Review: Susin Nielsen – No Fixed Address

No Fixed Address
Susin Nielsen

Felix and his mom Astrid live in a van. It’s a pretty cool van at the beginning, but as months go past, Felix gets more and more uncomfortable. He doesn’t get to shower every day, and school seems like the only place he’s warm and safe. Felix has a chance to go on a TV trivia show though and win the answer to their problems.

I didn’t feel convinced that Felix was 13. I felt that maybe he was a bit younger? I feel like by 13 I was a bit more put together, but maybe that’s because I’m a girl and we develop slightly faster than boys. I loved his relationships with his friends! And I liked how the novel was a mix of past and present tense – initially I felt a bit hesitant of it, but in the end it made sense.

I liked how it was just a slippery slope from a month’s holiday in a van through to spending a couple of months in it. It wasn’t ‘bam’ they’re homeless. I also liked how Felix described his mother’s depression slumps. To me, I don’t think her medication was doing a great job though.

This asks the reader to consider hard questions – what makes a good parent? Is foster care the right solution to problematic homes? Is stealing ever ok? Also it wants the reader to think about what they might feel like in that situation. Also, there were a couple of times where Felix made a statement to the police, yet it wasn’t followed up on.

This was entertaining (and sad) at the same time. I was particularly fond of Felix’s classifications of different types of lie. It was a very comfortable and undemanding holiday read.that I’d absolutely recommend for middle grade readers. 4 stars for its target age group.

Review: Meg Caddy – Devil’s Ballast

Devil’s Ballast
Meg Caddy

Anne Bonny ran away from her abusive husband at age 18, heading to the arms of pirate captain Calico Jack. But her husband is willing to pay to get her back, and the pirate hunter Barnet is willing to try. Will Anne be able to keep her life as her own? Or will she be forced back to land.

I love that Anne has her own personality. She’s not just a raw, rum-drinkin’ pirate, she’s got her own feelings and problems and baggage. It would have been easy to just make her a hard-headed heroine with no feelings or flaws, but instead we get a character with contradictions and reality. Anne’s life isn’t a daydream – she’s still got to fix the heads (toilets) and beat off the bullies, even if she is sleeping with the captain. She isn’t willing to compromise.

It’s amazing how much action fitted into this novel. Anne Bonny hardly has a dull moment, and when she does it’s right before she skids feet-first into a big mess of trouble. This novel even slightly explores the feelings of PTSD and having a child adopted away. I’m still feeling pumped about this novel, even a week after reading it. I gobbled it up in one sitting.

I’m not quite sure why this novel was called Devil’s Ballast, but it gave it an appropriately ‘piratey’ feel. I’m going to tag it in very lightly as Historical Fiction, because Anne Bonny WAS a real person. But this novel is written in such a way that it could have been complete fiction. Thus I wasn’t sure about Meg’s survival or anything else.

I picked this novel because I had previously really enjoyed this author’s debut work of Waer. I was not disappointed, even if the two novels have nothing in common. I’d recommend this novel for readers aged 13 and up, and I am giving it 4 stars. Well done, Meg Caddy. Keep writing!

Text Publishing | 7th May 2019 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Ingrid Laguna – Songbird

Ingrid Laguna

Jamila has come to Australia from Iraq with her little brother and her Mama. Her English is no longer the best in her class – she’s the worst, and her Mama always needs her to come home to help her carry out daily tasks. Jamila is waiting for her Baba to come, but in the mean time can she fit in by joining choir and making a new friend?

This is a sweet little novel that will hopefully help primary school aged children understand how it can feel to be different in a new place. The character of Jamila could be slipped into by anyone at a new school, not just refugee children. I could empathise with Jamila wanting to make a good impression.

I loved how Jamila was able to stand up for herself, and that her hijab (which is usually the thing ‘picked on’ by other children in other novels) isn’t even a big deal for her. If anything, Jamila is a little more plucky than I would expect for someone her age – but I’m not going to complain about that. Her new friendship was a little too neat though (it’s always the new kids that stick together, right?).

I think this novel does a good job of being both age suitable but also exploring greater problems. Jamila and her Mama are lucky that there are great refugee services near them and that Jamila’s school is happy to help out. There are many people that don’t have these opportunities, or like Jamila’s Baba, are trapped in their old, unsafe country. Hopefully some of that uncertainty comes through to readers.

This novel is going to be suitable for younger readers, perhaps ages 10 and up. I read this novel very quickly, but it will take younger readers longer. I’m giving it 4 stars.

Text Publishing | 7th May 2019 | AU $14.99 | paperback

Review: Bren MacDibble – The Dog Runner

The Dog Runner
Bren MacDibble

Ella and Emery have a long way to go to get to Christmas’s place. Armed with their five big doggos and a dry-land dogsled they must head away through rough terrain to reach the relative safety and food of Emery’s mum’s place – but will their other parents ever catch up?

This is another wonderful, thought provoking novel from Bren MacDibble. Her first novel, How to Bee, examined how a world without bees would survive. This novel takes this a step further, envisioning a future where grasses and grains have been lost to a deadly fungus. This novel is probably another candidate for a upper primary school reader novel and thought-provoker.

The story slips out in nibbles, teasing the reader along even as Ella and Emery make it further and further away from the city. I was occasionally irritated by the way Ella ‘spoke’, but the action kept me reading. The way this is written, Ella could be a boy or a girl, and I think that makes it easier for any reader to empathize and truly consider her circumstances. This is a really possible future for Australia and the world – we are so reliant on grains for basic food and feeding livestock. Have we learnt nothing from the Irish Great Famine?

If this novel does nothing else, hopefully you enjoy the fast paced travel and fraught hideaways of Ella and Emery. They are brave kids, and I think the novel is really realistic in the way Ella reacts to the world falling apart around her. If Ella had been ok with eating dead humans all of a sudden, I would have been really concerned!

I’m giving this 4 stars, and I am looking forward to when I have a younger reader in this age bracket to read and review it with me.

Allen & Unwin | 4th February 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Brandon Sanderson – The Rithmatist

The Rithmatist
Brandon Sanderson

Joel attends Armedius Academy, a prestigious preparation school for both rich children and the elusive and exclusive Rithmatists. Rithmatists can draw Chalkings and defend the lines against the wild Chalkings in Nebrask – a life that Joel wants for himself. When Rithmatist children begin disappearing, Joel is eager to solve the case and learn more about Rithmatics in the process.

Similarly to Elantris, Sanderson takes an otherwise unremarkable and normal character and devotes a whole novel to them that a reader will love. It’s not that Joel is the underdog – he’s not even one of the metaphorical dogs to begin with! Melody is certainly an underdog, but she’s proud to admit it.

Something that doesn’t ring true for me in this novel is the ages of Joel and Melody. For being 16 year olds, both are very childish and their interactions ring false. I find it difficult to believe that even a single-minded teenage boy like Joel wouldn’t notice how pretty Melody apparently is.

Only Sanderson could bring to life a novel that talks about Chalkings – who knew that reading about drawing stick figures on a floor could be so interesting? Certainly, the opening scenes of The Rithmatist are designed to pull out Joel’s passion and invest the reader in the novel.

Keeping in mind that I have only listened to the talking book and never read the novel, the pacing of the novel was quite slow. This was particularly apparent the second time around I still have a hankering to see the Rithmatic diagrams at the beginning of each chapter, and I’m certain that my desire to reread this novel will not wain.

Sanderson, if you (or your many worthy minions) are reading this review, pretty please write the next novel in the series? That cliffhanger was unfair and unjust and I have so many questions left. I fear that the sequel may be like Kathleen Duey’s novels – a sequel that is promised, but may never occur. It’s like waiting for The Red Queen from Isobel Carmody again!

Review: Megan Frazer Blakemore – The Firefly Code

The Firefly Code
Megan Frazer Blakemore

Old Harmonie is a utopian community where almost all diseases have been cured, and children at the age of 13 are granted access to their special talent. But is everything as good as the children have been taught?

I didn’t always understand Mori’s motivations. I actually wondered at the beginning if her own parents or Ilana had somehow coerced her into taking Ilana into her secret place. Or can it be excused by the power of ‘beautiful people’ to get what they want? I find it so funny how Mori can think that Ilana must be a ‘natural’ because she looks perfect. Dude! Everyone knows that natural genetics for humans doesn’t always turn out well. If someone is a ‘natural’, it’s likely that they don’t look perfect – they will resemble their parents more than Ilana does hers. Also, she should also totally blame her parents for her eyeball problems.

Looking for a YA version of this novel? Read Breaking and Burning by Danielle Rollings. Or perhaps Because you’ll never meet me. Playing around with genetics is so dangerous. We don’t even always get it right with mice – and it’s scary to think that scientists in poorly regulated countries such as China are already performing human cloning and no doubt some serious genetic engineering. It’s the ethics that always makes things complicated. How far is too far?

This novel has real potential for introducing younger readers to important genetic concepts. I’d set it at maybe age 10 up, just because the ideas behind changing people’s very genetic makeup is a hard one to grasp. They may also struggle with the idea that adults don’t always tell the truth, and that adults don’t always know everything. Being able to read the words and being able to understand the concepts are two different things.

Oh dear. This novel has made me want to read Sapient or The Ego Cluster again (PS: I did just reread Sapient – so good!). If only I had a printed copy of The Ego Cluster! I’ve just gotten a fancy copy of my PhD bound, so maybe I could do the same for it… Better ask the author (and see if he has written any more fantastic novels yet). I’m giving this 4 stars. It gets off to a really slow start, but certainly ‘heats up’ towards the end. And it has a sequel coming. Sigh. Why always with sequels? At least it mostly concluded properly.

Bloomsbury | 1st December 2017 | AU$14.99 | paperback

Review: Deborah Ellis – Parvana

Deborah Ellis

After her father is jailed for no reason, Parvana must take over the man’s role in her family. In a world ruled by men, can one small boy even still do anything? Or is the only power the ability for a woman to marry into a powerful family?

Generally I don’t read graphic novels. But because this one was based on a novel, it seemed like there would be a decent storyline to follow. Everyone knows I’m all about the words, not the art. Not to say the art in this was bad – it was actually nice and clear. I felt like I wanted to know more after reading/viewing this. It left me with more questions than answers. For example, why was Parvana’s friend so willing to give away his father? Why did Parvana’s mother not do anything more? How can she be so calm?

I’m not really sure what audience this is aimed at. My 8 year old female reader wouldn’t want to read about the violence, even thought the moral of the story is an amazing one. She’s scared of everything though. So perhaps a boy would enjoy it? What a sexist thing to say… Is the storyline compelling enough to keep a beginning reader reading? I’m going to say yes, because the protagonist is risking her life every day, and you don’t want her to get hurt.

I think it is unfair for me to star this. I’m giving it 4 stars, because I did actually pick it up and read it, and kept reading it, which is unusual for me.

Allen & Unwin | 24th January 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback graphic novel

Review: Gwyneth Rees – Libby in the Middle

Libby in the Middle
Gwyneth Rees

Libby is the middle. She’s the average sister out of three, doomed to always sit in the middle of the car back seat. When she moves to a new town, Libby just wants to fit in – but will that be possible around her family’s secrets?

From the intermittent parts of this novel that I have read, Libby is a nice enough 8th grader who is just really pliable when it comes to helping her big sister out. After I read the first chapter out loud, I then missed a bunch of chapters up to chapter 8. However, it seemed like nothing had even happened in the novel! This is not a fast-paced enough novel for me.

The 8 year old reader in my household decided that this was a good novel for her to read independently. It does contain some content that I would consider inappropriate for her age group (eg. stealing, lying, getting together with a boyfriend your parents don’t approve of). However, I believe it is the first novel she has ever read that contains NO PICTURES so I’m not going to be picking on her choice too much.

This novel was deemed “My review so far – AWESOME!” by my younger reader, so I’ll be giving it 4 stars. She did say it wouldn’t be a reread, so that takes it out 5 stars. I guess I might have to come up with baby Dragon eggs or something!

Bloomsbury | 1st January 2018 | AU$12.99 | paperback

Review: Leonie Thorpe – Archie’s Adventures

Archie’s Adventures
Leonie Thorpe

Young Archie Roach is new in town and has nothing remarkable about him. At least he was famous for a hideous bone fracture at his last school… Doomed to obscurity, Archie’s life is filled with being a pathetic Roach – until he makes friends with a local smuggler.

Archie is a fine character, I’m not really sure what else to say. My partner’s mother got me to read this book – in fact she handed me two different copies at two different times! Honestly, I wasn’t that excited by it, because I’ve sworn off reading children’s fiction now. It’s fine as a novel, I’ve just moved past it, and my (female) young reader wouldn’t be interested in it.

It’s a typical ‘reluctant reader’ boy novel – fishing and football! But then there is a bit of sailing as well. Typical team building activities with an old man and a useless hanger-on. Anyway, I shouldn’t be so disparaging. This is why I can’t read children’s fiction any more! Unless it is Isobelle Carmody, and it’s The Red Wind series. Standby for a review of the newest novel, The Ice Maze.

Three stars from me. Fine for kids, not worth it for adults. Not enough ‘meat’ here to make it a chapter book to read at bedtime to your kids.

Review: Bren MacDibble – How to Bee

How to Bee
Bren MacDibble

The bees have been killed and now only the bravest children pollinate the fruit trees by hand. It’s hard work, and only a select few are chosen. Peony’s mother thinks that the way forward is in the city, Peony knows that her place is with the other Bees.

In a future fiction, it’s possible this is going to become common place. Bees are dying out, and despite things such as the somewhat ill informed flower planting schemes by ?cereal? companies, unless we pick up our game with killing bees with pesticides and so forth. A world without fruit would be pretty miserable.

I liked the ending a lot. I liked the whole novel, but truely, the ending was fantastic. I loved how Peony stuck to her beliefs and her family. That girl knows what is important! It’s something that more people in the world could afford to learn…

I’m not going to suggest that this is a YA novel. There’s just not enough depth for that, and it’s not a reread so that’s why it’s not getting 5 stars from me. But it carries a very important message, it improves the current knowledge of young people. I could see it as an early highschool novel, and I’d love it a lot more than some other ‘Australian classics’ they stick teenagers with.

Allen & Unwin | 26th April 2017 | AU$16.99 | paperback