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 underĀ 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

Cinnamon Rain, by Emma Cameron

A cave on Pebble Beach,
a bike ride from home,
where the sting of salt air
tears away the built-up wondering
of what to do –
on the last day of holidays,
about Casey,
with my life.

Luke is drifting through the final years of high school, unsure of where he’s heading< he works at the local supermarket to save up money, but doesn’t really know what he wants to do after school. The only thing he is sure of is his feelings for Casey. His mate Bongo is drifting too, but in a different way. He’s often drifting in a dope-filled haze as he struggles to see a way forward. He has a violent stepdad and an addicted mother, as well as a little brother who’s been taken away by welfare, meaning Bongo hardly gets to see him. He likes Casey too, but isn’t sure he has anything to offer her. Casey meanwhile, is stuck, unsure what she wants but pretty sure of what she doesn’t want: to be in this town, being told everything she can and can’t do by her controlling father. She wants to move on and be free, and neither boy can have a place in those plans.

Cinnamon Rain is a verse novel which packs a punch. The story is told from the first person viewpoint of each of the three characters in turn – so that we first hear from Luke, then Casey and finally Bongo. While in places the story overlaps so that we get two versions of the same event, the result is cumulative rather than repetitive, and the time lines of each narrative stretch differently so that we come in and leave at different times, meaning that in each section we get more of the total story, with the three stories, and characters, coming together in the final pages. This differs from the more common use of alternating viewpoints in multi-viewpoint novels, and works well.

Dealing with a range of issues which confront both the viewpoint characters and their other schoolmates, including drug and alcohol use, family breakdown, reckless driving, death and bereavement, teen pregnancy and more, the story could have become issue-heavy, but Cameron handles it skilfully, using the verse from to deftly weave together the different elements.

Beautiful.

 

Cinnamon Rain

Cinnamon Rain, by Emma Cameron
Walker Books, 2012
ISBN 9781921720451

Available from good bookstores and online .