Reviews

Not like other girls by Meredith Adamo

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Unlike most school stories, the main protagonist in this novel is the bad girl, the one who has no girlfriends and just hangs out with the boys. And she has a certain reputation. She is failing at school and she doesn’t care. Things are going really wrong for Jo but nobody seems to care or even notice.

When Jo’s former friend Maddie comes to her, upset and seeking help, Jo feels that at last she is liked and needed. But then Maddie disappears. This sets the scene for a ‘missing person’ mystery, similar to Where sleeping girls lie by Faridah Abike-Iyimide (2024). However while we may eagerly follow the clues to Maddie’s disappearance, this plot line is actually less engaging than the mystery of what happened to Jo to lead her to the situation she is in.

Adamo has written a thoroughly absorbing story about issues of consent and sexual assault. What if the girl doesn’t say No, does that mean she consented? If a girl continues in a relationship she has no control over, does that mean she is a willing participant? If she doesn’t recognise and name a situation as assault, does that mean it’s ok? Adamo provides a realistic portrayal of a victim who is struggling with understanding what has happened to her and doesn’t know how to get help. Added to that are issues of cyberbullying and harassment, in an environment rife with cheating, rivalry and deceit. Overall, it’s a moving story that many young people may identify with, and offers scope for thoughtful discussion of issues of consent and healthy sexual relationships.

Some fans of detective mystery stories may enjoy the twists and turns of this novel, but I felt that the missing girl plotline became more convoluted than needed, and stretched credibility. For me, the saving grace of this novel is the very realistic and honest account of friendship breakups and sexual assault. In her Author’s Note, Adamo acknowledges that the book changed track as she wrote it and gradually became an exploration of issues that she hadn’t resolved. It is this aspect that has made the book a really worthwhile read for mature young adults.

Themes Missing person, Cyberbullying, Consent, Sexual assault, Deceit.

Helen Eddy

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Always Anthony by Terri Libenson

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Always Anthony is the eighth book in the New York Times bestselling Emmie and Friends series by Terri Libenson. An eighth book suggests correctly that this series is extremely popular with readers aged 10+. These books just walk out under the arms of boys and girls alike, from libraries and shops, and requests for the next book is a most persistent everyday occurrence for the school librarian. Multiple copies need to be bought to supply the demand. Graphic novels turn reluctant readers into readers as they are popular and provide a pathway for those who have struggled with retrieving information from traditional novels. Instead of comprehending text only, a graphic book offers images, captions, dialogue bubbles as well as text for the reader to gain information about character and plot development.

Always Anthony is a warm and funny story about an unlikely Middle school friendship between Anthony (TPFW - too popular for words) and Leah the shy nerd. Anthony has to hide his academic struggles to keep up appearances and his status within the cool group and Leah struggles to be cool as she has always been seen as the super nerd. Hats off to Libenson who seems to really understand the dynamics of Middle School. The shrewd manoeuvring of Middle School teachers to facilitate and precipitate both new friendships and learning is astutely depicted. Mrs Winn, the class teacher, organises for a peer tutor for Anthony - none other than Leah! Awkward for both of them! Libenson portrays with warmth and humour the adults (both teachers and parents) in tween and teen's lives and their family relationships. The role of schools and parents in the guidance of vulnerable, gormless and difficult teenagers is wonderfully wrought. There are underlying issues and themes that are dealt with in a naturally fluid and accepting manner - not rammed down the reader's throat. Leah is a Jew; Anthony is a person of colour. There are a myriad of teenager anxieties and concerns that our two main protagonists and their friends experience. These might be visible as in blushing and in their thoughts or brief exclamations. Overall identification with these very common teenage problems through reading about characters like Anthony and Leah is very comforting for the teenage reader who commonly feels that everybody else except themselves has everything under control.

Structurally, Always Anthony is a very attractive, engaging graphic book. Muted, softer colours are used and there is considerable variety, excitement and freshness with the design of each new page. The font is large. Alternating chapters  are narrated in first person by Anthony and Leah.

Important lessons about not judging people before you know them, standing up for others, being brave in the every day world and helpfulness are learnt along with many other lessons for life in this book.

Always Anthony is both moving and laugh out loud and on point with teen thinking and expression.  Along with the other books in the Emmie and Friends series, it is highly recommended for the pleasure of the format, the cool accessibilty and the importance of the themes that are covered to help young people navigate the anxieties and delights of their 21st century lives.

Themes Friends, Bullies, Middle school, Multiculturalism.

Wendy Jeffrey

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Queen of dogs by Joe Weatherstone

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Sadly Maddy’s family do not understand her one bit.  She wonders if she was switched at birth as she manages to upset someone almost every morning.  Her sister and brother are excellent athletes, competing for trophies in their fields of tennis and athletics.  Her mother and father always seem to be buzzing around fitting life into their hectic schedules.  But Maddy loves nothing more than to play with her pug Gusto and wander slowly to school, saying hello to all the neighbourhood dogs on her way.  But then Gusto goes missing and without the help of her busy family, Maddy goes searching for him. As she begins her search she is bitten by a stray Wolfhound, and she discovers that she can communicate with the dogs around her.  This makes her the go-to problem solver for the dog community. It doesn’t take her long to realise that lots of dogs are being stolen and sold on to new owners by the local pound.

Friendship and relationships form a large part of this entertaining debut novel with Maddy struggling to be part of the group at school and being constantly embarrassed about being called 'dog girl'.  But her steely persistence and dogged determination are a highlight as she tries so very hard to solve the mystery of the dognappings and re-unite owners with their missing dogs.

Themes Dogs, Friendship, Lost and found.

Gabrielle Anderson

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You are here by David Nicholls

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David Nicholl's You are here has arrived on the shelves accompanied by well-deserved rapturous reviews. Sometimes a novel that follows a critically acclaimed one such as One Day (2009) can suffer by comparison but in this case David Nicholls does not disappoint. One wonders just how Nicholls can be such an accurate and authentic observer and chronicler of human relationships. In a way that is not easily accomplished by many authors, Nicholls writes equally effectively whether he is reflecting the female or the male perspective. This is extremely difficult for an author to achieve as authenticity lies in the detail. Nicholls nails the inner thoughts and feelings and speech and behaviour of the main protagonists, both Marnie and Michael, so effectively that one has to say that he is a very, very astute observer of human behaviour and must be the beneficiary of a lifetime's experience of being very closely immersed with people.

Readers could not help but like the characters of Marnie and Michael, two divorcees in the forty year old zone. They are very relatable characters; Marnie being a copy editor and Michael a Geography teacher. A mutual friend has not given up on trying to matchmake for both Marnie and Michael with various people. She organises a group to hike together on the coast to coast walk which stretches across Cumbria and Yorkshire from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. Marnie and Michael find themselves alone on this walk...

The engrossed reader, absorbed in the story, could well miss the cleverness of the structure of You are here. The plot journey plays out along the coast to coast trail with maps of each trail section providing geographic structure for the reader. Nicholls acknowledges the advice of cartographers from Barking Dog Art and Dolly Alderton a journalist, solo traveller and another clear- eyed chronicler of relationships on working with the maps. Nicholls ...'has always wanted to write a book with maps.' The book is divided into parts - Home, The Lakes, The Dales, The Moors and Autumn. Each part is further divided into the days of the journey. Each part is prefaced by an apt quote from poets including Edna St Vincent Millay, Keats and E.M Forster. Chapters alternate the narrative voices of Marnie and Michael. 

The novel explores the idea of getting older; choosing to live alone or taking the risk of the chance of new love. It is both moving and frequently funny and very familiar territory for many readers. There is a circularity - a satisfactory tying up of the story line - the cleverness of the observations, the reflections, the different remembrances and interpretations of the same situation abound throughout the novel with gorgeous understated visual vignettes such as ...'She knew he would be watching so she put her hands deep into her pockets, swishing the coat just a little, as if it were propelling her, seeking out piles of dry leaves for the full effect.' The dialogue is witty.The situations  are frequently hilariously awkward. Our protagonists are self deprecating and constantly replay their experiences: kicking themselves, trying too hard, getting it wrong and criticising themselves in retrospect. All in all Marnie and Michael are warmly human and we feel for them and laugh and writhe in sympathy with the messiness of the human situation (the awkwardness of dating and daring to try for a new future) so shrewdly depicted. Nicholls excels at portraying the minutiae of human communication and relationships. It is comforting to read about characters bumbling into and extricating themselves, sometimes clumsily, from the very familiar dilemmas and situations that arise particularly for older people as they re-enter the dating scene.

Oh - one extra and recommended thing for the reader to try... On day 5, Marnie and Michael listen to a random shuffle of music on their phones. Try playing the music as they play it. It really adds an extra dimension as it provides a musical accompaniment that parallels their conversations as they hike the trail. Music includes Black Magic by Little Mix (2015), El Condor Pasa by Simon and Garfunkel (1970), Don't Speak by No Doubt (1996)Pull it up to the Bumper by Grace Jones (1981), No Limit by 2 Unlimited (1993) and Here comes the Sun by the Beatles(1969).

A raw but hopeful and comforting love story. Highly recommended.

Themes Love and loneliness, Hiking the coast to coast walk England.

Wendy Jeffrey

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Transcendent by Patrick Gallagher

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Transcendent by Patrick Gallagher is an enthralling novel that will captivate readers with its dynamic characters, riveting plot and vivid descriptions. The story revolves around 14-year-old Ugandan twins, Jacob and Kira, whose extraordinary intelligence and inventive expertise set the stage for an unforgettable adventure. Raised by their mother, Eunata, a passionate environmentalist, the twins are deeply rooted in a world where scientific curiosity and a passion for nature intertwine.

Main protagonist, Jacob, is more conservative and cautious than his twin, Kira, who has more of a reckless, action-oriented approach. However, their complementary traits make them an excellent team, navigating challenges with a blend of caution and courage. They always put their differences aside and forge together as a united front, however this bond is put to the test when they encounter RanaTech and receive an invitation to join this powerful and dominating organisation.

RanaTech is promising to combat global warming and save the planet, a fight that the twins and their mother have been working towards for many years. Seeing the destruction of habitats and the changing environment, RanaTech's ideas seem to be the answer, but are Jacob’s suspicions about 'The Others,' supposed extra-terrestrials poised to annihilate Earth, correct and should they be more cautious of this powerful company and their endeavours?

Gallagher's use of descriptive language and abundant adjectives crafts a vividly detailed narrative, immersing readers in the vibrant Ugandan landscapes, the bleak London life and then the sleek, futuristic settings of RanaTech. The author's ability to paint clear, dynamic pictures with words, enhances the action-packed sequences, making the story both thrilling and enthralling.

Transcendent is a perfect fit for readers who enjoy high-action, science fiction and futuristic tales that blend adventure with significant themes. Be warned, however, the ending leaves the audience at a pivotal point and yearning for the next book in the series!

Themes Environmental changes, Science Fiction, Inventions, Relationships, Teamwork, Extra-terrestrials, Connections, Differences, Conspiracy theories, Space travel, Problem solving.

Michelle O'Connell

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Boss cat by Sarah Speedie and Tom Jellett

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A rather surprised and vexed looking cat sits on the front cover and reading the first few pages, the reader will see that the cat has a good reason to be irritated. The family has brought home a new addition, a puppy and that puppy sees the cat as a friend and playmate. The pup scares the cat from the couch where he was comfortably snoozing, then it jumps, bounces, tugs and chews, the cat realising that he must show this intruder just who is the boss. First he watches the pup continually fetching the ball, and surreptitiously puts out his foot to trip the animal. And that night after tea, the family has a movie night, complete with popcorn. The cat goes to his usual place but is distraught to hear the pup asked up onto the knees. This time the cat hisses at the dog, popcorn going everywhere and the family stunned. When Aunt Jo-Jo comes to stay, the cat is pleased as she always gives him treats. But not this time - this time she only has eyes for the puppy. This time the cat’s claws come out as he attacks the dog, and he is put outside. Later as the family is playing in the garden, the cat nudges the tap covering them all with water, but the tap has its revenge on the cat.

This delightful tale showcases the end result of bad behaviour. The cat is determined to undermine the dog and show it just who is boss. But he fails and has to sneak off the last page, very wet and dispirited.

A wonderful story with a warm loving family whose decision to take on a pup upsets one member, the cat. His schemes to undermine the dog only add to his discomfort, and achieves his ostracism from the family.

Jellett’s illustrations show this stupendously well, presenting a family working together, doing things families do, but not realising that the cat’s nose has been put out of joint when they bring home a pup. The images, often taking up the full double page, reveal a caring, supportive family, taken aback at the cat’s behaviour, forced to put him outside for a rethink.

I love the different looks on the cat’s face. Each is full of unspoken words, what he thinks is very clearly drawn with a small change in the way his eyes look, or the mouth curls, or changes in his body. The family members too are all different, with movement and colour used so effectively, as they must cope with the aftermath of the cat’s mischief. Readers will laugh out loud at the last pages as the cat gets a comeuppance and everyone is very wet. Full of laughs and wit, young readers will easily identify with the cat as it struggles to accept the pup into the family and perhaps reassess their own behaviour when a new member of their family arrives. 

Themes Humour, Cats, Dogs, Families, Sibling rivalry.

Fran Knight

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Father of the lost boys: The Mecak Ajang Alaak story by Yuot A. Alaak

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This edition of Father of the lost boys: The Mecak Ajang Alaak story by Yuot A. Alaak has been adapted for younger readers from the original text, Father of the lost boys (2020). It is a very important read on so many levels for young people living in a privileged country such as Australia.  Despite the fact that currently Australia is now home to around 16,000 diasporic Sudanese people, many Australians know nothing of the horrific nature of what happened to the South Sudanese. This true story documents the lived experience of the four year journey(1989-) of thousands of displaced and orphaned boys (the Lost Boys) from Ethiopia to Kenya under the leadership of Mecak Ajang Alaak, undertaken in order to protect the boys from becoming child soldiers. It is told by Mecak's son who was beside his father the whole way. Australians need to know about where the Sudanese people living in our cities have come from, what they have been though and why they had to leave their beloved country. Understanding this would go a long way to build relationships between the Sudanese refugees and the Australian populace. Yuot Alaak's family eventually arrived in Henley Beach Adelaide after the horrific journey so this book is an especially powerful read for Adelaide schools as it is globally significant local material for the school curriculum.

Father of the lost boys: The Mecak Ajang Alaak story is movingly dedicated to Yuot's parents and to the lost boys. The accompanying photos are of Mecak and Yuot in 1991. The horrors of their experience seem to be present in their eyes. (A later photo at the end of the book in 2020 is a much happier one). During their escape, the boys, beside walking, travelled at various times in military trucks, tractors and canoes. They suffered attacks from wildlife including lions, hyenas and snakes, aerial bombardment of the Sudanese army and rebel forces, landmines, harsh desert conditions, dense jungle and crocodile infested river crossings. We could not imagine this kind of horror being forced upon our young boys of the same age.

There is a map of the  area that the boys had to traverse in the front of the book showing the towns, countries and rivers that featured in their story. On the inset map we see the relative location of Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya on the continent of Africa. What would have been useful would have been a map showing the path taken by the boys. As a classroom teacher it would be helpful to provide an outline map for students to trace the path that the boys travelled. In the prologue Yuot begins: 'Once, there was a man who rescued 20,000 boys from becoming child soldiers and facing almost certain death. That man was... my father. One of those boys was me. This is our story.' Yuot concludes...'Every time I turn on the television and see images of suffering children, I see myself...I am one of the South Sudanese diaspora and I still dream of home.'

Written in the first person narrative, the reader gains the intimate perspective of the young Yuot Alaak. Despite the horror of the story, Yuot does not play the victim card or wallow in self pity or anger. Rather this is a clear eyed account of events revealing love, loyalty, perseverence and belief in the pen being mightier than the gun.  It moves and humbles the reader in the vein of A.B Facey's A fortunate life. Additional reading could be They poured fire on us from the sky; The true story of three Lost Boys from Sudan by Deng. B., Deng, A. and Ajak, B.(2005). Books like these speak for the millions of African children who have witnessed and been victims of genocide. Like The diary of Anne Frank, it is important that books that tell the true story of genocide are made available and studied by students everywhere so that they understand the fragility of our world, their current relative safety as opposed to many children elsewhere in the world and the need to be informed and educated so that it does not happen again.

Highly recommended: moving and accessible account of the journey of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Teacher's notes are available.

Themes Refugees, The Sudanese civil war, Child soldiers, The Lost Boys of Sudan, Genocide.

Wendy Jeffrey

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Artezans: The forgotten magic by L.D. Lapinski

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This book is set within the whirlpool of a magical world, like a seething and roiling dreamscape of possibility, that extends into human existence in Scottish territory. In this land of magical possibilities we encounter Edward and Elodie Crane, twins raised by their two magically inclined dads, and standing on the edge of the discovery of their own magical talents and expertise. Edward always seems the more timorous of the twins and Elodie seems to have more success in life, but together they prove to be formidable as they are forced to confront their own nightmares (literally and figuratively) and use magic in ways that the world of reality and the world of dreams has not seen for at least 400 years. Is there a future for magic in the hands of these young wielders of the charmed and powerful forces being revealed through their inexperienced control?

This is an intense magical journey, beginning in a Scottish world where the remnant of the magically-blessed gather in a holiday camp experience to train and hone their magical skills. But the transformation of Ed and Elodie breaks open the vastness of magical experience and the dream world. Snippets of Scottish brogue travel through the dialogue in an appealing way, and the holiday camp descriptions have a touch of humour to them. There is a more serious side to the story and the sense of the coming-of-age of the young magic recipients into their magical maturity, that also deals with overcoming fear and insecurity when you are young, is woven into the story. Dream scenarios and understanding of ‘dream magic’ is a feature of the author’s craft, but this a darkly rendered magical experience, travelling into some scary moments for readers. Perhaps not for the faint-hearted or the very young.

Themes Magic, Fantasy, Dreams, Overcoming weakness, Fear, Twins, Scotland, LGBTIQ characters.

Carolyn Hull

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I can count by Sally Morgan. Illus. by Jingalu

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This wonderfully bright board book will capture the attention of young eyes, glueing them to the colours and animals on every page. Counting from one to ten starts with a child asking the reader to see how well they will go. One is the sun, a red orb in the sky. The simple line creates an image of the sun, its colour and its position. Next we see number two and a pair of coral clouds waft across the sun. Then we see three purple frogs, four pink snakes, five lime birds, six blue dragonflies, seven peach butterflies, eight yellow possums, nine orange owls and ten green stars. Each double page offers a line of text with a stunning illustration with the appropriate number of animals featured in the text. Aboriginal motifs: dots, circles, repetition and long swathes of colour decorate each page. Young children will love learning the numbers from one to ten, this little easily held book giving them a head start as they inhale the illustrations and note the links to the descriptive words.

This is a lovely introduction for younger readers with an older person to read it with them, at least for the first run through.

Themes Aboriginal themes, Counting, Australian animals.

Fran Knight

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Lessons in chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

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Raped by her supervisor at UCLA, Elizabeth is forced to abandon her PhD studies leaving the perpetrator in place, unchecked. She takes a lesser job at Hastings Research Institute in California, where she meets the same hostility to women that she met with at UCLA.  But she does meet one man who sees past the stereotype, Calvin Evans, and together they discuss the one thing she is passionate about, chemistry. But Elizabeth becomes a single mother, and forced to resign again because of her status, abruptly reminding the readers this is historical fiction, set in the post World War Two USA, when women did not become chemists, or single mothers, or report assaults to the police or challenge the status quo. Her research has been denied her and without her expected PhD, her work at Hastings is also stolen when the supervisor publishes her work as his own.

Without work she turns her kitchen into a laboratory to further her research and finds the other chemists where she worked, come to her for help and advice. But this work is not enough to sustain Elizabeth and her daughter and when she is offered a job at the local TV station, presenting a cooking show, she takes it. Here she meets the same paternalism she met at Hastings, and she fights.

Her cooking show, Supper at Six, rattles the norms. She talks in chemical terms, encourages women to speak out, decries men who beat their wives, offers information on the best mushrooms to use as a means of revenge, much to the chagrin of both her immediate boss and the station manager, whose approach to discussion with Elizabeth is sexual violence. She is fired but the overwhelming popularity of the show sees its continuance.

This superb novel takes the reader on a journey of women’s lives through the 1960’s.

I was alternatively laughing, almost crying but certainly cringing and feeling angry, because the story lays out the attitudes in post war USA for many women when education and job opportunities were denied them. Men and women went along with the stereotype of women staying home with children, being a good wife and mother, which was all they wanted. Elizabeth not only shows women good nutritious meals but undermines the myth of women’s lot only being in the home.

I found this a breathtaking read, and will be interested to see how well the Netflix series does justice to the story. And you can hear Bonnie speak to 2000 people at the Sydney Writer’s Week at https://iview.abc.net.au/video/RN2311H014S00.

Themes Feminism, Sexual violence, USA-1960’s, Chemistry.

Fran Knight

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The paradise problem by Christina Lauren

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Be warned! Don't let The paradise problem fall into the hands of your mother or daughter if there's any chance that they might think that you actually read this type of fiction! And definitely don't let it fall into the hands of children or teenagers. Romance fiction has moved far away from the bodice rippers of the past! But hold up - there is more to this...

Christina Lauren is the penname of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings - an amalgamation of their names. Hobbs and Billings (aka Christina Lauren) are bestselling authors of The beautiful and wild seasons series and many stand-alone romances. The paradise problem is another stand-alone romance novel. One can imagine the fun, laughter and wicked creativity that goes into writing romance fiction such as The paradise problem and if Hobbs and Billings research by travelling first class to exotic, exclusive island locations such as Pulau Jingga - a luxury resort and conservation area in the Indonesian archipelago (which may itself be a mash up of island destinations)...well-lucky them! And if they must read the Forbes list and Financial Review and shop the lifestyle of the gobsmackingly rich and famous so that The paradise problem can ring with authenticity then - what a problem!

The themes and plots of familiar fairy stories such as The frog prince, Cinderella, The ugly duckling and The emperor's new clothes can be read bubbling and weaving through this tropical island steamy romance. The text is reminiscent of of Bridget Jone's diary and definitely Fifty shades of grey as well. Although The paradise problem treads the well worn path of poor girl meets rich man and etc. it would be unfair to say only that. Our heroine, Anna Green, sassy and potty mouthed as she is, has the reader on her side. The part of herself that she witholds from the reader and other characters, particularly the handsome, extremely wealthy West, heir to Weston's Food's conglomerate who is about to inherit one hundred million dollars, is revealed slowly, and the reader is onside with a multidimensional, courageous central character. Of course she just happens to be stunningly gorgeous too.

The family machinations and dynamics are intensified on the tropical island. There is literally a whole lot of trouble in paradise and it takes Anna much courage to place her own values at the fore. Armed with sheer feistiness and bravery, she precipitates volcanic revolution.

The entire novel is structured using alternating chapters that are narrated in the first person by Anna and then Liam (West). This means that the reader is privy to the inner thoughts and emotions of both characters and can see the action that evolves from their viewpoints. This structure works well in framing the plot and characters for the reader.

A light and frothy, sexy romance as it may initially seem, The paradise problem is more than that. It portrays the greed and ignorant exclusivity of the one percenters versus the real life struggles of  the rest - particularly with the state of  the American health, education and housing systems. It is the perennial Cinderella (but especially her modern day well grounded but foul mouthed counterpart) who can climb out of poverty and expose corruption. We know we do not all have the capacity to be a Cinderella but we all love that dream and love to see Cinderella prevail!

Recommended (age appropriate exceptions).

Themes Romance, Lifestyles of the extremely wealthy, Corruption, Courage, Family.

Wendy Jeffrey

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Jonty's unicorn by Rebecca Fraser

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Rebecca Fraser is a Mornington Peninsula writer who enjoys writing for Middle grade readers. Jonty's Unicorn is published by Queensland based publishing company IFWG which specialises in speculative fiction for middle grade, YA and adult readers. It is always pleasing to read the work of new Australian authors published by small Australian publishing companies. Palatino Linotype and Cleaver's Juvenia Heavy Typefaces have been chosen - a perfect choice for the intended readership. The coverwrap illustration, by award-winning fantasy illustrator Sarah Morrison, perfectly and correctly captures the darkness and the light - the essence of the story. The front cover depicts the pink softness of Rose the unicorn with Jonty's hand resting on her mane illustrating the trust between the young red-haired heroine with patched clothing and her magical steed as they overlook a distant fairytale castle. The back cover by contrast depicts the darkness and evil that threatens goodness. Compliments to the publishers!

Dagartha the witch lives in the dark forest that must be traversed by Jonty, her faithful horse Onyx and finally by Jonty and the magical unicorn Rose. Twelve-year-old Jonty is poor and lives with her dying mother in the quiet hamlet of Blaxby in the Kingdom of Irrawene. The cure for her mother's illness lies in a dangerous journey through the Terrenwild Woods to receive a tonic from the fearsome, relentlessly evil Dagartha. The price for the cure is extremely high both in gold and in regret. Jonty sees the annual great horse race as the only chance to achieve the amount of gold required and she and her beloved horse Onyx train hard. However, faithful Onyx falls causing Jonty to feel shame and regret for driving him too hard. Jonty rescues a magical and previously understood to be extinct pink unicorn from a hunter's trap. A magical quest ensues - full of dangerous encounters with dark forces of evil and the haughty, snobbish upperclass who don't believe a poor villager could possibly compete in the great horse race.

Bravery, trust and devotion are pitted against betrayal as the climax of the story approaches. The sacrifice demanded is powerfully moving. 

This is a thrilling fantasy story with many real life links that can be drawn to the current struggle for survival of unique wildlife including the white rhinoceros of Africa and the efforts of conservation officers to protect them, to the exclusive behaviour that exists because of class divisions everywhere and the ethics of the use of animals for sport especially horse racing.

Fraser's writing is rich in descriptive language. It could be viewed that Jonty's Unicorn is slightly overwritten in terms of the overeuse of adjectives. That could be a point of discussion. However the main character, Jonty, is allowed to emerge through her thoughts and actions. As instructional models of well constructed sentences, many passages could be chosen by teachers for students to peruse.

Jonty's Unicorn is a moving fantasy story. Recommended indeed!

Themes Bravery, Sacrifice, Class division, Animal cruelty, Magic, Fantasy.

Wendy Jeffrey

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Bluey: The decider by Bluey

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The Heelers and their next door neighbours sit down together to watch the state of origin match on television. Bluey and Chucky discuss the protocols of the audience, Chucky wondering who she should barrack for.  Bluey tells her that as both of her parents support the blue team, then she does too. But Chucky’s decision is not so easy:  she has a problem as her mum supports the maroon team while dad supports the blue team. As Chucky’s parents support opposing teams, her mum stays at home by herself to support her team. Bluey and Chucky are amazed at the way scoring a goal can spark off such different behaviour. They love it when the dads dance around, and sing out at a goal, but are disappointed along with the others when one is scored by the opposing team. Words of support are yelled between houses, and Bluey and Chucky saunter next door to support Chucky and Lucky’s mum who is watching by herself. Even by half time, Chucky is still undecided.

On a couple of very  poignant pages, Chucky has to decide between mum and dad. But by the end of the story, all families are barracking for the same team, the gold team, so all is well, and a lovely image ends the book.

Full of the give and take of family life, Bluey: The decider recreates one of the most (to some) important decisions in their young lives, which footy team to support.

It does this by giving opposing sides and showing the reader that making up your mind is not as straightforward as it may seem.

In bold cartoon images, the board book is full of vibrancy and wonderful characterisation. The story unfolds, keeping the readers’ attention held firmly on the position of the children in the family and the choices they need to make.

Some readers have opined that the story is about divorce, but I think it reflects the decisions children need to make even as young children, and how happy supportive families will aid them in their decision making.

There is a website devoted to Bluey and the episodes can be watched again on ABC iView.

Themes Family life, Decision making, Football (Eastern states), Humour.

Fran Knight

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To and fro by Anton Clifford-Motopi

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What a fun debut novel for young people (especially boys) is To and fro by Anton Clifford Motopi! Writing from his own experience of being mixed race and now raising four children of his own, Clifford Motobi has produced a lively, funny take on coming of age through the first person narration of Sam, a mixed race 12 year old Australian boy, son of a single mother and of mixed Australian and African race. 

The novel hinges around the old chestnut school project where students are required to research their identity - basically Who am I and where do I come from? As every teacher knows this research can open a can of worms and in To and fro it certainly does! The children are to present their findings at a parent assembly. In the process they find out about themselves and each other with meaningful, life-changing and equally moving and hilarious consequences.

The reader is immersed in the warm and funny family life of Sam, his mother and his dog Trevor. In addition his nanna, his teacher (Mr Peacock) and his friend Aiden, enemy Lachlan Bott and other students play important roles. Sam is a white boy with an Afro. Into the story enters his father and Sam gains another African family with black skinned siblings. His efforts to understand his identity are both touching and funny. Amongst other things, he goes to extreme lengths to change his skin colour and runs into a great deal of trouble including inadvertently causing great offence through appearing at school in 'black face'.

Nanna holds racist views especially about refugees as she feels that they take Australian jobs and live off welfare. Her views moderate. Sam has the greatest shock to overcome. His dog Trevor is an enormous comfort to him. An example is the occasion when Sam confides in him...' 'It's okay, Trevor. I'm in shock because Mum lied to me about my father for twelve years. That's about seventy dog year's of lying.' Dogs don't know their dads, so the full effect of Mum's lies were lost on Trevor. ' (p.41) 

Fresh and thought provoking insights about racial and cultural misunderstandings arise incidentally as the story progresses and are dealt with in a warm hearted manner. 

To and fro would be a useful book for boys in particular to read as it deals in a light hearted and casually instructive way with potentially embarrassing things that can happen as boys go through puberty. 

In summary, To and fro is not only an entertaining and funny book; it would also be helpful for Middle school children (especially boys) coming to terms with identity, changing friendships and changing bodies.

A nice touch is the photo of Anton Clifford-Motopi at the same age as his intended readers on the back page.

Recommended. Teacher's notes are available.

Themes Identity, Being biracial, Single parent families, Friendship, Adolescent issues for boys.

Wendy Jeffrey

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The unexpected mess of it all by Gabrielle Tozer

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When Jamila Dakhoul’s family need somewhere to live, after their property is destroyed by fire, their friends, Krista and Charlotte are quick to offer them a caravan in their backyard until they can rebuild. The families have been close since Billy Radcliff and Jamila were born 5 hours apart and the mums became friends. Now 18 and in year twelve Jamila is having to deal not only with the trauma of the fire and the humiliation of having to accept charity but also the incessant bullying prevalent at her school, and to make it worse, Billy has become friends with the worst offenders. One of the ways she keeps going is by posting to her YouTube channel called ‘Jam and Scream', sharing everyday events with her many followers, much to the disgust of her younger brother Elijah who can't see the point. Each year the families go to Hamil Bay Holiday Park for a long weekend in April, what used to be Jamila’s 'happy place' where she and Billy with friend Daphne Chen would make lasting memories. But this year Billy is planning on going to a party instead of the camping trip and Daphne hasn’t been in touch. After a series of terrible incidents at school, both Jamila and Billy find themselves under close parental scrutiny, compelled to make the camping trip, Jamila without her phone. When things seem to have reached rock bottom the deep friendships formed over many years are rekindled and, with the help of a polaroid camera, Jamila’s 'happy place' works its magic.

In this fast-paced romance and coming of age story bullying is taken to a whole new level through social media but being connected is also how Jamila deals with her situation and finds support outside the family. All lightened with a fine dusting of humour a nice addition to Australian young adult fiction. Teacher's notes are available.

Themes Relationships, Bullying, Coming of age.

Sue Speck

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