What are your five sentences – The Rest of the Story!

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Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Harper Collins

I had forgotten how much I enjoy a good Sarah Dessen novel. Once you start reading and get immersed in a Sarah Dessen book, you feel like you are being enveloped in a big hug. It all feels so familiar, yet Dessen still manages to make every book different.

Reading Dessen is like taking a summer holiday in your favourite location. She writes about summer so beautifully. Summer always feels like it is full of possibilities – no matter what age you are, but particularly when you are a teenager. I do think Dessen has captured this feeling in The Rest of the Story.

Once I was immersed in this book, I really started to enjoy it. To begin with, I felt a little lost with the book, but once I began to get my head around all the characters, I couldn’t put the book down. I hope that Sarah Dessen writes another book with these characters because I felt like we only touched on their lives and I would like to know more about Bailey, Trinity, Jack, Mimi, Oxford and so on.

The book centres around seventeen-year-old Emma, who is being sent off to stay with her mother’s family for three weeks while her father honeymoons with his new wife.  When we are introduced to Emma we learn that she has anxiety problems, most likely stemming from the fact that her mother was an addict who died of an overdose and that her father has anxiety issues of his own arising from his relationship with Emma’s mother. This is where I thought the storyline was flawed. I know Emma wanted her father to go off and enjoy his honeymoon with his new wife, but I would imagine this would have been a somewhat stressful situation (going to live with family members who you haven’t seen in thirteen years and barely remember) and her anxiety would have been in peak overdrive. Dessen does then begin to introduce a slew of characters, so I guess Emma (like the reader) is so overwhelmed by all the characters that she doesn’t have time to be too anxious about her situation.

Emma finds herself immersed in her mother’s world. Her mother told her stories of the lake and Emma remembers that the stories always made her feel safe and happy, but she doesn’t remember actual specifics. Emma’s mother’s family runs an inexpensive motel on the working-class side of the lake named North Lake. The other side of the lake is called Lake North and belongs to the wealthy tourists – even the teenagers who work on Lake North are rich and privileged. Emma’s father worked as a sailing instructor at Lake North and this is how he met Emma’s mother.

Emma, herself, has led a life of opportunity and advantages and despite losing her mother to a drug overdose has never really had to struggle in life. Her father’s family obviously has money and Emma has never had to think much about money. Suddenly Emma finds herself in a world where everyone thinks about money, their jobs and paying bills. Despite her differences with her mother’s family, Emma finds a place working and socialising with her quirky and unpredictable cousins and their friends. She is starting to understand her place in her mother’s family and she is learning more of her mother’s story and in turn, her story.

Her sense of belonging though is suddenly interrupted when her father arrives with his new wife and his mother and Emma is expected to go stay in the ritzy resort on the other side of the lake. Emma’s world is once again turned upside down and she worries that the story she was only beginning to understand will be lost to her again.

I enjoyed this book, but I wanted more. I felt like I only started to get to know the characters and their stories when the book finished. I also felt like there were lots of stories I didn’t get to know. I wanted to learn more about Mimi, Oxford, Celeste, Jack, Taylor, Trinity, Gordon and so on. I wanted to know more about Roo and Emma. I also felt there was a whole story about Waverley (Emma’s mother) and Chris (Roo’s father) that was barely touched on – so much was left unanswered. There is a part of me that hopes Dessen will revisit these characters again, in maybe ten years. I would love to know what became of them all and I would like to immerse myself in their world once again.

“Well, you need to start asking people their five sentences…the basic idea is that since you meet a ton of people at the beginning of every summer, everyone has to condense their bio down to the main ideas. Thus, five sentences.

I love this idea of five sentences. Five sentences to describe yourself.

Born and bred here at North Lake. High school senior this fall. Work multiple jobs. Want to go to journalism school. Allergic to shellfish.

“Wow,” I said. “I didn’t see that shellfish part coming.”

“An element of surprise and oddity is crucial with this,” he told me.

What are your five sentences?? Remember you need a combination of facts, intrigue, as well as being random and memorable.

Jumpshot Photography of Woman in White and Yellow Dress Near Body of Water

 

The Things That Will Not Stand

 

The Things That Will Not Stand - Michael Gerard Bauer

Author: Michael Gerard Bauer

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Sebastian is at a university open day with his best friend Tolly when he meets a girl. Her name is Frida, and she’s edgy, caustic and funny. She’s also a storyteller, but the stories she tells about herself don’t ring true, and as their surprising and eventful day together unfolds, Sebastian struggles to sort the fact from the fiction.

But how much can he expect Frida to share in just one day? And how much of his own self and his own secrets will he be willing to reveal in return?

I love Michael Gerard Bauer’s writing. From the beginning, I enjoyed this book because it was full of Bauer’s trademark humour.

As the book progressed though, Frida started to irritate me. I am not good with people who can’t tell the truth. I guess this comes from associating with people who lie constantly. I hate it when I am not sure if someone is telling me the truth because they have told so many lies in the past, so I had a hard time with Frida and her pathological lying.

I did love the banter between all the characters and I particularly adored Tolly. Seb, at times, was a little pathetic and Frida with her lying irritated me, but Tolly was perfect. He was funny, intelligent and the type of person you wished you were friends with. To be perfectly honest I couldn’t understand why Tolly was friends with Seb.

Tolly stole the book from the moment his character was introduced.

‘We’ve had numerous complaints from our other patrons regarding the excessive drug use, offensive language and obscene behaviour at this table.’

I check Frida’s reaction. She’s observing him closely, like she’s dissecting him and peeling back the layers with her eyes.

His introduction is perfect. He flawlessly moves into the banter without missing a beat with Frida and Seb. For some time during the book, I seriously couldn’t understand why Frida preferred Seb over Tolly.

Bauer’s writing is hilarious. The Things That Will Not Stand is wonderfully funny and you will find yourself laughing out loud. Yes, I was little irritated by Frida and her lying. Yes, I thought that Seb was a bit of an idiot, but Bauer writes in such a way that you go through these emotions and yet at the end of the book you feel genuinely for these characters.

The Things That Will Not Stand is pure Bauer. It is heartbreaking and funny. I will admit that towards the end of the book I had reached my limit with Seb’s idiocy and Frida’s lying and then suddenly Bauer takes a different direction (and it isn’t like you didn’t know it was coming), but somehow he had me caring for these characters.  When reading the final chapters, I had tears running down my face (and I hardly ever cry when reading). I finished this book and I realised that for all their annoyances I liked Frida and Seb and I wanted them to be happy.

And despite my irritation, there were times when I enjoyed Frida and Seb a lot. I emphasised with Seb a lot more than I would like to admit (maybe he annoyed me because I saw a lot of me in him!).

There are two words I’m desperately hoping no one utters while we are here. Audience participation. More like audience humiliation is the way I see it. Why couldn’t we have gone to the drones? I’m missing them already. Drones are great. Drones do their thing in the sky. Alone. Drones never expect you to get up there and join them. Drones don’t force you to be part of their show. Drones don’t expect anything of you at all. They just let you be. People should be more like drones!

Oh Seb, I hear you!

Liberty

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Author: Nikki McWatters

Publisher: University of Queensland Press

Liberty is a magnificent book about three women who lived in three different centuries but who were all fighting for the same reason – their freedom.

Firstly, we are introduced to Jeanne, a teenage girl living in 1472, France. Jeanne is from a poor, disgraced family – her father is known as Matthew, the Coward. Due to her family’s lack of circumstances, Jeanne is forced into an arranged marriage. At the same time that Jeanne is dealing with the fact that she can’t marry the man she loves, war is coming to her beloved town of Beauvais. The townspeople have elected to fight their enemy, even though their numbers are low and they are not suitably equipped to fight.

In 1797 Ireland, Betsy is living in her much-loved Ireland and has joined the rebel army along with her brother and best friend to free Ireland from English rule. Betsy and the rebel army want Ireland to be liberated and they want to live lives free from oppression.

Our final story is told from Fiona’s perspective. The year is 1968 and Fiona is heading off to university for her first year as a law student. During this time, Fiona’s brother receives his draft notice and suddenly Fiona begins to take more notice of the anti-Vietnam protests that are occurring around her.

What I particularly loved about this book was that though each story is fiction, they are based on real events that happened in history. Jeanne and Betsy are both real women from our past and I’ve no doubt that there was a real-life Fiona who was grappling with what was happening in 1968 and wondering how she could make a difference.

It is evident that McWatters has done extensive research for this book. Each story is distinct. The sense of the period in each story is unmistakable. Each story unfolds in alternate chapters and there is never any confusion of which story is being told – each young woman is distinct and each story is captivating.

If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Betsy. At the beginning of Betsy’s story, she is spirited, young and a little naive. Being so young Betsy is idealistic and sees that England occupying her treasured Ireland is wrong. By the end of Betsy’s story, she is still young, but she considers life with more matured eyes. Betsy has fought a battle and that battle has made her wiser and stronger. Betsy has been through a war and she now knows the exact price of war, but still, her spirit and resolve remains strong. McWatters is a master writer because since finishing this book, Betsy has never been far from my thoughts.

Being a student of history, I know that rarely is history told through the eyes of females and so this book by McWatters is quite remarkable.  I love that McWatters sheds light on two brilliant young women from history who fought for what they believed. I loved that McWatters showed that women were making a difference. I also loved that McWatters showed men and women working together to make a difference. Jeanne, Betsy and Fiona all had strong and supportive men in their lives. These men knew what these women were capable of and they wanted to help these women reach their potential. The men in these women’s lives were in awe of these strong, independent and spirited women. I loved that these were stories of women empowering women but also of strong, decent men empowering women.

Liberty is a brilliant book for women and men. I hope that young men read this book and are just as inspired as the young women readers.  If you love politics, this is the book for you. If you love history, this is the book for you. If you love great storytelling, this is the book for you.

Thank you, Nikki Mc Watters, for giving us a book that resonates long after you have finished reading.

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Sadie

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Author: Courtney Summers

I have read a lot of young adult books over the years and you always have your troubled teenager, but Sadie was the first young adult book where I felt that there was no hope for the main character. You can feel the insurmountable battle she is up against and your heart breaks for her. Every step of her journey is disheartening. You do wonder if by some miracle Sadie will get her happy ending, but then again Sadie isn’t looking for a happy ending, she just wants justice and justice isn’t always happy or satisfying.

Sadie will haunt you long after you have finished reading. Yes, the story is intense and uncompromising, but this a story that should be heard. We see and hear so much from celebrities on the #MeToo movement that we forget that there are victims out there who will never be heard and who will never be able to free themselves from the legacy of abuse and poverty.

Courtney Summers is a writer who doesn’t hold back. Her honesty is unflinching.

Nineteen-year-old Sadie is determined to find who she believes to be her younger sister Maddie’s killer. Sadie knows who killed Maddie; she just needs to find him and make him pay for what he did.

Interwoven with Sadie’s first-person account is the transcript of West McCray’s podcast series, The Girls, tracking his efforts to learn what’s happened to Sadie. Summers use of the podcast transcript becomes an effective way to build a backstory to Sadie and to let a multitude of characters have their say. Summers writing is taut and she keeps you captivated and you find yourself wanting to skip forward to Sadie’s narrative but also wanting to know what McCray has discovered. Sadie’s chapters are fast-paced and compelling. Sadie is determined to find Maddie’s killer and along the way she discovers many dirty secrets. McCray’s investigation follows Sadie and he talks to people who Sadie has shaken down to get information from to find her sister’s killer. The two perspectives work well together and you will become engaged entirely with both stories.

Sadie isn’t a likeable character and she’s probably not even sympathetic. Sadie has never had a lucky break and most likely never will. She left school, struggled to find a job because of her stutter. People think she’s stupid because of her stutter. She’s sarcastic but not in a light-hearted way. Her mother was a drug addict. She lives in a trailer park. She has suffered from both emotional and physical abuse. Her sister has been murdered.

Summers doesn’t write her as the beautiful, broken, misunderstood but sassy character. What found compelling about Sadie is that she’s tough, smart, perceptive and vulnerable. It is her vulnerability that will have you fighting for her and her story. You want Sadie to have the justice that she so deserves. Sadie’s relentless search isn’t about revenge, but justice.

This is a book that should be read. It is a frightening revelation of what many children have to deal with every day. Children who live with neglectful parents, abuse and poverty.

Sadie is an edgy, suspenseful book about abuse and power. It is a harrowing, intense and challenging read. A powerful book and one that I hope makes its way into many hands. Sadie isn’t an easy read, but that’s what I liked about it. I liked that it made me uncomfortable. Sadie will leave you gutted.

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Undead Girl Gang

Author: Lily Anderson

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Undead Girl Gang is a hilarious and quirky novel. As we know, I am susceptible to a great book cover and I am also known not to read a book if I don’t like a cover. I didn’t like the cover of this book.  I know that many fans have swooned over the cover, but I can’t cope with the denim or the enamel pins. Luckily, for me, I received it in hard copy and was able to take the cover off to read it. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to feel about this book but I wanted something light and fun to read and the blurb suggested this may fit the bill and it did.

Lily Anderson has written a well-crafted and unique tale but what I loved most was the characters, particularly the main character Mila Flores. Mila is snarky, sarcastic and witty and I fell in love with her immediately. We meet Mila at her best friend’s funeral. According to the local police, Riley committed suicide. The third suicide in less than a week at Cross Creek. Mila doesn’t believe that Riley would commit suicide and feels there is foul play at large. Mila is at Riley’s funeral and she’s annoyed. She’s annoyed that Riley isn’t there, she’s annoyed that everyone believes that Riley committed suicide and she’s annoyed that Aniyah Dorsey wrote a poem for Riley and that the Fairmont Show Choir is going to perform.

“Your poem fucking sucks,” I growl at her.

I was enjoying Mila’s internal dialogue while at the funeral, but when she utters those words to Aniyah Dorsey I was hooked and so I began chapter two.

Mila is Mexican-American, overweight and Wiccan. Before Riley died, Mila and Riley would dabble in spells and so Mila decides that she needs to bring Riley back from the dead to prove that she didn’t kill herself and was instead murdered.

In bringing back Riley, Mila also unwittingly brings back June and Dayton – the two other girls who had committed suicide. Bringing back June and Dayton wasn’t part of the plan. June and Dayton were popular girls and as such had little to do with Mila and Riley who were seen as Fairmont Academy outcasts.

Suddenly Mila has three undead girls and all the girls have issues that need to be resolved. None of the girls can remember what happened to them leading up to their deaths, but all three are adamant that they didn’t commit suicide and so begins a hilarious chain of events that eventually brings the unravelling of what happened to all three girls.

Though it wasn’t the mystery that kept me reading until the end, it was the characters. I enjoyed getting to know Mila, Riley, Dayton and June. All four girls were smart, sassy and funny. The four girls get to know each other and realise that they actually like each other.

It was the character of Mila that I relished the most.  I enjoyed her snark. She was a character that I would love to see in a television show. Lily Anderson did a great job with her.

“People are assholes,” I say.

He laughs quietly. “That should be your catchphrase.”

Undead Girl Gang is a well-paced page-turner that will make you laugh out loud. Yes, the book does lack suspense but it is much more than a mystery and the snarky, witty narration definitely makes up for any weakness in the plot. A book that is highly quotable and completely relatable – particularly if you find people incredibly annoying. This is a joyful and hilarious book about friendship. So if you like books with quirky, funny, snarky, sarcastic and witty characters that will make you laugh out loud, this book is perfect for you.

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5 Brilliant YA novels you need in your life

blue

If you love books and bookshops, you will adore this book because this is a love letter to books, words and bookshops. Cath Crowley writes with love and humour, and you can’t help but be swept up in this book about grief, love and the power of words. Her characters are gorgeous, yet flawed and complicated. This is a book that every lover of books needs in their life.

“‘But I love you, and before you say it words do matter. They’re not pointless. If they were pointless then they couldn’t start revolutions and they wouldn’t change history and they wouldn’t be things that you think about every night before you go to sleep. If they were just words we wouldn’t listen to songs, we wouldn’t beg to be read to when we’re kids. If they were just words, then they’d have no meaning and stories wouldn’t have been around since before humans could write. We wouldn’t have learnt to write. If they were just words then people wouldn’t fall in love because of them, stop aching because of them, have sex, quite a lot of the time, because of them.”

beautiful

Beautiful Mess is a beautifully written novel. I loved it from the moment Ava started screaming at Mr Bryan on the first page. The story is driven by the beautiful, gutsy, grief-stricken Ava. She has lost her best friend Kelly, and she is angry and making not so right choices in life. She meets Gideon, and he helps her through her grief. Shy, anxious Gideon has his own issues, but Ava and Gideon through writing letters and poetry find their way through their pain and issues and come out on the other side. Claire Christian deals with some weighty issues, but she navigates these issues with humour and love. She captures the rawness of grief exquisitely, particularly grief associated with suicide. I loved the letters and the poetry (I love letters!), and I LOVED the ending!

yellow

Yellow is an engaging and well-written book. A lot is going on in the book – Kirra is a fourteen-year-old girl who has a troubled home life, is being bullied at school and she encounters a ghost! But somehow Megan Jacobson makes it work and makes it work brilliantly. The characters are likeable, and the small Australian beach town adds to the book wonderfully. When I first read the blurb for this book and saw that it had a supernatural element, I was immediately sceptical, but once I had read the first page, I was hooked.

               “I know this to be true: there is a special corner of hell that’s called being a fourteen-year-old girl.”

This is a book that you’ll find confronting at times, but then suddenly you will be laughing and then entirely out of the blue it will throw in a twist. It is quite the read!

sidekicks

The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis is a beautifully written, genuinely funny book. Ryan, Harley and Miles don’t have much in common except for their mutual best-friend, Isaac. The beautiful, charming Isaac who died too soon. The book is divided up into three parts, and we hear from all three boys and find out why Isaac was so crucial to each and every one of the boys. The boys are all different and yet all viewed Isaac as their best friend. Ryan is the golden-boy jock. Harley is the rebel. Miles is the class nerd. As the stories are told we learn more about Isaac, and we learn more about each of the boys’ through the eyes of the other boys. There are heaps of laughs in this book, and at times you will find yourself laughing out loud, and at other times your heart will break for each and every boy.

beatle

Beatle Meets Destiny. This is one of my favourite books.  John “Beatle” Lennon meets Destiny McCartney on Friday the 13th and Beatle being a highly superstitious boy decides that their meeting is fate. The only trouble is that Beatle has a girlfriend named Cilla, who happens to be pretty amazing. The story continues on in this manner where Beatle and Destiny continued to stumble across each other in bizarre and yet utterly believable ways. Destiny is feisty and gorgeous, and Beatle has quite the dilemma on his hands. The book is all about chance and fate. It is about being young and making mistakes and then making more mistakes! It is hilarious. If you like quirky comedies, you will love this book. The story plays out in Melbourne which becomes another character in the novel. A brilliant novel by a brilliant writer – Gabrielle Williams.

Tin Heart – Shivaun Plozza

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During a trip to Maleny recently we stopped at the local bookshop, and I bought a copy of Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza. My expectations for this book were high. I was a huge fan of Frankie. I remember reading it in my role as CBCA judge, and I immediately knew within a few pages that it was going to be a short-listed book. I was nervous about reading Tin Heart and can only imagine how Shivaun Plozza felt about writing and publishing ‘the difficult second book’. I was not to be disappointed, Tin Heart like Frankie is gritty, funny and moving.

One of the reasons that I loved Frankie so much was because she was a character that you both enjoyed and disliked. At times it was confusing to like Frankie because of her attitude and the choices she made, but deep down you knew that she didn’t mean to hurt anyone and there was no malice in her. Marlowe in Tin Heart is very similar to Frankie in this regard, but in every other way, they are different. When I talked to boys about the character of Frankie, I would say that she was the type of girl you should want to date or be best friends with and I also think Marlowe would make a great girlfriend/best-friend.

In her second novel, Tin Heart (Penguin), Shivaun Plozza tells the story of seventeen-year-old Marlowe who undergoes an organ transplant. Marlowe Jensen was The Dying Girl, and now she has a second chance at life, but Marlowe is finding it hard to move on with her new life when she now has someone else’s heart beating in her chest. She feels an overwhelming need to know more about her donor and so sets off on a quest to find her donor’s family, disregarding their request for no contact. Of course, Marlowe’s determination to get to know her donor and his family creates emotional chaos and sets in motion a chain of events that will impact on everyone around her.

Despite these strong themes, Tin Heart remains light-hearted and funny. It is gorgeously written and has a cast of engaging characters that will delight and charm you. There is Pip, Marlowe’s younger brother who likes dressing up in costumes but with a twist – gingham pinafore, red wig, combat boots and tiger-face paint (Jungle Anne of Green Gables, of course). Her mum, the vegan warrior who has just opened her dream vegan-organic-wellness store (Blissfully Aware) and who lives her life as vegan/mother warrior. Oh, and of course Blissfully Aware just happens to be next door to Bert’s quality butcher. Then there is Zan, the Chinese-Australian girl who is ‘the coolest of cool’. And Leo, the butcher’s son who Marlowe finds endearing and exasperating. Plozza has a gift for writing flawed but adorable characters that stay with you long after you finish the book.

Frankie was the novel that introduced us to Shivaun Plozza, and as readers, we quickly realise what immense talent she was, and Tin Heart only reinforces this and makes us understand that Plozza is a captivating voice in YA fiction and will continue to find a place in our hearts with her gorgeous books.

Tin Heart2 Continue reading Tin Heart – Shivaun Plozza