Girl Next Door, by Alyssa Brugman

See, what happened was, our lives were going really well. My mum got a promotion. I enrolled in an A-list school, and then my Dad had this great idea to start an empire. But now he’s ‘gone to the country’. What does that mean? Is it the same place they take old, sick dogs? Has he joined a cult? It’s been two months now, and I still don’t know what it means.
Declan, the boy next door, says that my dad’s in hospital, but everyone’s dying as far as Declan is concerned. Now there are strange people living in our spare rooms, and all my stuff is on the lawn. I’ve tried to raise it with my mum, but she talks to me as if I am a four-year-old – when she talks to me at all, which is less and less lately. Hello! Can somebody tells me what’s going on?

Jenna-belle’s life used to be wonderful. Her parents had plenty of money, they’d moved into a big house and Jenna and her brother were enrolled in A list schools. Then things started to change. First her mother announced she was pregnant, then her dad disappeared from their lives – gone to the country, so Mum says. With no money to keep up with the mortgage and the school fees, everything is gradually being sold, and the spare rooms are being rented by strangers.

Jenna-belle’s only friends are Declan, the boy next door ( who is convinced that he’s dying), and the new boarder, Bryce Cole, a chronic gambler. But even they can’t help when Jenna-belle is kicked out of school for non payment of fees, threatened by debt collectors looking for Bryce, and eventually left homeless when the family is evicted from their home. Jenna-belle knows her life is spiralling out of control, but doesn’t know where to turn for help. Dad is absent and Mum seems unable to face reality. Bryce Cole offers support – but only when he’s not gambling. When Jenna-Belle and her family find themselves on the street, it seems there is no hope for a turnaround.

Girl Next Door is a timely novel, given the increasing pressure many families find themselves under in 2009. More than a million Australians are believed to be under mortgage stress, and this novel examines the issue through exploring its destructive impact on one family. There are other issues here – family breakdown, infidelity, gambling addiction and teen illness included – but the overriding one is what happens when a family can no longer afford the lifestyle they are used to. Author Brugman manages to explore these weighty issues with a voice which is also able to be humorous, as Jenna-belle manages to see the wryly funny aspects of her train-wreck life. Teen readers will be drawn in by this voice and become increasingly engaged with a character who develops and grows through the course of the novel.

A gripping, brilliant read for teens.

Girl Next Door

Girl Next Door, by Alyssa Brugman
Random House, 2009

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The Equen Queen, by Alyssa Brugman

‘Sneakiest way of moving in an army I ever seen,’ Vrod grunted.
Tab looked up, alarmed. The sky-traders seemed so friendly, and the council so keen to trade that she had automatically taken them at their word. No wonder Verris had handed over the negotiations and the organising to others! Lord Verris wanted to keep his hands free to take care of a much bigger problem.

When Quentaris is approached by another sky-city keen to do trade, it seems too good to be true. The visiting traders offer food and fine gems and seem to want little in return apart from the chance to learn Quentaran games. But Tab Vidler is uneasy. She can’t use her special powers any more, and when she meets a mysterious animal – an equen – she wonders if it can really hold the key to healing the sick. Is Quentaris is danger?

The Equen Queen is the second title of the new Quentaris: Quest of the Lost City series. The series, from Ford Street Publishers, is set in the city of Qentaris, which has come adrift and is floating through uncharted rifts, taking its inhabitants on gripping adventures . Each story in the series is written by a different author, and is self contained, though those who have read the first in the series as well as the earlier Quentaris series will be at an advantage.

The Equen Queen is a gripping fantasy read for upper primary and lower secondary aged readers.

The Equen Queen, by Alyssa Brugman
Ford Street, 2008

Being Bindy, by Alyssa Brugman

Bindy and Janey have been friends forever. So when Janey starts acting strangely, Bindy has no idea what she’s in for. Suddenly Janey wants to hang out with Hannah more than with Bindy. That wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t seem to want to make Bindy look bad in front of the whole school.

Bindy can barely recognise her best friend any more. Janey is suddenly into boys, makeup, shirt skirts – even drugs. Bindy still likes to watch the cartoons and play noughts and crosses. Bindy’s dad is no help. He suggests that perhaps it is time for Bindy to broaden her horizons. Her mum is no use either – their regular weekends together are becoming more and more strained.

When Bindy’s dad starts seeing Janey’s mum things become even more complicated. What if they move in together? Bindy would have to share a room with Janey – her ex-best friend.

Being Bindy is funny, sad and moving – but most of all it is very real. The problems faced by Bindy and Janey will touch a nerve with teenage girls. Author Alyssa Brugman doesn’t preach and doesn’t provide easy answers. There is nothing as simple as happily-ever-after – but there is a feeling of hope which makes the novel uplifting but not unrealistic.

This is Brugman’s third novel for young adult readers, although this one is aimed at a slightly younger audience than the previous two. What it does have in common with her earlier offerings is Brugman’s superb blend of insight and writing skill.

Being Bindy, by Alyssa Brugman
Allen & Unwin, 2004

Walking Naked, by Alyssa Brugman

Megan is one of the leaders of the ‘in’ group. They do everything together, moving in a pack and thinking in a pack. She can’t imagine what it would be like not to be popular. Perdita, on the other hand, has no friends. She is so different that Megan’s group call her ‘the Freak.’ These two girls have nothing in common.

When Megan and Perdita find themselves together on detention, Megan finds herself getting to know and almost like Perdita. Perdita teaches Megan about poetry and about a whole different side of life. Megan shows Perdita what a family is like. Ultimately, though, Megan has to choose between her ‘old’ friends and the popularity of the group and her almost-friend Perdita. It seems a simple decision, but Megan’s choice will have shocking consequences.

Walking Naked is the second novel for talented young writer, Alyssa Brugman. Her first novel, Finding Grace found critical acclaim and made the shortlist of the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards. Walking Naked is sure to draw similar praise. It has a skillful balance of humour, insight and tragedy, making it both entertaining and shocking.

This is a must read for every teenager.

Walking Naked, by Alyssa Brugman
Allen & Unwin, 2002

Finding Grace, by Alyssa Brugman

When Rachel leaves school, she thinks she knows everything there is to know.

But when she meets the mysterious Mr Preston and he offers her a job, she is no longer sure. Her job is to look after Grace – a brain-damaged woman who doesn’t talk. Rachel thinks the job is a wonderful opportunity – she gets to live in a beautfiul house close to Uni, and gets paid for babysitting and a bit of cleaning.

The reality is a little harder. She has to contend with the responsibilities of looking after a once vibrant woman who seems to be no longer able to think for herself, as well as contending with rude neighbours and Grace’s predatory sisters. At the same time she is trying to come to grips with Grace’s past and with her own identity.

This is a book with some intense soul-searching and serious issues, but manages at the same time to be funny, with Rachel’s eccentric almost-adult viewpoint and occasional switches from past to present tense.

A short listed candidate for the 2002 Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards (Older Readers Category), Finding Grace will appeal to readers aged sixteen to adult.

Finding Grace, by Alyssa Brugman
Allen & Unwin, 2001