The Fifth Room, by A.J. Rushby

‘I…’ I begin to argue, but my dad stops me, leaning forward over the table.
‘Miri, it would be unwise of me to say too much for both our sakes, but I will say this: there are things I used to be involved in – that I used to believe in – that I am no longer involved in or believe in. If you proceed with your current course, there are things I cannot help you with. Matters in which I would be more of a hindrance to you than a help if you were to call upon me. Do you understand what I’m saying?’

Miri should be in high school, but her brilliance and aptitude for medicine have seen her placed in an elite college program and invited to be part of an international secret society. She is thrilled to be part of the Society,and eager to engage in the opportunities it offers – especially the chance to do her own research, unhampered by the need for ethics approvals. But when her research proposal is accepted, she finds herself whisked away to a secret location where she must compete with other young researchers. Miri’s experiment means she is awake night after night , giving the opportunity to see that not everything at the research centre is at it seems. As her doubts grow, she isn’t sure who she can trust, or even if she’ll get out alive.

The Fifth Room is a blend of mystery, romance and psychological thriller. A fairly easy read, it explores concepts surrounding moral dilemmas in an intriguing setting.

The Fifth Room, by A. J. Rushby
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781742762548

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, by Krystal Sutherland

Esther Solar had been waiting outside Lilac Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for half an hour when she received word that the curse had struck again.
Rosemary Solar, her mother, explained over the phone that she would no longer, under any circumstances, be able to pick her daughter up. A cat black as night with demon-yellow slits for eyes had been found sitting atop the hood of the family car – an omen dark enough to prevent her from driving.

Esther Solar believes her family is cursed. Ever since her grandfather met Death in Vietnam, every family member has been cursed to suffer from one great fear, and to eventually die because of that fear. Her Grandfather, told her will die from drowning, avoids water, even baths. Esther’s father is an agoraphobic who has lived in the basement for six years, And her twin brother Eugene is terrified of the dark. Esther, though, is determined to avoid the curse, by avoiding everything that might trigger a phobia. She’s made a list of them, a semi-definitive list of worst nightmares. Then she meets Jonah, a would-be film maker with problems of his own, who is determined to make her confront, and dispel every one of her possible phobias.

Funny, sad and satisfyingly weird, A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is hard to categorise, which is a good thing. The cast of flawed characters – teens and adults – are intriguing, and the plot equally absorbing. There’s some tough stuff happening, but the story is ultimately fun.

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares Penguin, 2017
ISBN 978014357391

In the Dark Spaces, by Cally Black

The stranger keeps coming, long-legged stretches of shiny black uniform kicking down the ramp. And it’s not a person. Facing McVeigh is this tall half-crow, half-scarecrow things, all dressed in black. SHiny black armoured ridges line down the centre of its chest and across its shoulders like the back of a crocodile. Its head is a massive beaked helmet. And it’s not a leathery cape, cos it’s moving by itself. They’re wings. Wings that lift higher and quiver….
My scalp prickles. Not right. This is not right. This is a real thing!

Tamara has spent most of her life hiding. Since she was orphaned, her Aunt Lazella has kept her hidden on the ships where she ekes out a living in the kitchens. Now, Tamara is responsible for keepign her little cousin, Gub, silent while Lazella works. But if she can get strong enough to work, too, their fortunes will improve.

When the ship is raided by strange crow-like figures, Tamara finds her fortunes changing in a completely different way. Separated from Gub, Tamara finds herself a prisoner of the invaders, taken back to their hive where she must figure out a way to stay alive long enough to figure out how to get back to her cousin. But, separated by space, this is not going to be asy.

In the Dark Spaces is a stunning spec-fic offering. Set in an unnamed future where fleets of starships mine space for the minerals necessary for survival on Earth, the story explores what happens when an alien race objects to the human presence, which threatens its own existence. Fourteen year old Tamara, who knows too well the downsides of human society, gets to experience first hand the highs and lows of an alternative civilisation, as well as being drawn into the quest for peace.

Tamara is an intriguing character, whose near-silent existence as a stowaway in her aunt’s quarters is swapped for one where she is initially voiceless because of the barriers of language. Her tenacity, coupled with her willingness to learn and to question, are key to her survival, and her loyalty to her absent cousin is a key factor in her survival.

Explroing themes including language, loyalty, human rights and so much more,
In the Dark Spaces is an outstanding read.

In the Dark Spaces, by Cally Black
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2017
ISBN 9781760128647

Mallee Boys by Charlie Archbold

Sandy
You know, when you walk into a murky river you could step on anything. I’ve never understood how easily some people will just leap on in when they can’t see a thing. I suppose it’s like life; maybe I could do with just stepping in more an looking less.
Red
Sandy’s a funny kid. I say kid, but he’s not much younger than me. He’s fifteen. I’m eighteen. It’s only three years but sometimes it seems like thirty. Dad said I burst into the world, born effortlessly on the way to the hospital, which for a first baby was something. I screamed my lungs out and the doc told Mum she was a natural. Sandy though was way too early. Born premmie, he had to spend his first few months in hospital. Probably daydreaming in the womb and before he knew it he’d just drifted out.
Typical. Sandy causing a lot of drama for everyone. They had to get the flying doctors out and all sorts.

On a farm in the Mallee, Sandy and Red and their dad are adjusting to life following the death of their mother. Sandy is no natural farm boy, scared of goats and allergic to spring. He keeps his secrets tight. Red loves the farm but is so angry with the world that he may as well be a willy-willy – wild and out of control. Their dad is just trying to keep it together. Three of them, no talking, in a brutal landscape of wind and searing heat. It’s going to be a big year.

Mallee Boys’ is a wrenching, real story about grief and survival. It’s also about choosing your path, even if it’s not easy and might take you away from everything you know. The landscape is tough, but full of beauty for those who look for it. Plenty of themes in here: loss, responsibility, change, family, truth, communication. Without their mum to guide them, and with their dad drowning in his own loss, two young men have to make their own decisions and live with them. Recommended for mid- upper-secondary readers.
Mallee Boys, Charlie Archbold

Wakefield Press 2017 ISBN: 9781743055007

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Sparrow, by Scot Gardner

One two three breath one two three four.
After the dusk burned out and the stars began winking in his salt-stung eyes it became impossible to judge the distance to shore. The stars finished some way above the waterline, but was theat the Kimberley coast he could see, or clouds hanging low over an endless ocean?
One two breath one two breath.

Travelling by boat at the end of a survival trip off the Kimberley coast, Sparrow sees that the boats i about to sink and decides to swim for safety and for freedom. His life in juvie has been tough, and h’es prepared to risk everything for freedom. But there are sharks and crocodiles in the water, and its getting dark. the shore, too, is filled with dangers. Yet none of these dangers are perhaps as dark as the memories that crowd his mind.

Sparrow is a compelling story of survival both in the remote Kimberley wilderness, and on the streets of Darwin. Sparrow, selective mute after a childhood of trauma, relives the events which have lead to him being in juvenile detention as he tackles the new challenges for day to day survival which have arisen as a result of his decision to flee the boat.

A moving, unforgettable story.

Sparrow, by Scot Gardner
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760294472

Gap year in Ghost Town, by Michael Pryor

Let’s get this straight – ghosts are everywhere. And they’re dangerous. This is why my family has hunted them for thousands of years.

Anton is a reluctant ghost hunter. He and his father are a two-man team, carrying out their family legacy. But his dad doesn’t have the sight, which means it’s Anton who has to do theg host hunting. He’d rather be at university, but his father has talked him in to giving it a try during his gap year. And it doesn’t seem to be going too badly until Anton meets a Rogue – a freakish, almost-solid kind of ghost that can do a lot of harm. A lot. Coupled with the appearance in his life of Rani, a fellow ghost hunter, recently arrived from England, and Anton suddenly as a lot on his hands.

Gap Year in Ghost Town is a high-action spec-fic novel set in contemporary Melbourne. This setting is a departure for author Michael Pryor, whose previous work has been set in the past or in steam-punk versions of it, or fictional places. The novelty of a ghost story set in the contemporary world is appealing, and Melbourne, for those who know it, is an apt choice, with the ghosts inhabiting both well known landmarks and lesser known buildings.

Anton is a likable, believable narrator, who is self-deprecating but also self-aware, knowing his strengths and sharing his fears. The ghosts and the plot that surrounds them are intirguing, and readers will left hoping that there are further adventures to come.

Gap Year in Ghost Town, by Michael Pryor
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760292768

Maybe by Morris Gleitzman

Maybe it won’t happen.
Maybe everything will be fine.
Maybe I should just stop thinking about the bad things and concentrate on the good things.
Like the beautiful countryside we’re walking through. Birds chirping and butterflies fluttering and not a single one of them being blown up.
And this dust on the road. It’s very good dust. Soft under our boots. Cushioning our cartwheels. Which is the best thing you could wish for when you’ve got a pregnant person in your cart. And another person walking next to you who’s nearly forty years old with sore feet.

Felix, Gabriek and pregnant Anya are heading home to Gabriek’s farm. The war is over and they are looking forward to a new life, and to the arrival of Anya’s baby. After years of war, it’s time to look forward. Maybe. The war may be over, but those who seek revenge do not give up easily and the trio must maintain their vigilance. Home is a concept, not a place and thousands are looking for new places in a ravaged world.

Maybe’ is the sixth instalment in Morris Gleitzman’s series featuring Felix. ‘Maybe’ details how Felix came to Australia at the age of fourteen. Although readers of the series will know both Felix’s past and his future, this novel also works as a stand-alone story. As in all the books in this series, there are themes of love, loss, revenge, survival, integrity and fallibility. But most of all, it is a page-turner, a time-swallower, an insight into unthinkable awfulness told with the deft touch of a master storyteller. Recommended for upper-primary, early-secondary readers.
Maybe, Morris Gleitzman Penguin Books Australia 2017 ISBN: 9780670079377
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Exchange of Heart by Darren Groth

Brisbane
Have you always wanted to travel to other FAB parts of the world?
Not so much.
Do you want to immerse yourself in an AWESOME new culture?
If it helps.
Are you ready for the RAD adventure you’ve always dreamt about?
Not my dream.
Then YOU are srsly the sort of student YOLO Canada is looking for!
I srsly doubt it.

Munro Maddux is stuck. Stuck in a destructive and seemingly inescapable loop of ‘if only I had …’ He agrees to go to Brisbane from Canada on a six-month student exchange, hoping that the voice in his head will finally shut up. Never mind that by going, he’s living his little sister’s dream. But although his host family is great and the school welcoming, the only place the voice is silent is at Fair Go, an assisted living residence, where his new school sends him to complete compulsory volunteer hours. His ‘team’ decide they will help him get to know their town, their world.

Exchange of Heart’ sees Munro fly half way around the world, desperate to escape his grief at his sister’s death. But of course, grief doesn’t work that way. It travels with him and no matter how he tries, it grabs at his heart and stops him. Stops him sleeping. Stops him developing friendships and relationships. Stops him functioning like a ‘normal’ 16-year-old teenager. Whatever ‘normal’ is. His volunteering at Fair Go is his lifeline, his safe place, his refuge from and journey back to living. His ‘team’ mentor as much as are mentored, accept him, challenge him. ‘Exchange of Heart’ doesn’t miss a beat. Recommended for secondary readers.

Exchange of Heart, Darren Groth, Random House Australia 2017 ISBN: 9780143781578
review by www.clairesaxby.com, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Pretty Girls Don’t Eat by Winnie Salamon

Call me old-fashioned, but there’s nothing quite like a department store in the middle of the week. Quiet, shiny, anonymous. You could spend an entire day in the lingerie section, surrounded by lace, elastic and padded inserts and nobody would consider you a pervert because they wouldn’t even notice. Watching the flat screens in electricals, trying out mattresses in bedding, browsing through racks of dresses that cost $2000 each. Applying hand cream, perfume, lipstick. All without a single, ‘Can I help you?’

Winter seems to know exactly what she wants from life. She loves fashion and design and has an enviable talent in making her designs translate from the page to wearable art. She has great friends and a supportive family. But at sixteen years old, she’s starting to wonder if things might be better, if even her best friends and her family might love her better, more, if she wasn’t quite so fat. It might also help in the ‘never been kissed’ department too. Scratch the surface of any ‘perfect’ life and there’s plenty of non-perfection to be found. Although it can be harder to believe, non-perfection can be more interesting.

Everyone has secrets. And secret thoughts. Particularly in adolescence. It’s a time of discovery, of working out who you are, and also of looking at others around you in new ways. Hormones play their part in realigning understanding of friendships and family. ‘Pretty Girls Don’t Eat’ offers an opportunity to unstitch and refashion beliefs of self and others. There’s plenty here for discussion. How does a seemingly together teenager start believing negative self-talk? How perfect are the ‘perfect’ lives of everyone else? There are some great role models here – not perfect ones – and a hopeful future. Recommended for early- to mid-secondary readers.

Pretty Girls Don’t Eat, Winnie Salamon
Ford St Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925272772

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Paper Cranes Don’t Fly by Peter Vu

I wake up in the bed that isn’t really mine. What have I done to deserve being stuck in this place again? I ask myself despite the fact that I don’t believe in the concept of karma and its spiritual principles of cause and effect.
Even if karma actually exist, I’m pretty sure I haven’t done anything to deserve seeing its bad side. But I once read – I don’t remember where – that everything that has happened in our lives has been preparation for moments that are yet to come. Maybe that is true. Or maybe it isn’t.
Or maybe it’s just too damned philosophical for me to understand. I don’t know.
I gaze out the window. From five storeys up, the view is surprisingly cheerful considering that I’m looking at the outside of a children’s hospital.

Seventeen-year-old Adam is back in hospital for more surgery. Despite surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, he’s here again. Treatment for his brain tumour has meant that his schooling is interrupted and friendships are difficult to initiate and to maintain. It’s lucky then that he has two enduring friendships from his childhood and a new friend who is also a frequent hospital visitor. Adam starts writing down his story to show that he is more than the illness that is recurring. He continues it, including flashbacks, as a way of getting through long days in hospital.

Friendship is important to most people, but it’s especially important to teenagers and Adam is no exception. He’s lucky enough to have a family, parents and a brother, but it is his friends who keep him going. Through them he has a link to the world beyond the hospital walls, and some semblance of normalcy. Their friendship allows him to be a teenager, who is much more than just a medical diagnosis.

Paper Planes Don’t Fly’ is a portrait of a teenager who just happens to also be sometimes unwell. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.

Paper Cranes Don’t Fly, Peter Vu
Ford Street Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9781925272765

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com