Deception, by Celeste Walters

Not much that happens in the silver city is not influenced by Kenneth Cullinan. He has a finger in every pie in town – business; politics, even football.

Josh Sim lives in the silver city. His life is study, family, and following the team. Until the game goes national, with Cullinan at the centre of the push, and Josh and every other local is left without a team to support.

Josh’s Dad played for the team and, to his grandfather, GD, football is life’s focus. When the team is closed, GD loses his passion for life.

Meanwhile, Josh’s mother, Liz, is living a lie. Every Wednesday she sneaks off to her new job – cleaning silver at Kenneth Cullinan’s home. The extra money will help put Josh through university, but she can’t tell him where the money comes from. Cullinan is universally hated and Josh wouldn’t understand why she is working for him.

When Josh uncovers his mother’s betrayal, he leaves home and takes to the streets. It seems, for a time, as if nothing will mend the rift.

Deception is a skilfully crafted book for young adults which will also appeal to adult readers. Author Celeste Walters creates a multi-layered and multi-streamed tale which shows the darker side of a city and of human nature, but also features hope and love as very real parts of life.

There is a tendency among writers for older teens to confuse realism with pessimism, and Walters carefully avoids this trap. The book is, at times, very dark, yet there, amidst death, family breakdown, and chaos, is a demonstration of goodness, of hope for a brighter future. There are no easy answers to the difficulties Josh and his family face, but there is an opportunity to search for answers, to work towards solutions.

A resonant read for ages 14 and over.

Deception, by Celeste Walters
University of Queensland Press, 2005

High Hopes on Sea, by Jenny Wagner

The Hope family lived by the sea in a squeeze-in, sit-down, have-a-cup-of-tea sort of house that sheltered behind the dunes. If you knew the house well, you would also know that it had its hands in its pockets and wore a tin roof over one eye.

In this curious house lives a curious family – they don’t have much money but are filled with a sense of joy in the everyday. They love visitors, they love the gentle breeze that cools their house and they love their dog Sassy, who has an unusual problem. She loves the sound ‘o’ and so barks loudly whenever anyone mentions a bone, or a boat, or rope, or hope.

Sassy’s problem creates a bigger problem for the family. They aren’t supposed to have a dog in their rented house and when the builders next door hear her barking, they complain. The Hope family are told they must get rid of the dog or find somewhere else to live. No one wants to get rid of Sassy, but neither do they want to move, so an innovative solution is needed. Just as well Mr Hope is an inventor. Hopefully his newest invention will work.

High Hopes by Sea is a gorgeous offering. The story is funny but also touching as we see a family work together to fix a problem. There is also a lovely sense of support for each other – Mr Hope’s inventions are not very successful, but his wife always encourages him. Gregory Rogers’ black and white illustrations reflect the dream-like quality to the book, adding an extra touch of whimsy.

The text is accessible as a read-alone for children aged about 7 to 10, but really lends itself to being read aloud.

Jenny Wagner is the author of John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat as well as other books for children. High Hopes On Sea will be similarly treasured.

High Hopes On Sea, by Jenny Wagner, illustrated by Gregory Rogers
University of Queensland Press, 2005

No Worries, by Bill Condon

I covered her shoulders and leaned against her.
People passing by stared at us, then turned away when I stared back. There must be an embarrassment cut-off point somewhere in the brain. When so many things have happened, you stop caring what people think any more. I even put my arm around her shoulder, although I’m sure she didn’t know it was there.

Brian (Bri) Talbot is seventeen and has just dropped out of school. Fed up with being picked on my other students and by the teachers, he’s decided he’s had enough. Now he’s working nightshift in a milk factory. But Bri’s employment woes are probably the least of his worries. His dad lives in a shed in the backyard and his mum is losing it, spiralling out of control. More and more Bri is taking the role of responsible adult in the family and he’s not sure he can cope.

No Worries deals with some uncomfortable situations with humour and directness, taking the reader on a roller-coaster journey of the emotions. The language, characters and emotions are easy to access but it is not an easy read, because of the gut-wrenching impact of the story.

When a book can make a reader laugh out loud in places and sob bitterly in others, it has had an impact. This is one such tale and is likely to have this impact both on teen readers and on adults.

Whilst the first person voice of the book takes us inside Bri’s head and shows us his version of events, we are still able to develop sympathy for and understanding of the other characters, a testament to the skill of author Bill Condon. It is also a testament to his skill that readers will not want to let the character of Bri go when they reach the end of this book.

No Worries, by Bill Condon
UQP, 2005

I Have Kissed Your Lips, by Gerard Windsor

Michael English is happy in his role as parish priest, until he meets Esme, one of his parishioners. They are strangely drawn to each other and he finds himself making clandestine visits to Esme. When her husband dies and she declares herself pregnant, he leaves the priesthood and marries her.

Soon, though, Michael finds himself falling for the woman who is Esme’s doctor, and begins a second affair. This affair is called off by the woman, Jill, after Esme’s baby dies. Michael is unsure whether he loves Esme, but feels obliged to spend the rest of his life with her.

Underlying this plot are two others – the story of Michael’s birth and of his childhood, and the story of Esme’s first baby – born when she was a teenager, and adopted out at birth. The reader is teased throughout the book as to the connections between these plots, which come together in a final shocking twist.

I Have Kissed Your Lips at times seems to run the risk of being predictable but each time redeems itself with a new twist. This is much more than a story about babies and adoptions – it is also about religion, the institution of the church, and secrecy and its long term impact. Michael and Esme, and those who are affected by their actions, are all initially unaware of the significance of their relationship and are victims of the past mistakes and misdeeds of others.

I Have Kissed Your Lips is a well-crafted literary novel with the various stories interwoven beautifully so that, piece by piece, the plot comes together at just the right point.

I Have Kissed Your Lips, by Gerard Windsor
University of Queensland Press, 2004

3, by Grant King

Half an hour ago, as part of ‘dog procurement’ process, Caesar was weighed. He came in at a shade over seventy-five kilos Seventy-five kilos! I am only ten more than that myself! He doubled in size before my eyes at the mere thought of it.

Steven Ralph is down on his luck. He’s severely depressed and hasn’t had any work from the company he freelances for for weeks. He can’t pay the bills, has no friends and drinks himslef to oblivion on a daily basis. So he does what every person in this situation would do – he gets a dog. And not just any dog – a huge rotweiler/german shepherd cross called Caesar. He is sure having a dog will turn his life around.

Perhaps he is right. Caesar’s arrival coincides with changes in his life. First he manages to get another chance with the ad agency. Then he gets himself a flatmate. Maybe life is on the up. But when Caesar develops a taste for Steven’s girlfriends, it seems the dog may have to go. Or does he?

This is not a feel good book and not for those with delicate stomachs, but it is a cleverly-written and humorous read. The tour through the advertising industry and the streets of Brisbane is entertaining, and Steven is a strangely likeable character – the reader can understand his choices and even, almost, come to like the dog.

Truly bizarre, this is still a very readable book.

3, by Grant King
University of Queensland Press, 2004

Home, by Larissa Behrendt

The Reverend’s wife had tried to explain to her that she was named after an English Queen. But she loved the feel of her real name as it rolled off her tongue, preferring the way her lips made a ripple, like on a river, to pronounce the third syllable: Ga-ri-boo-li. ‘Elizabeth’ sounded scratchy and high-pitched, like a bird squawk. She would whisper her real name to herself, over and over again, faster and faster. Garibooli. Garibooli. Garibooli.

Garibooli is happy living in the camp with her parents and her precious brother, Euroke, until the day two strange white men come and take her away. Renamed Elizabeth she is sent to work as a housemaid for a privileged white family, never to see her family, or her land, again. In her new home, Garibooli gains the unwanted attention of her master, whose nightime visits soon result in her falling pregnant. When this baby, named after Euroke, is taken away from her, part of Garibooli dies.

In the years that follow, Garibooli makes a new life with her German husband Grigor. They have six children together. Home traces not just Garibooli’s life but also the stories of her children, who are all affected in different ways by Garibooli’s past and by her early death. It is Garibooli’s grandaughter, Candice, a city lawyer who makes the journey ‘home’ to Garibooli’s land and whose journey envelops the book – appearing at the beginning and again at the end.

Home is Garibooli’s story, but is also the story of a family and of a people. Author Larissa Behrendt uses it to humanise the impact of the segregttion and oppression of Aboriginal people in Australia. She does this very powerfully. The reader is drawn in to Garibooli’s struggle to synthesise her past and her present, and to her children’s struggles after they are abandoned by their father following Garibooli’s death.

Behrendt also uses the book to comment, directly and indirectly, on the political and legal plight of her people in a way which, again, humanises these issues and exposes them to readers who perhaps are in need of a fresh perspective.

This is an outstanding first novel.

Home, by Larissa Behrendt
UQP, 2004

Percussion, by Jay Verney

It’s like my Aunt Ruby – the day she died, she said goodbye to her husband, Arthur, got into bed, made a few calls saying nice things to nieces and nephews . . .talked to Mama, that’s her sister, who was just beside herself because she lived too far away to get there on time. She made herself comfortable . . .and off she went that afternoon about five.

This death, described by one of the minor characters in Percussion is not a key part of the book, but it does speak of the central focus of the book – on death and dying. Whilst some of the death is metaphorical – the death of a marriage, for example – one of the central characters dies a violent death. Despite the focus on death, this is not a dark and depressing novel, for like Aunt Ruby’s passing, death is not always traumatic and it can mark the beginning of recovery.

Penier Bay (the locals call it Pineappale Bay) is a town which seems in need of recovery. It is a town of conflict, of alcoholics and of oppressive heat. Tension bubbles beneath the surface incessantly. Yet perhaps Pineapple is more real than the places Anna Maher visits with her mother Maggie and grandmother Veronica in the United States. There they attend a veterans’ reunion and watch Veronica’s elderly friends avoiding the inevitability of death. Maggie, suggests that in Pineapple Bay living and dying were far cheaper achievements and… funerals were certainly nothing like the rituals of show-and-tell engaged in by the American death industry.

The action of the novel switches between Pineapple Bay and the United States, and also switches from past to present so that the story circles and unfolds gradually. It is not until the final page that the last piece of the tale falls into place and reveals the significance of Veronica’s death.

Percussion is the second novel for Jay Verney. Her first, A Mortality Tale, was shortlisted for the Vogel Award and has been rereleased to coincide with the publication of Percussion. Those who have read the first will enjoy the overlap of character and setting. Whilst Percussion is in no way a sequel, the reappaearance of the central character of A Mortality Tale is an intruguing touch for those readers.

Percussion is a wryly humorous, absorbing novel.

Percussion, by Jay Verney
UQP, 2004

Alex Jackson Dropping In, by Pat Flynn

Alex decided to milk the occasion for everything it was worth. How many times in life do you get to play the hero? He could have kicked it straight into the back of the net, but he thought he’d do a bit of dribbling practice – with one hand in the air, waving to the crowd. Alex ran casually toward the goal and was just about to toe poke it in when he heard an urgent call from Jimmy: “Man on!”

Alex Jackson has problems. First, he misses the goal that would have won the soccer final. Then he loses his first boxing fight. If that’s not enough, he’s being pursued by Sarah Sceney, the class nerd, who has had a crush on him since grade 3. But Alex’s biggest problem is his worry that he’s being put in a box. He’s been labelled as a nice bloke who plays soccer and boxes. No one expects much more of him than that, and it bugs him.

As he bumbles his way through these highs and lows, Alex starts to find some of the things that might help him to make sense of his life.

Alex Jackson: Dropping In is a combination of humour, soul-searching and action. The fourth book about this likeable hero by author Pat Flynn, what is different is that this one is set before the other three – when Alex is still in primary. It acts both as a prequel, introducing Alex and his mates, and as a stand-alone read for perhaps a slightly younger audience.

A great read for ages 10 and up.

Alex Jackson: Dropping In, by Pat Flynn
UQP, 2004

The Airdancer of Glass, by Catherine Bateson

In an undefined time in the future, society is divided into those who have, and those who have nothing. The privileged ones, the Fatters, live in a domed city where they live in sterile seclusion. Outside, the Tippers live in squalor, scavenging from the dumped refuse of the Fatters, dulling the pain of a meaningless existence with dope and voddy.

Into the Tippers settlement comes Lulianne, an Airdancer. She has left the Circus troupe she used to perform with, fed up with the drinking and sexual advances of the man who was once a father figure. In Tip she befriends Egan, who is also an outsider. He has come to Tip from Clan, a peaceful and secluded place where life is beautiful.

At the same time as the pair find themselves attracted to each other, they are also drawn into the struggle between the Tippers and the Fatters. With a third friend, Amos, a revolutionary who is working for a better life for all, they help to strike a new balance.

The Airdancer of Glass is a novel which challenges in its vision of the future – a future with stark divisions in society and with a landscape almost beyond recognition. Yet at the same time, the novel is about hope, showing how young people lead the way in overcoming injustice and forging a brighter outcome. It is significant that the three teens who bring about change are from three different backgrounds yet manage to find common ground and work together.

This is author Catherine Bateson’s fourth novel for young adults, but her first speculative fiction offering. Teen readers will be intrigued.

Airdancer of Glass, by Catherine Bateson
UQP, 2004

The Girl in the Cave, by Anthony Eaton

Kate doesn’t have a bedroom like an ordinary child. Instead, she sleeps in a cave in the backyard of her Aunt and Uncle’s house. During the day she is allowed out of the cave and into the house, so that she can cook and clean and look after her aunt and uncle. Poor Kate. Life isn’t much fun.

But one day the telephone rings. A strange woman called Miss Pincushion wants to come and visit. Kate has never seen her aunt and uncle look so alarmed. Suddenly she is banished from the house and her aunt and uncle start a mad search through every room.

Kate has no idea what is going on, but she has every intention of finding out. What she learns could well change her life – for the better.

The Girl in the Cave is a fast-paced, comic tale of greed, stolen babies, lost fortunes and butterflies. The twists and turns are zany and unbelievable – which is just what kids like.

Anthony Eaton’s wicked sense of humour makes for a read that will appeal to a wide range of young readers.

The Girl in The Cave, by Anthony Eaton
UQP, 2004