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

My Lovely Frankie, by Judith Clarke

Frankie believed in Heaven quite literally, as if it was another lovely world out past the stars. And when he spoke the word “love”, it seemed to spring free and fly into the air like a beautiful balloon you wanted to run after. But I couldn’t tell my parents about Frankie. I couldn’t tell them how he was becoming the best thing in my world. I couldn’t tell anyone, I  hardly admitted it myself.

When teenage Tom decides to enter the seminary his intentions are clear: he wants something more than ordinary happiness, and feels, in spite of his parents’ uncertainty, that he is being called to become a priest. At St Finbar’s life is more difficult than Tom imagined, filled with rules and restrictions. Yet it is here that he meets Frankie, and learns that happiness and love are inextricably linkd.

My Lovely Frankie  is a tale of seminary life, love and self-discovery set in 1950s Australia. From the moment he meets Frankie, Tom feels a connection he struggles to comprehend, particularly in light of his sheltered existence. What is it he feels for Frankie?

Told in the first person voice of a modern day, much older, Tom as he looks back on the events of his teen years, the story gradually unfolds, with the narrative style giving glimpses of the life he has lived in the intervening years, as well as keeping the reader guessing as to the events of the year in question.

Beautifully written, this is a story which will haunt long after the last page.

My Lovely Frankie, by Judith Clarke
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760296339

Finding Nevo,: How I Confused Everyone, by Nevo Zisin

Apparently, the moment I was born, she anxiously asked her mother, “Well, what is it?” To which my grandmother replied, “It’s a boy!” My mum was horrified, but the doctor interjected and explained I was indeed a girl. My mum was relieved. I wish I could have spoken on behalf of myself back then and there; I could have avoided a lot of issues down the track.

Nevo Zisin was born with a girl’s body, to a mother desperately hoping for a daughter. But before they had reached school, Nevo was convinced they were a boy, and wanted to dress in boy’s clothes, and be referred to as ‘he’. Growing up in a traditional Jewish community, this presented difficulties both within their own family, at school, and beyond. At 14, feeling pressured to identify with how they felt, Nevo came out as a lesbian, but was still not convinced this was the right term for how they felt. At 18, they announced their intention to transition to being male, and soon after began hormone therapy, and then to plan for chest reduction surgery. By the age of twenty, they had realised that they were neither male nor female, and now identify as nonbinary transgender.

Finding Nevo is an honest, enlightening story of one person’s quest to understand who they are, and to overcome the prejudices and pressures which that can entail. Nevo is honest and open, offering readers the chance to understand the issues faced by Nevo, and also by other nonbinary young people. As they say (Nevo’s preferred pronoun is they/their), it is unusual to write an autobiography at the age of 20, but Nevo’s willingness to do so will help to educate and inform people of all all ages and gender identities.

An absorbing, open, book.

Finding Nevo, by Nevo Zisin
Black Dog Books, 2017
ISBN 9781925381184

This is My Song, by Richard Yaxley

When and where is the correct beginning for this retelling? Already I wonder. there are many choices:
I was born in 1929 in the Bavarian town of Bamberg –
Once upon a time there was an Old Man who owned a music shop –
What makes an artist become a tyrant and murderer –
none of these. We must begin with my father.

The son of a Jewish academic who has always loved Germany, Rafael Ullmann’s childhood is confrtable until Hitler’s restrictions start to take effect. When he and his family are sent to a concentration camp, life becomes little more than a battle for survival. As a musician, the boy has something to offer the Germans, though the price is high.

In remote Canada in the 1970s, Annie Ullmann grows up as a sheltered only child. Her parents don’t talk of their past, and Annie never asks, content with her quiet life, until a friendship with a hawk makes her wonder if there is a life further afield.

In contemporary Australia, Joe Hawker doesn’t know what he wants to do with his future. he has a talent for music, but no real passion, until he discovers a song written by his grandfather.

This is My Song is a multi-generational story of the impact of the most terrible war-time events, and of the importance of music as a form of solace and connection. The story of Rafael is particularly heart-wrenching, and the motif of music and song as a connection across the three generations is powerful.

A moving, important story.

This is My Song , by Richard Yaxley
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 781760276140

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky, by Robert Newton

The red wrapping was secured with a long strap of sticky tape. I dug a nail in under a corner and as i peeled it off, the paper tore down the middle and uncovered my present inside.
‘Is Surfing Paradise, Miss Lexie.’
I lifted the snow dome up for a closer look and saw a mum and dad and a kid making sandcastles in the sand.
‘It’s perfect,’ I said. ‘It’s the best present I ever got.’

Lexie’s dad always promised her that one day they would go to Surfer’s paradise. Now that he’s gone, Lexie dreams of the day she will still get there. But living in the commission with her mostly absent mother, Surfer’s Paradise seems a long way away. Then Lexie witnesses something shocking and finds herself befriending a man everyone calls Creeper. Lexie and her friend Davey help the man they soon learn is called Mr Romanov and together the three set off on a journey that will change their lives.

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky is a moving tale of an unlikely friendship. With some quite shocking scenes and a range of issues, including drug abuse, bereavement and dementia, the story could be overwhelming, but a blend of humour, action and empathy makes for a satisfying blend for younger teens.

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky, by Robert Newton
Penguin Books, 2017
ISBN 9780143309307

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Someone yelling wakes me up. I have no idea what time it is. I jump out of bed and head for the kitchen. I almost collide with Mum, who’s also coming out of her room.
‘Go back to bed,’ she whispers.
I don’t Dad is standing in the middle of the kitchen. The fluorescent light is on and he’s in his undies. They bag a little around his arse. He’s pointing at the clock.
‘I’ve got to go to work!’ he’s yelling. ‘Why didn’t you wake me up?’
‘Honey,’ Mum says, ‘you don’t need to go to work yet.’
‘Don’t lie to me!’ he roars. ‘I’m supposed to be there!’
‘Honey,’ Mum repeats soothingly. ‘It’s three o’clock in the morning. You go back to bed and it’ll be time to go in another few hours.’
‘Why are you doing this to me?’ he yells. ‘What am I doing here? What is this? Who do you think you are?’

Amelia is in Year 12, trying to impress her art teacher, navigating an increasingly unpredictable home life, and trying to work out what’s going on with her friends, particularly her closest friend, Gemma. Her dad is changing, forgetful, angrier more often. Her mum has her own adjustments to make. To Amelia, it’s as though everything she has ever known is changing. And she’s not quite sure what to do. But the days pass, whether or not she wants them to. In the growing chaos and confusion, Amelia begins to work out who she is.

Everyone says Year 12 is big, but no one could have predicted Amelia’s year. It’s not just the work, or growing up. It’s like someone threw her into a tornado and all she can see is a blur. Relationships are at the heart of ‘Before You Forget’, those with family and with old friends and new. ‘Before You Forget’ becomes the song of change, of evolving, of reality. Amelia’s art practice, her struggle to communicate via canvas is a metaphor for her struggle to navigate and understand her changing world. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.

Before You Forget, Julia Lawrinson
Penguin 2017
ISVN: 9780143574071

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

Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair and A Place Like This, by Steven Herrick

I’m a normal guy.
An average sixteen-year-old.
I think about sex, sport and nose hair.
Sex mostly.
How to do it,
how to get someone to do it with me,
who I should ask for advice.

Jack is a pretty average sixteen year old boy. He worries about sport and nose hair, and how to get a girl. But not just any girl: Annabel. He also talks to a ghost: the ghost of his mother, who died seven years ago. As he gets closer to Annabel, he wonders whether it’s time to let his mother go.

First published in 1996, Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair is a classic verse novel for young adult readers. Exploring themes of first love, bereavement and family, as well as teens coming of age, in the honest verse form for which Herrick is known. With Jack as the main viewpoint character, there are also poems from the point of view of his father, his sister Desiree and his girlfriend Annabel, just one of the facets which makes the verse novel form special. Readers are taken inside the head of these different characters with an intimacy which the verse novel form especially facilitates.

This intimacy is also seen in A Place Like This, first published in 1998 and picking up on the story of Jack and Annabel two years later. Having finished school and both successfully got places at university, the pair instead decide to take a year off to work and travel. But, closer to home than they had planned, they find themselves picking apples on a farm where another teen, Emma, is struggling with a pregnancy and her uncertain future.

This classic pair of verse novels from Australia’s finest verse novelist for young adults has been republished  by UQP,  meaning they are now easily available for a new audience, and for teens who have grown up with some of Herrick’s work for younger readers.

Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair, ISBN 9780702228780
A Place like This ISBN 9780702229848
Both by Steven Herrick
UQP, 2017

The Shark Caller, by Dianne Wolfer

I stared into the shark’s unblinking eye. The voices grew louder. It felt like they were calling me. I tried to understand, but the mako’s black eyes were frightening. I looked away.
The voices stopped. 

Isabel (Izzy) and her mother are returning home to the place she was born – an island in Papua New Guinea. Izzy loves her home, but this time, her journey is sad. They are taking the ashes of her much-loved twin brother home to be scattered.

On the island, Izzy and her mother start to heal, but Izzy also sees that the island is changing. The environment is changing, threatened by logging and modern technologies, and the sharks no longer answer the cries of the village shark callers. The clan needs someone to take an offering deep beneath the sea in a traditional offering to the shark god. The person must be a twin from the shark-calling lineage. Lizzie is the last twin. I will take great courage to even attempt the challenge.

The Shark Caller is a gripping, moving story of bereavement and courage, combining contemporary realism with fantasy elements. The issues of grief and of family obligations are combined with broader issues of environmental change and the impact of modernisation on traditional communities and ecocultures.

Suitable from readers in upper primary and beyond.

The Shark Caller, by Dianne Wolfer
Penguin Books, 2016
ISBN 9780143780557

Lisette’s Paris Notebook, by Catherine Bateson

What do you wear to Paris? Ami and I discussed it for hours but I still couldn’t think of anything suitable. Ami said a trench coat with nothing underneath but your best underwear. That was only if some boy was meeting you at the airport, I said.

Lisette has just finished school and is taking a gap year. She travels to Paris to experience great works of art and brush up on her conversational French before she heads to university. Lise isn’t impressed when her clairvoyant landlady, Madame Cristophe and her mother, home in Australia, enrol her in language lessons with international students. She just wants to explore and experience Paris. But when she grudgingly attends her first class, she realises it’s not all bad – there’s a hot guy there, and she also makes some new friends. Maybe she might find more than she bargained for in Paris.

Lisette’s Paris Notebook is a quirky mix of romance and coming of age, featuring a slightly self-obsessed yet likeable main character. Lisette’s adventure is Paris is overshadowed by coming to terms with the death of the father she never got to meet, and her lack of previous romantic success. Teen readers will enjoy the Paris setting.

Lisette’s Paris Notebook, by Catherine Bateson
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760293635