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

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

Wildlight, by Robyn Mundy

Wildlight - Robyn MundyBelow, a limp windsock gave way to a clearing in the bush that looked too small for a landing pad. The blue nose of a vehicle peeked through the trees. The helicopter hovered, swayed its hips. They inched lower, the pilot peering through the side window. He manoeuvred the throttle as lightly as a computer mouse. They were even with the treetops, now they were below them. Steph read a painted sign: MAATSUYKER ISLAND. A soft thud, a bounce, the kiss of solid earth, an exhalation as the rotors lowered pitch. They were down, they were safe.

Steph is not thrilled to be coming to Maatsuyker Island. She’s sixteen and supposed to be in her last year of school. Instead her parents have brought her to this remote outpost off the coast of Tasmania to act as caretakers of the island and its lighthouse. They hope that their time there, largely cut off from the outside world, will help the family to heal from the tragic loss of Steph’s twin brother.

Angry and resentful at being on the island, Steph drifts, her studies losing importance and her plan to become a doctor seeming unlikely. Meeting Tom Forrest, a deckhand on a cray fishing boat which visits the island, provides a welcome distraction. 19 year old Tom has problems of his own. He doesn’t want to be deckhand all his life, but his manipulative brother isn’t keen to let him leave. In the meantime, he’s fishing illegally, making Tom party to his behaviour. As the teens grow close, they dream of a life back on the mainland. When Tom goes missing, Steph is devastated.

Wildlight is a haunting, beautiful coming of age tale about first love, set amongst the wilderness in a way that makes the setting almost a character. With most of the book set in 1999, the use of a prologue and concluding chapters set in 2015 shows the impact the teen year events have on the adult lives of the characters.

Mundy’s poetic style and well-developed characters take the reader on an emotion-filled journey.

Beautiful.

Wildlight, by Robyn Mundy
Picador, 2016
ISBN 9781743537909

Dead Dog in the Still of the Night by Archimedes Fusillo

The hulking car sidled up slowly, its exhausts pulsing louder than was decent for the sort of vehicle it was.

‘Prims!’ the familiar voice snorted through the passenger window. ‘Hey, Prims!’

Primo Nato stopped and stooped to peer into the car.

‘Tone, mate,’ he said. ‘You went and bought it. I don’t believe it. No, I guess I do.’

‘You like it, eh?’ Primo’s best mate Tony ‘Tone’ Gargano said, tapping the steering wheel lightly. ‘Shes a beauty, yeah?’

Primo threw his arms wide and looked at the car up and down. ‘Mate, you weren’t kidding, it really is a hearse.’

 

The hulking car sidled up slowly, its exhausts pulsing louder than was decent for the sort of vehicle it was.

‘Prims!’ the familiar voice snorted through the passenger window. ‘Hey, Prims!’

Primo Nato stopped and stooped to peer into the car.

‘Tone, mate,’ he said. ‘You went and bought it. I don’t believe it. No, I guess I do.’

‘You like it, eh?’ Primo’s best mate Tony ‘Tone’ Gargano said, tapping the steering wheel lightly. ‘Shes a beauty, yeah?’

Primo threw his arms wide and looked at the car up and down. ‘Mate, you weren’t kidding, it really is a hearse.’

Primo is heading into the business end of his final year of school, when his already- challenging life begins a wild downward spiral into chaos. His dad’s not well, his mother doesn’t seem to get it. One brother has moved back home after marriage troubles, the other is old enough to be Primo’s father and in many ways is too much like their dad. An outing designed to impress his girlfriend goes disastrously wrong when he crashes his dad’s beloved Fiat Bambino. Wild schemes suddenly seem sensible, and many relationships are tested in an escalating race to fix the car before the damage is detected. Primo is making decisions on the fly and that’s never without consequences.

Dead Dog in the Still of the Night is a disturbingly real novel. It’s almost possible to smell the testosterone lifting off the pages as Primo, Tone, brothers and others bounce against and off each other with increasing intensity. The subtitle of this novel recalls the proverb about the two wolves that live inside all of us, one of which is evil. As the proverb reminds, the wolf that grows is the one that’s fed. Primo is a likeable protagonist and the friendship he has with Tone is strong. There are many relationships for Primo to navigate and define in this coming of age story. He has to decide whether he is in control of his own life or whether he is fated do as others have done, or would have him do. Themes include making choices, family, power, truth and responsibility. The dead dog of the title becomes pivotal in Primo’s transition from boy to young adult. Recommended for mature secondary readers.

Dead Dog in the Still of the Night, Archimedes Fusillo Ford St Publishing 2014 ISBN: 9781925000344

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com