The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me, by Michael Gerard Bauer

It all started with The Pain. He officially came into my life exactly nine weeks and one day before my Year Ten Graduation Dance.
It was a Friday.
The thirteenth of the month.
Notice anything there?

Maggie Butt is not happy. She started the year determined that everything would go well – but with the end in sight, things seem to be going fro ad to worse. Not only has she failed to make any friends, but she doesn’t have a date for the graduation dance and her marks in English (her favourite subject) are plummeting. But that’s the worst of it. Her mother seems to be letting her new boyfriend – The Pain – into both her own life, and Maggie’s, whether Maggie likes it or not.

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me is a funny novel about many of the difficulties of being a teenager – romance, friendship, self-image and family. Maggie has a lot going on with her parents’ divorce having led to her changing schools and not fitting in at the new one. Her mother’s blossoming relationship with a new boyfriend also causes disruption – not the least of which is his ability to scare off the only boy who’s ever shown an interest.

There are lots of laughs to be had but there are also more serious moments.

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me, by Michael Gerard Bauer
Omnibus Books, 2016
ISBN 9781742991504

Game Theory, by Barry Jonsberg

Clouds part and moonlight steals through my curtains, a silver intruder.
I sit upright in bed and the gunis clasped in my right hand. I have been in the same position all night; the pillow is rucked against my back and there is a pan in my neck. My hand aches from gripping the gun’s handle too hard. I have not slept, though I tried at first.

Jamie is a maths whiz. His older sister Summerlee is rebellious and his younger sister Phoebe is loved by everyone. When Summerlee wins the lottery on her eighteenth birthday her rebelliousness goes up a notch – she no longer needs her family, so she’s out of there. Soon she and her boyfriend Spider are living it up with parties, drugs and alcohol, while the rest of the family carry on as best they can, until Phoebe is kidnapped, by someone who wants 2 million dollars to give her back.

Right from the start it is Jamie the kidnapper communicates with, and as Jamie was with Phoebe when she was taken, he decides it is up to him to get her back, using game theory. He needs to outsmart the kidnapper, predict his or her moves – and not be predictable himself.

Game Theory is an exciting young adult psychological thriller for teen readers. There are plenty of clues and leads encouraging readers to try to figure out who the kidnapper is, and a prologue which foreshadows the third (and last) section of the book, as Jamie attempts to get Phoebe back. Jamie is a likeable main character – aware of his own strengths and weaknesses, humorous and also brave when needed, even though he shows his fear and worries for his sister.

Jonsberg has written in a variety of genres for the young adult readership. Game Theory is a new direction and will not disappoint.

Game Theory, Barry Jonsberg
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760290153

The Things I Didn't Say, by Kylie Fornasier

I hate the label Selective Mutism – as if I choose not to speak, like a kid who refuses to eat broccoli. I’ve used up every dandelion wish since I was ten wishing for the power to speak whenever I want to. I’m starting to wonder if there are enough dandelions.

Piper Rhodes doesn’t talk to strangers. But far from this being a sign of following parental rules, her silence seems inexplicable. She can talk at home, and to people she knows well, but at school and in the community, words fail her. This causes lots of problems, but as she starts at a new school for her final year of schooling, Piper is never more aware of just how problematic it can be. Teachers think she’s being rude, and making friends is difficult. Then there’s West: the school captain, soccer-star, boy who has it all. He seems intent of getting to know her, even if it means writing notes.

Selective Mutism is a difficult condition to live with and for other people to comprehend. Even the name is problematic, as Piper complains, implying a ‘selection’ or choice being made. The Things I Didn’t Say is a wonderful exploration of the challenges it holds for one teen character, at the same time as being just a great read about friendship, peer pressure, and parental expectation. Piper has changed schools by choice after losing her best friend following a drunken party, and at the new school finds both new friends and new enemies. West, who appears to have it all, also has struggles, particularly with meeting the expectations his parents have of him. Their seemingly unlikely relationship blossoms through notes and text messages, but is threatened by people around them.

An excellent young adult read.

The Things I Didn’t Say, by Kylie Fornasier
Penguin, 2016
ISBN 9780143573630

Saving Jazz, by Kate McCaffrey

My name is Jasmine Lovely, Jazz usually (unless I’m in trouble), and I’m a rapist. In fact, I’m guilty of more than just rape but, as my lawyer says, in the interests of judicial fairness, we can’t be prejudicial. It’s hard enough to admit rape. As a girl, people look at you exceptionally hard. People look at you blankly. Not that it’s something I admit to often, like I just did to you.

Jazz has a pretty good life: she’s pretty, popular and smart. She lives in the small town of Greenhead, a seemingly idyllic settlement north of Perth. Like the other teenagers, she likes to party, to drink and to use social media. But when those three things all spin out of control one fateful night, the consequences are terrible – for Jazz, for her best friends Annie and Jack, and for the whole community of Greenhead.

Saving Jazz is a gritty, chilling story of cyber bullying and the use of social media, following the story of what can happen when these two get out of control. With the viewpoint character, Jazz, telling her story through a blog, we are given the insight of someone who has been both bystander and perpetrator, with the book being told after the major event, looking back, but then progressing to beyond the time when the blog is started, with 43 ‘posts’ spanning several years.

McCaffrey is known for broaching difficult topics, and Saving Jazz is no exception. AT the same time, though, the story has plenty of warm moments, offering hope both for the characters and for the reader.

An outstanding young adult read.

Saving Jazz, by Kate McCaffrey
Fremantle Press, 2016
ISBN 9781925163582

The Special Ones, by Em Bailey

But I am the Esther, and Esther doesn’t dash. Her remembering book is very clear about that. Esther’s movements are dignified, considered – especially in the parlour. Esther would never let excitement or nervousness show, or waste time watching people walk.
Sometimes being Esther feels like wearing a Halloween costume. One that doesn’t fit. One I can’t ever take off.

Esther is one of the Special Ones: a chosen group of four who live in a secure farmhouse, watched by him. He keeps them safe from the toxic modern world, and in return the Esther and her three companions follow his rules, and give their followers advice and insights.  Esther fears doing something wrong, because to do so would mean she is no longer Special and will be renewed.

The Special Ones is an intriguing story which initially seems dystopian but fast solidifies as contemporary story of kidnap and psychological control. Esther and her three housemates is each given a set of rules to live by, as well as the story of their past, their likes and dislikes, set down in the form of a book. Any breach of the rules could be disastrous. Their captor is a shadowy presence in the first half of the book, but in the second many of the chapters are from his viewpoint, giving insight into the workings of his mind.

As might be expected, this is a confronting read, but it is also gripping.

The Special Ones, by Em Bailey
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2916
ISBN 9781742976280

Three by Justin D’Ath

The explosion that killed my parents happened halfway through Second Lesson. We all heard the dull thump, even though the Presidential Palace was fully two kilometres from school. Mr Chibei, our new teacher, was writing the traditional word for patriot on the chalkboard. He went still for a moment. The rest of us looked up at the windows. I don’t know what we expected to see – mightbe smoke? Mighbe the looping white trails of rebel mortars? – but all we saw were fat-bellied clouds.

Storm clouds.

We continued with our lesson. Mr Chibei wrote thunder, first in English, then in Zantugi, and we all felt relieved.

The explosion that killed my parents happened halfway through Second Lesson. We all heard the dull thump, even though the Presidential Palace was fully two kilometres from school. Mr Chibei, our new teacher, was writing the traditional word for patriot on the chalkboard. He went still for a moment. The rest of us looked up at the windows. I don’t know what we expected to see – mightbe smoke? Mighbe the looping white trails of rebel mortars? – but all we saw were fat-bellied clouds.

Storm clouds.

We continued with our lesson. Mr Chibei wrote thunder, first in English, then in Zantugi, and we all felt relieved.

Son of President Balewo, and heir-apparent to the presidency, Sunday Balewo is at school, wondering why Holly (who he has recently kissed for the first time) is not at school today, when a bomb explodes in the Presidential P, killing both his parents. There has been a coup d’etat and General Mbuti has seized control of the country. Now it seems a bomb-carrying baboon is searching for him. Lucky for Sunday, he’s a talented athlete known as ‘Magic Feet’, because his life is about to accelerate out of control. He’s truly on the run. He must keep one step ahead of the bomb-carrying baboon as well as trying to work out who to trust in in the aftermath of the coup. People he has known all his life are suddenly strangers, and strangers become friends.

Three begins with a bomb, then speeds up to missile pace. The relatively naïve and sheltered 16 year-old Sunday takes a little while to realise that his life will ever be the same. He has no time to mourn his parents, or to consider what he will now do, because he has to make split-second decisions to stay alive. This is an abrupt coming of age, where the main character Sunday has not only to navigate the world beyond his palace upbringing, but he also has to establish his own trust parameters. It is no longer relevant to accept the parameters set by his father. Amid the explosive (sorry) action, Sunday faces very real moral dilemmas and a re-assessment of what he wants from his own life. Recommended for upper-primary, early-secondary readers who love thrillers.

Three, Justin D’Ath
Ford Street Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925272277

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Time Catcher by Cheree Peters

The same thing happens every time. Everything seems normal. the air is quiet and the trees are still. then the loud crash and I lose myself in the chaos. Bodies everywhere, unconscious or dead, I cannot tell. People screaming and running in every direction; me, trying to figure out what has happened.

This is my dream-nightmare.

The same faces appear, but they are blurred, almost like shadows of what they once were. I can make out the outlines of small houses; one of them is on fire. I swivel my head in slow motion, looking at the chaos in the open space to my right.

The boy with the piercing blue eyes appears. Though he is blurred and distorted like the others, I can always recognise those eyes – so clear and bright, like stars in the night sky. Like mine.

The same thing happens every time. Everything seems normal. the air is quiet and the trees are still. then the loud crash and I lose myself in the chaos. Bodies everywhere, unconscious or dead, I cannot tell. People screaming and running in every direction; me, trying to figure out what has happened.

This is my dream-nightmare.

The same faces appear, but they are blurred, almost like shadows of what they once were. I can make out the outlines of small houses; one of them is on fire. I swivel my head in slow motion, looking at the chaos in the open space to my right.

The boy with the piercing blue eyes appears. Though he is blurred and distorted like the others, I can always recognise those eyes – so clear and bright, like stars in the night sky. Like mine.

Althea is a mid-teen princess, in a post-apocalyptic world, adored and adoring daughter of the King Duncan of Cardiff. She lives in wealth and privilege, even if sometimes royal duties become a bit of a chore. Life would be just about perfect except the fact that she has only one friend and a ‘swain’ she’s having second thoughts about. And then there’s the seizures that are an all-too-regular feature of her day. Not that she’s left to suffer – her father, physician, maid and sentinel are on hand to keep her as comfortable and safe as possible. All this changes when there is an abduction attempt during a parade. Althea’s world begins to unravel, until she has no idea who – if anyone – she can trust.

Time Catcher is the first in a trilogy from new author, Cheree Peters. She has created a world altered by climate change and a virus which has wiped out many and created ‘manipulators’, an outcast and persecuted population on the fringes of Althea’s pampered world. Utopian world even. But perceived Utopias are often not as they seem. Althea has to shrug off the protection and luxury around her to discover who she truly is, and to also discover her place in this world. Althea story is told in first person so the reader discovers with her, and sometimes ahead of her. Themes include truth and justice, power, equity and more. This is to be a trilogy, so the ending is also a beginning. Recommended for upper primary, lower secondary readers.

Time Catcher, Cheree Peters
Ford Street Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925272215

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

Rosa is pushing all the buttons.

She makes the seat go backwards and forwards, the leg rest up and down, in and out, lights on, lights off, TV screen up, TV screen down.

We’ve never been in business class. Rosa has to explore everything and figure what she’s allowed to do and how to get away with what she isn’t.

The flight attendants love her. Flight attendants always slove Rosa. Most strangers do. She’s ten years old with blonde ringlets, big blue eyes, and dimples she can turn on and off like, well, like pushing a button.

Rosa looks like a doll; Rosa is not a doll.

Rosa is pushing all the buttons.

She makes the seat go backwards and forwards, the leg rest up and down, in and out, lights on, lights off, TV screen up, TV screen down.

We’ve never been in business class. Rosa has to explore everything and figure what she’s allowed to do and how to get away with what she isn’t.

The flight attendants love her. Flight attendants always love Rosa. Most strangers do. She’s ten years old with blonde ringlets, big blue eyes, and dimples she can turn on and off like, well, like pushing a button.

Rosa looks like a doll; Rosa is not a doll.

Che and his family are on their way to New York, for his dad’s new job. Che wishes they could have stayed in Australia this time, rather than moving overseas again. At home in Sydney, he had friends, he has a boxing gym he loves, he has a life. In New York, he has to begin all over again: new school, new friends, new gym. And Rosa. Rosa, his gorgeous, smart, funny little sister is a psychopath. And it seems he’s the only one who can keep her in line. But no matter how much he shadows her, Rosa has plans of her own. As Che becomes more settled in their new home, their new city, Rosa’s antics become more complex, more dangerous. How can he make others believe what he knows?

My Sister Rosa begins in a plane, en route to New York, as Rosa behaves much like any ten-year-old girl, experiencing business class for the first time. Che’s concerns about her behaviour feel overblown but fairly typical for an older brother. The first-person voice ensures the reader only has Che’s perspective and has to work out whether or not he is reliable in his depiction of their life, of his sister’s behaviour. What is clear, is that he’s keen to have his own life, to box, to have a girlfriend, to go home. He loves his sister, loves his family but New York is going to test them all. My Sister Rosa is a rich, complex, unsettling and compelling novel. Recommended for secondary readers.

My Sister Rosa, Justine Labalestier
Allen & Unwin 2016
ISBN: 9781760112226

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Frankie, by Shivaun Plozza

Book Cover:  FrankieIt was a young voice on the phone. Male. ‘Are you Francesca Vega?’
‘I’m Frankie. Who the hell are you?’
‘Is Juliet Vega your mum?’
‘Why are you asking?’
‘Cos I’m Xavier Green. She’s my mum too.’
Bam, crash, ka-pow. Hell of a game changer.

Frankie Vega is in trouble. She’s broken a boy’s nose and is at risk of being expelled. But that’s only the latest of her troubles, which began when her mother abandoned her when she was four. Since then Frankie has been scared and angry with just about everybody. So when a kid turns up claiming to be her brother, Frankie is wary of being hurt. Then, when Xavier goes missing, she isn’t sure whether he’s let her down or whether he is actually lost. It seems no one else but Frankie cares where he has gone.

Frankie is a moving and absorbing contemporary novel. Frankie is a sassy yet inwardly fragile character whose first person voice is believable and oddly endearing, even when she’s behaving badly towards the few people in her life who seem to care for her. Her story is heartbreaking but also has funny and heartwarming moments.

Dealing with issues including what constitutes family, homelessness and self-belief, Frankie is a brilliant young adult novel.

Frankie, by Shivaun Plozza
Penguin, 2016
ISBN 9780143573166

One Thousand Hills, by James Roy & Noel Zihabamwe

This story starts with a bell.
There’s also the slanting sun, and the hawks overhead. The rooster and the goat and the town and the mist and the church above the clouds. There’s the radio, with its message that chilled the boy to the bone.

It is April 1994. In Agabande, Rwanda, Pascal’s life is good. He has a friend called Henry who he loves to play with, a mother and father who love him. They are not wealthy, but there is food on the table and they work hard. His biggest problem is his pesky older brother, who shirks work whenever he can and plays tricks on Pascal too. But things have started to change. There is strange talk on the radio about ‘cockroaches’ and people around town are looking at each other strangely. The neighbours have left town without saying goodbye. Pascal’s parents tell him not to worry, but in one terrible night everything changes forever.

One Thousand Hills tells the story of the terrible events of 1994, where eight hundred thousand Rwandans were slaughtered in just 100 days, and many more were forced to flee the country. Told in third person from the perspective of young Pascal, but broken with interviews between Pascal and a school counsellor five years after the events, the reader is given the opportunity to witness the trauma of the events and their long term aftermath.

Pascal’s experiences – and those of the people around him – are heart-breaking, and as a child character readers are given the opportunity to see the innocence of childhood being shockingly eroded. This is an important insight into both the events of Rwanda and to the experiences which bring refuges to our shores.

One Thousand Hills, by James Roy & Noel Zihabamwe
Omnibus Books, 2016
ISBN 9781742990750