Granny’s Place by Allison Paterson ill Shane McGrath

Granny and Pa’s farm was the best place in the world.

A home build long ago from mud bricks Pa made himself.

It was brimming with treasures of olden days.

Granny and Pa’s farm was the best place in the world.

A home build long ago from mud bricks Pa made himself.

It was brimming with treasures of olden days.

A child reflects on her time shared at her grandparents’ farm. Initial slightly scary elements become less scary with time, and there are plenty of adventures to be had with the animals. In all it becomes her favourite place. Until things change and she has to figure out what she really loves most. Illustrations depict a rural then urban landscape and include many elements of days gone by.

‘Granny’s Place’ is a farm, and it is full of new experiences for a small urban child. Luckily there are bigger cousins and siblings to help negotiate some of the more confronting experiences. There are plenty of elements here for grandparents to share with grandchildren and to stimulate discussions about how things can change. Recommended for pre- and early school-age.

Granny’s Place, Allison Paterson Shane McGrath
Big Sky Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925275636

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Blame, by Nicole Trope

She really would like to know if there is any point in her continuing to exist, continuing to feed and dress herself, or even get out of bed in the mornings. She doesn’t think she has ever looked this thin and this old. At a certain point, she seems to have crossed a boundary between waif-like and haggard. ‘So what,’ she thinks, staring at the reflection of her collarbones in the police station mirror. ‘So what.’

Anna and Caro have been best friends since they met a child health clinic when their daughters were babies. Now, though, something terrible has happened. Anne’s daughter is dead, as the result of a terrible accident. And Caro was driving the car that claimed her life.Both women – and their families – are devastated, but now each must make sense of her own version of events.

Blame is a gripping tale of two women and their unraveling of the events which lead to a terrible tragedy. Set over the two days that each is interviewed by police investigating the accident, as well as through each woman’s memories of their friendship and of the complicated, challenging events they have helped each other through over the past ten years.

The issues explored – of loss, betrayal, drink-driving and the complexities of parenthood – are emotionally challenging, but the story is compelling, with the immediacy of the two-day time frame keeping pages turning.

Unforgettable.

Blame, by Nicole Trope
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760293154

Shine: A Story About Saying Goodbye, by Trace Balla

Shine
And when they looked up into the sky,
there, shining brightest of all, was their special star,
the star called Shine.
‘This was their daddy’s star,
looking down on them, shining its bright.
golden light onto them and into their hearts,
for ever and ever.

Far away and long ago, a young horse lives amongst the golden stars. His name is Shine, and when he meets a lovely horse named Glitter, they are both happy – especially when they have two children, Shimmer and Sparkly. But the time comes when Shine has to go back to the stars, leaving Glitter and the children in mourning. Glitter cries and cries, but after a while she and the children climb a mountain to see the golden ocean that their tears have made. Not only do they see the vast ocean, but they also see the stars in the sky – including the special star, Shine.

Shine is a poignant tale of love and loss, told in simple way which helps to explore the topics of death and grief both for children in similar situations as well as for those who may not yet have experienced such loss.

Created by Trace Balla for her sister and her chidlren after the loss of their husband and father, Shine is a beuatiful gift for that family and for other families too.

Shine, by Trace Balla
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781743316344

Available from good bookstores and online.

Goodbye Sweetheart, by Marion Halligan

Goodbye SweetheartPeople say that a death like this, a quick death, sudden, no warning or portent, really no pain to herald it, such a death is a good death, lucky. There is even sometimes a suggestion that it is a reward, for a life well lived, for goodness, and noble behaviour. She’d said it herself in the past.

When William has a heart attack and dies suddenly, he leaves behind a loving wife, a stunned daughter. Here was a man with much to live for, a good man with a stable life. But the mourners include two former wives and two adult children. Between them they have different versions of the man they all loved and, in the days following death it emerges that there is still much about William that they didn’t know. AN unexpected mistress, who wants to be part of the mourning, pornographic images on his computer, and more. Will they find answers to their new questions?

Goodbye Sweetheart is a story about the aftermath of a death, but it also very much a novel about life, and its mysteries. The writing is superb. Each chapter is almost a short story, moving through the third person viewpoints of William at the time of his death, his various wives and children, his brother, his mistress and an elderly aunt. Readers are given fragments of William and his loved ones’ lives in a way which creates an intriguing whole.

An intimate look at grief, at family complexities and more, Goodbye Sweetheart is a book which haunts well beyond the final page.

Goodbye Sweetheart, by Marion Halligan
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760111298

Available from good bookstores and online.

Summer's Gone, by Charles Hall

I’ve had a long time to think about it; I wish to God I could stop but sometimes, even now, it just happens: I go over and over exactly how it was that Helen came to die, and all that came before, and all that came after. About all the things I might have done, and all the things I might have not done; and all the things other people might have done and not done. Like Mitch, and Alison.

In 1960s Perth, teenager Nick meets three new friends who share his interest in music. Soon, guitarist Mitch has hooked up with one of the girls, Alison, and Nick is keen on her sister, Helen. He thinks she’s interested in him, too, though their relationship is slower to develop. The foursome form a folk group, and are soon popular on the local music scene. But things start to fall apart when Mitch decides to leave the group, and Helen gets called back to Melbourne. Although Nick and Alison join her there soon after, and have what seems to be a bliss-filled summer, tragedy is just around the corner.

Summer’s Gone is a touching, down to earth story of life in the 1960s. Shifting between the events leading up to and surrounding a death, and Nick’s revisitation of key locations many years later, the narrative is cleverly arranged so that the mystery of Helen’s death, revealed on page one, is only gradually made clearer. At the same time,many of the issues of the 1960s – including conscription, sexual liberation, feminism, societal change and worker’s rights – are explored in a way that avoids being issue-heavy. Nick is an entertaining narrator and as he criss-crosses the country, it is a pleasure to travel with him, even in dark times.

Summer’s Gone is an absorbing read.

 

Summer’s Gone, by Charles Hall
Margaret River Press, 2015
ISBN 9780987561541

Available from good bookstores and online.

Tigers on the Beach, by Doug MacLeod

‘Ah, but I know the funniest joke in the world. Anyone who hears you tell it will fall in love with you. But maybe you should avoid jokes so early in a relationship. You might tell the wrong one.’
‘But telling jokes is all I can do. Tell me the best one in the world.’
‘It’s very powerful. I will tell you when you are old enough not to misuse it the seductive power of the joke.’

Adam and his Grandpa have lots of things in common – not least their sense of humour. Adam loves to tell jokes, and he loves the ones Grandpa shares with him. But when Grandpa dies suddenly Adam is left wondering about the untold joke Grandpa promised to tell him one day. As he struggles with the loss of his grandfather, he is also confronted by other problems, including his parents’ troubled marriage, his pesky little brother, and accidental displays of public nudity. Te biggest problem of all is his new girlfriend Samantha, and trying to figure out how relationships work.

Tigers on the Beach is both funny and poignant, cracking along through the highs and lows of teenage Adam’s world, populated by larger than life characters often in ridiculous situations. In one scene, Adam discovers he is infested with his brother’s beetle collection and his attempts to remove them result in him mooning a cafe full of diners. Other scenes are tough, including Adam and his family’s attempts to come to terms with losing Grandpa. Macleod’s deft touch means that the whole is an uplifting, smile-inducing read.

Tigers on the Beach

Tigers on the Beach, by Doug MacLeod
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9780143568520

Available from good bookstores or online.

Brodie by Joy Cowley ill Chris Mousdale

We all knew that Brodie was sick,

But we thought he’d get better.

Maybe it was because he talked a

lot about being a chopper pilot.

When the rest of the class had

sport, Brodie sat inside, drawing

pictures of planes and helicopters.

We all knew that Brodie was sick,

But we thought he’d get better.

Maybe it was because he talked a

lot about being a chopper pilot.

When the rest of the class had

sport, Brodie sat inside, drawing

pictures of planes and helicopters.

A child narrator tells the story of his class, his teacher and his friend Brodie, who has been sick for a while. Just how long is not clear, but it’s an accepted part of school life that Brodie has to go to hospital sometimes. Even when he’s at school, he doesn’t play sport with them, instead staying indoors and drawing. His illness does not define him, but his ability to draw and his love of flying does. One day he’s going to be a chopper pilot. But Brodie doesn’t get better, he dies. The class, with the guidance of their teacher, Mrs Patawai, have supported Brodie during his illness by treating him as one of them. They have expected that he will get better, even when he’s suggested the contrary. Now they channel their sadness into supporting his family. Illustrations are rich and painterly, have a collage feel to them, and tell their own story about where Brodie has gone.

Brodie is beautifully written, sensitively and imaginatively illustrated. It introduces the concept of death and rather than shy away from it, allows children to face it; to ask the myriad questions it presents. The question of what happens after death is answered in many ways and allows readers to bring their own beliefs, or those of their family or community, without closing the door to beliefs of others. It acknowledges the sadness of loss, and the opportunity to acknowledge the sadness of others because of shared love. Illustrations use a limited pallet of blues and golds and browns, calling to mind sky, earth and sunshine. Brodie was first released in NZ in 2001, and re-released in 2013. It well deserves another outing. Recommended for primary readers and classrooms.

Brodie, Joy Cowley ill Chris Mousdale Walker Books 2013 ISBN: 9781922077752

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Mimosa Tree, by Antonella Preto

‘I’m not miserable,” I say but she is already turning away from me, sliding her handbag up her arm until it gets jammed tight around her flesh. Mum looks like she is about to cry about my pathetic life. ‘I’m fine, Mum,’ I say nodding encouragingly towards the door, and then because she looks so mournful I add: ‘I’ll make some new friends, okay? At university.’

It’s 1987 and Mira has left school behind and is ready to start university. There she is sure her life will be different. She can be who she wants to be. To celebrate she’s got an all-black wardrobe and a new haircut. But her interfering aunt has arranged a new friend for her – the perfect, rich Felicia – and it’s hard to get excited about studying teaching when she only enjoys art. Then there’s her certainty that the world is going to end soon, anyway, when Russia and America decide which of them will drop the first bomb. It’s true, her world IS about to change – but that change won’t come from the skies.

The Mimosa Tree is an outstanding début novel from West Australian author Antonella Preto. Set in the Perth of the 1980s, it is a haunting tale about growing up, finding one’s own identity and surviving adversity. Mira is embarrassed of her Italian family, but as her world collapses she finds a new appreciation of them and of her new friends, too.

The character of Mira is intriguing and the use of first person narration effective. Mira should be unlikeable – she is self-centred, morbid and down right rude to pretty much everyone. But she’s also self-deprecating and honest, so the reader can connect, and see that her flaws hide a troubled teen. She has a lot to deal with – especially her mother’s recent battle with cancer and her alcoholic father’s moodiness. Her bossy Aunt Via wants to run her life, but seems to never have a kind word, and she has no friends except for one foisted on her by her Aunt, and whom Mira feels she has nothing in common with.

Mira’s story will appeal to teens, as well as to those who were teens in the 80s.

The Mimosa Tree, by Antonella Preto
Fremantle Press, 2013
ISBN 9781922089199

Available from good booksellers or here.

Everything Left Unsaid, by Jessica Davidson

I wait for him, the cold seeping through my clothes, until it finally dawns on me that he’s not coming back. And I wonder why he chose her instead of me? Why he went looking for her when I was right there.

Everything Left Unsaid

Tai has been Juliet’s best friend since kindergarten, and  they are both sure nothing will ever change that. But now, in their final year of highschool, they are realising that their feelings for each other might be something more than friendship. The magic of falling in love is sweet, and they dream of their future together. But those dreams are shattered when Tai goes to the doctor for a recurring headache – and learns that he has an incurable brain tumour. Suddenly their time together seems all too short.

There is no pretending that this is going to be a happy ever after book. The blurb makes it clear that not everything you wish for can come true. But whilst it is a truly sad story, it is told with a mix of wit, honesty and poignancy that makes it a pelasure to read, in spite of the heart wrenching nature of the subject matter and, inevitably, the ending.

Davidson deals with a tough topic senistively and realistically, using the dual perspectives of the young couple. She also doesn’t forget their friends and, importantly, their families, adding to the sense of authenticity. The use of the first person narrative takes the reader on an intimate journey.

Not an easy topic, but a rich, rewardng read.

Everything Left Unsaid, by Jessica Davidson
Pan, 2012
ISBN 9780330424950

Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Messenger Bird by Rosanne Hawke

I remember what I was doing when I first heard the news; I was playing Mozart’s ‘Sonata in C’. Would I ever be able to play that again? During the coda I heard the cow bell at the back door, a silence, then Dad’s voice raised in question. They didn’t come into the lounge to tell me. Unsuspecting, I went out to the kitchen when I’d finished playing. Mum and Dad were sitting there barely touching, staring at nothing.

I remember what I was doing when I first heard the news; I was playing Mozart’s ‘Sonata in C’. Would I ever be able to play that again? During the coda I heard the cow bell at the back door, a silence, then Dad’s voice raised in question. They didn’t come into the lounge to tell me. Unsuspecting, I went out to the kitchen when I’d finished playing. Mum and Dad were sitting there barely touching, staring at nothing.

When you first realise the unfairness and randomness of death it eats into your thoughts like acid. I didn’t believe in God the way Mum did, but I still screamed at him in my head, ‘You’ve picked the wrong family to do this to.’ I knew I wouldn’t be strong enough, Mum wasn’t either. Then there was Dad, a crumbling pillar trying to hold both of us up.

How does a family deal with death? In The Messenger Bird the short answer is ‘not well’. Set in outback South Australia, three members of a family mourn the loss of the fourth. Separately and in very different ways. It is as if a piece of a puzzle is lost and without it, nothing makes sense. Mum retreats into herself, and Dad spends all his time and energy restoring their old stone house. They three are side-by-side but alone. Tamar, the main character, can see this but there seems to be no fixing it, and she seems to be the only one trying to change things. Nothing that once gave her pleasure can touch the emptiness and pain. Including – or perhaps particularly – her music. Then she finds a piece of sheet music that somehow links her with the past and helps her to begin to imagine a future.

A house holds in its walls the memories of all who live there. In The Messenger Bird, Tamara discovers the history of the house as surely as her father does as he renovates. For each, the discoveries also allow them time and perspective in coming to terms with the loss in their lives. Truths that are too big to imagine are broken down into smaller bites and piece by piece, the characters can put their lives back together. The Messenger Bird is full of mystery. Or mysteries. Some are intended to be uncovered, others will remain forever out of reach. And the business of life is to decide which ones are which. A moving story about death and life and the choices people make. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.

The Messenger Bird

The Messenger Bird by Rosanne Hawke UQP 2012 ISBN: 9780702238826

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com