The Shark Caller, by Dianne Wolfer

I stared into the shark’s unblinking eye. The voices grew louder. It felt like they were calling me. I tried to understand, but the mako’s black eyes were frightening. I looked away.
The voices stopped. 

Isabel (Izzy) and her mother are returning home to the place she was born – an island in Papua New Guinea. Izzy loves her home, but this time, her journey is sad. They are taking the ashes of her much-loved twin brother home to be scattered.

On the island, Izzy and her mother start to heal, but Izzy also sees that the island is changing. The environment is changing, threatened by logging and modern technologies, and the sharks no longer answer the cries of the village shark callers. The clan needs someone to take an offering deep beneath the sea in a traditional offering to the shark god. The person must be a twin from the shark-calling lineage. Lizzie is the last twin. I will take great courage to even attempt the challenge.

The Shark Caller is a gripping, moving story of bereavement and courage, combining contemporary realism with fantasy elements. The issues of grief and of family obligations are combined with broader issues of environmental change and the impact of modernisation on traditional communities and ecocultures.

Suitable from readers in upper primary and beyond.

The Shark Caller, by Dianne Wolfer
Penguin Books, 2016
ISBN 9780143780557

A Shadow’s Breath, by Nicole Hayes

‘We need to get out of here,’ Nick says.
Tessa nods gingerly. She must have hit her head at some point; pain like a knife presses behind her ear, and she’s plagued by the constant feeling of battling to stay conscious. She feels trapped and helpless, but she knows they can’t stay in the car.

Tessa’s life has been difficult for a long time: the death of her father when she was just eleven was followed by her mother’s battle with alcohol and an abusive new partner. Lately, though, things have been improving. It’s just Tess and her mum at home, and Tessa has a boyfriend, Nick, who she adores. Now, though, Tessa and Nick are in trouble. A corner taken too fast on an remote road has left them trapped in a car. No body knows where they are, and it’s up to Tess to lead them to safety. Thing is, she isn’t sure that she wants to be found: maybe it is all to hard to carry on.

A Shadow’s Breath is a heart wrenching tale of bravery in the midst of terrible circumstances. Using alternating chapters of ‘Then’ -(Tessa’s life before the accident) and ‘Now’ (the aftermath of the accident, and Tessa’s struggle to find a way out of the wilderness she and Nick have crashed in) the story gradually reveals both what lead to the crash and the days following, inviting readers to unravel events as they gain more understanding.

Both beautiful and heartbreaking, A Shadow’s Breath is a journey readers will be glad they took.

A Shadow’s Breath, by Nicole Hayes
Random House, 2017
ISBN 9780143781097

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

Bro, by Helen Chebatte

Image result for bro helen chebatte hardie grant’Bro, listen to me,’ Diz pleads, sliding to the edge of his seat and holding out his hands. ‘Fight club’s for posers. Lebs fight for good reason, not to show off. You don’t need to prove nothing’.’
’He’s challeng
ed me, bro. What do you want me to do? Say no? Do you want him to tell everyone Lebs are chickens? He’s had one Leb fight him and he’s already bagging us out.’

Romeo Machlouf is in year ten at a boys school. He has good mates and tries to stay out of trouble, though it isn’t always easy. When a fight club starts up, he isn’t interested – he doesn’t want to fight. But he might not have a choice, because Lebs stick together, and don’t take any crap from Ozzies, or from Fobs either.

Bro is a coming of age story about growing up: first love, identity, violence and its consequences are all explored through the first person voice of Romeo. At the same time, the themes of belonging and race are explored both dramatically and poignantly. Romeo and his friends are all ‘Lebs’ – Australian born but of Lebanese descent (though Romeo’s mother was not Lebanese) – and the school and their broader social circle is very much divided into racial groups . The other groups include the Fobs (‘fresh off the boat’), Maoris, Samoans, Tongans and other islanders ; the Rez (an Arabic word for rice, Asian students; and the Ozzies, “white skinned boys”. Tensions between the groups often run high, and the fight club that springs up in the school is contested along race lines.

An emotional read, Bro tackles important issues in a really accessible way.

Bro, by Helen Chebatte
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016
ISBN 9781760125509

Mister Cassowary, by Samantha Wheeler

Mister CassowarySuddenly something big stepped out from the bushes on the road up ahead. It looked like a giant emu but with jet black feathers and a long blue neck. It’s sclay legs reminded me of a dinosaur’s.
‘Dad?’
But Dad was looking in the rear vision mirror at the jetty.
The creature ran out onto the bitumen.
‘Dad! WATCH OUT!’

Flynn has never visited his Grandad Barney’s banana plantation, and he doesn’t understand why. But now Grandad has died, and Flynn and Dad are on their way to clean it up, ready for sale. On the way, Flynn’s first encounter with a cassowary is when one runs out in front of their car, but it isn’t long before he discovers that his grandfather was passionate about protecting the big birds. His dad, on the other hand, hates them – and seems to be scared of them. As Flynn tries to find out what happened to Grandad Barney and what this has to do with Dad’s fear, he discovers two orphaned baby cassowaries and becomes their secret protector.
Mister Cassowary is a moving adventure story. Flynn and his dad’s relationship is good, but because Dad works away, they don’t know each other as well as either would like. This adds to the story, with tension between them as Flynn tries to convince his dad not to be overprotective and to be honest with him about the past.
Readers will enjoy learning about cassowaries through the story and through back of book facts about this unusual bird.
Mister Cassowary, by Samantha Wheeler
UQP, 2015
ISBN 9780702253881

Leap by Myfanwy Jones

She comes when the others are out, announced by Sanjay’s Bollywood door chime; tinny and overwrought, its siren song ricochets along the ceiling and through his muscles as Joe takes the five long strides of the corridor. He was looking at YouTube clips and as he moves towards the door his fists clench and unclench, fingers unfurl, furl, in a subliminal sequence.

Last days of autumn and the air is like blood: it is hard to sense wehre the body ends and the atmosphere begins. He was not expecting anyone but here she is.

9781925266115.jpgShe comes when the others are out, announced by Sanjay’s Bollywood door chime; tinny and overwrought, its siren song ricochets along the ceiling and through his muscles as Joe takes the five long strides of the corridor. He was looking at YouTube clips and as he moves towards the door his fists clench and unclench, fingers unfurl, furl, in a subliminal sequence.

Last days of autumn and the air is like blood: it is hard to sense wehre the body ends and the atmosphere begins. He was not expecting anyone but here she is.

Joe lives in a house with friends, works two jobs and exists, guilt-ridden by an event in his past. He also practises parkour, which can be defined by three actions: running; climbing; and jumping. Then a girl knocks on the door, wanting to rent the vacant space for a short time.

Elise lives elsewhere in Melbourne. She knows her marriage is dying but is unable to do anything but watch. She spends way too much time at the zoo, watching and drawing tigers. Leap follows both Joe and Elise as they try to move on with their lives after tragedy. ‘Leap’, like parkour, is divided into three sections: Running; Leaping; and Jumping.

A tiger wraps around the cover in this novel about loss and love. Both main characters are crippled by their grief, holding tight to their loss. Leap is the story of their attempts to live on, the links between them, the differences on how they view the past, the future. It’s a story of family and friends and support and independence. The tiger is both a real presence and a metaphor for the grief experienced by both characters. ‘Leap’ is a beautifully written novel that will keep the reader turning pages, hoping that there is relief, release, redemption, hope for everyone. Recommended for readers who enjoy realistic fiction with heart.

Leap, Myfanwy Jones
Allen & Unwin 2015
ISBN: 9781925266115

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

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.

Pieces of Sky, by Trinity Doyle

Pieces of SkyGripping the straps of my backpack, I stare up into the sky, willing the world to stop. I wipe my nose on my sleeve and walk until I’m out of sight of the centre. My legs won’t stop shaking. I sit in the gutter, then stand back up and pace in a circle, raking my hands through my hair…
My hands shake and I tuck them into my armpits. I swallow tears. It’s still happening.
I need to swim. I need something to be the same. No home, no Cam, no pool.
No me.

Lucy’s life used to be almost perfect. Living in a small coastal town with her much loved brother, Cam, and her parents, she had good friends and a passion for swimming which had taken to her state championship level. Now, though, all that has changed. Cam has died, and Cam can’t go back in the water. In spite of not swimming, she feels like she’s drowning almost as surely as Cam did. Her friends are still swimming, and now she’s on the outside, starting back for a new school year with no idea how she’s going to get through.

At school there’s a new boy, Evan, and her ex-best friend, Steffi, and Lucy finds herself drawn into their circle as she tries to figure out what went wrong with Cam, and what is going wrong with herself and her parents, too.

Pieces of Sky is a tale of love and loss, but it also a story of friendship and survival, offering hope without saccharine. There is an element of mystery, as Lucy tries to figure out who is sending messages to Cam’s phone, as well as romance and drama.

There is a lot to like about this debut novel.

Pieces of Sky, by Trinity Doyle
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760112486

Here in the Garden, by Briony Stewart

The wind is raking through the falling leaves
and I wish that you were here.

The gently lyrical opening lines of this picture book perfectly capture its essence. The narrator – illustrated as a young boy – is missing his pet rabbit. Text and illustrations follow the seasons and show the boy missing his friend with each new season, reflecting on the things they did together at that time of the year – watching clouds, sitting in the shade, listening to crickets and more. The final pages have the narrator conclude that whenever he misses his friend, he can go outside and find him – in his memories, ‘in the garden, in my heart.’

Whilst this a book about grief, it is also a celebration of friendship and of life, with the boy’s memories having a gentle poignancy. Whilst the illustrations show a boy and a rabbit, this is made clear only in the illustrations, meaning readers and adults could equally relate the text to another loss.

The muted watercolour and gouache illustrations are perfect for the mood of the text – not sombre, but gentle, and with a contrast in detail between the illustrations showing the boy alone and those showing him sharing the seasons with his rabbit. In the former, reminders of the rabbit are there in little ways that viewers will enjoy noticing – such as a rabbit shaped shadow under the boy on a swing, and rabbit motifs on a curtain.

This is a treasure of a picture book which touches the heart.

 

Here in the Garden

Here in the Garden, by Briony Stewart
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702250101

Available from good bookstores and online.

Grace's Table, by Sally Piper

Families were like sand dunes, Grace decided. They shifted shape and position with even the gentlest of forces. Even a tiny puff – a shrug – could bring about change, move a handful of thoughts to a new understanding, a new authority. A gale, like today’s, and whole dunes – lives and futures – were relocated, reimagined.

Grace is turning 70 and, rather than a party or a trip to a restaurant, has chosen to cook for her family and friends in her own home. It’s been a long time since she had twelve people at her table, but she’s sure she is up to the culinary challenge. She is perhaps less prepared for the play out of personalities and the memories which surface as she navigates the day. As she confronts a terrible event from her past, she comes to realise how others have been affected, and to reach new  understandings.

Grace’s Table is a heart-filled tale of growing older, confronting the past and moving forward. As Grace celebrates her milestone birthday she also examines the lives of four generations of women – her mother, herself, her adult daughter and her two granddaughters, as well as the female friends who have played a large part in her life. Food too plays a central role in the novel, with traditional dishes such as roast lamb and mint sauce and more exotic delicacies.

In parts gentle, humorous and confrontational, Grace’s Table is a finely baked story.

Grace's Table

Grace’s Table, by Sally Piper
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702250040

Available from good bookstores or online.