When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Then I see her.
Her eyes. I’ve never seen eyes like hers before. What colour are they? Hazel and green and flecks of autumn and bits of emerald and I’m standing holding my sign and there she is, standing steps away, near the cop, holding hers (It’s Not Illegal to Seek Asylum), and all I can think about is how the hell I’m going to take my eyes off her.

Michael’s parents are the founders of Aussie Values, an organisation dedicated to stopping the boats and preserving the Australian way of life. They worry about Muslims and terrorists taking over the country. Mina is a Muslim and a refugee, too. She and her family represent what Michael’s family is fighting against. When they meet, Mina is sure Michael is racist and unpleasant, but Michael finds himself intrigued, and wanting to get to know her better. In order to do this, he’s going to have to adjust his thinking and find out if what his parents seem to know is actually true.

When Michael Met Mina is a story about values, justice and friendship. Although there is a gentle romance element, the story line deals with the struggles and joys of Mina’s family, and the broader issues of refugees and Muslim Australians, as well as the dynamics of Michael’s family, especially the issue of a teenager holding different political and moral views than his family. Issues of disability, difference, families and more are explored, but the story isn’t crowded out by these issues – rather being enriched by them

Tol through the alternating first person perspectives of the two main characters, When Michael Met Mina is an important, absorbing, read.

When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Pan Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743534977

The Great Sock Secret, by Susan Whelan & Gwynneth Jones

Oh no! Sarah thought. She knew where all the odd socks were, but she didn’t want her mother to find them.

Sarah’s mother – like almost every mother – is puzzled by the number of odd socks in the washing basket. She decides it’s time to go searching for all the missing socks. But Sarah is worried. She knows that the socks are being used by fairies – as sleeping bags, parachutes, tow ropes, toys and more. She doesn’t want her mother to find the socks – or the fairies.

The Great Sock Secret is a gently humorous take on one of life’s great mysteries – where all the odd socks go. Young fairy fans will love spotting the fairies that Sarah knows about but her mother is oblivious to, behind the furniture, under beds, in cupboards and, sometimes, in plain sight. Illustrations are bright and semi-realisitic, with each fairy unique.

Lots of fun.

The Great Sock Secret , by Susan Whelan & Gwynneth Jones
EK Books, 2016
ISBN 9781925335248

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

Yong, by Janeen Brian

I never wanted to come.
And now I’m probably going to die. Before this trip I had never been out of my village in Guangdong. Never walked past the banks of the rice fields or smelled the air beyond the dark hills.
Yet, here I am, aged thirteen, in a sailing ship that’s being hurled about in seas as tall as mountains, heading for some strange shore across the other side of the world.

Yong does not want to go to Australia. He wants to stay home in his village and look after his younger siblings and his grandmother. But he is the firstborn son, and has no choice: his father insists that he accompany him to the goldfields in Ballarat. There they are to make their fortune, to send money home for their family, and eventually return.

The trip by ship to Australia is long and tedious, and, when storms hit, dangerous too. Yong and his father are lucky to escape with their lives, but find themselves not in Victoria, but South Australia, and so begin another long journey – on foot. With other men from their village and an untrustworthy guide it seems they might never arrive.

Yong is a moving historical fiction tale set in 1850s Australia against the backdrop of the goldrush. Whilst gold is the goal for Yong and his father, however, the focus of the story is on unearthing the culture and type of people who came to Australia in search of gold, specifically the Chinese. Through the eyes of Yong we see his concerns about leaving behind his birth country and family, his bewilderment at his new country, and how his culture affects his experiences.

An engaging story, Yong is ideal for private reading and for schools and libraries.

Yong, by Janeen Brian
Walker Books, 2016
ISBN 9781925126297

The Other Christy, by Oliver Phommavanh

OtherCHristyMy name is Christy but nobody calls me that. I’m in the same class with another girl named Christie, so I’ve become just the other Christy, the spare Christy. Not the popular, loud one everyone likes.

Christy Ung has been on the outer ever since she arrived in Australia. Every year she is put in the same class as Christie Owen, and that makes Christy the other Christy. Christie Owen is loud and popular – but she’s also mean, especially to Christy. Christy, meanwhile, has no friends, and her classmates don’t even seem to notice her. The only people who seem to care are Auntie Mayly and Grandpa, who is really strange, and whose main passion in life is cleaning. With such a strange home life, Christy wonders if she will ever be able to make a friend.

The Other Christy is a humorous but touching story of searching for friendship an fitting in, dealing as well with issues of immigration and bereavement. Christy is being raised by her Grandfather after the death of her mother in Cambodia, and is keenly aware of the differences between her own homelife and those of her classmates. Christy is a likeable protagonist, and the resolution is satisfying.

The Other Christy, by Oliver Phommavanh
Puffin Books, 2016
ISBN9780143505723

Blue & Bertie by Kristyna Litten

Every day Bertie and the giraffes did the same thing at the same time.

Crunchity-crunch – they nibbled sweet leaves from the top of the trees.

Blue and BertieEvery day Bertie and the giraffes did the same thing at the same time.

Crunchity-crunch – they nibbled sweet leaves from the top of the trees.

Bertie is happy with his life. There’s plenty of giraffes and plenty of food and water and company. Then one day, he sleeps in. When he wakes he discovers a whole different world. Without the others to be with and to copy, he doesn’t know what to do, or where to find them. When he is thoroughly lost, he encounters Blue. Blue leads Bertie on a wonderful day of new things and adventure. But at the end, Bertie is happy to rejoin his herd. Now it is Blue’s turn to feel lost and different. Blue and Bertie are friends and together they enrich the lives of the entire herd. Illustrations are stylised, in gentle and welcoming.

Blue & Bertie encounter each other by accident but are happy to play together despite their self-perceptions of being different. Each accepts the other happily into their differing worlds, and in doing so expands and enriches the world of each. Blue and Bertie is a delightful story of friendship and acceptance. Recommended for pre- and early schoolers.

Blue and Bertie, Kristyna Litten
Koala Books 2016 ISBN: 9781742761800

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Precious Things, by Kelly Doust

Thumb and forefinger feeling towards tiny dimpled edges, she grasped another shining glass bead, a glittering silvery grey button of mercury. Separating it from the hundreds of others nestled inside the small wooden work tray, Aimee withdrew the bead, brought it close to her face and peered at the pinprick of light.

In Normandy, in 1891, Aimee sews beads to make a collar for her wedding, a wedding arranged by her father in the hope of saving his estate from ruin. In London in 2015, auctioneer and lover of beautiful things, Maggie, finds the aged collar at the bottom of a box of pieces of lace and fabric she has won cheaply at auction. Wondering at its past, Maggie cleans it, and shows it off during a television appearance, and is soon contacted by a stranger sure that she has a connection to the piece. As Maggie tries to trace the history of the collar and its previous owners, she also struggles with her own past and the way it impacts her present. Is the collar leading her towards making the biggest mistake of her life – or is something more simple at play?

Precious Things is a novel about family and about love, spanning three centuries and touching on multiple owners of the mysterious collar. Maggie’s’ contemporary tale is interspersed with glimpses of the collar’s past, and the lives of the women who have worn it, though it is chiefly Maggie’s’ story. Maggie is trying to balance a demanding job in an auction house with a marriage which has always been steady, but is now under pressure as her husband Tim copes with an equally stressful job. The couple’s young daughter Pearl and Tim’s troubled teen daughter Stella add to the mix, as do Maggie’s difficult mother and her old friend Kate.

The collar’s past is gradually unravelled, but it seems that Kate’s marriage is in danger of going the same way.

Precious Things, by Kelly Doust
Harper Collins, 2016
ISBN 9781460750971

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

The Light on the Water, by Olga Lorenzo

9781925266542.jpgIn the first few minutes of her stay in Ravenhall, she’s still able to kid herself. After all, no one is scraping tin mugs against the bars.
Prison initially seems a quitter, more subdued place than she’d expected. More like a hospital ward at eleven in the morning, but with patients who have been misdiagnosed, with galling consequences. Injustices that leave them pondering gloomily, nursing their outrage.

Almost two years after her daughter  Aida’s disappearance, Anne Baxter is resigned to the fact that she is going to be arrested for her murder. Aida’s body has never been found, but nobody can understand why Anne would have taken her autistic daughter bushwalking on Wilsons Promontory, or how she could have lost sight of her. Unable to prove her innocence, Anne waits, in limbo, as the media stalks her, her neighbours shun her and complete strangers attack her.

The Light on the Water is a masterful exploration of loss in various forms – not only has Anne lost her daughter, but the disappearance came in the wake of the collapse of her marriage. She has also lost sight of who was and of any sense of normalcy in her life. At times it seems that the obstacles preventing her recovery are too high – her barrister ex-husband seems unsupportive, her remaining daughter seems self-absorbed, and her sister and mother are terrible. Most of her friends have drifted away, and with no real leads as to what happened to Aida, the circumstantial evidence mounts. Yet Anne finds ways to keep going, to keep functioning, even managing to find new friends and allies in unlikely places.

At times really troubling, The Light on the Water is nonetheless absorbing and deeply satisfying.

The Light on the Water, by Olga Lorenzo
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781925266542

Teresa: A New Australian, by Deborah Abela

’This is it. The beginning of our new lives. Ready?
Teresa and her mama nodded. ‘Ready.’
They stepped into the cheers and music and beneath flying streamers and confetti. All around them were people in tears, hugging and laughing.
People made sure they stood together to take their first steps onto Australian soil. When they did, he wiped his sleeve across his eyes. Mama kissed his cheek. ‘You old softie.’

War rages across Europe, and Teresa and her family endure tough times in their homeland, Malta. There are bombing raids every day, and her father is away fighting alongside the allies. Even when peace finally comes, life is difficult, so Teresa’s family make a difficult decision – they will leave Malta and start a new life in Australia.

In Australia life is safer, and Teresa’s parents find jobs, but there are still many obstacles to overcome, including getting used to Australian ways. Not everyone is welcoming of new Australians, but Teresa is determined to succeed in this strange new land.

Teresa: A New Australian is wonderful new historical fiction, exploring the life of one new migrant in the years following World War 11. Teresa is a feisty, loyal girl who faces each new challenge head on. Readers will enjoy getting to know her and at the same time will become familiar with aspects of Australia’s history they may not know.

Teresa is an outstanding addition to the New Australian series.

Teresa , by Deborah Abela
Omnibus, an imprint of Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781742990941