Exchange of Heart by Darren Groth

Have you always wanted to travel to other FAB parts of the world?
Not so much.
Do you want to immerse yourself in an AWESOME new culture?
If it helps.
Are you ready for the RAD adventure you’ve always dreamt about?
Not my dream.
Then YOU are srsly the sort of student YOLO Canada is looking for!
I srsly doubt it.

Munro Maddux is stuck. Stuck in a destructive and seemingly inescapable loop of ‘if only I had …’ He agrees to go to Brisbane from Canada on a six-month student exchange, hoping that the voice in his head will finally shut up. Never mind that by going, he’s living his little sister’s dream. But although his host family is great and the school welcoming, the only place the voice is silent is at Fair Go, an assisted living residence, where his new school sends him to complete compulsory volunteer hours. His ‘team’ decide they will help him get to know their town, their world.

Exchange of Heart’ sees Munro fly half way around the world, desperate to escape his grief at his sister’s death. But of course, grief doesn’t work that way. It travels with him and no matter how he tries, it grabs at his heart and stops him. Stops him sleeping. Stops him developing friendships and relationships. Stops him functioning like a ‘normal’ 16-year-old teenager. Whatever ‘normal’ is. His volunteering at Fair Go is his lifeline, his safe place, his refuge from and journey back to living. His ‘team’ mentor as much as are mentored, accept him, challenge him. ‘Exchange of Heart’ doesn’t miss a beat. Recommended for secondary readers.

Exchange of Heart, Darren Groth, Random House Australia 2017 ISBN: 9780143781578
review by, Children’s author and bookseller

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

Shine: A Story About Saying Goodbye, by Trace Balla

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

Eventual Poppy Day, by Libby Hathorn

Eventual Poppy DayShooting stars, kisses, grenades and the lumbering tanks. And the shrieking skies and the shaking comrades: ‘Up and over, lads!’
And I know it is time again to go into madness.

Even though he s only seventeen, Maurice Roche is determined to enlist, to follow his older brothers off to war and do his bit. It will be an adventure, an opportunity to see the world . Against his parent’s wishes, he signs up, leaving behind his parents, his younger siblings, his proud aunts and a girl, Rosie, who he is sure will wait for him. But war is not the adventure Maurice imagined. At Gallipoli and, later, on the Western Front he faces unimaginable horrors. It is only the mates fighting at his side, an occasional opportunity to sketch and draw, and his love for Rosie, that keep him going.

A century later, Oliver Day isn’t all that interested in his great-uncle Maurice, who he never met. But his great-grandmother, Dorothea, wants the world to know about her big brother, who died before she was born. It is especially important to her that Oliver hear Maurice’s story.

Eventual Poppy Day is an emotional tale of war and its impacts both on those who fight and those who are left behind, often across generations. The alternating stories of Maurice and Oliver are supplemented with scenes, letters and diary entries from other characters, to give a broad perspective of their emotions and motives. As the novel progresses, readers have an opportunity to connect deeply with the family.

A touching story.

Eventual Poppy Day, by Libby Hathorn
Angus & Robertson, 2015
ISBN 9780732299514

Available from good bookstores and online.

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.

The Break, by Deb Fitzpatrick

‘…You mean live there?’
The woman next door was clattering about in her garden, shushing the dog when it barked.
‘Well…’ He struggled to get it into his head. ‘Why would we do that, exactly?’…
‘To be our own people,’ she eventually managed, in a whisper.
‘Instead of…’ And he was quiet for a moment. ‘Being other people’s people,’ he said finally.

Rosie can’t be a journalist if it involves chasing ambulances and looking for shock value. Cray has had enough of the fly in fly out lifestyle, especially when it means long stretches away from home. When they throw in their jobs, they decide to make a change, and head down to Margaret River, a place they’ve always loved. But starting again in a place that’s facing challenges of its own might not be all plain sailing.

Fergus and Liza have always lived in Margies, and Fergus runs the farm which his father built up. Their son Sam loves life – watching stars, fishing and swimming in the river, and following his favourite sci-fi serial on the computer his much loved uncle gave him. The only thing he doesn’t like is when his parents fight. Lately they’ve been arguing more, especially about Uncle Mike.

Rosie gets to know Liza and Sam, through their common concern of the effects a big development will have on their favourite piece of coastline. Development, though, proves the least of their worries, when the coastline itself proves a natural enemy.

The Break is a heart-wrenching novel about family, community, loss and change, set in the South West of Western Australia in the 1990s. Though there are parallels with real events,including the Gracetown Cliff Collapse in 1996, this is a work of fiction, allowing readers into the lives of deftly drawn characters and allowing readers to consider one version of how such an event might impact individuals and a community. Fitzpatrick does this with a special touch.

This is Fitzpatrick’s first novel for adults, but would also be suitable for young adult readers.


The Break, by Deb Fitzpatrick
Fremantle Press, 2014
ISBN 9781922089632

Available from good bookstores and online.

Greylands by Isobelle Carmody

‘That’s not the beginning,’ Ellen said, pointing to where Jack had written about the sky.
‘Stop reading over my shoulder,’ he ordered.
‘But you said you were writing about how it was after Mama died.’
‘I am, but I’m telling it my way.’
‘What does that mean? You’re making stuff up?’
Jack thought about it. ‘You have to. Real life isn’t like a story with a beginning and a middle and an end. It’s everybody’s stories all muddled together. But this will be my story and I’m starting with me dreaming that Mama told me she had wings.’
She did tell us she had wings,’ Ellen said.
‘I know she did. That’s why I put it in.’

‘That’s not the beginning,’ Ellen said, pointing to where Jack had written about the sky.

‘Stop reading over my shoulder,’ he ordered.

‘But you said you were writing about how it was after Mama died.’

‘I am, but I’m telling it my way.’

‘What does that mean? You’re making stuff up?’

Jack thought about it. ‘You have to. Real life isn’t like a story with a beginning and a middle and an end. It’s everybody’s stories all muddled together. But this will be my story and I’m starting with me dreaming that Mama told me she had wings.’

‘She did tell us she had wings,’ Ellen said.

‘I know she did. That’s why I put it in.’

Jack, his sister Ellen and their father are mourning the death of their mother. Their world seems to have lost all colour. Ellen has questions he can’t answer, and their father won’t. Their father is retreating more and more into unrecognisable and impenetrable sadness, while Jack is being seduced by the curiosities and questions and potential answers in Greylands. There he encounters Alice, a unknowable girl who carries a precious bundle that she will not relinquish, and a sad laughing beast. There are cats and towers, wolvers and those who can fly. Greylands is fascinating and compelling and Jack finds himself pulled into the unfamiliar world.

<a href=”″ target=”_blank”>Greylands</a> inhabits the world of grief. Each character who enters Greylands must make their own journey through, without being sucked into the wanting. Jack, like so many children, nurtures a hidden guilt that his mother’s death is partly his fault. Readers will see much that Jack cannot. ‘Greylands is a portrait of grief, but also of the strength and clarity that can be found by navigating through difficulty. It is a picture of family bonds and love. Recommended for upper primary and secondary readers. Some readers will enjoy the fantasy, while others may unpack the symbols and metaphors.


<a href=”″ target=”_blank”><img src=”″ border=”0″ alt=”Greylands”></a>

<a href=”″ target=”_blank”>Greylands</a>, Isobelle Carmody Ford St Publishing 2012 ISBN: 9781921665677

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author


Available from good bookstores or <a href=”″ target=”_blank”>Online</a>.

Last Summer, by Kylie Ladd

Rory Buchanan is popular with everyone. He’s good looking, he captains his cricket side, and is surrounded by friends. So when he collapses and dies suddenly, his friends and family struggle to cope with their loss.

When they got to the hospital and she gave her name at the emergency department desk and she gave her name at the emergency department desk the staff reacted so quickly that Nick knew Rory wasn’t suffering from a stomach ulcer.
‘Mrs Buchanan?’ asked a doctor, materialising almost immediately by her side. Nick couldn’t help but notice the red streaks splashed across the front of his coat. ‘We have your husband in a separate area…If you’ll follow me.’

Rory Buchanan is popular with everyone. He’s good looking, he captains his cricket side, and is surrounded by friends. So when he collapses and dies suddenly, his friends and family struggle to cope with their loss. Rory was the glue that seemed to hold them all together, and now that he’s gone friendships are under stress, marriages are being tested and individuals are facing where they are at – and where they want to be.

Last Summer is a clever examination of loss, and what it can mean to people. Told from the varied viewpoints of nine different people – all friends and family of the dead man – it explores not just the immediate aftermath of a death, but also how it can alter lives and relationships. The characters are a blend of male ad female and come from a range of backgrounds. What they have in common is their membership of the cricket club, and their friendship/connection with Rory. Without Rory there, those connections become more tenuous, and even strained.

Handling nine different viewpoint characters – plus several other characters – could prove too much for a writer, but Ladd does it well. Over the course of the novel the reader gets to know each character intimately, with cause for crying with the, cheering for them, and even being angry at them, as if they were real people – which they are, because Ladd makes them so.

The only downfall of the book is that ends, leaving you wanting to know what happens next to the characters.

Last Summer
Last Summer, by Kylie Ladd
Allen & Unwin, 2011
ISBN 9781742375014

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