A Pocketful of Eyes, by Lili Wilkinson

Bee has a summer job working in the taxidermy department of the museum – and she loves it. That is until her supervisor, Gus, is found dead in the Red Rotunda. Gus has apparently committed suicide, but Bee is not convinced. Something is not right and she is going to use her sleuthing skills…

‘Most of you will already have heard that Gus, our Head Taxidermist, died last night,’ said Akiko Kobayashi, the museum Director, her knuckles white on the wooden lectern.
Bee sat next to Toby in the back row of the auditorium where the museum held public lectures and forums. The other staff members were dotted around the room, sitting in groups of two or three. Some were crying. Bee felt as if she couldn’t blink. The only other part of her body that had any feeling was the hand Toby was holding. Gus was dead?

Bee has a summer job working in the taxidermy department of the museum – and she loves it. That is until her supervisor, Gus, is found dead in the Red Rotunda. Gus has apparently committed suicide, but Bee is not convinced. Something is not right and she is going to use her sleuthing skills – learnt from a lifetime of reading Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie novels – to figure it out.

Along the way she has the help of Toby, a handsome boy who was with her on the night Gus died, and who seems to be a font of knowledge when it comes to strange animal behaviours. As she tries to solve the mystery, Bee must also deal with her conflicting emotions about Toby, her slightly odd mother and her new boyfriend, and the fact that her best friend seems to have paired up with Bee’s boyfriend.

A Pocketful of Eyes is a funny, clever mystery book with a liberal does of romance and plenty of humour. Bee is intelligent and funny, but she also makes silly mistakes and has the self absorption typical of a teenager, and with which readers will relate. Wilkinson is a versatile author, and fans will love this dip into mystery writing .

A Pocketful of Eyes, by Lili Wilkinson
Allen & Unwin, 2011
ISBN 9781742376196

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Phoenix, by Alison Ashley

I tried to respond but my mouth wouldn’t form words and the letter said it all anyway. I felt like meringue floating in an ocean, like I was dissolving, hot like molten sugar, cold like the sea. Fighting the inevitable was futile. I tried to extract the note from my pocket but my strength had gone. I closed my eyes and let my body drift on the bobbing tide.
Something from my past was calling me, some family secret or tragedy that I had to resolve. I didn’t know what it was – all I knew was that I had to go back; the letter had made that very clear. And in all honesty, I didn’t feel like I belonged here anyway.

Katie is half a world away from her old life. She’s grown up in Australia but now her whole family has moved to England to be with her grandad, who needs care. But here in England Katie will have to face her past in a way few would believe. Haunted by the events of a former life, Katie knows she must go back to put something to rights – even if she doesn’t know what that something is, or how she can fix it. Her twin sister, Ally, doesn’t believe in Kate’s talk of past lives, but to fulfil her destiny, Kate will need Ally’s support.

Phoenix is the first in a new paranormal series from debut author Alison Ashley, The Fifth Shadow. Sixteen year old Katie is a likeable first person narrator, and the blend of time shifts, personal and family development and a little history make a highly attractive blend for teen readers, with the paranormal elements not overdone or overwhelming. Whilst the story is self-contained, it is absorbing enough that readers will eagerly look forward to the next instalment.


Phoenix, by Alison Ashley
Warrambucca Books, 2011
ISBN 9780646555065

Available online.

Dress Rehearsal, by Zoe Thurner

‘This term we’ve had a bank robbery, an abduction and this crazy show. You kids are running wild, Lara. It’s too much.’

Lara Pearlman is a teenage girl with a busy life. She loves shopping for retro clothes, eating anything loaded with cream and chocolate and a boy called Blake. Her best friend Oggy likes some of those things – which can, at times be a problem. Add to that the complication of her other friend, Nathan, seeming to want to kiss her, and life is pretty complicated.

At school, Lara’s drama class is preparing for a production – but the drama isn’t all on the stage. There are relationships starting and finishing, friendships in trouble, and cast members coming and going. Oggy and Lara witness a bank robbery, and are part of an abduction, both of which have ramifications they don’t foresee.

Dress Rehearsal is a funny, turbulent story full of highs and lows as the likeable Lara shares her journey in an honest first-person voice. At times the reader will want to shake her, but this is part of her appeal – the feel that she is a real, flawed teenage girl.

Dress Rehearsal is an outstanding debut novel for West Aussie author Zoe Thurner.

Dress Rehearsal

Dress Rehearsal, by Zoe Thurner
Fremantle Press, 2011
ISBN 9781921696671

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Six Impossible Things, by Fiona Wood

saw Estelle for the first time that day.
She stopped outside our place and stared up into the bare branches of the footpath plane tree. First checking there was no one nearby she turned slowly around and around and around, framing her view of the twig-snaggled sky with a hand to her eye.
Then she walked into the house next door, half-dizzy, smiling and carrying my heart.
There’s this sky she likes.

Dan Cereill’s life is filled with upheaval. First the family business went broke, then his dad announced he was gay and moved out, leaving Dan and his mother to cope on their own. Now Dan’s living in a new house and going to a new school, while his mother flails around trying to set up a wedding cake business and listening to sad music. When he sets eyes on his beautiful neighbour, he wonders if there’s hope after all – but he soon realises Estelle is way out of his league.

Six Impossible Things is a witty journey through crushes, family break up, teenage reinvention and general chaos. Dan is a likeable narrator who has a lot to deal with. He gets himself into lots of scrapes – not always his own fault – and from time to time does some pretty dumb things, but he has a good heart and is doing his best to survive more changes than any kid should have to deal with in one hit.

A loveable character and a gently humorous storyline.

Six Impossible Things

Six Impossible Things, by Fiona Wood
Pan Macmillan, 2010
ISBN 9780330426060

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Innocents, by Nette Hilton

Missie Missinger was nine years old. Old enough, her mother had said, to do as she was told without argument. It was wearing her into the ground and if she didn’t watch out, Aunt Belle would be looking around for someone who didn’t have a quarrelsome little girl to put up with and get herself another live-in and then where would they be? Missie wasn’t sure but, as she rather liked living in ‘Charmaine’ at No 1, River Road, Lansdale, she didn’t pursue it. And so on the day it happened, on the Saturday when Judith Mae, who wasn’t even invited, had been sent upstairs in order to give her father some peace and quiet, Missie hadn’t argued.

Missie Missinger is a little girl restrained by many things. Her mother’s work and even where they live appears to be dependent on her behaving well. She’s not to use the front door. She’s not to disturb the boarding house guests. Then there’s Max. Max is the owner’s son. He likes his model trains and he likes pushing Missie around. And he knows that she can’t ‘dob’ on him, that no one will believe her. Missie has few friends at school until Zill arrives. There is Jimmy, but he’s always in trouble. Missie has a lot of time on her own while her mother manages the boarding house, and she begins a tentative friendship with a Ukrainian migrant youth who has come to live there. Oleksander Mykola Shevchenko works hard and keeps to himself but it’s not easy to be a migrant in a small town in the ‘50s. And then there are the secrets. To tell means trouble for Missie. But there can be an enormous cost to keeping secrets.

There are at least two ‘innocents’ in The Innocents. And neither are traditional young adult literature protagonists. One is nine years old. The other is twenty, new to Australia but carrying with him the horror of the war. Oleks is both young and old. The Innocents is told from both Missie’s and Oleks’ point of view, although Missie has the lion’s share of the story to tell. Missie is trying to find her way through a childhood hampered by her mother’s dependence on her live-in job, the places she must and must not go (though she’s not always sure why) and the murky world revealed (or not) in adult words. Oleks carries heavy memories of war and the challenges of being different, foreign. There are themes of racism and the dynamics of family. The cover hints at the darkness within and both Missie and Oleks are weighed down by their different burdens. The resolution provides hope for the future, but shows the high cost of secrets. Recommended for mature readers.

The Innocents, Nette Hilton
Random House 2010
ISBN 9781864718744

Reviewed by Claire Saxby Children’s book author.

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Water, by Geoff Havel

A board creaked out the front. She strained her ears and there it was again, another creak, and another. Then someone tried to open the door. Dad was back! He’d probably forgotten his key and was trying to get in without waking her.
Tully leaped to her feet. ‘It’s okay, Dad,’ she called. ‘I’m awake. I’ll unlock it.’
There was a grunt of approval from outside.
She twisted the key in the old lock and tugged on the door. It flew open, almost hitting her.
‘Sorry, I don’t know my own strength,’ grinned a total stranger.

Tully’s father has always been overprotective, and all Tully wants is to be as normal as everyone else in Rivertown. But when her Dad is uncharacteristically late home, and Tully accidentally opens the door to a total stranger, she discovers just how different she really is.

Captured and taken to a secret laboratory, Tully meets other girls the same as her – identical in fact – and her life is changed forever as she tries to escape both the lab and the future it holds for her.

Water is a gripping genetic thriller, set in a contemporary world, but based on the premise of being able to breed humans with genetic mutations which make them useful for both scientific and industrial purposes. Tully and her clones are physically identical but have their own personalities, and the action is fast moving.

Water, by Geoff Havel
Scholastic, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Fake ID, by Hazel Edwards

When Zoe starts researching her family history for a school project, her Gran is strangely evasive. Then Gran dies, leaving Zoe with a pile of unanswered questions.

Zoe’s Mum (Gran’s only child) is wintering in Antarctica, leaving Zoe to attend the funeral and meet the executor of Gran’s will, as well as trying to solve the mystery of just who her Gran was – if she was even her Gran.

Zoe struggles to come to terms with the fact that her Gran had another name and another life before she came to Australia – and that she had taken over someone else’s life on her arrival. With the help of her friend Luke, Zoe finds answers to some of her questions via www.finalthoughts.com, the Dead Person’s Society and the executor of Gran’s will, who hosts a television show called Missing Millions.

But there are some questions, Zoe finds, that don’t have answers. What she has to learn is how to deal with that realisation.

Fake ID is an intriguing tale for teen readers. Part mystery, part personal exploration, and with themes of family and identity, this is a great read for twelve to fifteen year olds, and would also be suitable for class reading.

Fake ID, by Hazel Edwards
Lothian, 2002

Burning Eddy by Scot Gardner

Some people call Daniel Fairbrother Dan. Most just call him Fairy. It’s not a name that he likes.

Daniel is searching for meaning in his life. His family life is dominated by his moody and unloving father. Away from home, he has no friends and little to be happy about.

When Daniel meets a Dutch woman, Eddy, he starts to slowly see changes in his life. Eddy is eight-six. She has a tattoo, a history and can make music with her farts. She pays Dan well for the work he does in her garden, and seems to read his mind. She offers him more than work and pay – she offers him friendship. Eddy’s friendship does not prove to be an instant fix to all of Daniel’s problems – his father’s moodiness seems to escalate, the other boys pick on him and he is haunted by memories. But Eddy shows Daniel hope. Maybe there is a point to life – and maybe, just maybe, things will get better.

Burning Eddy is a poignant story about growing up, about family and about friendship. Author Scot Gardner weaves a tale which draws the reader in, caring deeply about these characters. Along the way he continues to drop bombshells that reshape the reader’s perceptions of the characters, so that the story is an ongoing surprise.


Burning Eddy, by Scot Gardner
Pan Macmillan, 2003

Finding Grace, by Alyssa Brugman

When Rachel leaves school, she thinks she knows everything there is to know.

But when she meets the mysterious Mr Preston and he offers her a job, she is no longer sure. Her job is to look after Grace – a brain-damaged woman who doesn’t talk. Rachel thinks the job is a wonderful opportunity – she gets to live in a beautfiul house close to Uni, and gets paid for babysitting and a bit of cleaning.

The reality is a little harder. She has to contend with the responsibilities of looking after a once vibrant woman who seems to be no longer able to think for herself, as well as contending with rude neighbours and Grace’s predatory sisters. At the same time she is trying to come to grips with Grace’s past and with her own identity.

This is a book with some intense soul-searching and serious issues, but manages at the same time to be funny, with Rachel’s eccentric almost-adult viewpoint and occasional switches from past to present tense.

A short listed candidate for the 2002 Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards (Older Readers Category), Finding Grace will appeal to readers aged sixteen to adult.

Finding Grace, by Alyssa Brugman
Allen & Unwin, 2001