Review: Naomi Gibson – Every Line of You

Every Line of You
Naomi Gibson

Lydia builds her worries and fears into lines of code every night while her mother works herself to death. Finally, after three years of work she’s ready to bring Henry to life. Henry seems to be the perfect compliment that she needs to right her life again – but is what he is becoming more dangerous than sexy?

Wow. Fast paced, edgy and futuristic while still being believable. Although I’m not a code writer, I know how much work can go into a project that could fail at any moment! I particularly liked the ending, although it perhaps created more problems than it solved.

Man, her mom is a complete nutter! Sure, she has some unresolved grief/anger, but at the same time, her mom is a bit of an idiot about the whole thing. Who calls the cops on their own child like that without making an effort to work out their kid’s thinking?

If I let myself linger on this novel for too long I start questioning the potential loopholes and missing connections. While it would be nice to have some solid character development, the novel is ultimately plot and idea driven. The twists in it make it impossible to know any of the outcomes, crazy and unlikely as some might be!

It’s not a novel I’d probably read twice but I would highly recommend it to any teen or YA readers as an absorbing and brain-provoking read. I’d say it’s more aimed at girls due to the nature of the revenge, but it’s a STEM book as well. In the future, will we all have our own Henrys? Is AI the future of romance? It might be.

Scholastic | 1st April 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Carly Nugent – Sugar

Sugar
Carly Nugent

Persephone (not pronounced like telephone) was diagnosed with diabetes straight after her father’s funeral – she almost fell in the grave! She’s certain that the two events are connected somehow, and if she can solve it, maybe life will make sense.

There is a trend at the moment to have characters off screen who (may) have committed suicide. If this is something that triggers you, you probably should avoid this novel. I found the subject to be treated sensitively and without blame. There is also a physically abusive relationship in the novel.

This author absolutely nailed the book’s atmosphere. I could feel the sweat and heat of the bushfire season, and the sticky sweetness of Persephone’s diabetes. It provided a beautiful counterpoint to Growing Up in Flames, which I hadn’t enjoyed.

I empathized and recognized the teenage angst that leaked out of these pages. I perhaps didn’t understand the c*** word use, and why it’s relevant to Persephone. Since Alexander Manson is in the blurb, you’d think he’s important (he isn’t). Persephone’s complicated other relationships ring very clearly though.

I thought it was very interesting how Persephone contemplated the end of the world and that she’d be one of the first to die – unless it was a zombie scenario, she’d be the first person out there to be bitten. This resonated deeply with me, due to the Holocaust books I have read recently where once the supplies of insulin run out the unfortunate diabetics die quickly.

I’d highly recommend this to teenagers who need to understand someone with diabetes or the sheer unfairness of life. It reminded me a little of A Series of Small Maneuvers. I don’t think I’ll reread it, but I might be surprised. 4 stars from me.

Text Publishing  | 29th March 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Erik J Brown – All That’s Left in the World

All That’s Left in the World
Erik J Brown

The superflu has wiped out 99% of the population. Pockets of people remain, some clustered, and some on their own. Jamie’s cabin-in-the-woods is well appointed and isolated, and Jamie is alone to contemplate life. When Andrew stumbles into the cabin, Jamie suddenly has to look after someone else – and maybe begin to care for someone he never thought would matter.

This novel was breathtaking. I couldn’t bare to put it down – I needed to read right to the very (bitter) end. Several hours later, and I’m still thinking about Jamie and Andrew and the future. I sank deeply into the universe and felt the dirty sneakers on their feet as my own. I couldn’t decide which character I liked more, which is quite rare for me with a dual narrator (usually I like the first one introduced the best).

I loved the slow-burn romance and the gritty reality of a world in pieces. I loved the fact that this was exactly how I imagined the next COVID-19-like outbreak to go in some countries. It doesn’t seem like society has learnt anything, and people are still demanding ‘rights’ across the world. I also appreciated how many issues the author managed to fit in, without seeming to over-dramatize the novel.

I’m desperate for another novel from this author. I am certain that he will reach the ranks of Adam Silvera and the like. I can’t wait to see the future of this debut author (and I hope the future comes soon).

If you liked What if it’s Us or Anything but Fine, this novel is for you. Even if you didn’t know you wanted a queer post-apocalyptic novel, you now need this one. Buy it for yourself, for the queer person in your life, or for anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic fiction. I promise you won’t be disappointed. 5 stars from me.

Hachette | 8 March 2022| AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera – What if it’s Us Duology

What if it’s Us Duology
Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

What if it’s Us?

Ben and Arthur meet by accident as Ben tries to post a box of mementoes back to his ex-boyfriend and Arthur tries to grab himself a moment alone in New York. Arthur’s never dated a boy before, he’s not even sure he’s had a crush on one quite as badly as on Ben. In a world where summer is short, will the paths of these boys cross again when the Universe interferes?

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the ending. It could have made or ruined the novel, particularly as I knew there was a sequel. It turned out to be perfect. I unfortunately made the mistake of reading the second before reviewing the first. Oops? But I was just so excited to keep reading about Ben and Arthur! I needed to still be with them.

Here’s to Us

Ben has mostly moved on with his life without Arthur. He’s sort-of dating a hot new guy, he’s making do with his college classes and job. Arthur has a great new boyfriend who’s sweet, caring and… isn’t Ben. A series of Universe Events means that they will collide, but will their worlds align again?

This novel is filled with hope, and real relationships where it seems crazy that things could line up. I honestly could have been happy with any of the relationships that formed and broke apart. Despite being a feel-good novel, it does still briefly touch on racism and socioeconomic bias. Not everyone is bright enough to get a scholarship for school, and not everyone wants to go to college (or finish college).

Thanks Simon and Schuster for these review copies. They look fantastic on my new shelves, and I loved reading both of them. This’ll be a reread when I’m feeling a bit down – a goodhearted and satisfying read.

Simon & Schuster | January 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Eoin Colfer – The Wish List

The Wish List
Eoin Colfer

Meg Finn has a single wish – to show up her step-father Franco and get on with life without her Marm. Unfortunately for Meg, she now owes Belch a favour and it could end up with her dead. But is there something worse than just being dead? Definitely if you’ve been saddled with meeting an old-man’s wish list.

This was a sneaky reread just after moving house – the book ended up at the top of a box and so it called to me to read it. Oops? But then I discovered that I hadn’t reviewed it, so I hadn’t really gotten away with anything.

Ok, so this book isn’t theologically accurate, and I’d even call it theologically challenging. It’s kinda cute that the Devil’s second in command goes by the nickname ‘Bub’. This has put a lot of readers off apparently, but if you aren’t thinking of heaven and hell in the way you were perhaps taught in Bible school, then you’re going to enjoy the ride in this book. Everything seems so simple… until it isn’t.

Eoin Colfer is probably best known for his series with the boy genius Artemis Fowl, which has since been turned into a movie. Don’t go into this novel thinking that it will be that deep or have intellectual jokes. This is an early teenage book, perhaps middle grade fiction.

Weirdly, I occasionally get Garth Nix and Eoin Colfer confused. I think it’s because they were both the early fantasy that I got into as a teenager, and that they haven’t limited themselves to a single universe or concept. I’d sort of even forgotten that this novel existed on my shelf, hidden as it was with the other novels. I’m still giving it 5 stars, even if I’m no longer in the target age group.

Review: Anne Fine – Shades of Scarlet

Shades of Scarlet
Anne Fine

Scarlet’s parents have split up, they’re divorcing and Scarlet finds herself caught in the middle. While Scarlet tries to navigate school, friends and homework she somehow has to find time to also placate her parents – who want to know what the other one is doing, even if it isn’t Scarlet’s job to pass that on! It seems like her mom is at fault – but is her dad a problem too?

Another day, another book with a main character named Scarlet (see Skin Deep)! I wonder if it’s a common name at the moment. I’m sure that the author had some deeper meaning in mind when she named her protagonist, or perhaps she just thought of the colour red

You know what I also like about this novel? Scarlet isn’t automatically looking for a boyfriend/girlfriend to get herself out of the situation. I personally felt that her best friend was a bit off, but Scarlett herself was spot-on in her emotions and approach to life.

I like how this captured the side-conversations that adults sometimes have that kids aren’t meant to know about. So for example, Alice’s parents have some really inappropriate conversations that one/both girls see/overhear. In my experience, kids know when parents are being sneaky (I mean, not 100% of the time)! So holding conversations in the open is far more helpful for building trust.

I received this book very late compared to the publication date, so there are plenty of reviews around for it now. That being said, I feel like it’s a suitable Christmas gift for a 9-13 year old who has divorcing parents or just struggles to feel heard and understood. Scarlet has a lot of rage, anger and emotions to get out, just like the average teenager.

I’m going to give this one 4 stars. I think it would have appeal to a wide range of audiences, but would be most suitable as middle grade or young teenage fiction. I think that this is a worthy addition to school libraries.

Scholastic | 1st July 2021 | AU$24.99 | hardback

Review: Lyndall Clipstone – Lakesedge

Lakesedge
Lyndall Clipstone

Violetta holds a lot of secrets, ones that might be important for her survival. Violetta doesn’t care much about herself though – she only cares for her brother and protecting him from his dark shadows. She is limited though – the Lord of Lake’s Edge gets what he wants – and he wants her brother. Violetta tags along to see if she too can fight the Corruption.

Oh no! He’s feeding the Lake Monster! Oh no, he is the Monster. Oh well, we all know that the main characters in books like these will fall in love. In fact, we can predict pretty much the whole storyline despite them pretending that everything is a huge secret.

Isn’t the cover gorgeous? Ultimately it’s not the forest that is even relevant, or the lake. The interior of the house and the garden get the most attention, but maybe Violetta’s mind is the main attraction? I had such high hopes when I requested it, but it was hopeless. I felt like I’d wasted my time reading in.

Look, I’ve categorized it as teen fiction, only because there are some racy scenes there. My hunch is that the Lord of Under is going to be nursing a baby in 9 months time! Unfortunately the storyline is too simple and there isn’t enough character growth to truly belong to the teenage category – I think it could even be an advanced middle grade fiction except for the sexual elements. There’s also a hint of LGTBIQA* relationships, but these aren’t convincing or deep.

I got to the end of this novel, and I discovered that it’s only the first in a series! Honestly, it felt like half a book. There was a whole lot of telling rather than showing going on, and the ending wasn’t complete. I tried retelling this as a oral story at bedtime, and my audience was very unimpressed with the ending. I personally felt that I hated the characters enough that I would have been perfectly happy (even overjoyed!) that one or more of them died. 3 begrudging stars from me.

Pan Macmillan | 31 August 2021| AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

The Cat Who Saved Books
Sosuke Natsukawa

The death of Rintaro Natsuki’s grandfather only strengthens Rintaro’s determination to stay at home, in the bookshop that holds fond memories for him. Yet, the bookshops are perhaps a dying trade – and Rintaro doesn’t feel strongly enough about anything to protect it from his loving aunt. But perhaps the cat can save the bookshop, and him too.

Some of the ideas in this novel were just too foreign to work with my understanding of the world. There’s no such thing as a ‘class rep’ and there is no chance that a teenager would be left in charge of a bookshop. Also, students generally aren’t allow to miss that much school without serious consequences in Australia.

I think that unfortunately this book loses a lot of its charm in the translation. Maybe I’m just not its target audience? I think that the audience it would suit are teenagers who are slightly more immersed in Japanese culture or literature, who are of the bookish inclination.

I loved the idea of a cat that cares about books, and I found the three labyrinths quite engaging. Hopefully other readers also find these ideas thought provoking. My favourite was perhaps the man trying to cut books down to a single word to compress the meaning of them. This is so true, and you see it in abridged audio books! Why would you cut out the best bits?

I think it’s somewhat unfair of me to assign this book a star rating as it just wasn’t aimed at me. Maybe I’ll give a 3 stars, but I’d consider 4 stars for the right audience. It’s a thin volume that can be knocked over in a short reading period (it took me around 2 hours). It’s probably great to borrow from a library or buy online to give as a gift, but I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for you to rush out to buy your own copy.

Pan Macmillan | 14th September 2021 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Tobias Madden – Anything But Fine

Anything But Fine
Tobias Madden

Lucas’ life is wrapped up in ballet. Ballet is his whole life – he practices and practices and lets his schoolwork slide. Terrifyingly he slips and suffers a potentially career ending injury that also causes him to suffer the teenage fear of changing schools and losing his scholarship.

I’m not sure how I felt about Lucas’ relationship with his OT (occupational therapist). I also wasn’t 100% sure why he wasn’t seeing a physiotherapist? And honestly, it sounded like he would have also benefitted from seeing a psychologist. As many Australians would know though, mental health isn’t a ‘done thing’ and finding appointments is hard. Lucas’ dad is lovely and supportive though.

Starting at a new school is hard for anyone, but try being gay and on crutches in a small rural school. I think this novel is quite a realistic view of high school and homophobic people. Also, Lucas’ new friend is Muslim, and we also see some horrible Islamophobia. Oh! And don’t forget parental expectations for medical school. There’s a lot packed into this novel, and you won’t be disappointed.

The teenage love story is cute, but also filled with respectful relationships and understanding parents. There’s a few ‘racy’ scenes here, but nothing too blushworthy to a teenage male (from what I know about being a hormonal teenager, anyway). You’ll find it slightly less, um, provocative than Jack of Hearts (and other parts) for example.

This is a worthy addition to teenage queer fiction. It hits all the right notes about consent and waiting until you are ready, while also sensitively exploring the problems of high-school and jock culture. I’m giving this 5 stars, and giving it a pride of place on my shelf. I look forward to seeing more from this author.

Penguin Random House | 31st August 2021| AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Hayley Lawrence – Skin Deep

Skin Deep
Hayley Lawrence

Scarlett went from being a beautiful, graceful dancer to a scarred outcast in the space of an afternoon. She’s desperate to get away from people’s expectations – and her dad is willing to take her up into the mountains to get away. But there she finds she can’t be alone – and maybe she doesn’t want to be.

I confess that I found this novel somewhat unrealistic and underwhelming. I didn’t find it thought-provoking because I didn’t think that the overall treatment of Scarlett’s scars was reasonable. I wanted to be fair to this novel, so I went to do a little digging on what research the author did before/during writing it. I couldn’t find much.

Yes, girls are definitely treated differently in terms of ‘pretty’, ‘cute’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’, but it’s also true of guys to an extent. There are definitely the ugly guys who also get picked on by the ‘jock’ types. This book makes it seem like only women have the problem! And that only shallow women only think about looks, which is also untrue.

It seemed like a low technique to have the secondary character Eamon just accept Scarlett – because it seemed as if his sister was the pure reason that he felt that way. The abrupt turn-around of Scarlett’s friends also seemed shallow and unlikely. Finally, I didn’t care for the romance that sprung up – how convenient that Scarlett and Eamon might spend some more time together! I also had a Bridge to Terabithia moment which honestly could have made the novel more poignant for me.

If you have an overactive imagination like mine, please note that there should be a trigger warning for skin peeling. I can’t get a particular phrase out of my mind! However, the majority of references to her scars are that they are ugly and really that way because of the muscle loss.

I’m giving this 3 stars – hopefully it’s thought-provoking for younger readers, but if you really want to get inside someone’s mind who has been badly scarred, Brent Runyon’s Burn Journals remains the gold standard in my mind (I appear to have not reviewed that novel in particular, but I have reviewed his Surface Tension).

Scholastic | 1st July 2021 | AU$15.99 | paperback