Out, by Angela May George & Owen Swan

I’m called an asylum seeker,
but that’s not my name.

A young girl and her mother flee their war torn home, and travel by boat to a new country, where they are safe and can start again. Life is better, but there are still struggles to overcome, including learning English and overcoming memories. But the biggest struggle is waiting to hear what has happened to her father.

Out is a gentle yet powerful story of the asylum seeker experience. Told from the point of view of a child, it reveals their reasons for leaving, what they had to go through to get to the new country, and the struggles once there, as well as the simple joys of feeling free, and being able to explore a new place in safety.

The simple text is accompanied by gentle watercolour and pencil illustrations in muted colours which get lighter and more colourful as the story progresses. A yellow ribbon worn by the girl as she flees a burning school, recurs throughout the story as a link between past and present, and her hopes of being reunited with her father, which occur sin the final spread.

Suitable for very young readers, Out offers a way of understanding and exploring issues which are increasingly prevalent.

Out, by Angela May George & Owen Swan
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781743629000

A Small Madness, by Dianne Touchell

Rose didn’t tell anyone about it. She wondered if it showed. She looked at herself in the mirror and turned this way and then that way. She stood as close to the mirror as she could, leaning over the bathroom basin, looking into her own eyes until they disappeared behind the fog of her breath. Looking for something. Some evidence that she was different.

Rose and Michael are good kids. They work hard at school, are popular, and do what their parents tell them. But they are in love, and not as careful as they should be, and soon Rose is pregnant. The problem is, she is having trouble admitting it, even to herself. Michael struggles with the reality, too, and events spiral beyond his control. What happens is utterly devastating.

A Small Madness confronts the issues surrounding teen pregnancy in a way that will shock readers to the core. This is not a happy ever after story by any stretch of the imagination, but is absorbing and feels very real, exploring the possibilities of what can happen when teens feel shut off from support. Touchell does not try to cover all eventualities or to demonstrate how such a situation can be ‘fixed’, but the book will hopefully leave readers pondering how things can be, and the importance of finding ways through terrible situations.

An important, haunting, breathtaking book.


A Small Madness

A Small Madness, by Dianne Touchell
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760110789

Available from good bookstores and online.

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.



Cinnamon Rain

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

Available from good bookstores and online .

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel

She’s big.
She’s smart.
She’s mean.
She’s the bully on the bus.
She picks on me and I don’t like it.

I don’t know
how to make her

Leroy has a problem, and it’s a big one. There’s a bully on his school bus – and she’s bigger than him, bigger than his sister Ruby, even as big as his mum. DJ goes to the high school, but she doesn’t want to be there. Leroy likes school, but he doesn’t like the bus, especially when DJ is on it. Leroy needs a secret weapon, but when he finds it he wonders if it will be enough to silence the bully.

Bully on the Bus is a gorgeous new verse novel for younger readers. Leroy and his family are realistic and well-drawn, as is the situation he finds himself in. The resolution, too, is clever, and shows Leroy drawing on the help of those around him but, ultimately, being key to fixing the problem.

This is Apel‘s first foray into the verse novel form, but hopefully it won’t be her last. She handles it deftly and with sensitivity.

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702253287

Available from good bookstores and online.

Creepy & Maud, by Dianne Touchell

I am in love with the girl next door. Our windows are almost opposite each other’s, over the side fence.
I call her Maud. That’s not her real name but that’s what I call her. She’s sort of shortish and curvy. Titian hair. No freckles. A dark, smudgy birthmark on the back of her left calf. A nose piercing her dad knows about and a bellybutton piercing I assume he doesn’t. All right, so I have spent a bit of time looking in there.
Am I sounding creepy? Love is sort of creepy.

Creepy (not his real name but he doesn’t mind that people call him that) is in love with girl next door. He spends all his spare time watching her because his bedroom window looks straight into hers, over the fence. Kind of convenient and also kind of creepy. But Maud (also not her real name – just the pet name Creepy has given her) knows that Creepy is looking and she doesn’t mind. When she doesn’t want him to see she closes her curtains.

Creepy has a view of Maud’s life with a level of intimacy that at times means he knows more than her parents do. For example, he seems to be the only one who knows about the alcohol hidden behind her dolls house, and he has a pretty good view of her hair pulling obsession as it spirals out of control. From just watching he gradually starts to communicate with Maud through notes, though the pair never speak – not even at school, where Maud doesn’t acknowledge him. Their friendship is unorthodox, even at times disturbing, yet it becomes important to both of them as they each struggle with a dysfunctional family, and personal turmoil.

Creepy and Maud is a moving, funny, clever young adult novel which will have readers laughing out loud in places and moved near to tears in others. Creepy is a smart articulate first person narrator, belying his lack of success at school, where he tries to fly under the radar – until his obsession with Maud makes this difficult. Maud, too, has a turn at narrating, giving the reader insight into her and her life which is not available to Creepy. Both are likeable characters though their struggles are at times quite painful, and some of Creepy’s behaviour is disturbing.

Not a difficult read, but there’s a lot to digest, even after it’s finsihed. Creepy and Maud is an outstanding debut novel.

Creepy and Maud

Creepy and Maud, by Dianne Touchell
Fremantle Press, 2012
ISBN 9781921888953

Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.