When we are invisible by Claire Zorn
The sequel to The sky so heavy, this time featuring Lucy as the main protagonist, was very difficult to put down. Lucy, Fin and Max are trying to recover from the devastating events of the nuclear winter in Sydney, as they drive toward Wattlewood, the sanctuary that their teacher had told them about. When they arrive, they find that it is like a compound, heavily guarded, and each person must prove their worth in order to stay. Lucy has doubts about how it is organised, and she is unsure that they are safe there.
Told in the first person by Lucy, the reader is drawn deep into her fears about life at Wattlewood, where one of the leaders, Jaxon, is controlling and into power. He does not appreciate a young woman like Lucy who speaks her mind, and Lucy is not happy with the stereotyped role that she is given, in the laundry and in the kitchen. However, Fin fits in as a guard and Jaxon manages to pull Max out of the depression that he had slipped into after the trauma of their stay in Sydney. Lucy also delves back into her past and her relationship with her sister, Bit, and the reader will empathise with the reason that Bit had anorexia and why Lucy is wary of men and of forming the relationship that Fin craves.
Although there is action and suspense as Lucy learns to hunt and the compound is shut down because of threats from the outside, themes of power, feminism and compassion are the dominant threads of this story. Zorn keeps the reader enthralled as Lucy weaves her way through the pitfalls of maintaining her own self confidence under a concerted effort by Jaxon to belittle her as he does Esther. Readers will be able to identify the means that violent men use to dominate women and will identify with Lucy as her sense of justice and compassion and her belief that outsiders should be helped, wars with the powerful Jaxon.
Although this is sequel, it can be read as a standalone and readers will want to pick up The sky so heavy if they have not read it. It would make a topical class novel or literature circle text. Teacher's notes are available, and you can listen to Claire Zorn talk about the book here.
Themes Courage, Compassion, Community, Violence, Gender Inequality, Nuclear Winter, Spirituality, Eating Disorders, Power, Feminism.
No place for an octopus by Claire Zorn
UQP, 2019. ISBN: 9780702262609.
(Age: 4+) Recommended. Themes: Octopus, Sea creatures, Environment.
When a boy finds an octopus in a rock pool on the beach, he imagines
what it would be like if the creature were his friend. The octopus
is all alone in the rock pool and has no friends there with him, he
is hiding behind the seaweed and looks hungry. They could do all
sorts of things together: the animal could bathe in his bath, eat
his food, read a book with him, go on the roller coaster, travel and
be very quiet.
The boy watches the animal in the rock pool, pondering its
environment and sees the array of things children can find in a rock
pool: seaweed and shells, small fish, sea urchins, crabs and
limpets, ledges and shallow water in which animals can hide. The
octopus peers at the boy from behind his seaweed and the boy decides
that the rock pool is the best place for the creature and leaves him
This lovely story, full of information about a rock pool and its
inhabitants, will appeal to every reader as they peruse the
illustrations for signs of life in the rock pool, listing the
various things they spot. The pencil and water colour illustrations
are marvellously informative, allowing the reader to pick things out
for themselves, and giving a subtle message about conservation at
the same time.
The hole in the cover will encourage readers to pick up the book to
read, and the faces peeping through at the reader are an extra
inducement guaranteeing a lot of enjoyment. The book will stimulate
discussion about why things are in a particular place, why creatures
are linked to the environment in which they live and the hazards of
removing them from their environment. Classes will get a buzz
reading about the possibilities of an octopus sharing their bedroom
and going on trips with them, seeing the inappropriateness of such
an action, underscoring again the link between an animal and its
notes are available.
Tempests and slaughter by Tamora Pierce
The Numair Chronicles book 1. Lothian, 2018. ISBN
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. Themes: Fantasy, Magic, Wizards,
Sorcery, Puberty. Arram Draper is the youngest student in his class
at the Imperial University of Carthak, and his gifts are so great
that he is constantly being put into higher classes with older
students. When he meets Varice, a clever girl with kitchen magic,
and Ozorne, the left-over prince, he finds two friends who help him
fit in and the three of them form a bond that will have far reaching
In this long, slow moving and absorbing story of the boy who will
become the great mage Numar Salmalin, featured in Pierce's previous
Tortall stories (Song of the Lionness series and The
immortals series), the reader follows the schooling of the
three friends. It is fascinating to see the growth of Arram's skills
and beliefs and follow his encounters with gods, a sunbird and the
friends that he makes among the gladiators and creatures in the
river. His curiosity and well-meaning nature will endear him to the
reader, who will empathise with his feelings about slavery and
follow his ability as a healer and water wizard with great interest.
Meanwhile Ozorne is schooled in the magic of warfare and the reader
knows that danger will follow from that, while Varice is shown as a
caring attractive girl who has great social and culinary skills.
I had read the books about Alanna (Song of the Lionness series) many
years ago, and found the story of Arram so fascinating that I
immediately borrowed the four books in The immortals series to find
out about Arram (Numar) as a grown man.
Tempests and slaughter can be read as a stand alone story,
and fans of the books originally set in Tortall will especially
welcome this new series about a favourite character. Books by Tamora
Pierce are must reads for any fantasy lover.
One would think the deep by Claire Zorn
University of Queensland Press, 2016. ISBN 9780702253942
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Grief. Surfing. Family relations. Another
hard hitting novel from Zorn is sure to appeal to fans. It's 1997
and 17 year old Sam is trying to come to grips with the sudden death
of his mother from an aneurysm while he was dancing with her. Left
bereft, he goes to live with his Aunt Lorraine and cousins Shane and
Minty, who he hasn't seen for years. His family had fallen apart
years before and he and his mother had been alone relying on each
other. When he arrives in the small coastal town of Archer Point Sam
begins to follow Minty around, learning to surf and trying to drown
out the snapshots of disaster that he carries in his head.
With masterful and lyrical writing, Zorn brings to life the
character of Sam, on one hand sensitive and intelligent, on the
other angry and aggressive. His grief is overwhelming and his
attempts to cope will resonate with readers, as he tries to navigate
through a new life. He makes some bad decisions, deciding not to go
to school, drinking, fighting and letting down new friends and
ultimately has to decide whether to sink or swim. His feelings for
Gretchen are beautifully portrayed, with all the angst and longing
that the teenage years bring.
Family relations play an important role in the book and the theme of
belonging is all important. Sam can't work out why his family had
stopped meeting years ago and the author keeps the reader wondering
about this as they are slowly revealed throughout the story. Ruby,
Minty's friend, has to decide whether she will pursue her racial
roots and find her indigenous family. Her story is an engrossing sub
plot as she is as talented as Minty at surfing, but believes that
getting an education and going to university is more important than
trying to win surfing events. Minty too is an engaging character,
whom everyone likes, but who is totally absorbed with surfing the
Music plays an important role in the book. Jeff Buckley is Sam's
favourite singer and a playlist at the back of the book will
draw the reader into the music culture of 1997.
Some big themes are tackled in this book - family violence, racism,
sexism, anger and grief - and all are treated in a complex
multi-levelled way. This would be a great literature circle book or
The protected by Claire Zorn
University of Queensland Press, 2014. ISBN 9780702250194
(Age: 14+) Recommended. On the front cover A. J. Betts describes The
protected as 'a tender story of grief, trust and healing -
Hannah broke my heart'. Nothing could be more accurate.
The story is told in Hannah's voice as she reveals both her life
after her sister's death in a road accident and, with flashbacks,
to the time before. It is through these flashbacks that the reader
is given an insight into the horrible life that was Hannah's first
years of high school, where she was the victim of vicious physical
and cyber bullying. In her own words she describes herself as 'a
floater' who is subjected to the 'dead animal stares' of Tara
and her 'clones'. But the most poignant and heart wrenching aspect
of Hannah's ostracism is the loss of her best friend, Charlotte, who
gradually shifts her allegiance to the clones. In one short
sentence, 'Eventually the 'merger' happens.' Zorn powerfully
evokes the shifting relationship of these two once close friends
until eventually Hannah realises that despite Charlotte's attempts
'(Hannah) was only a piece of sentimental childhood memorabilia she
couldn't bring herself to throw away'
Hannah's clear unselfpitying reflection on what is happening only
adds to the sympathy we feel for her.
Then Hannah's sister Kate is killed in a car accident in which her
father was the driver and she, another passenger. The family is
almost completely destroyed: her mother is incapable of doing
anything and her father struggles on after sustaining considerable
injuries. Ironically, for Hannah, it is this event which changes her
school life. Although she is still a 'floater' she is no longer
bullied and even strikes up a friendship with Josh Chamberlain, who
being new to the school, is oblivious to the school social
The climax of the story should be her father's court case where
Hannah is required to give evidence, but cleverly Zorn downplays
this event creating a more realistic move towards healing than a
sudden revelation that may have been used by other more
While there is much to feel sympathy with in this novel, there is
another side as well. Hannah's sister Kate is not the loving and
caring sister: she disowns Hannah at school and fails to protect her
from the bullies, fearing instead for her own social status. Also
with the pathos there is humour, albeit sometimes black, that adds
another dimension. Zorn's description of Mrs Rorke the maths teacher
'continuing the noble tradition of torturing students with
trigonometry' being just one example.
In The protected Zorn vividly and entertainingly portrays
the time and place in which this novel is set by her creation of
realistic characters and authentic use of language.
The sky so heavy by Claire Zorn
UQP, 2013. ISBN 9780702249761.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Fin is an average teenage boy who
lives with his parents and young brother Max in the Blue Mountains.
He likes Lucy Tenningworth and is just beginning to feel that he may
have a chance with her when he gets a phone call from his mother
telling him to buy all the water and non-perishable goods that he
can and to get home with Max as soon as possible. The next morning
he wakes up to a different world; there is black snow everywhere,
the electricity is out, internet is gone and his mother can't be
reached and his father has gone off with his new wife. Fin and Max
must learn to fend for themselves in this strange new world with its
threat of nuclear war.
This is a very exciting book that clearly shows what it would be
like to live without all the things that we take for granted. As
food supplies begin to dwindle and people get sick, Fin finds that
he has to take on an adult role and care for Max. I really liked the
character of Fin, who tells the story from his point of view. He is
funny and thoughtful, caring and understands his short comings. He
is the one who realises that the black snow is dangerous and won't
let Max touch it. He has to raid the local grocery store for food
and fend off people who want to take the few resources that he has.
Zorn is very clever in the way that she gets her characters to
explore not only what it is like to face a devastated world, but
also the characteristics like resilience and optimism that are
necessary to survive. Other major themes are racism, bullying,
suicide, the existence of God, corruption of power and whether
violence is ever acceptable.
Other characters like Noll and Lucy feel realistic as does the
setting of the small town that is inundated with snow with roads
closed and people isolated. The perils that the little group face on
their road trip to Sydney seeking Fin's mother and safety is vividly
written. The attitude of those who have food and water, and their
closing down the roads into Sydney and refusing to let people
through gives the reader the opportunity to see what it would be
like to be an asylum seeker and be refused refuge.
This is a thrilling read and will appeal to those who enjoyed Tomorrow,
when the war began by John Marsden. It would also make a great
literature circle or class novel as not only does it contain many
themes that could be discussed, it is also well written and
enjoyable. I'm looking forward to the sequel.