’s the centre of his incredible melt down.

We also see the difficult relationship he shares with his mother, and there’s a girl Sarah who is impossible to decipher. We only have Klee’s very biased view of her, and in this sense, he is somewhat unreliable and misled. The other secondary characters have very small, but significant roles—best friend from his previous life, Cleto and current therapist Dr Alvarez who both only want the best for this terribly traumatised boy. I very much enjoyed meeting Sister Teresa Agnes, who may or may not be a figment of Klee’s impressionable mind. Her wise words and quirky ways challenge Klee to look at himself and others in new and enlightening ways.

I love the role Art plays here, and it’s been a recurrent theme in several YA books I have read recently. Art as therapy, as a way to connect with parents, and as an avenue to discovering identity—these are all valid and positive representations of the way can be utilised to great effect. Klee’s art work is very much an integral part of who he is, and that developed from his close bond with his father. The connections are well developed and make for a well crafted novel.

This novel is intense and recommended to those readers who are prepared to go to the depths of despair with characters before pulling themselves out, who like male narrators falling for girls, who show them how to be better, and who appreciate that mental illness is not always something to be cured.

Copy was provide by publisher, via Netgalley and read with thanks. In Sight of Stars will be out (in the US) on March 13.

Review: Truly, Wildly, Deeply by Jenny McLachlan

Truly, Wildly, Deeply by Jenny McLachlan

Published by: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408879740
Released: March 8 (UK) April 1 (AUS)

Read: December 17, 2017

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What Jenny MacLachlan has done here is nothing short of brilliant. Her provocative protagonist challenges us to re-think all our assumptions and misnomers about disability, friendship, and love. Annie has cerebral palsy and her brisk, exuberant attitude to life is a beautiful slap in the face to all young people who moan about how tough they have it, how much school annoys them, and about how much they don’t have.

Annie’s excitement about attending secondary college is refreshing. She wants to take advantage of every opportunity thrown her way. She makes friends like a boss, argues literature with a passion, and grabs hold of life tightly and with joy.

Let’s talk about Fab for a moment. He matches her for passion and enthusiasm. His motto, ‘life’s too short for embarrassment’ even catches Annie off guard. Yes, she is determined to be seen for herself, not her twisted legs or limps, but Fab’s flamboyant declaration that he wants her ‘to be his girl’ startles her, and she denies her mutual feelings and fobs him off.

While we accept Annie’s surface explanation of her decision to be friends, we also see how much hurt she causes. Annie’s growth as a character parallels her understanding of her selfishness, and her grand gesture is balanced perfectly with a realistic and honest discussion of relationships and expectations. When they finally begin to communicate, their feelings for each other can evolve naturally, and the open ending is welcome and strong.

While I have focused on the romantic aspect of the plot, be aware there is a lot more going on. Annie’s friends each have their own journey, and I particularly enjoyed Annie’s conversations with Jackson as they travel to and from school by train. His own love story contrasts with Annie’s, and his frankness with her is pivotal to her choices. Such a great thing to see—a platonic boy/girl friendship.

Annie’s mother is a loving support, although her own doubts about Annie are realistic and understandable. Fab’s Polish family offer a glimpse into his life—not always easy, but always loved, and Miss Caudle, their English teacher is exactly the teacher you want for this pair. I love the representations of adults and young people alike.

Truly, Wildly, Deeply is highly recommended for readers who love their contemporaries full of diversity, wit, and positive messages. Annie makes many mistakes, but she owns up to them and makes better decisions. Thanks to publisher and Netgalley for a copy of this book for review which will be out in the UK on March 8, and here in Australia on April 1.

 

Review: Far From the Tree by Robyn Benway

Far From the Tree by Robyn Benway

Published by: HarperTeen (US) Simon & Schuster (AUS)
ISBN: 9781471164330
Released: January 2018

Read: December 10 2017

Robyn Benway’s latest novel, released at the end of last year in the US, was announced as the 2017 National Book Award winner, and it’s a very worthy choice. It has arrived here in Australia in paperback with an adorable cover that is yet again impossible to sell to boys. I realise a story about adopted siblings might appeal more to females of course, so why should they even bother with a gender neutral cover? But it’s a story about belonging, and finding yourself, and this is something in which all teenagers can invest and engage. Oldest sibling, Joaquin is authentically depicted—foster homes upbringing, trust issues, unable to bring himself to believe he deserves a happy home life—is a character who would be easily identifiable by any male teen reader.

Each sibling narrates the story: Joachim, middle child Grace, and youngest Maya. It’s told with thoughtful consideration, and is an emotional book that rings with authenticity. While the two girls were adopted, Joachim wasn’t, and this contrast in their upbringing is only one aspect of their lives that is explored with sensitivity and dignity. Grace’s pregnancy and Maya’s crumbling family situation allow these characters to be seen as flawed, yet trying to be better. The parents and carers of these children are also doing their best, and are presented, in turn, as supportive, confused and some times, apologetic about their actions. It’s all very real.

The best person for me though, is Rafe. Honest, generous and funny. His support and care for Grace is admirable, and could show boys how they should treat the girls in their life.  I highly recommend this family drama for readers who prefer little romance, who like their contemporaries challenging and thoughtful, and who want closure (yes, it’s nicely tied up pretty conveniently).

2018 Anticipated Reads

I have been lucky enough to read some 2018 novels already, and have enjoyed many of them, most especially P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry-Jones (March), White Night by Ellie Marney (March) and Truly, Wildly, Deeply by Jenny McLachlan (April).

The National Book Award Winner Far From the Tree by Robin Benway was another one I really wanted to read, and it does not disappoint. It’s now available as paperback here in Australia.

Here are three other books for which I am also mad keen. Blurbs courtesy of Goodreads.

cruel princeThe Cruel Prince by Holly Black (January) Little Brown Books

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

 

Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough (April) Hardie Grant Egmontwestlake

Harriet Price is the perfect Rosemead Grammar student – wealthy, smart, overachieving – while Will Everhart is a social-justice warrior with a chip on her shoulder. But when a worrying incident with their swimming coach goes unnoticed by the authorities, the unlikely pair creates an elaborate hoax to bring him down.

As tensions burn throughout their elite private school – and between the two girls – how long can they keep their hoax a secret? And how far would they go to really make a difference? Australian.

 

 

last hurrahSam & Ilsa’s Last Hurrah by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (April) Knopf Books

Siblings Sam and Ilsa Kehlmann have spent most of their high school years throwing parties for their friends–and now they’ve prepared their final blowout, just before graduation.

The rules are simple: each twin gets to invite three guests, and the other twin doesn’t know who’s coming until the partiers show up at the door. With Sam and Ilsa, the sibling revelry is always tempered with a large dose of sibling rivalry, and tonight is no exception.

One night. One apartment. Eight people. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, we all know the answer is plenty. But plenty also goes right, as well…in rather surprising ways.

 

Whatever you are doing this New Year’s Eve 2017, be happy and safe. My family and I are hoping to see Coco, then dine somewhere with fabulous food. See you in 2018.

Lists: Best of 2017

This is just a post that brings together all my best of 2017 lists, linking them chronologically, as they appeared on the blog.

December 6 2017 Best of Younger Reads

December 8 2017 Best of LGBTQIA

December 10 2017 Best of Mystery

December 13 2017 Best of LoveOzYA2

December 15 2017 Best of LoveOzYA1

December 17 2017 Best of Names

December 20 2017 Best of Speculative Fiction

December 22 2017 Best of Diversity

December 24 2017 Best of Voices

December 26 Top Six as posted over at Reading Time

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Lists: Best of 2017: Voices

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There were some distinct and pleasing voices this year, as well as the familiar and the unusual. Once and For All (June, Viking Books) is a comfortable voice for Sarah Dessen fans. She delivers in the best way possible, and Louna is a girl of her times. Her home life is unique, her lost love a tragedy, and her new one a blessing. My review is linked to the title. I will continue to read anything this author writes.

Other books here that I reviewed include Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (August, HarperTeen), and Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer (April, Bloomsbury). Both Billie and Juliet live boldly with a strong sense of identity. When these are shaken, they learn to reach out to people, and ultimately accept changes with courage and love.

Girls Can’t Hit by E S Easton (July, Hot Key Books) has a humorous voiced narrator – snarky and over the top. It’s a delicious read. Here’s my RSO review.

This is a joyous and over-the-top celebration of girl power. While the main objective is to amuse and entertain, readers are also offered positive messages about feminism, and the choices girls can make to control the way they are perceived and treated. Easton manages to straddle that line between lecturing to his readers and letting them make up their own minds.

Fleur is a laid back narrator who is happy with her safe small world. Her best friends, Blossom and Pip are loyal and familiar. Blossom’s social justice campaigns and Pip’s cautious driving and other social awkwardness provide a lot of the humour, as do Fleur’s hilarious parents. But it’s Fleur growing need to step away from her comfort zone that is at the heart of the story.

Usually on Saturdays, the trio pretend to be Saxons at Battle, the place where the Battle of Hastings took place (in 1066), and Fleur’s decision to take up boxing interferes with their weekly routine. Again, Easton plays a lot of this for laughs, but at the same time, he sensitively explores Pip’s anxiety and Blossom’s confusion at the ways in which Fleur is changing—her interest in women boxers, watching the Rocky movies, and her determination to get fit. As well, Fleur starts to understand her mother’s protectiveness, as she bonds more with her father. It’s a story of friendship and family, although there is a small romantic storyline too.

A delightful read with powerful and positive representations, Girls Can’t Hit is sure to engage your middle school readers who appreciate humour in their fiction.

Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan (June, Bloomsbury) also plays for laughs, but this narrator is more nerdy. Meg’s obsession with becoming an astronaut makes her a prime candidate for mockery and bullying, yet her determination and resilience offers a really strong role model for readers. Her journey through the novel from outsider to acceptance is well plotted. Her growing self-confidence and awareness is a joy to watch.

The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend (May, Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc.) was a complete surprise and the voices here are many and varied. These teens find each other online and their emails, messaging and virtual connections are seamless and insightful. They must decide on some very tough choices, and while they consider the impact of meeting their biological father, they also support each other with side issues. It’s really authentic and interesting, and completely off topic, I think adoption, surrogacy, and IVF might be a new trend in YA. Family comes in all shapes and sizes, and these types of novels help to build new representations which of course, is awesome.

And I am done. Thanks for reading. I will do a post about my much anticipated 2018 reads if I can make the time before New Year. Merry Christmas and best of reading to you.

Lists: Best of 2017 Diversity

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I have gone for a different take on diversity this year. Last year I focused on representation of ethnicity, this year I have broadened the scope. There are many different marginalised voices that are being heard more often and more loudly. Of course, it’s a good thing.

I have always loved the inclusive elements of Maria V Synder’s fantasy novels and Dawn Study (January) is no exception. People can have power regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation, and while magic can represent any of those minorities, it isn’t forced or heavy-handed here. Evil exists and our heroes want to ensure freedoms aren’t impinged. It might seem straight-forward, but it’s far from that. Politics and loyalty are entwined and the stories are exciting and entertaining.

Three books I reviewed for RSO also make it on to this list. Optimists Die First and Phantom Limbs both have an amputee, and Piglettes has a secondary character in a wheelchair, but it’s Mireille and her two friends, as girls trying to affirm their identity and build self-esteem as plus size characters, that are the embodiment of positive representation here. My short reviews are added below.

Optimists Die First by Susin Neilsen (April) Random House

No one does quirky, anxious teen quite like this author. While Petula is paranoid and aggressively antisocial, readers still cheer her on because it’s clear she’s suffering much pain and sorrow. Jacob comes across as the complete opposite – charming, loquacious and extraverted—yet he’s hiding secrets, and is damaged too. Together, they journey towards finding ways to live with their guilt, and the consequences of their actions.

There are significant minor characters, particularly those who are part of the art therapy classes Petula is forced to attend, and hates. Each of these teens must also face their fears. Nielsen presents serious topics here, including alcohol addiction, parental neglect, and grief. The YART classes are often hilarious and sobering both at the same time, which will challenge readers, and let them know that often healing happens when problems are shared. These teens mock the rhetoric of their somewhat inept therapist, but ultimately they bond and blossom despite (or because of?) her inadequacies. Optimists Die First  is aimed at older teens, and is insightful and life-affirming.

Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner (June) Walker Books

This intensely intimate portrayal of grief is authentic and honest. Three young people’s lives are traumatised due to death and disaster, and teenagers will welcome its gritty realism. Otis thinks about sex often, Dara is aggressive and unapproachable, and Meg is the missing cog. Because Otis narrates, we don’t truly know what’s going on with the two girls, but secrets and pain have a way of working their way out, and it’s unflinching and uncomfortable.

Amputees are more visible in YA fiction, and Dara’s portrayal is extremely aggressive. She demands much from the mellow Otis. While he’s thankful for his physique and fitness, he isn’t sure he’s all that interested in being a champion swimmer, but he’s too much of a softie to tell Dara (plus she’s scary). Otis is turned inside out when Meg comes back, and there are lessons to be learned by all three teenagers. It concludes most satisfactorily, allowing readers to believe it is possible to survive the worst that life can throw at you.

Piglettes by Simone Beauvais (August) Pushkin Books

Piglettes has been translated from French, and has a very distinct style and feel. Protagonist Mireille survives severe teasing and humiliation about her looks and weight with humour and sarcasm. Readers will take a few chapters to adjust to Mireille’s narrative voice. It’s light! It’s irreverent, and the way she elects to name people with pseudonyms that are almost like real people is confusing and wickedly funny. For example, she refers to the President of France as Barack Obamette, who just happens to be married to Mireille’s (absent) father, who she calls Klaus Von Strudel because he is half-German. She has no filter, no fear, and no expectations that anyone will ever treat her right.

Astrid and Mireille find second place winner, Hakima, and together, they plan a road-trip to Paris to overcome their demons. Hakima’s older brother, Kader, a amputee soldier accompanies them, and along they way they sell sausages, and develop a social media following as they make their way through villages and towns. Not everything goes to plan, thank goodness, because often it’s in the unexpected that we learn, we laugh and we live.

This is a joyous celebration of girl power, and a challenge to people who are judgemental and intolerant of others. We are swayed here by laughter and friendship. Mireille is generous, kind-hearted, and trying to live her best authentic life. Young people could do worse than spend time with her on this ridiculous and inspiring journey.

Defy the Stars by Claudia Grey (April) Hot Key Books

I didn’t write anything about this book, and yet its balance of big issues and thrilling adventure has stayed with me. Its diversity comes in several ways–the development of Abel from AI to real ‘person’, the clear representation of female heroes, and the exploration of refugees and the way they are treated and primarily discarded. It’s a different type of inclusiveness, but no less important or interesting.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (April) Walker Books

Another one I wished I had taken the time to write a lengthy review. This has the unfortunate honour of being touted as ‘important’, and ‘mandatory reading’ which might have the reverse effect of turning people off. However, it is actually and thankfully very readable, and a really terrific story. Starr is an excellent narrator and her character arc of safely ignorant to ‘woke’ is plotted really well, and never comes across as heavy or dark. An African-American teenager witnessing the shooting of a friend by a police officer is a strong narrative, and it only gets stronger when we are introduced to Starr’s family, and the complications of race politics and inequality. It is important, but happily, it’s more than that. It’s a great story.

I have one more list to go before Christmas – the #voices best of list.

 

Lists: Best of 2017 Speculative Fiction

2017FavsSpec

My definition of spec-fic covers fantasy, science fiction, dystopian fiction, magic paranormal, steampunk and super heroes. Cool huh? Most of these are covered in these six books, which are all excellent in their own right. Three are standalones, and three are the first in new series, although La Belle Savuage, as we all know, is a spin-off from the very popular His Dark Materials books.

I reviewed Daughter of the Pirate King (February) and Renegades (November) here on the blog just recently. I reviewed The Undercurrent (August) and What Goes Up (October) for RSO, and will add them here now:

The Undercurrent by Paula Weston Text Publishing

Weston’s characters are thoroughly Australian, from their friendly insults through to their strong heroic instincts. Main characters, Ryan and Jules capture our hearts and our sympathy because we see how much they are at the mercy of greedy corporations and corrupt government agencies. In a departure from standard YA novels, readers are also given viewpoints from two adults, and the book develops in an interesting and layered way. While for the most part this is a fast ride, an action-packed escapist adventure, it also asks important questions about the way money impacts negatively on basic essentials like food and safety. We are also challenged to think about the increase in privatisation, and imagine that happening to the military. The local setting is described clearly, and there are familiar place names that both Queenslanders and South Australians will recognise. The climax is tense and thrilling, and the conclusion will more than satisfy fans of Weston’s previous paranormal series. It will also bring in a new readership.

What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy Bloomsbury

This is a book of two halves—the first part set on Earth with our three heroes competing to be chosen to be part of NASA. With the likelihood of alien contact, or at worst, invasion, preparation for the future is crucial. Readers will enjoy pitting themselves against the candidates, considering how they might approach the challenges and puzzles experienced. Kennedy does an excellent job of including unpredictable results and consequences. It’s a series of sequences that are both intellectually stimulating, as well as physically exciting. As well we are asked to make ethical and moral choices, and this is where the book finds its heart.

The second part of the book sees our heroes now facing real danger, and all of the tests and theory must be put into practice. Space is not quite how others have imagined it, and we loved this fresh approach to the alien invasion trope. Kennedy places her characters into emotional upheaval, as well as the physical threats, and readers will find themselves drawn into more than just the action. They will also feel and question what it means to be a hero, and what makes us human. Strong storytelling.

Invictus by Ryan Graudin (October, Hachette) is a clever and controlled mash-up of about five tropes woven together – it’s a heist story, with a raggedy team of diverse genius misfits, who travel back in time to procure items just as they are about to vanish anyway. Stealing? Lord, no, of course not. It’s also snarky and contemporary as only sci fi can do well, with a mystery to solve via cryptic messages sent through time to help (or hinder), and at the core of it all, there’s a story of family, and lost love,  and finding out who you really are. I keep using these words–inventive, inclusive and one hell of a ride.

La Belle Savuage by Philip Pullman (October, David Fickling) Was possibly the most anticipated novel of the year. That’s certainly true for me. I went in with some trepidation, but fell back into the writing style and story with ease. I actually found it fast paced and quite moving. I loved Malcolm’s loyalty and steadiness. His immediate protective instinct towards six months old Lyra makes him the best person to keep her safe. It’s a tense mystery and hints at all the issues we see in Northern Lights. I absolutely loved being transported back into this world, and wish I had time to do more than just flick through the earlier texts, hunting for clues and characters.

That’s it for today. On Friday, I want to post my #diversity picks.

 

Lists: Best of 2017 Names

2017Favsnames

When I started this process, I went through my 5 stars reads on GR, and no kidding, the first four books I listed, went like this: Eliza, Jane, Ramona, Alex, and WOW, that’s a statement right there. Four of my favourite 2017 books had the name of the main character in the title. In interesting and innovative ways too.

I have reviews here for Jane, Unlimited (August) and Ramona Blue (May). Gosh they are both such good books and my reviews try to explain why I liked them so much.

I added The Names they Gave us by Emory Lord (June) here as well, because well, it fits, right? It was such a pleasure to read. This author is really capturing the spirit of a quality contemporary. It’s got layers, and flawed characters, but it also addresses topic issues well. Here is what I wrote for RSO:

Protagonist Lucy, has a fresh voice. She’s a strong believer, but finds herself questioning her faith.  Working with counsellors who have their own troubled and diverse pasts, she is challenged to confront her privilege, and some of the honest conversations in which she engages, provide insight that many teenagers will appreciate. Looking after young children who face adversity allows Lucy’s kind spirit and resourceful nature to surface, giving her validation in a time when she feels insecure and abandoned. Her transformation is a joy and a heartbreak to watch.

The majority of the book takes place over June and July and the rhythms and routines of camp life are vivid and some of the episodes—an epi pen emergency, a scrabbling sixth graders’ fight, and a shy girl needing reassurance—intertwined neatly and organically with Lucy’s weekly visits with her mother, and her own reflections about belief and the best ways to live a life.

While it deals with big issues, it is by no means heavy or dark. Lucy is an optimist, and a thoughtful girl. She faces each new encounter with empathy and kindness. She’s not perfect, but she wants to be better, and is generous and honest. There are many light moments, although eventually Lucy does confront some well hidden family secrets, and is fortunate to now have the type of friends who support her through these shocks and shifts. It concludes satisfactorily, with some aspects neatly tied up, and others left more open.

Alex, Approximately (April) by Jenn Bennett is a sweet romance perfect for summer beach reading. There are several tropes in play, and as all the reviews say, a YA version of You’ve Got Mail. MC Bailey has been virtual friends with Alex for a while, bonding over a common love of classic movies. When she moves to his town, she meets and flirts with Sexy Porter. A dilemma develops–should she seek out unknown Alex, or stick with real Porter? Predictable it might be, but it’s also full of geeky references, with lots of humour and snark, so it’s a pleasure to read. There are also a couple of swoony, smexy scenes, if that’s your thing.

Eliza and her Monsters by came out in May but I didn’t read it till October. There are very strong positive reviews about this book, and there’s reasons that. It handles anxiety and unwanted celebrity status very well. Eliza’s anonymity means she’s free from judgement or expectation, and suddenly losing that threatens her mental health. But this doesn’t happen until the end of the novel, so for the most part, we watch Eliza meet cute guy, Wallace, and slowly venture out and interact with peers socially.  These are mighty steps for her, and we gradually realise the implications of being ‘outed’ as the creator of a very popular online fantasy serial novel. It’s a book for lovers of fan fiction, and the communities that develop around online creative arts. This is another book that presents an artistic life as a genuine pathway.

So, here are my favourite list of names books. Next Wednesday I will share my list of best spec-fic picks.

Lists: Best of 2017 LoveOzYA (more)

2017favsozya

So now you know why I have been adding reviews up here randomly–so I can link to them without having to come up with something about a book I read months ago. I am very weepy that I never wrote more about The Secret Science of Magic (April) because it might almost be my favourite of the year, and I don’t have a copy to remind myself or reread passages. Yet I have strong memories of its authentic portrayal of anxiety, its diverse range of characters, plus a terrific representation of family, and of course, Joshua’s magic, optimism and final grand gesture. Everything about it worked for me.

I added reviews of The Things We Promise (March) and Take Three Girls (September) recently. I believe they will feature on many 2017 awards lists. They are powerful stories that invite readers to see the perspective of different people, and in doing so, encourages empathy and action.

I will add some words from reviews I wrote for RSO for the other three books.

Remind Me How it Ends by Gabrielle Tozer (March)

Gabrielle Tozer’s third novel presents Milo, small town slacker, one of the only kids in his year level to not escape to university. We meet him in the first chapter, visiting Sal, his high school girlfriend at a college party, and his bewildering sense of dislocation and separateness from her and her new friends is described perfectly.

This sets the scene for Milo’s search for a sense of belonging. It’s not in Durnan, middle of nowhere ACT, or at his parents’ bookshop where he works. It’s certainly not Sal, or his friends who have left him behind. Turns out it might be Layla, one time best friend, who arrives out of the blue, seemingly damaged, reliant on a deadbeat boyfriend, but who sparks something in Milo he can’t deny or resist.

This coming-of-age story is fresh and strong, and offers many layers beneath the banter, the banal world Milo wants to escape, and the bittersweet feelings of loss and longing. The ending is perfectly pitched, and provides an realistic and satisfying resolution.

Because of You by Pip Harry (August)

Tiny’s voice, aimless and full of longing, is distinct from Nora’s heart-broken and uncertain one. There is vulnerability for both of them, and the friendship and kinship that develops through their interactions is as hopeful as it is unexpected. Harry’s inclusive and diverse cast of minor characters carries a subtle message about stereotyping and judging others. The tone is warm and gentle, but the subject matter is harsh and uncomfortable. However, readers aren’t made to feel pity or guilt. Instead they are inspired by the way individuals rise to the challenge to help others, like Eddie, and cheer on the members of the creative writing group as they bravely confront their demons in a public forum full of strangers.

Harry has created a well plotted story combining a number of topical social issues with a strong coming-of-age journey. Do not let teen boys be put off by this cover. It’s relevant and important for all young adults about to step into the wide, sometimes uncaring world.

Gap Year in Ghost Town by Michael Pryor (August)

Anton’s snarky, laid-back voice is one of the best reasons to read this book–he is hilarious, self-aware and self-depreciating. The two female leads, Rani and Bec call him out when he is disparaging, but in ways that are clever and helpful. The trio are formidable when the action starts, but that takes time, actually, and the story is better for the steady build-up and foundation created by astute writing and an eye for detail. Pryor’s confident and witty wordplay will appeal to nerdy readers who are likely to geek out at the constant pop culture references and the humorous asides.

Anton’s indecision about his future is not overworked, and yet is a constant thread, making it just as much a coming-of-age story as it is a ghost busting action-packed fight against the forces of evil. Adults play significant roles, some helpful and some obstructive, adding depth and richness. I particularly love the character arc of Anton’s dad where he learns to navigate the wonders of 21st century technology.

It’s a genre novel that doesn’t pander or placate. It’s elegant, clever and charming.

On Sunday, I will post the obscurely titled ‘Names’ list.