Freedom Ride, by Sue Lawson

Freedom Ride
He smiled at the Aborginal woman. “You were here first.” He swept his hand from her to the counter. “After you.”
My mouth fell open.
The woman peeked at him from under her eyelashes but didn’t move.
“I insist. Ladies first.”
Mrs Dixon clicked her tongue. “Now, Barry. She can’t be served until you and Robbie have been…” She didn’t need to spell it out. White people were served before Aborigines in Walgaree, no matter what.

Robbie knows that Aborginal people are treated differently than white people in Walgaree, but he also knows that this is how it has always been. It;s nothis problem though – he has enough problems of his own. His home life, with a loveless grandmother and a grumpy Dad, is difficult. And his friends are drifting away from him. When he meets Barry, the owner of the local caravan park, he has some chance at happiness. He spends his summer working for Barry, and their friendship grows.

As the summer progresses, it becomes harder and harder for Robbie to ignore the divide between the white citizens and the Aborgines who live in camps outside the town, especially as he gets to know Micky, who has also been employed by Barry. In the meantime, student protestors are preparing to travel trough country towns to protest the treatment of Aborgines, in a Freedom Ride. As they get nearer to Walgaree, tensions rise in the town, and Robbie has to choose his own stance.

Freedom Ride is a wonderful historical novel set in a fictional town but based on real events. Few young Australians will know the tale of the Freedom Rides, but Sue Lawson brings them to life here in a way that will both interest and inform. Robbie’s personal story, as he struggles with an overbearing grandmother, a brooding, distant father, and the msytery of his mother’s death, is also absorbing.

An outsanding young adult read.

Freedom Ride, by Sue LAwson
Black Dog, 2015
ISBN 9781925126365

Available from good bookstores or online.

Forget Me Not by Sue Lawson

Eve and her family are relocating from England to America. Her brother, Thomas, is excited but Eve can only think about the friends she is leaving behind. Not even the news that they are to travel on the Titanic’s maiden voyage is enough to cheer her up. Once aboard however, there is plenty of diversion for Thomas and Eve, even if Eve is left to care for her baby sister more often than she would like.

Thomas Gilmore

‘Thomas, it’s time to leave.’ Father’s voice echoed up the stairs of the empty house.

Thomas took a last look around his room. Gone was the furniture, his books, cricket bat and model ship. He wondered if he should have talked Father into letting him keep his cricket bat. After all, cricket might be played in America.

Eve Gilmore

Head high, Mother sailed through the jostling crowd. I trailed behind, fighting the sorrow engulfing my heart. Even though the Southampton dock was crowded with passengers and spectators, I felt alone. The excited chatter, clop of horses’ hooves and blast of automobile horns mingled as mournful drone in my head.

Eve and her family are relocating from England to America. Her brother, Thomas, is excited but Eve can only think about the friends she is leaving behind. Not even the news that they are to travel on the Titanic’s maiden voyage is enough to cheer her up. Once aboard however, there is plenty of diversion for Thomas and Eve, even if Eve is left to care for her baby sister more often than she would like. There are new friends to make, other decks to explore and adventures to be had. On a ship so large and fancy, with so much to look forward to, Eve’s apprehension and sadness slowly ease.

Forget Me Not is the story of one family’s journey aboard the ill-fated Titanic. The reader knows at the outset the fate of the ship, but like the pull of the sinking ship, the story moves them inexorably closer to the moment of impact and beyond. By that time, Eve, Thomas, Bea and their friends Huge and Meggie have become the reader’s friends too and every page turn becomes breath-holding as their fates unfold. In addition to being a story about a family emigration, ‘Forget Me Not’ is a window to another time, when middle class girls were expected to behave like ladies at all times, and young men had responsibilities way beyond their years. And despite this, they found ways to just be children and to enjoy the stuff of childhood. Recommended for middle- to upper-primary readers.

Forget Me Not: The Story of One Family's Voyage on the Titanic

Forget Me Not, by Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2012 ISBN: 9781742032108

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Avaialble to purchase online from Fishpond

Pan's Whisper, by Sue Lawson

Pan is an echidna, rolled tight, spines out. She is unpleasant and largely uncooperative at home and school. It would be easy to dislike her, but it’s clear from the outset that she is full of pain, unable and unwilling to trust anyone.

Sunshine flickers between the trees and soundproof fence that line the freeway, stabbing my eyes. I squeeze them shut to block it out, but the flashes of red remind me of that judge in her crimson suit and glasses, staring down at me. Her voice booms through my head, in time with the flashes.

‘Pandora, a foster home is your best option at the present.’

I open my eyes, the stabling light less painful than the memory.

Beside me in the driver’s seat, Gemma clears her throat. ‘The McMinns have two other foster children, Pan.’ She twitters like a budgie. ‘Livia’s a couple of years older than you. She’s been there for two years, and Nate … gee, he was five when he arrived, so he must be about ten now.’

Pan is placed in foster care with the McMinns as the result of a court order, but while she has little choice about being there, she sure as heck doesn’t have to like it, or make it easy on her foster carers or herself. And she doesn’t. There’s nothing here she recognises, it’s all too ordered and neat. Nothing like home. And home is where she wants to be. But life seems determined to march on, despite all Pan’s stalling. She is enrolled in a new school and is expected to cooperate, both at school and at home. She writes letters to her sister Morgan, but will not send them, will not talk about her. Pan builds protective walls around her and defends them with sharpened words. No one is getting close to her. No one. She’s just pausing here until she goes home. Only Smocker, a childhood toy cat, is privy to her secrets, her memories.

Pan is an echidna, rolled tight, spines out. She is unpleasant and largely uncooperative at home and school. It would be easy to dislike her, but it’s clear from the outset that she is full of pain, unable and unwilling to trust anyone. Like the echidna, Pan’s softness is hidden and protected allowing only short glimpses of her real character, before pain reclaims her. Her older sister, Livia, isn’t sure she’s worth the trouble, although her younger foster brother keeps trying. Foster parents, Rose and Ian are resolutely positive but firm and for the first time in her life, Pan experiences stability and security. From this base, she can begin to unlock and examine the secrets of her past. A powerful and moving novel from a talented writer. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.
Pan's Whisper


Pan’s Whisper, Sue Lawson Black
Dog Books 2011
ISBN: 9781742032061

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book is available in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Diva Series, by Sue Lawson

I’m Mickey Farrell, the youngest girl in a family of three. My sisters, Sam and Gemma are Sports-Tragics. You name it and they not only play it, but they win every trophy possible.
They dream of being sporting legends.
I dream of being a singing star.
A month ago I was lying on my bed reading Girlz Stuff, when the Dream Productions advertisement practically jumped off the page. Imagine – the hottest CDs, cool clothes and heaps of fans. It would be a dream come true!

Mickey Farrell is in pursuit of her dream – to be a singer. And the competition gives her an opportunity to spend time with others who think like she does, that singing is the best thing. Along the way, she discovers there are plenty of girls who love singing as much as she does. However, they don’t all approach the competition in quite the same way. Some are so nervous they can hardly perform, and at the other end, there are some who are so sure of victory they feel they don’t have to be nice to anyone. Mickey makes some wonderful friends, and learns that even the most horrid girls sometimes have reasons for their behaviour. She loves the opportunity to work with industry professionals and to improve her singing and the dancing she’s much less confident about.

This is a repackaging of the very successful Diva series first released in 2006. The covers are more sophisticated and shiny too! Each cover is a different colour and features a silhouetted singer/dancer. Mickey, the main character, has a burning ambition to be a successful singer as do most of the other contestants. But the reader is introduced to many other personalities. Most are friendly and keen to participate, not just to win, but there are others who seem to delight in the misfortunes of others. Mickey’s nemesis, Coco, is downright horrid, although Lawson allows the reader peeks into her life which help to explain why she is as she is. It’s like a mini world, with the nice girls, the nervy ones, and the very nasty ones. There are themes of competitiveness, community as well as a view into the world of the reality television franchise. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers, particularly girls who fancy a career in television and singing.

It's a Girl Thing (Diva)

Diva series:
It’s a Girl Thing, Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2011 ISBN: 9781742031675
Rising Star , Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2011 ISBN: 9781742031682
Going Solo , Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2011 ISBN: 9781742031699
Finale, Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2011 ISBN: 9781742031705

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

After, by Sue Lawson

I watched the old woman smooth down the purple doona. Her words rattled around my head.
Clean linen.
Your mother’s bed.
The word ‘mother’ hung in the air.
The old man in the doorway cleared his throat. ‘Here are your bags, Callum.’
Callum? No one – not even Franger, my old principal – called me Callum. I was CJ. CJ Alexander.
I repeated the only word I’d said since they’d picked me up at the Millington train station two hours ago. ‘Thanks.’
‘Right, Patricia, let’s leave him to settle in,’ said the man.
The woman looked me up and down. ‘The wardrobe’s empty,’ she said. ‘So are the drawers. We’ll be in the kitchen.’
‘Thanks…’ What did I call her? Grandma? Gran? Nan? It was all too hard. As I eased the door shut behind them, an ache settled in my chest. I dumped my stuff on the bed and unzipped the duffle bag. The smell of home filled my head, sparking memories.

Callum has come to stay with his grandparents in the small country town of Winter Creek. He’s never met his grandparents and they don’t seem all that happy to see him. He brings with him an overwhelming secret, one that interrupts his sleep and fills his daytime thoughts. He’s angry with his mother for banishing him to the country, to stay with strangers. He’s angry with his grandparents because they seem to want him to be something he isn’t. He’s angry with everyone who comes anywhere near him. But mostly he’s angry with himself. There are so many secrets and they colour every facet of his life. Then he discovers that he has to start at a new school. Can his life get any worse?

The subtitle for ‘After reads ‘What happens when you can’t live with before?’ and the reader is immediately aware that Callum is carrying a big horrible secret so big that he is haunted by it day and night. Short chapters intersperse the After narrative, flashbacks to ‘before’. The reader is as much in the dark as Callum’s newly met grandparents. Callum, despite his terrifying anger, is a sympathetic character and slowly, slowly his story unfolds. Sue Lawson uses first person to keep the reader very close, but also to emphasise the unreliable narrator aspect of this voice. Callum is not the only one with secrets and these secrets impact on the ‘healing’ that his mother hoped would come from his time in her childhood home and home town. The joys and challenges of living in a small rural community are convincingly drawn. There are themes of loss and forgiveness, consequences for actions, but the strongest theme is the damage done by secrets. This is a compelling read for mid-secondary readers and beyond.


After, Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2009
ISBN: 9781742031125

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This title can be purchased online from Fishpond.

Finding Darcy, by Sue Lawson

‘You’re joking.’
‘Keep your voice down, Darcy,’ whispered Mum, stirring her coffee. She glanced around the packed café. ‘We need to discuss this calmly.’
I leaned forward. The edge of the table pressed against my ribs. ‘Discuss? What’s to discuss? It’s all decided. You’re moving to Melbourne for three months and I have to live with Misery and Batty.’
‘Why not? It suits them. Grandma’s mad, and as for Granny! She’s a foul-tempered old witch.’ I sat back, arms folded.

Darcy lives with her nurse mother, in a small coastal town. Her mother has to update her training and for three months, Darcy will live with her grandmother who is also caring for her own mother, Darcy’s great-grandmother. Four generations of women on their own. Darcy’s father died when she was a small child. Her grandfather is dead and mystery surrounds the death of the great-grandfather whose name she shares. All Darcy knows is that he died during the war. Discussion about him is forbidden, even by Mum. As if living with a grandmother she calls Misery and a great-grandmother she calls Batty isn’t bad enough, her class is set a living history assignment. They must interview their grandparents for family stories about World War II. Darcy can’t talk to her family so she begins to research herself. A misunderstanding at school leads to a spiralling episode of bullying. Darcy discovers allies in unexpected places and unwraps the secrets that have so dramatically impacted on four generations of her family.

Finding Darcy is a compelling journey of discovery. Pulled rudely out of her secure and happy environment, Darcy struggles with school bullying while experiencing similar issues out of school hours. She is a fully-developed, likeable character who struggles to adapt to her challenging new living environment. Issues of family secrets, bullying, racism, small town small-mindedness are all handled realistically and sensitively. Misery, Batty, even her nemesis ‘Neanderthal’ are all skilfully developed as flawed-but-not-irredeemable characters. Her teacher, ‘The Newt’ and her friend, Laura provide constancy and support, while keeping Darcy accountable for her actions. Darcy’s exploration of the circumstances of her great-grandfather’s death illuminate a lesser-known tragedy and put a human face to war and its far-reaching effects. Parallels are drawn between the death of her father and that of her great-grandfather. Themes include coping with loss, family, war, friendship and bullying. Recommended for early- to mid-secondary readers.

Finding Darcy, by Sue Lawson
black dog books 2008
ISBN: 9781742030234

Drama Queen and Extreme Girls, by Sue Lawson

I’m Mickey Farrell, youngest girl in a family of three. My sisters, Sam and Gemma, are sports-tragics.
They dream of being sporting legends.
I dream of being a singing star.

And now she’s on TV.

The singing contest, Dream Diva, is over and Mickey is co-hosting TV series ‘Girls Stuff TV’ with winner, Skye and fellow finalist, Coco. In Drama Queen, the three girls visit a working dairy farm. Mickey and Skye are keen to experience everything they can, but Coco is less thrilled. As Eloise shows them around the farm, it seems that Coco is a magnet for everything from chook poo to…well…cow poo. It’s hard to feel sorry for Coco when she seems so mean.

Extreme Girls sees the trio, photographers and crew head to the river for a jet boat ride. Everyone is excited except Mickey who gets more anxious as the time approaches for the ride. Skye and others notice her discomfort and try to help. Coco notices Mickey’s discomfort and does all she can to rub it in. But there are underlying reasons for Coco’s behaviour.

Many young girls dream of winning a song competition and of being on TV. Drama Queen’and Extreme Girls show what it could be like to live that dream. But there is more to the series than make-up and fancy clothes. Inside each is an opportunity to learn about something new as well as to experience some of the challenges that come when you spend time in the spotlight. Mickey and Skye come to see through Coco’s prickly façade and to realise that some things are not quite as they seem. With short, active chapters and colourful covers, this series will appeal to collectors and girls who fancy a life in the spotlight. There is a quiz at the end of each book, tied to the content. Recommended for girls 8 years +

Drama Queen, by Sue Lawson
black dog books 2007
ISBN 9781921167706

Extreme Girls, by Sue Lawson
black dog books 2007
ISBN 9781921167713

It's a Girl Thing, by Sue Lawson

I thought entering the Diva Competition would be the answer to all my dreams. Now I’m sitting in a hall filled with a million other girls. My knees feel like rubber. Suddenly I’m not sure this was a good idea after all.

Mickey Farrell is the odd girl out in her sports-mad family. She loves singing. And her dream is to one day be the hottest singing sensation in the country, so when she sees an advertisement to take part in the Diva competition, she knows she has to give it a go.

At the first round of auditions, Mickey starts to realise some of the challenges of this frustrating industry. The hall is packed with girls all eager to be the next big thing – but only a few can go through to the next round. The judges are not easily impressed. Then there are the other girls – some of whom, like Mickey’s new friend Erin, are really nice, but others, like Coco, think only of themselves. Mickey isn’t sure how she’ll get through the day, let alone the whole competition.

It’s a Girl Thing is the first title in a new series from Black Dog books aimed squarely at primary aged girls. With a sparkly cover, a back-of-book personality quiz and lots of girly action, this is sure to appeal to 8-12 year old readers.

It’s a Girl Thing, by Sue Lawson
Black Dog, 2006

Allie McGregor's True Colours, by Sue Lawson

Lying face down on my bed, listening to my MP3 player, I tried to imagine I was on a tropical island. But the fight with Dad kept pushing postcard beaches and blinding sunshine from my mind.
Grounded! For a month! Sure, I did the wrong thing, but so did Riley. How come he wasn’t being punished? It wasn’t like I’d meant for Sarah to get hurt.

Allie McGregor’s life seems to be one problem after another. First, there’s having to share her bedroom with her little sister, Sarah, and Sarah’s smelly pet mice, while their Dad continues his endless renovations. Then there’s Dad job as a breakfast DJ – where he tells stories about Allie, calling her ‘The Hormonal One’. Then there’s the problems between her best friend Lou and her new friend, Romy, the most popular girl at school. And on top of all this, Allie’s mum has cancer.

Allie McGregor’s True Colours is a touching, but never saccharine, tale of one girl’s journey through dealing with her first year of high school, with all its problems, whilst also dealing with the stresses of family illness. Told in a humorous first-person voice, through the eyes of the attitude-laden Allie, this is a moving read that deals with weighty issues yet maintains momentum as it sweeps the reader along. Whilst we see Allie throw tantrums and act, at times, unreasonably, we also see why she is like this and barrack for her to come though unscathed.

Suitable for girls aged 12 an up.

Allie McGregor’s True Colours, by Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books, 2006

Ferret Boy, by Sue Lawson

There are two things Joshua really loves – his ferrets and his Gramps, who gave him the ferrets. But in just one week, Joshua faces the prospect of losing both the ferrets and Gramps.

First, Joshua accepts a bet from Mooney, the school bully, to race Bucks, his favourite ferret, in the Hartley Ferret Derby. Josh knows nothing about ferret racing, but he needs to learn quickly – because if Bucks loses, Josh loses her – to Mooney.

As if that isn’t enough to put Josh under stress, Gramps has a stroke and is taken to hospital. Josh thinks he’s going to die.

WIth support from his family and instructions from Gramps, Josh keeps training Bucks for the Derby. In the meantime he has to cope with the disappearance of his other ferret, Eddie, the taunts of Mooney, who is sure he will win the bet, and the moods of his big brother Matt. Then, on the morning of the derby, Bucks has the biggest shock of all in stall for Josh. Will he lose both his ferrets to bully Mooney?

Ferret Boy is an excellent combination of fun, adventure and message, as it explores family, friendshsips and bullying, among other subjects. Likely to appeal to ten to fourteen year old readers, this novel would be great as a class novel as well as for private reading.

Ferret Boy, by Sue Lawson
Lothian, 2003