A Dog’s Tale by Barry Jonsberg ill Tom Jellett

‘No,’ said Mum.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘I mean, no. Definitely not, it’s not happening, forget it, Buckley’s, not a snowflake’s chance in hell.’
Her mouth was a slit and her eyes were hard. ‘Now do you understand, Michael?’ She only calls me Michael when she’s angry.
‘Not entirely,’ I said.

Michael wants a dog. Really, really wants a dog. Unfortunately, neither his mum nor his dad share his enthusiasm. They articulate many reasons, and although he has an answer to every objection, the answer is still no. While he tries to change their minds, he sets about showing his parents just how responsible he is. There are colour illustrations on every opening.

A Dog’s Tale’ is a new title in the popular and engaging Mates series from Omnibus Books for young readers. Each tells a particularly Australian-flavoured story, full of humour. Michael is not the first child to want a dog, but his determination to prove his responsibility is unparalleled. No effort is too much, if it might change the decision about a dog. Love the illustrations from Tom Jellett, particularly the dog Michael takes for a walk. Recommended for newly-independent readers.

A Dog’s Tale, Barry Jonsberg, Tom Jellett
Omnibus Books 2017
ISBN: 9781742991399

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

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

Pandora Jones: Admission, by Barry Jonsberg

It took slightly under eight hours for Melbourne to die.
When Pandora Jones thought back to that day – something she did often – there were large holes in her memory. She definitely remembered sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast and listening to the news on the radio, her mother bustling about and packing lunch for her brother Danny.

On what begins as a fairly normal day, Pandora Jones witnesses horrific scenes of death as first a relief teacher, then everyone around her starts to cough, collapse and die. As if in a terrible nightmare, Pandora heads for home, only to witness the death of her family to the inexplicable pandemic that is wiping out much out of humanity. When she wakes up in hospital, her recollection of what has happened is vague, but finds herself one of a small group of survivors, relocated to a facility called The School. There she is trained for survival in the world as it now is. But there are secrets and contradictions, and Pan doesn’t know who to trust or what to believe.

Pandora Jones: Admission is the first instalment in a new post-apocalyptic series for teen readers, offering an absorbing blend of action, mystery and character development. While lots of questions arise, not all of them are answered, leaving lots of room for the rest of the series to do so.

Pan is an interesting viewpoint character, with a mix of strengths and failings which make her believable. Her supporting cast is also diverse, and relationships change over the course of events allowing characters to develop and readers to connect.

With two more titles to come, teen readers will be keen to follow the series.


Pandora Jones - Admission

Pandora Jones: Admission, by Barry Jonsberg
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743318119

Available from good bookstores and online.

Being Here, by Barry Jonsberg

The boy sat in the branches of the fifth tree on the left, his scuffed boots dangling. Leah turned her eyes up. His face was heavily freckled, his eyes large, brown and almond-shaped. His hair stuck out at wild angles. ‘Hello,’ she said.
When Adam appeared in the orhcard, Leah discovered a friend. A secret friend. And a friend was something she desperately needed.

Leah Cartwright is living out her days in a nursing home when she is approached by sixteen year old Carly, wanting to interview her for her local histroy project. Leah agrees to talk, but only on her own terms. She’s not going to answer questions – she’s going to tell her own story. As that story emerges, Carly forgets the interview and is drawn into the tale of a young Leah, growing up on an isolated farm with her puritan mother, her only escape the magic of books and her secret friend Adam.

Being Here is a beuatiful tale of the magic of story and imagination. The first person viewpoint of the elderly Leah is an unusual one for a young adult story but works brilliantly here, with Leah telling her story to Carly and also getting to know Carly and her story.

At some times shocking, at others sad, and at still others joyful, this is a gripping, beautifully woven tale.

Being Here

Being Here, by Barry Jonsberg
Allen & Unwin, 2011
ISBN 9781742373850

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

The Heart of the Forest, by Barry Jonsberg

Personally, I blame Granddad.
Mum and Dad walked a hundred metres ahead. I trailed behind them. Aaron trailed behind me. Words floated back, like leaves spinning in the air.
‘…staying a month?’ yelled Mum.
Her hands fluttered. Not a good sign.
‘…can’t stand it …moans all the time …mutters constantly.’
Dad’s hands entered the battle.
‘…is my father, after all…not his fault…old…’
I lagged further behind.

Twins are supposed to have a special bond, but Keely has some reservations about that theory. But she’s not really thinking about that when the family travel to the Blue Mountains to take a walk. She’s thinking about surprising Mum and Dad and making them smile for once. There haven’t been that many smiles lately. But her plan is turned upside down when she becomes lost off the path. Now she can’t see or hear her parents. Aaron is there, but as the older (by two minutes) twin, Keely is not listening to what he says. She’s sure she knows best.

The Mates series from Omnibus are short punchy, illustrated stories, un-ashamedly Aussie-Australian. They often involve the unique environment that is part of the lives of most Australians (even if it’s only on holidays for city-dwellers). Like all good stories, there’s often a twist in the tail, and The Heart of the Forest sure has one of those! It differs from many of the other titles in this series in that it has less humour, but don’t be put off by that. It’s a lost-in-the-bush story with its own special magic. Granddad, who gets the blame

for the whole sorry mess, is nowhere to be seen/heard. The Heart of the Forest has short chapters, illustrations on each page and words highlighted (some challenging, others confidence-building). Recommended for newly independent readers.

The Heart of the Forest , Barry Jonsberg Omnibus Books 2010
ISBN: 9781862918139

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Blacky Blasts Back, by Barry Jonsberg

I took a step nearer the bed.
‘Blacky?’ I breathed.
‘Who were you expecting, bucko? Barack Obama?’
I turned on the bedside light.
A small, scruffy, dirty-white dog sat on my pillow. It looked at me through pink-rimmed eyes.
‘Watcha, mush,’ said the dog.

All the bad boys from Marcus’s school are off to Tasmania for an army-style camp, to teach them some discipline and team working skills. Marcus is not one of the bad boys (even though his best mate Dylan is), but he desperately needs to go on that camp – because Blacky, the talking dog has ordered him off on a new mission, to track down and rescue the last Tasmanian tiger.

It’s bad enough that Blacky is a talking dog – but he also stinks, and is very bossy. Soon Marcus is off in the wilds of Tasmania doing Blacky’s bidding at the same time he needs to evade a bully out to get him, and a mad Scotsman camp leader. With plenty of silliness mixed with some action and even some issues including bullying, mateship and conservation, there’s a lot happening here – which is why primary aged readers will love it.

This is the third story featuring Marcus and Blacky, but happily stands alone for those new to the series.

Blacky Blasts Back: On the Tail of the Tassie Tiger, by Barry Jonsberg
Allen & Unwin, 2010

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

Cassie, by Barry Jonsberg

I’m Holly Holley and I’m short, I’m ugly and I’m overweight. I have only one friend in the world and she cares more about books than boyfriends. And now I’m lying in a strange room while strangers lie in mine. And they’re the reason I’ve blown my chances with Demi.
It’s not fair.

Holly Holley has an embarrassing name and terrible life. She’s overweight, unattractive, and not in with the right crowd. The boy she fancies doesn’t even know she exists. And, as if all that isn’t enough, now her household is being turned upside down by the arrival of her aunt and a cousin she doesn’t know. Cassie, the cousin, has severe cerebral palsy, and is confined to a wheelchair, unable to communicate with anyone other than her mother. Holly has to give up her room for Cassie and her mother, and move into the tiny, smelly spare room. Everything about her life is unfair – until the coolest girl at school, Demi, decides to take Holly under her wing. She is going to help Holly transform herself. But will that transformation come at a cost?

Cassie is a story about friendship, loyalty and self image, and also explores issues including disability and honesty. Whilst this seems a big list of topics, the story is also a fun read, and not overly-complex. The use of differing perspectives – including those of Holly and Cassie, and their mothers, Fern and Ivy – allows plenty of insights into the motivations and dilemmas of all characters, and it is especially intriguing to be offered the perspective of Cassie, who, unable to speak, could so easily be simply a token character in the book but who is, as the use of her name for the title suggests, integral to the story. Whilst Holly faces problems many teen readers will relate to – peer pressure, friendship and boy problems and so on – Cassie’s challenges are huge, but rather than this making her unable to relate to Holly’s problems, they enable her to empathise and connect with her cousin.

Part of the girlfriend fiction, Cassie will appeal to teen readers.

Cassie, by Barry Jonsberg
Allen & Unwin, 2008

Ironbark, by Barry Jonsberg

I’m thumping my hand against the dash, raising clouds of dust. The sound echoes in my head.
‘Against the law?’ I say. ‘Against the law? Well, I hate to say this, Gramps, but take a look around this ute…You’ve got about a million traffic violations right here and you talk to me about smokes and the law? This is insane.”
And that’s about all I remember.
Next thing, I’m surrounded by a grey cloud, my right leg is hurting like hell, there’s a thumping of blood in my temples and I’m limping down the track. The taste of dust is in my mouth. I hold onto my right thigh with both hands, but even so I’m going a fair clip. I don’t hear the ute behind me.

A holiday in the Tasmanian wilderness might be an adventure – but this is no holiday. In trouble with the police after yet another violent outburst, the sixteen year old protagonist is sentenced to time-out with his grandfather, who lives in an isolated shack in Tasmanian. For a city boy used to high tech gadgetry and the bustle of the city, living with a grandfather he doesn’t know and staying in a shack with no electricity is harsh. Harsher still are the demons he is forced to confront.

Ironbark is compelling reading, exploring the bond which develops between the troubled city boy and his seemingly out of touch grandfather, and the boy’s battle with an explosive temper – diagnosed as Intermittent Explosive Disorder.

Jonsberg creates a character who is likeable, in spite of his problems and his obvious personality flaws. Aside from the violence, the boy’s dealings with an absent girlfriend, particularly, show him to be self-centred, and he initially shows little interest in how his grandfather might feel about being given charge of a troubled teen, but these flaws make him realistic. He is not just a misunderstood teen – he is a boy with problems and flaws like most teens – except that one of his problems impacts severely on his victims. It is his need to overcome this violent streak which drives the plot.

A page turner.


Ironbark, by Barry Jonsberg
Allen & Unwin, 2008

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

The Whole Business With Kiffo and the Pitbull, by Barry Jonsberg

I don’t know you at all. I wouldn’t recognise you from a hole in the ground. If I was telling this story to some friends, then they would already know Kiffo and they would know me and they would know the school and everything. I would be able to get straight into what happened when a new English teacher, the Pitbull, slobbered and snarled her way into out class. But you don’t know anything. No offence.

Calma Harrison is a smart girl, who has loads of ability and gets good grades, but her attitude sometimes lands her in trouble. But when a new English teacher comes to school, Calma soon finds herself in more trouble than she could have ever imagined. Calma and her unlikely friend Kiffo pretty quickly end up on the wrong side of the English teacher (known affectionately by the pair as ‘the Pitbull’). When they set out to get revenge, they uncover something suspicious happening. Could their English teacher really be a drug dealer? Calma and Kiffo think she is, but before they can tell anyone, they need some evidence.

This is an outstanding debut novel, combining humour with some pretty serious subject matter including family, friendship and death. Calma is a likeable character who tells the story as she sees it, even willing to admit when she has been wrong. She is supported by a cast of strange but intriguing characters – a mother who masquerades as a fridge, a teacher who masquerades as a pitbull and, of course, Kiffo, who comes from a violent home and is harshly judged by nearly everyone who knows him.

An excellent offering for teen readers.

The Whole Business With Kiffo and the Pitbull, by Barry Jonsberg
Allen & Unwin, 2004

Dreamrider, by Barry Jonsberg

The boys stood for a moment, but their eyes were snuffed. They crumpled onto the stained grass. I let the sun revolve some more as I stood above their bodies. And I lifted up my head, stopped the sun and howled my dark joy at the sky.
I knew the glass would be behind me. I would face that. But not right then. I spread my bloodied arms and held the world. I’m the fat boy. I’m Michael Terny.

This is the seventh school Michael has been to in four years, but he knows it won’t be any different. Even if he keeps his head down, the bullies will still find him and torment him mercilessly. And it happens, right from the first day, when Michael meets Martin Leechy, who squashes cake in his face and punches him in the nose.

But Michael is changing. He has made a friend and has discovered something else – the phenomenon of lucid dreaming. In his dreams, Michael can go anywhere and do anything. Now he has an opportunity to change things – he can exact his revenge on those who have hurt him, or he can help those who have shown him kindness.

Dreamrider is an eerie, absorbing novel which, in many places, will have readers squirming. Michael is a victim of severe bullying but also has a very dark side himself, a dark side which has scary consequences. Readers become increasingly aware that it is hard to separate reality from Michael’s imagination and his dreams.


Dreamrider, by Barry Jonsberg
Allen & Unwin, 2006