The Dog Runner

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Author: Bren MacDibble

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

What I like about Bren MacDibble is that she doesn’t preach and she doesn’t patronise her readers. So many authors like to take a stance and they then proceed to hit you over the head with their beliefs. They try to make you feel stupid for believing in what you think and often they will ridicule the reader for not believing in what they believe is true and right. Bren MacDibble doesn’t do this; she shows us what a better way is and she’s let’s us decide. She did this with the wonderful How to Bee and continues to do this with her new book The Dog Runner. 

The Dog Runner is set in the not too distant future and Australia has succumbed to a fungus that has wiped out grass and led to worldwide famine. As you can imagine the world we live in is in anarchy – there is little food, nothing grows, livestock is dead and life is dangerous.

Ella lives with her father, mother, brother and their dogs. Ella’s mother has been working outside the city and Ella’s father goes off to find her and bring her home. Ella and  Emery’s father is gone for a long time and it doesn’t look like he and Ella’s mother are going to return. Life in the city is becoming more precarious each day and so Ella and her brother Emery decide to set off to the country where Emery’s mother lives.

With the help of five dogs and a dogsled, they leave the city and head out into the country. Emery and Ella know that no one can be trusted and they know that food and water on their journey will be scarce and that their journey will be filled with danger, but they feel that it is a better option than remaining in the city.

The Dog Runner moves at a cracking pace and is an exciting and brilliant read. Ella is an exceptional voice. She is a young character but by no means a naïve character. Ella isn’t tough and experienced but she has a quiet strength about her. She bravely steps up and takes on challenges which in her previous life she would have found terrifying. Through all the dangers and challenges Ella doesn’t become hardened by what she sees and experiences, she always remains hopeful about the future.

The Dog Runner is thought-provoking and challenges you to think differently. MacDibble gives the reader a warning about the hazards and perils of monoculture and shows us that we lack diversity in our crop growing, BUT she also offers solutions. She introduces the reader to native plants and shows us how to think differently about growing our crops so that we don’t exhaust and drain the land. It is quite the writer who is able to weave all this into a book that will excite young readers.

I have two copies of this book in my school library and both books are currently on loan and there is a waiting list for these books.  As soon as I describe it to the boys they want to read it and why wouldn’t they, The Dog Runner is brilliant – thought-provoking, intelligent and exhilarating.

Red, Fruit, Berries, Tamarind, Small Leaf Tamarind

After the Lights Go Out

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Author: Lili Wilkinson

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

I was captivated by this book. I find preppers endlessly fascinating. Full-on doomsday preppers and conspiracy theorists seem driven by paranoia and pessimism and I find that sort of mindset curious.

Before I read this book, I thought that doomsday preppers were a little eccentric, maybe slightly mad. Pru’s father would certainly fit that bill, but what I also learnt is that doomsday preppers have some fantastic skills and are certainly prepared for any disaster that may prevail.

Pru, her two sisters and her doomsday prepper father live on the outskirts of Jubilee, a remote mining town in the Kimberley. The girls are home-schooled and live a relatively isolated existence as their father has forbidden any social media and they aren’t encouraged to make friends or become a part of the community. They spent most of their time learning skills and practising drills for the apocalypse. The girls humour their father, but unlike him, they don’t believe that one day the world will cease to exist as we know it.

So what happens when their dad is right? When a solar flare triggers a shutdown of all power and electronics and Pru and her sisters are thrown into a world that their father has prepared them for, or has he?

Pru’s father is away at work on the mines hundreds of miles away and Pru, as the oldest sister, must take charge and make decisions for her and her sisters. With a bunker of supplies and survival skills provided by their conspiracy-theory obsessed father, the girls know how to keep themselves safe. Pru’s dad has been prepping the girls for this event for years.

But the girls don’t think like their father and that’s where the problems arise. Pru’s dad has trained her for this event and in that training comes the mantra, ‘family first’. But Pru isn’t like her dad and she feels a connection to the people in the town. As each day passes and Pru feels the severity of the situation, she begins to wonder whether her father was right.

Would you share supplies, even if it meant depriving your family? Would you keep your family safe? Would you keep your secrets from a community that needed you? As an introvert and someone who doesn’t particularly like people, my first thought was that I would bunker down and not worry about the community. But I have to admit that Wilkinson made me question this decision and that’s the beauty of this book. I can understand Pru’s dilemma, she is following her dad’s directions and she feels an obligation to the only person who has ever taken care of her but is her dad right?

The book chronicles a disaster and its aftermath, but it is also a story of community, friendship and love. There is also a lot of humour in the book. The characters are beautifully written and you find yourself, like Pru, drawn to them. The people are realistically and honestly portrayed and Wilkinson has done an excellent job of making you care for each and every member of the community.

‘In the past,’ he says slowly, ‘the holiest priests were the ones who kept themselves apart from the world. They formed monasteries in harsh, remote places. They saw only one another, and spent their lives devoted to prayer. This, they told themselves, brought them closer to God.’ He uses a tea towel to wipe the mugs clean. ‘I respect their devotion, but honestly I think that’s nonsense. Prayer brings me comfort, but it doesn’t bring me closer to God. People do. Hard work. Helping others.’

After the Lights Go Out has a dramatic premise of a disaster placing Australia and most of the world in a situation that is scary and unthinkable for most, but like most Australian young adult writers Wilkinson writes with such humour that you find yourself laughing throughout the book. I love how Australian authors use humour to balance their stories.

Keller pulls his shirt over his head and follows her. He doesn’t react to the coldness of the water in any way, because he would think it unmanly to squeal. That’s the kind of dickhead he is.

Wilkinson is a brilliant writer. Her writing pulled me into the story and I was mesmerised from beginning to end. After the Lights Go Out is uncompromising, shocking, thrilling and yes, funny.

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Imposters

Author: Scott Westerfield

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

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I loved Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series. I have read other Westerfield books, but none have captured my imagination as the Uglies series did.

I was pretty excited to hear that there was to be a continuation of the Uglies series consisting of four new novels, the first one being Impostors.

Set in the futuristic world of Westerfield’s Uglies books, I was hoping that this book would hold my attention as much as the original series. I enjoyed Imposters and I know that Westerfield fans will love this book and I think that he will gain a whole new readership with this series, I found it to be a good read, but I didn’t devour this book like I did the original series.

Frey and Rafi are sixteen-year-old twins and their father is a powerful and controlling man, leader of the city of Shreve.

Rafi was raised in the public eye; she is the face of Shreve. She has been taught to be the ultimate diplomat and the good daughter. She has a public profile and regularly attends parties and functions. Frey is a secret to the public. As far as the people of Shreve and other cities know there is only one daughter. Frey has been taught to be Rafi’s body double. She has been trained to ward off would-be assassins and she takes Rafi place in the public when it is deemed too dangerous for Rafi.

The twins father strikes a deal with the first family of a neighbouring city, Victoria. He wants steel and is negotiating an agreement with the ruling family. The family do not trust the twins father and ask that Rafi is sent as collateral to ensure that there’s no funny business on his part. Of course, Rafi is not sent but Frey. As far as their father is concerned Frey is disposable.

Frey is sent to Victoria. The first family of Victoria are honourable people and they live a different existence to the people of Shreve. I did enjoy this part of the story. Victoria and Shreve are ruled entirely differently and it makes me wonder what our world will be liked in the future and how different countries and cities will adapt.

Col and I walk on the street like randoms. No body armour, just half a dozen wardens blending into the crowd around us. A single drone hovers up among the pigeons. It’s probably only there to make sure I don’t run. The weird thing is, I’m more free as a hostage here than as a second daughter back home. House Palafox has no special corridors or elevators. No spy dust in the air.

My tutors explained how privacy is an obsession in Victoria. The city scrubs its data every day, forgetting where everyone went, what they pinged each other, what they made with their holes in the wall.

Shreve felt a little like a future America and Victoria felt like a European city. Westerfield through the depictions of the different cities and leadership is able to explore themes such as environmental conservation and individual freedom.

If the wardens in Shreve want to know what happened at a certain place and time, they just call it up on the city interface. They can watch from any angle, replay any sound but the softest whisper.

The book is flawlessly plotted as you would expect of a Westerfield novel. It is a book that moves quite quickly but still allows you to have an understanding of the character’s motivations (including the minor characters).

It is an impressive book by an accomplished author, but for me, it lacked the heart and emotional connection of the Uglies series.

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Grace and Fury

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Author: Tracy Banghart

Publisher: Little, Brown

I enjoyed Grace and Fury, but it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. I was led to believe that it would be more groundbreaking. There seems to be a lot of books these days that have us believe that we are going to be thrown into a world where women have very few rights. Is this a way to remind women of how far we have come or is it because it makes for a good story? It would be nice to read a book where the men are the inferior sex or maybe where women and men are equal, but where’s the outrage in that story?

Grace and Fury is another book where female readers are meant to be incensed at the fact that women are subservient to men. It is all a little predictable. Though in saying all that, I did enjoy this book and I found it easy to read, fast-paced and gripping, but I am hoping that the next book in the series is more left of centre and takes the characters in a different direction. Grace and Fury is just another feminist story of oppression and resistance that is beginning to get a little old and unoriginal.

A story about two sisters, Nomi and Serina, who are fighting for their freedom in a world where women have no rights. One of the sisters has been chosen as a Grace (a Grace is a female companion to the royal leader) and the other sister has been sent to an island where she must fight for her life under primitive and cruel conditions.

The setting is a world with a tyrannical monarchy that makes the rules up as it sees fit. The only choices that women have in this world are servitude, factory work and marriage unless of course you are chosen to be a ‘Grace.’ A Grace is an attendant to the royal monarch and means that you and your family will be looked after. A Grace will never want for anything, but in return, she is a servant to the royal monarch in every way. She can make no choices for herself and must never refuse her royal monarch.

Serina wants to be chosen to be a Grace to the Heir of the monarch and she and her mother have spent their whole life working towards this goal. Of course, we have Nomi, the unruly rebellious sister who wants nothing but to be able to read and study like her brother. In this world, it is illegal for women to go to school or to read (sound familiar?).

Of course, nothing goes smoothly and Nomi being the wild younger sister sets off a chain of events that results in the girls being separated and facing challenges that they haven’t been prepared for in their young lives. Serina has been brought up to be a Grace and Nomi was brought up to be her sister’s maid. Neither is equipped to deal with the challenges that they are about to face.

Also, just once, I would love a character like Serina – who has trained her whole life to be a Grace to crumble under the adversity that is thrown her way, but of course, she doesn’t and she rises to the challenge – as all strong women do.  I understand what the author is trying to achieve, but I find it all a little banal and would welcome something a bit unexpected in stories like this one if only to throw the reader off balance.

I  was disappointed that considering this was meant to be a story of women empowerment that there were love stories thrown in for both girls. Though thankfully the romance didn’t take over the plot. I found both romances to be unnecessary and I think the author could have found more original ways to incorporate these men into the story.

Grace and Fury is an entertaining book and you will find it gripping and hard to put down once you start reading but if you are looking for a book with a fresh take on female empowerment than you need to keep looking.

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