Review: Fierce Fragile Hearts by Sara Barnard

Fierce Fragile Hearts by Sara Barnard

Published by: Pan Macmillan Australia
ISBN: 9781509852888
Released: February 12, 2019

Read: 3 – 5 February 2019

I have not read the previous book, Beautiful Broken Things, but don’t feel like it diminished by engagement or enjoyment of Fierce Fragile Hearts. Admittedly, when I became attuned to the complicated friendship that narrator Suzanne shares with Caddy and Rosie, I did wonder about the depiction of Suzanne through Caddy’s admiring and slightly envious eyes. The number of times she indicates that she’s ‘channelling Suze’, shows the impact they had one each other. I can also imagine the performance Suzanne would have put on. Being inside her head in Fierce Fragile Hearts is difficult because we know she only shows a portion of her true self to others. And this is a major theme of the novel—Suzanne’s need and desire to move on from trauma, without having to rely on the sympathy and kindness of others. We, as readers, know how hard that will be.

Very early in the novel, Suzanne tries to explain that a person never really gets better from trauma. And while she says it, the events and her actions that follow, demonstrate just how little she believes it. She continually takes one step forward, two steps back, her recovery often dimmed by her inability to reach out, her low sense of worth, and her reluctance to paint herself as a victim or a person to be pitied. While it’s a brave and strong characterisation, it’s also unsustainable and counter-productive. But these are lessons Suzanne must learn, and while she does, the consequences also force Caddy, Rosie, Matt and Sarah to give her space, while also constantly assuring her of their support and love. It’s a terrific representation of the way we all have to be prepared to allow those around us to grow and adapt.

Suzanne’s return to Brighton after two years of therapy and recovery drive the narrative. She must navigate her newly independent life, initially with Caddy and Rosie by her side. Once they leave for university, Suzanne’s inner negativity surfaces and Barnard uses this to highlight the difficulties faced by people who live with depression and fear. We might not understand why she doesn’t reach out sooner to Aunt Sarah or brother Brian, but Suzanne tries to explain it. She doesn’t believe she deserves their love. She doesn’t  want to tempt the moments of happiness she gets with her friends by asking more of them. These insights are important for us to read, because they help us to see the plight of people suffering from mental health issues. I was particularly struck by Suzanne’s epiphany that she lived a childhood of fear. That she was constantly on edge, terrified she might do something or say something to set her father off. This moment showed me the extent of Suzanne’s fragility. It’s a powerful moment.

The story doesn’t only focus on Suzanne’s fight for stability and worth. It also presents Caddy’s boyfriend Kel, and the subsequent development of that relationship. We also learn much more about Rosie, and the introduction of Matt as Suzanne’s potential love interest ensures all three girls are seen as equal and strong. Barnard uses the texting format to keep the story moving along even when the girls are apart. However, the best character introduced is undoubtedly Dilys, the elderly woman who lives in the unit below Suzanne. She offers Suzanne the use of her washing machine and dryer once a week in return for company, and the developing friendship gives Suzanne much to think about. Having someone who has lived a full life offer advice and show unreserved belief has a profound effect on Suzanne’s chances of coming through happy and healthy. Everyone will love Dilys, I am certain.

I am pleased to see there was some dealing with the abuse suffered at the hands of her father, and Suzanne finding a way to resolve her feelings not only for him, but also her mother, and to some extent, Brian, is another necessary component of recovery, providing a way for her to move on.

If I had one niggle, it’s the representative of drinking and other risky behaviours presented in Fierce Fragile Hearts. As an educator who puts books in the hands of teenagers, I will be cautious with this one. There is no judging by the author, nor should there be. Suzanne is 18, turning 19. She is an adult, and while we might worry her attitude towards hurried hook-ups with strangers is a reckless response to her trauma, Suzanne is mostly safe. But these young people consume a lot of alcohol. All of them. I am concerned that such actions are normalised, with some research indicating teenagers in fact are binging less, so a more balanced representation is preferable. We rarely see anyone refuse a drink, and there were a couple of times when Suzanne did have to extricate herself from a possible risky situation. I am sure some young people live this sort of partying life, and that brings authenticity to the story. I just wanted less of it. I was more interested in the way Matt understood and really ‘saw’ Suzanne, the plight of Clarence, and how the care system tries to help Suzanne.

Fierce Fragile Hearts is a strong contemporary novel. It highlights a number of timely topics facing young people, including trauma and abuse, and it provides hope and triumph, without cheesiness or melodrama. The conclusion is open ended but satisfying. We have seen Suzanne on her way to a secure and safe future.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan for including me on this #AUSYAblogger book tour. You can catch all the exciting events that have been happening all week here at the website. Just to highlight a few, here’s what else is happening today:

Jessica’s Bookworld, Interview

That Bibliophile Franklin, Giveaway

Raathi Writes, Review

Escape into YA, Review

Bookish Kirra, Review

I will link any interested readers to Riverbend Books for purchasing, sticking with my #buylocal and #supportindiebookstores philosopy. They have a great online service as well.

Review: A Curse so Dark and Lonely

A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
Released on January 29 (US) February 4 (Australia)
ISBN 9781681195094

Read December 28 2018

cursesodark

For a long while, I thought the title of this book was A Curse so Dark and Lovely, which of course, no. But really the word ‘lovely’ brings a sort of truth to Rhen’s situation. If not for the curse, he would never have become the man he is by the time he meets Harper. The curse is terrible for the kingdom and even worse for Rhen’s family, but for Rhen himself, it saves him. There’s a sense of loveliness about that, but truly, it’s more lonely (than lovely) for Rhen—so actually A Curse so Dark and Lonely is the perfect title.

While this novel follows some of the features of Beauty and the Beast, in other ways it is updated and quite different. Rhen has cursed the whole kingdom, Emberfall, with his arrogant and privileged behaviour (not to mention reckless and thoughtless) and part of that involves turning into the monster, who without realising, kills and destroys without discrimination. The castle is enchanted, music plays, food always available, in which time moves differently. Outside the perimeter of the castle grounds, Emberfall is suffering, vulnerable to outside forces waiting and wanting to conquer it.

Rhen’s only companion is Grey, commander of the guard, sworn swordsman and accomplice in playing out the never ending cycle of the curse. This relationship is a very strong element of the story, with Grey forming a very crucial part of the triad. His sacrifices are many and his guilt strong.

Harper, our romantic lead, one half of the narrative, hero and saviour (of Rhen, Emberfall and Grey) is a thoroughly modern girl (I wanted to say ‘Millie’, but that dates me soo bad). She isn’t Grey’s choice to be the next attempt to break the curse. She fights Grey off his choice—an inebriated partly unconscious girl—and ends up in Emberfall by accident. Snarky, fierce and completely proactive, she disarms both boys in different ways, and the tussle for understanding and communication is a delightful component of the narrative. Harper’s background is grounded and authentic, and she’s possibly the only way forward for Emberfall. Watching her not only accept the role she has to play, but also developing respect and concern for both Rhen and Grey makes A Curse So Dark and Lonely a worthwhile and satisfying read. Knowing Kemmerer is already working on book two means the cliff-hanger is almost bearable.

Rhen is the heart of the story (Grey is the strength, Harper is the spark). He is tortured (quite literally as well) and damaged, unable to forgive himself, both as a royal prince and as the monster. His regrets are many, his accomplishments few. Harper forces him to confront the reality of his situation and demands he does something to help his people. One of his strengths, his ability to strategise, allows a plan to formulate, and with that comes hope, a very dangerous emotion.

There are several secondary characters, including Freya, Zo and Harper’s brother Jake, who round out a strong amazingly created cast. Their loyalty to Harper, and their own determination to save Emberfall means that ultimately the three main protagonists have others to help and support them. The climax is suspenseful and suitably dramatic, and the epilogue is, as mentioned before, appropriately open ended.

I haven’t mentioned Harper’s cerebral palsy. So beautifully integrated, Harper constantly stresses that it’s not a disability, it’s just part of her. When Grey teaches her to defend herself, she merely finds way to compensate, and the respect she garners shows how important self-confidence and strength of will can be. There are other inclusive additions, including a strong same sex relationship, which shows Kemmerer’s understanding of what current novels require.

I very much enjoyed immersing myself in this wonderful combination of fantasy land and contemporary storytelling. Kemmerer is one of the best young adult authors currently writing male leads—flawed, yet finding ways to be better, and romantic without being skeezy or fake. Her ability to present friendships between (straight) males promotes positive bonding and excellent role modelling. I would love to see this given to boys because while the cover might be off-putting, this is not an overly romantic, or girly story. Harper fights her attraction, there is very little kissing, and the action is strong and exciting.

Thanks to publishers, Bloomsbury and Netgalley for advanced copy. Highly recommended for readers who love early Sarah J Maas, series by Alwyn Hamilton and Sabaa Tahir, the Rephaim series by Paula Weston. Due out everywhere this coming week.

Best Books 2018

From my 170 reads (so far) of the year, I have whittled the list of favourites down to 22 (see picture below courtesy of Goodreads), and then down to a further five.

2018bestbooks

So here are my five favourite books of 2018 (in order of release date):

All of these books celebrate resilience and kindness. Each main character grows in ways unexpected and triumphant, and our journey with them through grief, trauma and acceptance is visceral and authentic.

TWDTruly, Wildly, Deeply by Jenny McLachlan March Bloomsbury

I wrote a review here.

 

 

 

 

The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge by Clare Strahan May Allen & Unwinthe-learning-curves-of-vanessa-partridge

Clever and layered, Van’s story starts as a light and frothy exploration of one girl’s musing on her sexual attractions and urges. She is self-aware and philosophical about the hypocrisy and double standards that apply to females compared with the way boys are encouraged to be sexual beings. Van’s wit and intellect ensure she gains our respect and sympathy. But there is a lot more going on here, and as the plot moves from Van’s inner life to her external one, readers are confronted with a shocking sequence of events, and the lightness turns dark and challenging. Van’s response, however, is both realistic and triumphant. She has the support of other women, who help carry her burden of guilt and shame. It is very pleasing to see a private school represented positively, and our assumptions about many characters are revealed to be false.

Strahan’s skills are impressive as she balances a number of tones and shifting relationship dynamics. She also doesn’t spell everything out, trusting readers to fill in gaps and make their own judgments. Highly recommended.

changing-gearChanging Gear by Scot Gardner May Allen & Unwin

Scot Gardner’s latest book is driven by the phases of the moon. There are no prologues or epilogues, no chapters, and no sub-sections. It’s primarily one week in Merrick’s life when he runs away to find perspective and accept his beloved grandfather’s death.

Merrick’s escape is preceded by a glimpse into his world for the last 6 months—uninterested in school, irritated by step-siblings he refuses to name, and a cloud of despair and indifference. He is unable to see a future for himself, made worse by his grandfather’s perfect commentary in his head. How does he step forward?

Gardner delivers the antidote—spend time alone, commune with nature, and meet strangers on the road to nowhere. Merrick’s clever mind and bruised heart are buoyed by these new connections, and we love the lessons young readers might take away. Live and love now, look ahead but not too far, and respect elders, mother earth and the people who love you. Wise words from a master storyteller.

Merrick’s moral compass is balanced exquisitely with his teenage hormones, and everything about this book is believable and thoughtful.

A Song Only I Can Hear by Barry Jonsberg July Allen & Unwin

Jonsberg has always played around with unreliable narrators, and has a clever turn of songphrase. With protagonist Rob, he has created a sympathetic character, full of droll wit, quiet generosity, but riddled with anxiety and self-doubt. Readers immediately engage with Rob’s earnest, honest voice, and gradually realise how true and courageous he is, especially when he rises to the challenges to let himself be seen, to be heard. Jonsberg’s secondary characters are all a delight–from blankety swearing Granddad, and ocker, best friend, Andrew, right through to Trixie, ‘a fluffy ball of rubbish’. Warmth, affection and authenticity shine through everyone of them, especially their regard for Rob. The villains of the piece, Daniel and anyone involved in animal cruelty, get all they deserve, but of course, Jonsberg manages to twist readers right up until the final words, so that the focus stays on Rob, just as it should be.

Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee November Allen & Unwin

lennysbookA sublime exploration of family and survival. Lenore’s fierce and protective narrative voice astonishes and surprises, and the humour and warmth which imbues every scene creates an immersive reading experience. Set in 1970’s Ohio, Foxlee’s story is both timeless and timely. A book for everyone. I wrote more here.

Allen & Unwin obviously nailed it for me. I have already started reading 2019 texts, and by all accounts, it looks to be another strong year for YA. Bring it on!

 

Review: Just Pretending by Leah & Kate Rooper

Just Pretending (The Chicago Falcons, #3) by Leah & Kate Rooper

Published by Entangled Crush
Released on November 5 2018 (in the US)
ISBN 9781640637153

Read October 21 2018

just pretending

This is very much a romance novel, so I advise you to just chill out and enjoy these two as they stumble their way through dislike to fake relationship; from misunderstanding to communication; from what-the-hell-people? to aww-shucks-that’s-cute. It’s predictable and doesn’t break any expectations.

Tyler is presented as a troubled boy, who although he deserves our sympathy and our help, refuses to be seen as weak or needy. His dyslexia has an up side and down side–on the positive, we see how clever Tyler has been to hide his disability and to show that with enough determination, he can pretty much function and achieve. On the negative side, his fear of discovery means he is very sensitive and defensive, which makes him impossible to really know. How can anyone else like him when he barely likes himself?

Also? The fact that he is ashamed of his family makes him harder to like. So it’s easy to see that Tyler has lots of growing to do throughout the novel. I found that at least he was honest with himself, even if he couldn’t give others the same courtesy.

Eva was also a fairly stereotypical character. Being Queen of her country at only 16 means she is bound by obligation and honour. It’s not ridiculous to imagine that she would sometimes want to take a break and enjoy some ordinary teenage pursuits. Her mother is unfortunately a complete (horror) trope, and Daniel (who had his own book last year) is entirely too over-protective, and I desperately wished someone would call him out on it. So annoying that he was cast in this role.

Tyler pretending to be someone else in order to spend quality time with Eva was unrealistic, but it was fun to see them connect. That Eva forgives him works in the context of the novel’s expectations. Tyler does grow up a lot, and seeks forgiveness, not only from Eva, but also his family and friends. They display much surprise about his lack of confidence, which only serves to makes us more aware of how little attention they paid him.

But I went along for the ride, despite my misgivings, knowing that the target audience will love it and enjoy the wish fulfillment elements. After all, who among us here, didn’t wish that we could be a princess and be swept off our feet by a fit, hunky, tall all-American boy who loves only us? I mean, when we were younger of course, not now. (cough cough).

Thanks to publisher and Netgalley for advanced copy. Just Pretending was released in the US on November 5.

Review: Two Middle Fiction Books (but are they?)

Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760528706
Released on October 26 2018

Read October 8-12 2018

The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars by Jaclyn Moriarty

Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760297183
Released on October 26 2018

Read August 23 – October 10 2018

Both of these books will be marketed at young readers, anywhere between 10 and 14 years. They are very different in style, subject matter, and purpose, but they have one thing in common  – The complexity of those above elements in each, mean that they can be enjoyed by much older readers. Foxlee and Moriarty use language in extraordinary ways, they don’t pander to a preconceived idea of how books should treat children, and they certainly don’t mess around with telling some harsh truths about living and dying. These two novels deserve a wide and deep audience.

The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars is a prequel (of sorts) to The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. The same charm is evident, the same quirky humour, and it overflows with adventures, asides, and development of character. The start takes us to a different part of the Kingdoms and Empires world, and the gradual reveal of how it links to Bronte’s story is worth every minute. The story of the competitiveness between the two groups of children, and their subsequent banding together despite their differences, reflects Moriarty’s understanding of young people and the way they interact and navigate relationships. Finlay, Honey Bee, Glim, Victor, Taya, Eli and Hamish all require acknowledgement as each plays a pivotal role in discovering the mystery at the heart of the whispering wars. This is a twisty tale, and children will be caught up in the puzzles, the clues and the surprises.

However, The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars is so much more than a child’s fantasy, much in the same way as Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series is. Moriarty includes commentary and explanation along the way that is often mature and oh so relevant. We grapple with the injustices against people overwhelmed by poverty. We experience frustration at the wasted layers of bureaucracy and mediocrity. There’s also the crucial question to ponder: why are children always stolen away? This means that we, as adults, meet this story on a number of other ostensibly deeper layers, and are enriched and enlightened as well as entertained and moved.

Lenny’s Book of Everything is set in 1970’s Ohio, which might seem strange for an author who lives in Queensland. However, its time period, geographic location and creation of characters are all pitched perfectly. Cindy, mother of Lenore and David, is a force with which to be reckoned. She is all lioness, protective, growling and under estimated. Her fight for dominance with Burrell’s General Sales Manager Martha Brent, is a battle for the ages, and the lines drawn in the sand reflect the growing struggle for Davey’s life. Ultimately everyone unites for the same cause–and the emotional power is sustained and lingering on the reader.

Lenny our narrator is an authentic child. She radiates with anger about their useless ineffectual father, while she mourns his absence. She keeps Davey safe, at the same time resenting the attention everyone pours over him. She refuses to let go of her dreams to be an entomologist, and never wavers in her dislike for Mr King or her belief in Mrs Gasper. Her encounters with Mrs E Spink and the insights she gains through that misadventure, show her growing into a compassionate and kind individual. This really is Lenny’s book, and the heartache surrounding Davey is filtered through the lens of her optimism and faith in the world. Just like Scout, Holden and Ponyboy, Lenny is a character who represents her time, and whose view of the world is one to admire and revisit. Foxlee’s writing is sublime. Lenny’s Book of Everything is a story that will be enjoyed by adults as well as young people. The same is true of The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars.

Seek them out.

 

Review: Five Friendship Novels

I keep reading then forgetting to keep notes and write reviews, and then I have nothing new to add to the blog. Oh dear #firstworldbloggingproblems So here are short reviews on five books I recently read, all of which have a focus on friendship, an important element in all teenagers’ lives. They cross a number of different genres, but mostly they are contemporary novels, that resist the temptation to focus primarily on romantic relationships.

staysweetStay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

Published by: Simon & Schuster
Released: 24 April 2018 (in the US)
ISBN: 9781481452328
Read: 14 July 2018

While there is a developing romance between MC Amelia and Grady, it is the friendship of Amelia and BFF Cate that creates the tension and identity crisis that Amelia faces. She is an extremely likable protagonist, and we see parallels with Molly, original owner of the ice cream stand and the ways her friends supported her. This back and forth through different times reminds us just how much girls have relied on their friends throughout the ages, with female friendships explored in a number of interesting and realistic ways here. I know some readers complain about how acquiescing Amelia is to Cate, but that just shows you the type of girl she is, and consistent characterisation is very important. I am pleased to see that ultimately she stands by her beliefs about the way people should be treated, and the leadership style she has. I found this novel every engaging and inspiring.

 

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbeetashearts

Published by: Simon & Schuster
Released: 1 August 2018 (in AUS)
ISBN: 9781481489348
Read: 9 September 2018

Main character Tash identifies as romantic asexual, so it’s not surprising that there’s a strong interest in how she develops and maintains romantic relationships. But really, it’s her friendships with siblings, Jack and Paul Harlow that create the most interesting elements of the story. Tash also has a very love/hate dynamic with her own sister, Klaudie, and Ormsbee ensures their connection is dealt with in depth and authenticity. We also witness Tash’s interactions with other secondary characters who play roles in her YouTube series, Unhappy Families, and again these are not treated in a trite or contrived way. Tash has a lot going on with her sudden Internet fame, and of course this impacts on all her relationships. The online attraction with Thom is a slow moving beast, and when they finally meet towards the end of the novel, readers are given a most satisfying encounter, and Tash finally recognises her own worth. I loved this complex twisty novel a lot.

Tempests and Slaughters by Tamora Pierce

tempestsPublished by: Lothian Children’s Books
Released: 13 February 2018 (in AUS)
ISBN: 9780734418678
Read: 14 September 2018

This story of the origins of Numair has been a long time coming, and young people who read Dane’s story will want to come back (even if they are now adults) and read this.

It does have a bit of a Harry Potter feel, in that Arram Draper (as he was known then) spends most of this book at the mage’s academy in Carthak. Spanning four years, from the time Arram is 11 till he’s 14, the story shows us his potential, his connection to his masters, and of course, the friendships he develops with Varice and Ozorne, who as we all know,become great enemies of Numair.

The friendship is paramount to all three. They are the most magical, the cleverest and the youngest of all the mages, and it’s this connection that brings them together. But what keeps them together is their understanding of each other’s weaknesses. There seems to be such a strong foundation, it is hard to believe it will be torn apart, and knowing that it is, it is easy to imagine how devastating that chasm will be for each of them, but mostly for Arram–who is humble, generous and free of any malice or envy. I think this book shows a growth in the author’s writing style. It might sent you back to the Realms of the God quartet. It did that to me.

 

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Leepetticoats

Published by: Katherine Tegan Books
Released: October 2 2018 (internationally)
ISBN: 9780062890122
Read: September 28 2018

This follow up to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is set one year after the adventures of Monty, Percy and Felicity. Now from Felicity’s point of view, we witness her failed attempts to be accepted into medical school in Edinburgh. When the person who she trusts and likes, offers to marry her to rescue her from her flights of fancy, Felicity hightails it back to London and imposes on Monty and Percy and starts again.

The narrow defined roles of women only makes Felicity more determined to succeed, and to do this, she must take advantage of a ruined friendship. I utterly loved how flawed the girls are here. They are not martyrs or saints–they are real girls, motivated, opportunistic, each with their own agendas. Fortunately, Felicity’s align with Sim’s. then with Johanna’s, and the growing relationships between these three willful women mean they are stronger, fiercer, and more able to achieve, even though they are constantly thwarted at every turn by narrow-minded, misogynistic, privileged [insert your own rude name here] men.

As you can tell, I loved this a lot. It’s funny (especially when we meet up with Monty and Percy, the adorable and adoring couple), exciting and entertaining. Girl power for the win (eventually)!

Paper Cranes Don’t Fly by Peter Vupapercranes

Published by: Ford Street Publishing
Released: August 1 2018 (in AUS)
ISBN: 9781925272765
Read: October 3 2018

I read this because it was the only Gold Inky shortlisted novel I hadn’t read. The day before I picked it up, it won! Chosen by Australian teenagers, this novel beat out Take Three Girls, Beautiful Mess and In the Dark Spaces, and I believe it is the depiction of friendship that makes it a winner for young readers.

Adam’s brain tumour has not slowed him down much. Since he’s a brain rather than a sporty kid, he’s been able to continue schooling, reading and achieving well. This latest trip to the hospital right at the end of Year 12 means his two best friends, Tess and Ambrose, are busy studying and taking exams, while he lives out his days remembering and writing.

Adam is a humble and loyal friend. He takes us back to pre-school when he first met Ambrose and Tess, and then subsequently through various significant events, clearly demonstrating the strength and depth of these friendships. Yes, he meets Rachael, another hospital bound teenager, and re-connects with Rosie, a former book buddy, but it’s Tess and Ambrose who he turns to when he gets bad news, and they don’t let him down. Just to let you know, I cried continuously through the story. It is emotionally powerful and inspiring, depicting courage and love. A strong read.

I highly recommend all these books to you if you want a book about teenagers’ friendships.

 

Review: Here to Stay by Sara Farizan

Here to Stay by Sara Farizan

Published by: Algonquin Young Readers
ISBN: 9781616207007
Released: September 18 2018 

Read: September 15 2018

heretostay

Sara Farizan’s third novel explores a number of the author’s interests, and with her personal passion at its core, the novel is deeper and richer. Bijan, the son of an Iranian dentist mother and a (long deceased) Jordanian father, is a keen basketballer, a high achieving academic nerd, and a little bit keen on the popular Elle. He has lived all his life in America, and attends a private school called Granger, (go Gunners!), and while he might privately wish for fame and popularity, he’s actually quite happy flying under the radar with best friend Sean.

Bijan is a generous, shy and thoughtful character. Throughout the story, we see him consider his choices carefully, and a lot of them come down to how his mother will react. We can see their close relationship is a positive force on him, and when confronted with bigotry, violence or cyber bullying, Bijan often makes the sensible decision. However, she doesn’t expect him to cower or run away, and the conversations between them, when awful incidents start to occur, are excellent examples of two people talking and listening to each other, as there is clearly respect on both sides. Not that he doesn’t keep a few secrets from her. He is after all a teenager, but mostly they are about protecting her from worrying about him.

I mention the ‘Gunners’ above because it Bijan’s involvement in trying to have this name and the accompanying mascot (a colonial soldier carrying a gun) changed to something more appropriate and inclusive that drives the narrative. As well, it’s his starring on the basketball court for the team bringing them to a tournament final. Jealously, ignorance and racism rears their ugly heads, and Bijan has to navigate this journey, but as he discovers, he’s not alone. His friends and peers show support, and Farizan tries to balance the two views evenly, although clearly the bad guys are those who post images of Bijan as a terrorist, and who try to get him expelled from the team.

Interestingly with the gunners sub plot, Farizan doesn’t mention school shootings, and I would be interested in knowing why. Even knowing this was written before the Marjory Stoneman High Douglas school event, there have been others that could have been referenced. On the other hand, the author is more interested in trying to breakdown stereotypes and generalisations, so perhaps bringing that into the mix might have muddied her waters.

Another pleasing aspect to the novel, is the slow moving and very cute romance. I liked how the friendships with other people were equally important to Bijan. There is a lovely mix of ethnicities, which aren’t token or didactic. It’s just a realistic mix of young adults of varying races and sexual orientations. The title of the novel is taken from the slogan that appears to defend the gunners as mascot. Ironically it could also serve as a  motto for Bijan. He is here to stay. He is American-born, this is his country, and with the support of his family and friends, he doesn’t need to explain or justify his existence. So move on, nothing to see here.

Thanks to publisher Algonquin Young Readers and Netgalley for the advanced copy. Highly recommended for readers who love their sport, especially their hoops, and like a challenging social issues story that makes them think and laugh (Sean is a riot, as well as a very good friend). There are plenty of positive representations, and even some of the bad guys are shown to be misunderstood and troubled. It’s concludes with a satisfying open-ended resolution, leaving Bijan ready to take on senior year from a safe and happy place.

Here to Stay is out on September 18.

Review: The Universe is Expanding and So Am I by Carolyn Mackler

The Universe is Expanding and So Am I by Carolyn Mackler

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books
ISBN: 9781408897041
Released: 6 September 2018

Read: 1 – 3 August 2018

universe expanding

The first book in this series originally came out in 2003, and barely six months have gone by when we start this one. I haven’t read The Earth, My Butt and Big, Other Round Things, but I don’t think I needed to. All the important highlights are given a short explanation, and away we go. I believe that the first book (such long titles) has been re-vamped to cater for this millennial generation and then re-released in June to pre-empt  the new title, but I am still happy to enjoy Virginia’s new story without having to go back to the first one.

Part of this is because we don’t get far into the novel and Virginia is ready to cast aside her boyfriend, Froggy. I suspect it took all of book one for her to win him over, and just like that he’s gone. So yeah, no need to read THAT story. Ha. I am sure there are teenagers who will disagree, and fair enough too. Poor Froggy. Mostly I worry about his name.

The story centres around Byron (did the first one? Oh gosh, do I have to read it after all?) and his alleged rape against a college friend. We agonise alongside Virginia as she struggles with Bryon’s return to court, and his drain on their parents emotions and finances. Virginia is also about to see her sister again who has been in Africa for a year. These turbulent times are exacerbated by meeting a boy who seems to return her attraction.

It’s clear early on that Virginia is a plus size young person. She constantly refers to her body, and although she is okay with how she looks, there are a number of people around her, most especially her parents, who seem determined to bring her down and demean her. I found this aspect of the story most distressing. I wanted her parents to do better, but with all their attention firmly focused on her older siblings, Virginia is free to move around NYC with a freedom of which she takes excellent advantage.

What is shown all the way through the story, but never commented on, is that Virginia walks everywhere. She is active, and eats well, so there’s a disconnect between the way others in the book view her, and the way readers do (if they are observant). She loves her weekly kick boxing class, and feels empowered and part of a group. Of course, her mother spoils that for her, and it’s up to Virginia to take charge of her life and refuse to allow her parents to dictate to her.

While the Bryon storyline is serious and challenging, there’s a light and bright sense of humour and strength that runs parallel. Virginia’s new romantic interest is a decent and caring boy, and the secrets they keep and hide from force Virginia to take some steps forward in maturity level, and it suits her.

Thanks to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for advancing me this copy. It’s out tomorrow here in Australia. Recommended to readers who love a realistic love story that is impacted by other people’s problems. Its tone is a mixture of funny and serious, and the setting of New York plays a major role. Virginia is a brave and proactive protagonist who still needs and takes the time to sort through issues. She’s a great role model.

 

Review: Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Published by: Simon & Schuster Australia
ISBN: 9781471163883
Released: July 1 2018

Read: May 3 – 5 2018

Save the Date book cover

It is very exciting to be part of the #AusYABloggers reading tour for Morgan Matson’s newly released Save the Date. While there are lots of places to purchase the book, I have decided to link my review to Riverbend Books, in keeping with my philosophy to #buylocal and also, to support #indiebookshops. Even if Riverbend isn’t in your local neighbourhood, they have an excellent online service, especially for schools looking to purchase quality texts for their collections.

Here are other #AusYABloggers who are sharing their thoughts and giveaways about Save the Date today:

Thoughts by Tash – Blog review + GIVEAWAY
Jessica’s Bookworld  – Blog review
Jasper + Spice  – Blog review
One Bookish Girl – Blog review
Alliee reads – Blog review

This is the fourth Morgan Matson novel I have read and loved, and her stories keep getting better. Her books are often classified as summer romances, but they actually deal with serious issues in detailed ways. These aren’t light, thin stories. They are long and complicated, and show the messiness of life. It’s pleasing to see the topics covered are more likely to be actually experienced by the majority of teens—family drama, future career opportunities, and of course, picking the right bloke—which make them more appealing that a book that might use cutting, drugs or an eating disorder as a way for main characters to develop identity and self-growth. Obviously some readers can relate to those kinds of books, but in my everyday interactions with young people, most of them live ordinary middle class lives, and their experience of extremely risky behaviours are confined to watching Riverdale and Game of Thrones.

The first thing to note about Save the Date is its humour. Matson has injected much fun and silliness into this wedding disaster tale. There have been enough reality television programs about bridezillas and getting married to strangers, for us to be aware of potential catastrophes. While it’s helpful to be familiar with American traditions not seen here in Australia, it isn’t absolutely necessary to know about the wedding rehearsal and dinner that occurs the night before, to truly appreciate how awful it is that the wedding planner goes AWOL after her company discovers fraudulent behaviour on that exact day of Linnie and Rodney’s wedding weekend.

Linnie is most definitely NOT a bridezilla, but her younger sister and main character Charlie, is utterly committed to ensuring her weekend is perfect. The obstacles that Charlie has to overcome to save the wedding show so much more about her character than three chapters of exposition.  The majority of the novel takes place over the four days of the wedding, so we are given access to every bit of drama and disaster. Of course it’s all very entertaining, but as we cheer Charlie on to rescuing the event, we slowly become aware that we are observing a girl who has always put her family first, and that her perceptions of them are magnified through rose-coloured lenses.

Charlie has a lot to learn about her four beloved older siblings, partly because they have been protective, partly because they love her devotion to them, and partly because they are thoughtless. We can see how flawed they all are, but to Charlie, they are her heroes, her best friends. Which makes actual best friend Siobhan upset, every time Charlie ditches her the minute her family reappear. We discover quite early that one of Charlie’s brothers, Mike might not even come for the weekend because of a ongoing dispute with their parents, causing much of the early tension. But he’s not the only sibling to bring disruption, ultimately challenging Charlie’s sense of safety and comfort.

This is very family-centred, with more revealing  complications and secrets, but it’s also a romance, of course. Charlie’s crush on Mike’s best friend Jesse, has lasted forever, and it seems like now, finally, he sees her like a potential girl friend, although Charlie’s encounters with him show us something different. Then there’s Bill, newly appointed wedding planner, with whom Charlie is forced to spend a lot of time as they work together to solve a hilarious number of ridiculous problems. His calm attitude is offset by his growing understanding of Charlie’s situation, and even though he doesn’t judge her, he does question Charlie’s preconceptions and attitudes about her family, friendships and future. Matson doesn’t push insta-love (mostly because Charlie is initially all about Jesse), but she does show a naturally developing friendship, one that Charlie needs and appreciates, that has the potential to be more.

The concluding chapters tie most of the loose ends up satisfactorily and leaves others open-ended. It’s really the perfect way to finish a book—readers should always walk away from a book with some questions, as well entirely happy about the situation involving the protagonist. Here, Charlie morphs from a girl unable to deal with change, to a realist who has to accept that life is change. She finds a way to forgive her imperfect family, and uses that to propel herself into her own future. It’s a really strong message for young people to hear.

I will easily be able to find readers for this enjoyable, thoughtful and romantic novel. Thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for including me on this blog tour. Save the Date comes highly recommended, and is one I will re-read for sure.

The Tour concludes tomorrow with reviews posted here:

AusYABloggers – Twitter GIVEAWAY
Paperback Princess – Blog review
Genie in a Book – Blog review
shelle_reads_books – Instagram review
Diva Booknerd – Blog review

Review: Final Draft by Riley Redgate

Final Draft by Riley Redgate

Published by: Amulet Books
ISBN: 9781419728723
Released: June 11 2018 (in the US)

Read: June 11 2018

final draft

This is an intense novel, introspective and questioning. Redgate’s protagonist Laila, will feel familiar to other authors. Her constant search for the perfect draft, the dread of sharing her work, and the self-doubt multiplied by spending too much time alone, being safe, writing instead of living must be something a lot of them would know about. I know I understood it, and I just write reviews.

The third person narrative constantly forced me to think deeper. Usually young adult novels are written in the first person, and the drama and angst spills over the page blatantly. But here there’s deliberate distance, careful and considered. Even when Laila is feeling her worst, or her best, the emotions are tightly restrained, but written with such beautiful words, they reverberate for ages.

Laila’s life has been steady and safe. Now she faces uncertainty and risk. But she wants to experience the change because she needs to know the impact it will have on her writing. I worried there would coercion and manipulation by the new creative teacher, but there wasn’t. Sure she suggests, she expects, but she’s also largely there for her own agenda, so she has no qualms about the ramifications these kids might face when they go out to ‘experience life’.

Laila’s relationships with her four best friends is a very strong part of the novel. Hannah, Leo and Felix become as real as Laila, and their support of her is unflagging and ultimately, terribly important. Laila’s family are also authentically developed, although the other three missed out on the supportive parent situation. Felix’s father and Hannah’s parents are pretty unimpressive.

I love Redgate’s Noteworthy, and can tell she is an assured and clever writer. I hope she’s around, writing stories for young adults, for many years to come.

Thanks to Amulet Books and Netgalley for the advanced copy. It’s out now in the US, June 11. Highly recommended for teens who like character study novels, not action-paced thrillers. Laila struggles with many issues, but she’s really thoughtful and rational when she examines her thoughts, actions and motives. She does get up to a few shenanigans, such as underage drinking and drug-taking, but she never goes completely off the rails. There is some discussion about depression and other mental health issues, but we leave Laila in a place where she deserves to be: happy and content, surrounded by people she loves and who love her.