Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky, by Robert Newton

The red wrapping was secured with a long strap of sticky tape. I dug a nail in under a corner and as i peeled it off, the paper tore down the middle and uncovered my present inside.
‘Is Surfing Paradise, Miss Lexie.’
I lifted the snow dome up for a closer look and saw a mum and dad and a kid making sandcastles in the sand.
‘It’s perfect,’ I said. ‘It’s the best present I ever got.’

Lexie’s dad always promised her that one day they would go to Surfer’s paradise. Now that he’s gone, Lexie dreams of the day she will still get there. But living in the commission with her mostly absent mother, Surfer’s Paradise seems a long way away. Then Lexie witnesses something shocking and finds herself befriending a man everyone calls Creeper. Lexie and her friend Davey help the man they soon learn is called Mr Romanov and together the three set off on a journey that will change their lives.

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky is a moving tale of an unlikely friendship. With some quite shocking scenes and a range of issues, including drug abuse, bereavement and dementia, the story could be overwhelming, but a blend of humour, action and empathy makes for a satisfying blend for younger teens.

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky, by Robert Newton
Penguin Books, 2017
ISBN 9780143309307

The Things I Didn't Say, by Kylie Fornasier

I hate the label Selective Mutism – as if I choose not to speak, like a kid who refuses to eat broccoli. I’ve used up every dandelion wish since I was ten wishing for the power to speak whenever I want to. I’m starting to wonder if there are enough dandelions.

Piper Rhodes doesn’t talk to strangers. But far from this being a sign of following parental rules, her silence seems inexplicable. She can talk at home, and to people she knows well, but at school and in the community, words fail her. This causes lots of problems, but as she starts at a new school for her final year of schooling, Piper is never more aware of just how problematic it can be. Teachers think she’s being rude, and making friends is difficult. Then there’s West: the school captain, soccer-star, boy who has it all. He seems intent of getting to know her, even if it means writing notes.

Selective Mutism is a difficult condition to live with and for other people to comprehend. Even the name is problematic, as Piper complains, implying a ‘selection’ or choice being made. The Things I Didn’t Say is a wonderful exploration of the challenges it holds for one teen character, at the same time as being just a great read about friendship, peer pressure, and parental expectation. Piper has changed schools by choice after losing her best friend following a drunken party, and at the new school finds both new friends and new enemies. West, who appears to have it all, also has struggles, particularly with meeting the expectations his parents have of him. Their seemingly unlikely relationship blossoms through notes and text messages, but is threatened by people around them.

An excellent young adult read.

The Things I Didn’t Say, by Kylie Fornasier
Penguin, 2016
ISBN 9780143573630

The Reluctant Jillaroo, by Kaz Delaney

9781925266061.jpgThe side of my head stung and I winced silently. But even if I’d cried out it would have been drowned out in the sea of cheers that flooded the little bus. We’d arrived, and it seemed everybody but me was delirious with excitement.
I would have sighed, but that would have meant talking a big gulp of the stale air: the way my stomach was churning, there was no way I could risk that. I needed every bit of inner calm I could muster. I was about to give the performance of my life.
And this from the kid who’d never, ever been picked for any school play.

Harper and Heidi might be identical twins but their interests are very different: Heidi loves sun, skating and surfing, while Harper is into horses and all things agricultural. But, when Heidi causes the accident that leaves Harper unable to attend jillaroo camp, the sisters decide the best course of action is for Heidi to go in her place. It’s up to Heidi to pretend to be Harper, and impress the teachers enough that Harper can win a place at her dream school.

While Harper recovers at home Heidi readies herself for ten days or horse riding, fencing, and handling cattle. And ten days of pretending not to be herself. She doesn’t count on meeting the handsome Chaz, or on one of the campers being Trent Weston – who knows the real Harper. Keeping her secret is not going to be easy.

The Reluctant Jillaroo uses the idea of a twin-swap as the premise for a satisfying blend of romance, mystery and adventure, set in rural Australia. Heidi’s attempts to fit into farm life lend lots of humour, and the growing relationship with the affable Chaz adds interest, as does a mystery about a series of mishaps and missing items.

With horses, romance and mystery, The Reluctant Jillaroo is likely to appeal to teen readers.

The Reluctant Jillaroo, by Kaz Delaney
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781925266061

Wildlight, by Robyn Mundy

Wildlight - Robyn MundyBelow, a limp windsock gave way to a clearing in the bush that looked too small for a landing pad. The blue nose of a vehicle peeked through the trees. The helicopter hovered, swayed its hips. They inched lower, the pilot peering through the side window. He manoeuvred the throttle as lightly as a computer mouse. They were even with the treetops, now they were below them. Steph read a painted sign: MAATSUYKER ISLAND. A soft thud, a bounce, the kiss of solid earth, an exhalation as the rotors lowered pitch. They were down, they were safe.

Steph is not thrilled to be coming to Maatsuyker Island. She’s sixteen and supposed to be in her last year of school. Instead her parents have brought her to this remote outpost off the coast of Tasmania to act as caretakers of the island and its lighthouse. They hope that their time there, largely cut off from the outside world, will help the family to heal from the tragic loss of Steph’s twin brother.

Angry and resentful at being on the island, Steph drifts, her studies losing importance and her plan to become a doctor seeming unlikely. Meeting Tom Forrest, a deckhand on a cray fishing boat which visits the island, provides a welcome distraction. 19 year old Tom has problems of his own. He doesn’t want to be deckhand all his life, but his manipulative brother isn’t keen to let him leave. In the meantime, he’s fishing illegally, making Tom party to his behaviour. As the teens grow close, they dream of a life back on the mainland. When Tom goes missing, Steph is devastated.

Wildlight is a haunting, beautiful coming of age tale about first love, set amongst the wilderness in a way that makes the setting almost a character. With most of the book set in 1999, the use of a prologue and concluding chapters set in 2015 shows the impact the teen year events have on the adult lives of the characters.

Mundy’s poetic style and well-developed characters take the reader on an emotion-filled journey.


Wildlight, by Robyn Mundy
Picador, 2016
ISBN 9781743537909

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

The Flywheel by Erin Gough

As far as English teachers go, I could do worse than Mr Hammer. He’s a smart guy with a good haircut and an admiral passion for punctuation. He’s taught me since the start of high school and I have only two misgivings: his views on the semicolon and the fact he ruined my life.

To be fair, when he paired me with Georgina Trump for a class project probably wasn’t his intention. Class Harmony is Mr Hammer’s big thing, and I understand that bridging the gap between those in the class who carry pink clutch purses and those who don’t is a legitimate part of that.

It was in a similar spirit of goodwill that I decided to make an effort with Georgina. This was despite the fact that when Mr Hammer said, ‘Georgina, you’re with Delilah,’ she pretended not to know who I was, even though we’ve gone to school together for over four years now.

As far as English teachers go, I could do worse than Mr Hammer. He’s a smart guy with a good haircut and an admiral passion for punctuation. He’s taught me since the start of high school and I have only two misgivings: his views on the semicolon and the fact he ruined my life.

To be fair, when he paired me with Georgina Trump for a class project probably wasn’t his intention. Class Harmony is Mr Hammer’s big thing, and I understand that bridging the gap between those in the class who carry pink clutch purses and those who don’t is a legitimate part of that.

It was in a similar spirit of goodwill that I decided to make an effort with Georgina. This was despite the fact that when Mr Hammer said, ‘Georgina, you’re with Delilah,’ she pretended not to know who I was, even though we’ve gone to school together for over four years now.

Delilah has more freedom from parental supervision than most 17 year olds. Her father is taking what seems like an adult gap year, extending his overseas trip in the belief that she’s brilliantly managing their café, The Flyway. However, she may have overstated her competence and the café’s success, in her conversations with her travelling father. She may also have overstated her achievements at school. Delilah lurches from disaster to disaster, digging herself deeper into the stories she tells her father, trying to keep ahead of school bullies, manage the challenges at work and trying to contain her growing crush. In her growing desperation, she both needs and rejects the assistance of friends and family.

The Flywheel is the second publication from The Ampersand Project and Hardie Grant Egmont. This debut young adult novel is both touching and hilarious. Delilah is a delightful mix of wisdom and naivete, bravery and hesitancy, maturity and childlikeness. Her parents are caught up in their own worlds and Delilah is seriously lacking strong role models. Well, actually she’s not – she just needs to work out who she can rely on. And she needs to learn which of her own instincts to trust. The Flywheel is a rollercoaster coming of age story, speeding from highs to low and back again, exploring the nature of friendship, responsibility and love. Recommended for mid secondary readers.


The Flywheel, Erin Gough
Hardie Grant Egmont 2015 ISBN: 9781742978178

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Intruder, by Christine Bongers

Maybe it was the creak of a worn floorboard that woke me. Or the subtle shift in air pressure as another body invaded my space. I struggled up out of a dream, confused and disoriented, squinting into the darkness.
‘Dad?’ The shadows coalesced into a human form, close enough to touch. ‘Is that you?’
‘Is he here?’ the strange voice – a man’s voice – struck my heart like a hammer.

When Kat awakes to an intruder in her bedroom, she screams, and her neighbour comes running to her aid. But Edwina, the neighbour, is almost as unwelcome in Kat’s life as the prowler, having betrayed Kat’s dying mother in the last days of her life. Now it seems Edwina is going to become a part of her life again, whether Kat likes it or not.

And there’s another unwanted guest in her house – a dog called Hercules, who is supposed to guard her in future. Kat is terrified of dogs, but given the choice between Hercules or sleeping at Edwina’s when her dad is out working, she accepts the dog as the lesser of two evils. When walking Hercules leads to her meeting Al at the dog park, Kat realises he’s not all bad, and when the prowler reveals he isn’t done with her, Kat comes to realise she might need Hercules AND Edwina on her side.

Intruder is a gripping story that takes the reader on a journey from fear, to laughter, to confusion, to angst and well beyond. There are lots of light moments, as well as feel-good ones, but the threat of a stalker-intruder hangs over the book, as do the back story of Kat’s mother’s death and the events for which Kat blames Edwina. The reader wants to know what happened and what will happen in equal measure.

Teen readers will lap this up, with the blend of mystery, suspense, angst, romance and humour satisfyingly executed.



Intruder, by Chris Bongers
Woolshed Press, 2014
ISBN 9780857983763

Available from good bookstores or online.

Looking for Alibrandi, by Melina Marchetta

I’m beginning to realise that things don’t turn out the way you want them to. And sometimes when they don’t, they can turn out just a little bit better.

Josephine Alibrandi is in her final year of highschool, and it’s going to be a good one. She’s going to stay out of trouble, work hard and get into law at uni.  But her determination doesn’t last long – she’s in trouble on the first day  in religous education class. And this is just the start of a tumultuous year where Josephine (Josie) falls in love, gets her first job, fights with her mother and nonna, and meets her father for the first time. Along the way she has to confront who she really is, and who she wants to be.

Looking for Alibrandi is a classic coming of age story. First published over twenty years ago, it has been re-released as part the Penguin Australian Children’s Classics series in a delightful hardcover edition. Teens will love getting to know this sassy main character and adults will enjoy the chance to become reacquainted with her. The writing is still fresh and appealing with themes and issues which are still relevant to today’s readers.


Looking for Alibrandi , by Melina Marchetta
Penguin, 2014
ISBN 9780670077786

Available from good bookstores or online.

Catch the Zolt, by Phillip Gwynne

As the van got closer, my brain started whirring, making that noise that a hard disk makes when you dump a load of data on it.
What to do next?
Suddenly, a swoosh sounds, and then blackness. Just like when I’d had my appendix out a few years ago and had been ‘put to sleep’ by the anaesthetist.
When I regained conciousness, I was lying on the footpath.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see the white van disappearing around a corner.

When Dom turns 15 he expects to get a few presents. But what he doesn’t expect is that on the day of his fifteenth birthday he inherits The Debt. An ancestor made a promise to a powerful secret organisation, and because he didn’t fulfil that promise, his descendants must pay. Dom must perform six tasks or lose a pound of flesh.

When he gets his first task, Dom is flummoxed. He must catch the Zolt, a teenage fugitive with a thing for stealing cars, boats, even planes, from rich families. He has a cult following amongst young people, but lots of enemies too. Dom is not even sure he wants to catch him – but he has no choice. The Debt want their first payment – now.

Catch the Zolt is the first instalment in Phillip Gwynne’s new series, The Debt. The action and pacing are good, taking the teen reader along on a fast moving journey with plenty of twists and unforeseen developments. Dom is a chatty first person narrator who allows the reader in to the action and his thought processes, allowing for connection. Readers will care about Dom and look forward to the second instalment.

Catch the Zolt (Debt)

Catch the Zolt (The Debt), by Phillip Gwynne
Allen & Unwin, 2013
ISBN 978174237844

Available from good bookstores or online.

Dead, Actually, by Kaz Delaney

Contrary to popular belief, the air in hell is freezing – because surely that’s where I’d somehow landed. My breath caught; my heart jerked…
My body froze.
My brain shut down.
I clutched at the doorframe.
But still she stared at me.
Her…A dead person. In my room.
Let me clarify: not a body, a dead person.
An already-buried, dead person.

Willow’s having a bad week. A very bad week. Her parents have told her they’re heading off to start a church in Africa. The guys she has a crush on treats her like a little sister. And then there’s the matter of JoJo Grayson, a rich girl who inconveniently visited the drive through where willow was working – and then went and died, making Willow the last person to see her alive. This means that Willow is the one that JoJo is haunting, and JoJo isn’t any nicer dead than she was alive. She’s going to make Willow’s life very difficult until Willow can figure out what happened in the lead-up to JoJo’s death.

In the meantime, Willow is suddenly popular. All of JoJo’s friends, the ‘in’ crowd, want to spend time with Willow, ostensibly to learn more about their dear departed friend. But Willow soon realises there are ulterior motives ta play. these people think Willow knows something – and they’re pretty keen to find out what it is.

Dead, Actually is a tragi-comic story of life, death, and life after death – and of friendship and family, too. There’s a lot happening in Willow’s life apart from the haunting, with her woefully inadequate parents having invited a shyster evangelist into their home and her feelings for her best friend’s brother, Seth. This could be a lot to deal with in one story, but Delaney does it well with the story unfolding over just a few days and the characters delightfully drawn. Willow is an endearing first person narrator, outwardly strong but with her vulnerability helping to make her believable, and JoJo is the girl you love to hate (even after she’s dead) but who you come to understand just a bit better.

Suitable for teen readers, Dead, Actually is a delightful blend of mystery, romance and the supernatural all wrapped up with comedy fiction.

Dead, Actually

Dead, Actually, by Kaz Delaney
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742378183

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