October Roundup: Diversity

What with organising the Christmas shopping, dodging extreme heat and storms (in Queensland at least), and generally hurtling towards the end of the year, our review numbers are slowing. Despite this, reviewers have still covered a wide range of books which feature diverse themes or characters, many of them in the young adult genre.

UntamedCowanAnnaKate of The Ecstasy Files was intrigued by Anna Cowan’s Untamed (also reviewed by BookThingo last year). She found ‘the premise of a feisty, opinionated heroine and a manipulative cross-dressing duke who is “so aristocratic he is almost brain-damaged” pretty damned interesting.’ One of its main themes is the subversion of gender roles, and Kate thought Cowan did an excellent job of this, as she writes, ‘the duke is often both fascinated and repulsed by Kit’s coarse physicality. He stands by, dressed in the finest silks, watching her chop wood, mend fences, and curse in the very best swear words. On the other hand Kit is made breathless by his beauty, his softness, and is driven to passion by his emotional intensity and complexity.’ This sounds fantastic!

UnsuitableAnother romance which plays with gender roles is Ainslie Patton’s Unsuitable. Kaetrin ‘moved this one up the TBR queue when [she] realised it had a male nanny.’ In this work, she continues, ‘traditional roles are flipped on their heads. Reece is the nurturer, the one who cooks and does laundry (although, he’s also much more than that – of course, everybody is) and Audrey is in the traditional “breadwinner” role with the late nights and the corporate travel.” Kaetrin had some quibbles with the pacing and found the ending a bit rushed, but otherwise thought the examination of gender roles was ‘really interesting.’

Nona & MeBree of All the Books I Can Read reviewed Clare Atkins’ Nona and Me, a novel about two girls, one Aboriginal and one white, raised in an Aboriginal community. They are inseparable until the Aboriginal girl, Nona, moves away. When she returns to her community, both girls are 15, but have been shaped by their different experiences. Rosie finds it difficult to reconcile other people’s perspectives on Aboriginal people with what she knows of Nona and her family. ‘In a word,’ Bree writes, ‘this book is powerful.’ It demonstrates the impact of the Intervention in the Northern Territory, as well as ‘the bonds that can develop between two very different families.’ Bree would, however, ‘have loved Nona’s side of the story as well as Rosie’s and found herself ‘wondering about her long after [she’d] finished the book.’

laurinda-pungAlice Pung was a guest author for our focus on Australian women writers of diverse heritage last year. Her debut novel, Laurinda, has just been released. Its protagonist, Lucy Lam, is a young girl of Vietnamese parents who has been accepted into an elite school, and the work has similar themes to Nona and Me. As Bree notes in her review, it’s about the pressures on Lucy to belong, and how she tries to maintain a sense of self despite these pressures. Bree concludes that the book is ‘a very clever, funny portrayal of the school portion of life as well as gender and the role of friendship and power’ and that with Laurinda, Pung ‘breathes fresh life into the Aussie YA world.’

KaleidoscopeA few other works also demonstrate the liveliness of the YA genre. The stories in Kaleidescope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios, explode with diversity. Those reviewed by Sean the Bookonaut canvas sexism, refugees, immigrant exploitation and disability, but all of them ‘put story first or entertainment first.’ Like its title, this is a brilliant and multifaceted work, and one that has empathy at its heart, as Sean writes: ‘Only one thing is better than finding a character that you can identify with, who is just like you. That thing is having other people see and perhaps gain insight and understanding into what it means to be “different”.’

22588703Continuing this thread of diverse themes in young adult novels is K.A. Barker’s The Book of Days. In her review of this book, Rochelle of Inside My Worlds mentions a favourite character, Jack, who ‘didn’t let his disability stand in his way and was quick to make light of it. He was so sweet and brave.’

I also penned my thoughts on Anna Romer’s novel Thornwood House and on its positive portrayal of a deaf man, Danny. Romer also took some of Danny’s characteristics, such as his attentiveness to body language and lipreaing, and used them to add tension to her work.

small-shen-chanFinally, Tsana’s review of Kylie Chan’s Small Shen takes the cake with her description of its main character, Gold, a ‘bisexual, gender-swapping rock in human form.’ This is a ‘short graphically-enhanced novel,’ in which Gold’s ‘historical shenanigans touch on Chinese history in a real-world sense, rather than just a mythological sense.’ As Tsana asks, ‘What’s not to like?’

The holidays are beckoning, and these reviewers have all really enjoyed the diverse themes in these books. If you need something to read beneath a beach umbrella, or in a hammock with a glass of lemonade, pick up one of the works they mention, or head to our reviews listings for some ideas – you won’t be disappointed!


About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012).  I’ve recently received funding from the Australia Council’s new Artists With Disability program to write my third novel, The Sea Creatures.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter@ladyredjess.



Young Adults (Non-Speculative): Round Up Five (2014)

There was a lovely collection of books and reviews over the past two months, covering a wide range of topics, characters and locations. It’s exciting to see so many books reviewed in the lead up to the end of the year – and the gift buying season!

cooperbartholomew-jamesOne book – Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James was reviewed three times. This alternating perspectives book deals with the events leading up to the death of the title character – a death which was ruled suicide by the police, but which is being questioned by Cooper’s girlfriend. Shelleyrae describes is as more psychological drama than a thriller, pointing out that it lacked the expected drama. However, she found that narrative compelling, partly due to the investment in the character.

All four protagonists felt genuine in ways to me that other characters in the New Adult genre have rarely done, I believed in their emotion, motivation and actions. The characters have distinct voices, which is important given the structure of the narrative, and are complex individuals. The relationship dynamics are also convincingly drawn.

Shaheen spoke about how the structure of the book – with four narrators and a timeline that jumped between then and now – worked well as the author was able to completely control how much information the reader has.

raindance-woodShelleyrae also looked at Rain Dance by Karen Wood, an Australian rural romance for young adults (I’ve noticed an increase in this particular genre recently, which is really interesting). Holly and her family are forced to relocate from a coastal home to a rural area after the bank takes their house. Meanwhile Kaydon is shocked and suspicious when he returns from boarding school to find that his father is expanding their cattle farm during drought conditions. Shelleyrae talks of how the book has a sweet romance, but also action scenes and a sense of intrigue. She also talks about how there’s a good sense of reality through the book, through the strains on both Kaydon and Holly’s families and through the experiences of the minor characters.

laurinda-pungBree reviewed Laurinda by Alice Pung, the story of Lucy who has just won an Equal Access scholarship to an exclusive girls school. The school is ruled by ‘the Cabinet’ a trio of girls who are able to control the students and – at times – the teachers of the school. Lucy finds herself drawn into the world of ‘the Cabinet’ and struggles to hold onto herself and her beliefs.

Laurinda is a very clever, funny portrayal of the school portion of life as well as gender and the role of friendship and power. Lucy is frank in her observations in her letters and yet at the same time, she can see herself changing, the more time she spends at Laurinda . . . Lucy’s is a wonderful voice, full of life and she gives real vision to the life she leads and how Laurinda and the lives of the other students there, is very different to hers.

Just before I sat down to write this post, the shortlist for the 2014 Queensland Literacy Awards came out and it was wonderful to see so many Australian Women Writers on both the Young Adult and Children’s shortlists.

In the Young Adult category there was:

In the Children’s category there was:

  • Refuge by Jackie French
  • The Ratcatchers Daughter by Pamela Rushby
  • Nature Storybooks: The Big Red Kangaroo by Claire Saxby
  • Smooch and Rose by Samantha Wheeler

More wonderful books by Australian Women Writers to buy, borrow from your local library or gift to someone special!

About Me

YA novels were my ticket to ‘coolness’ in high school, when my speed reading led to an invitation to choose new books for the Melina Dschool library. I continued reading children’s and YA books  long after I was supposed to ‘grow up’ – something which served me very well when I became a teacher and was known all over the school as ‘the teacher with the books’. I’m currently on maternity leave, enjoying the rich world of picture books with my toddler, saving libraries and sporadically blogging over at Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Young Adults (Non-Speculative): Round Up Four (2014)

There was an incredibly diverse range of Young Adult books reviewed over the past two months, and some incredibly insightful reviews. I’m thrilled to be able to share some of those with you here.

just-a-girl-krauthWelcome to my library had an extended response by Angela Long to Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl which was a recent book club selection. The story of a girl exploring her sexuality and place in the world led to debate and discussion amongst the readers – a sign of a book that has been successful in interesting the reader.

Our century is one of connectivity and instant self gratification however Krauth’s characters are lost in their own worlds of fantasy and disconnection, each avoiding their realities and unable to connect with their emotions. But where the others are caught in the despair of their own choices, Layla openly explores her options.

I thoroughly recommend going to read the rest of the review – it is a wonderful example of the depth of Young Adult books and the discussions around them.

accident-hendrickBelle’s Bookshelf looked at The Accident by Kate Hendrick. She described the book – about the interweaving stories of three teenagers – as having beautiful writing and powerful imagery. She notes that the switching points of view can be a little confusing at first, but soon becomes engaging.

A lighter read, The Intern by Gabrielle Tozer, was reviewed by Bree (who bought it after hearing good things about it – reviews really work!). She describes it as a fun book which leaves you smiling. She also pointed out that it was nice to see a book that had a romance, but didn’t place it front and centre. The main character was focused on her job and her degree, and the romance was there, but not all consuming.

romy bright storerBree also reviewed Romy Bright by Jen Storer, another story about a girl who has a goal she wants to achieve – this time playing guitar for a real gig. However, Romy is constrained by family obligations, with her mother and step father increasingly expecting her to take on baby-sitting and other household obligations. Bree pointed out that this is a very real concern in some families and that there are a number of teenagers who would relate to looking after younger siblings, sometimes at the expense of their own interests and activities.

wildlifeAngie reviewed the recent winner of the Children’s Book Awards – Wildlife by Fiona Wood. The book, which is told in first person by two different narrators, follows the characters as they embark on a term at their school’s outdoor education camp:

The best moments of the novel are the scenes where the characters venture out for their solitary overnight experience in the bush. The descriptions of their fear felt in the threatening landscape but also their appreciation of its peaceful beauty are lovely passages: ‘It was quiet but for my puffed breathing and a wheeling spray of rosellas. I got up, legs trembling and started looking around. There was a pond, and it was full of fresh water after all the rain…Black sun spots burnt into the red of my closed eyelids when I blinked. I filled my hat with water and put it back on.’

Alexander Altmann A10567 Suzy ZailAlexander Altmann A10567 by Suzie Zail was reviewed by Rochelle. This is a very different book from the others reviewed – a historical fiction dealing with a 14 year old boy in Auschwitz. Alexander has lied about his age to be put into the men’s camp and when an opportunity arises to take care of the horses of the German soldiers, he grabs it. The book, which is based off the story of an Auschwitz survivor, shows a character who is guarded and unable to look beyond the present to hope for a future. However, it does manage to have both heart breaking moments and hope.

Just because the protagonist was 14 does not mean this should only be read by teens. I recommend this to everyone. This is a time in history that cannot be forgotten, and those looking to understand it more should read this book. Zail’s writing was flawless, she quickly drew me in and held me captive until the very last page. It was a powerful story of hope and survival. Alexander has sunk into my heart and will stay with me for a long time.

There’s been some discussion recently about Young Adult books and their intended audience. It’s becoming increasingly clear that although these stories are suitable for teenagers and deal with the lives of teenagers, that they are books which stretch far beyond a teenage audience.


About Me

YA novels were my ticket to ‘coolness’ in high school, when my speed reading led to an invitation to choose new books for the Melina Dschool library. I continued reading children’s and YA books  long after I was supposed to ‘grow up’ – something which served me very well when I became a teacher and was known all over the school as ‘the teacher with the books’. I’m currently on maternity leave, enjoying the rich world of picture books with my toddler, saving libraries and sporadically blogging over at Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Children’s and Young Readers: Round Up Four (2014) – and bonus Children’s Book of the Year Awards!

Happy Book Week!

As children (and teachers and authors) around the country get out their best book-related costumes, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the Australian Women Writers who featured among the winners and honours at the Children’s Book of the Year Awards.

wildlifeWildlife by Fiona Wood won the Older Readers section which was primarily reviewed last year. Belle’s Bookshelf described it as a book you can really relate to:

Wildlife is pretty much the perfect teen book. It is so incredibly realistic, while also being touching and inspiring. It’s a fun, easy read, but it also explores very important and deep issues. It will make you feel happy and sad and worried and excited and so many things all at once. It will tear you apart into tiny pieces, before patching you up again, just as whole, but not quite the same.

Wildlife was also reviewed here and here.

The Honour books in the Older Readers section were also written by Australian women. Faith described Fairytales for Wilde Girls (by Allyse Near) as “a gorgeously lyrical, gruesomely dark concoction“, while Shaheen and Welcome to my Library both talked about the deeply engaging world created in Claire Zorn’s The Sky So Heavy.

In the Younger Readers section, Catherine Jinks won for City of Orphans:A Very Unusualjinks unusual pursuit PursuitWelcome to my Library talks of how Jinks “has painted pictures with her words of Victorian London” while Amanda Curtin talks about how the main character is written:

The orphan Birdie is a beautifully realised, wholly believable character. Jinks arms her with a Victorian version of ‘girl power’ that would resonate strongly with young female readers especially (although the book’s appeal is wider than that), but she never breaches the boundaries of plausibility. Birdie is gutsy and forthright but always within the context of her time and place, her social position.

Light Horse Boy by Dianne Wolfer was an Honour Book in this category.

Other winners include The Swap by Jan Ormerod in the Early Childhood section with I’m a Dirty Dinosaur by Janeen Brian and Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson being awarded Honours. In the Eve Pownall Award for Information section, Welcome To My Country by Laklak Burarrwanga and Family was an Honours book.


The Treasure BoxThere weren’t a large number of children’s books reviewed over the last two months, but I wanted to highlight two reviews from A Strong Belief in Wicker which focused on picture books. The first was The Treasure Box, from the prolific author Margaret Wild (and the equally prolific illustrator, Freya Blackwood)

The Treasure Box raises issues of war, death, refugees and oppression. It also deals with hope, perseverance and the power of the human spirit. Just your average picture book stuff.

This review points out that picture books often stray far beyond ‘traditional’ topics of childhood stories, and that they’re an important medium in bringing diverse and important stories to readers. Picture books do not often appear among the reviews for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which is a pity since they are quick to read and often have so many layers to discuss. (The Treasure Box was on the short-list for the Children’s Book of the Year awards)

The second book was A House for Donfinkle by new author Choechoe Brereton.a house for donfinkle - choechoe brereton

A House for Donfinkle  is an extraordinary, sparkling gem that teaches kids the importance of sticking to your guns and standing up for your taste in a fun, rhyming, and non-preachy way. Adults will recognise the dangers of committees, and the beauty and simplicity of a singular vision.

Seeing two reviews of books I have not come across – although I have a toddler and frequently spend time looking through the picture book section of the library – reminds me how important word of mouth, through reviews, recommendations and conversation, is when it comes to children’s books. Children’s books often get less review space than adults books and when they do receive space, this is often criticised by those who feel that children’s books are not ‘worthy’ of review. It’s librarians (in schools and public libraries), book sellers, teachers, parents and reviewers who help children’s books get out into the world – and help to get the right book into the right hands. And when we get the right books into the right hands – we can help to create readers.

I challenge everyone to read and review a picture book or children’s book by an Australian women writer in the next few months. There is some absolutely extraordinary work being done in this area, and we can support it so easily.


About Me

I’ve had a strong interest in children’s fiction since Grade 1 when a fabulous teacher bribed me with Famous Five novels. I continued reading Melina Dchildren’s and YA books  long after I was supposed to ‘grow up’ – something which served me very well when I became a teacher and was known all over the school as ‘the teacher with the books’. I’m currently on maternity leave, enjoying the rich world of picture books with my toddler and sporadically blogging over at Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Young Adults (Non-Speculative): Round Up Three (2014)

Another month has passed and I’m back with a round up of some really awesome Young Adult fiction reviews. Reviewers have covered books from Tasmania to Perth, with intruders, sauce making, secret organisations and summer romances along the way.

Intruder BongersThere were a couple of really interesting crime/thriller novels reviewed since the last round up.  Jason Nahrung reviewed Intruder by Christine Bongers, which uses the terrifying moment of waking up with an intruder in your bedroom to unveil the life and family of the main character Kat.

There’s a lot of charm in this yarn, mixing humour and tension in a believable scenario that unearths home truths and serves up a warning about the dangers of jumping to conclusions.

Margaret Wild’s The Vanishing Moment was reviewed by Bernadette. It’s a brief story of three people who seem to have nothing to do with each other – until their lives intertwine. Bernadette didn’t want to give too much of the book away (and recommends staying away from reviews which give away too much), but found it enjoyable overall:

It’s not a traditional crime novel in that there are no procedural elements and whodunit is never the central question but there are crimes and these events, and how people react to them, are pivotal to the story.

Melina Marchetta is often mentioned when Australian YA is talked about. For this round up, her first two books – Looking for Alibrandi and Saving looking-for-alibrandiFrancesca were reviewed. Bree reviewed Looking for Alibrandi and talked about how marriage into a Sicilian family means that she relates more to main character Josie now, than she did as a teenager. She also mentioned that it had been a long time since she’d read Looking for Alibrandi, and the impact of certain events was almost as great as the first time she read it.

It’s so easy to believe that you have it all, as a teenager, that tragedy is something that only happens to other people. There are so many things that can give you the most brutal of reminders that it isn’t true.

I reread and reviewed Saving Francesca, which tends to completely engross me every time I read it. While I love Francesca, I also find myself falling in love with all the characters in the book:

Supporting characters are a real strength of Marchetta’s and you can see that here – from the giggly ‘big-boy’ worship of Francesca’s little brother Luca, to the brisk, but sympathetic supervisor at her mother’s university, to the other students and teachers at her new school.

Two reviewers covered The Recruit by Fiona Palmer, a novel about Perth boxer Jaz, who finds herself being recruited for a secret agency. Nicole could see the scope for a series developing from this book, with more story to be told and characters and relationships to be further developed. Lauredhel was particularly interested to see that it was set in her hometown and was very impressed to see such a strong, non-white female main character – something which we don’t see a huge amount of in Australian YA.

the minnow - diana sweeneyChiara reviewed The Minnow by Diana Sweeney – a unique coming of age story. She found it difficult to characterise – it’s set in a contemporary time and setting and yet there is something ‘more’ to it.

Tom is an incredibly deep and complex character. She is one of those characters that feels very three dimensional; very real, and I loved reading about her life. She’s not perfect, but she’s funny and thoughtful and so very strong. The way she looks at life is a completely Tom way – completely her, and utterly wonderful to read about. There wasn’t one moment that I did not enjoy reading about her world through her eyes.

Finally, Jess at the Never Ending Bookshelf reviewed a series of books by G. J. Walker-Smith, beginning with Saving Wishes - the story of what happens when Charli – a 17 year old with a tattered reputation living in a small town in Tasmania – meets Adam – a 21 year old French-American born into the world of money and sensible jobs.

Ultimately Saving Wishes is a coming of age story which promises to bring change and romance to the world of its readers. Much like the stories themselves, the reader will be enchanted by Charli’s tales and her mischievous adventures and Adam Décarie will delight your senses in ways only a Décarie can do.

One thing I really notice in this round up is how diverse the books are – everything from crime to coming of age stories to romance. There’s been some interesting chat around lately about where YA is at the moment and where it’s going into the future – the wide range of books covered here makes me think that the future of YA is going to be an interesting one.


About Me

YA novels were my ticket to ‘coolness’ in high school, when my speed reading led to an invitation to choose new books for the Melina Dschool library. I continued reading children’s and YA books  long after I was supposed to ‘grow up’ – something which served me very well when I became a teacher and was known all over the school as ‘the teacher with the books’. I’m currently on maternity leave, enjoying the rich world of picture books with my toddler, saving libraries and sporadically blogging over at Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Writing: Interview with Ambelin Kwaymullina

Ambelin photoToday marks the beginning of NAIDOC week, which celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  Through my Diversity roundups for the AWW Challenge I draw attention to the wonderful and wide-ranging writing by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women writers, and this month, in the spirit of NAIDOC week, it would be great to see some reviews of their books.  You can also head to ANZ LitLovers, where Lisa Hill is holding a challenge for this week, whereby you may sign up and review a novel by any Indigenous writer from around the world.

As part of our celebrations, I have interviewed author Ambelin Kwaymullina. Ambelin is an Aboriginal writer, illustrator and law academic. She comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She has published a number of picture books as well as a dystopian series – The Tribe – for young adults.  The first book of this series, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, has received enthusiastic reviews from a number of AWW’s readers over the last few years (see our review listings for 2012 and 2013), and I’m looking forward to reading the second, The Disappearance of Ember Crow. In her interview, Ambelin discusses the importance of holism, connections, mirrors, listening, and storytelling.  If you’d like to know more about Ambelin and her books, you can visit her website at www.ambelin-kwaymullina.com.au.

Also, if you’d like some ideas for books to read this month, you can head to the Indigenous Authors reviews on our Review Listings page.  I really look forward to reading your thoughts!

Interview with Ambelin Kwaymullina

What was the first piece of writing you can remember creating? What then set you on the path to becoming a writer?

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin KwaymullinaI always wrote. But I gave it up for a long time, because I lacked faith in myself (I still wrote but not seriously, and if you want to be a writer you have to pursue it seriously; it cannot be a hobby). What set me on the path of writing again was a dream.

I dreamed a story about a crow, a tale with a message about valuing yourself. That story became Crow and the Waterhole, the first book I ever published. It was also the first book I ever illustrated. And I have always believed that the story itself was a gift from my ancestors. They knew I needed to hear the message of it.


How does your Indigenous culture influence what and how you write?

Walking the CloudsMy people, my family, my culture, my Country – this is who I am. So of course it is in every aspect of what I create. There are times when that influence is not always obvious to those looking in from the outside. For example, I get a lot of comments that it’s unusual to be an Indigenous speculative fiction writer. But worldwide there are quite a few Indigenous authors writing into speculative fiction, and to some degree we all incorporate who we are into what we write.

There is an anthology of Indigenous science fiction called Walking the Clouds, and in it, Aninishaabe scholar Grace Dillon writes that all forms of Indigenous futurisms are part of a process of returning to ourselves. Perhaps this describes all Indigenous stories; we are always who we are, in whatever genre we write. And for some specific examples of the way in which aspects of Aboriginal culture winds through The Tribe series – it is in the bonds that the Tribe have with the animals of the forest; in kin relationships that sustain them through the hardest of times; and in an earth alive with greater wisdom than human beings can fathom.


What was the inspiration for The Tribe series, and why did you decide on the genre of a dystopia?

The Disappearance of Ember CrowI wrote about real things. And I know that sounds strange for books set hundreds of years into the future. But I write of children and teenagers in danger, and for far too many of the young of this planet, that’s just another day. Worlds end all the time – they are shattered into pieces by violence, war, poverty, and hatred – and dystopias exist on this earth. I didn’t invent a world where the young are vulnerable. I just write about how they defy that reality.


Your picture book Crow and the Waterhole is about reflection, a theme which also appears in your essay  “Seeing the Light: Aboriginal Law, Learning and Sustainable Living in Country.” Is this a theme which is particular to your work, and/or are there other themes to which you often return?

Crow and the WaterholeBoth those uses of reflection actually relate to Aboriginal culture and experience. I’ve talked about Crow and the Waterhole above. And the issue of all the young people of the earth being able to find their own reflection in the world is one that concerns me greatly. I know too well how many negative images of Indigenous peoples exist, and the effect those images can have. I’ve spoken about this before in an interview where I talked about mirrors continually displaying a distorted image of yourself, and I asked the question “If that was the only face you ever saw, if that was the image continually reflected back at you, might you not come to believe that it was all you could ever be?”

In the Seeing the Light article, I was talking about holism.  One of the broad commonalities between the diverse Indigenous cultures of this world is holism; we look to connections and the place of things in context. And yes, holism is a big feature of just about everything I write. There are repeated references throughout the Tribe series to the importance of connections; and it is in the end a group of disparate people, some from the marginalised of that world and some from the privileged, who will come together to change their reality for the better.


How do you juggle writing and a day job?  Does one inform the other in any way? 

9781921696015_HOWFROGMOUTHFOUNDHERHOME‘Juggle’ probably implies a greater degree of skill than I have; I’m not always so good at keeping all the balls in the air. I snatch whatever time I can to write and I’ve taught myself to be able to do it in five minutes, or ten, or sixty – whatever bit of time is available to me I will use as best I can. The useful thing about working under pressure is that it doesn’t give you much opportunity to worry about doing something wrong. Time spent on self-doubt is time wasted, and I’ve got very little time to begin with.

My day job is as a law academic and there’s no shortage of connections between law and storytelling. A lot of Indigenous legal scholars have written of the way in which colonial stories about Indigenous peoples (and particularly about Indigenous women) have informed, or rather mis-informed, the law. And in my own culture, much of our law is communicated through stories.


What are some great books by Indigenous women writers which we should be reading?

Bush BashRead all of them.

They are wonderful stories. And for non-Indigenous readers, it is only way to begin to grasp the diversity and complexity of the lives of Indigenous women. So don’t stop at one story, or two, or ten, and don’t limit yourself by genre – Eurocentric story-categories are in any event often a poor fit for Indigenous narratives. More importantly still, don’t limit yourself by any preconceived notions of what it is to be Indigenous. In the words of Eastern Arrernte elder Kathleen Kemarre Wallace: “Come, listen to us, we will tell you our culture…appreciate you might not know the answer or understand the question. That’s what it means to work in a cross-cultural way. Respect has to flow both ways, learning too.” [Kathleen Kemarre Wallace, Listen deeply, let these stories in, IAD Press, p 171]

The Two Hearted NumbatAccept the stories on their own terms and let the voices speak for themselves. If you are struggling to find books, a good place to begin is the catalogues of Aboriginal publishers (Magabala Books, IAD Press, and Aboriginal Studies Press). Move on from there to all the other publishers; you may also find the BlackWords database on the Austlit website to be useful.

But don’t read the stories for us, or at least not only for us. I personally believe that anyone who engages with the many cultures of this world out of some hazy notion of doing good for others has entirely missed the point. Diversity is one of the wonders of this earth. To interact with cultures different to our own is to be bewildered and amazed and inspired; it is to travel through worlds and be presented with new visions of what is and what could be; it is expand our understandings of the possible. Who would pass up an opportunity like that, if it was offered to them? And it is offered. It is presented in the form of life histories, articles, cultural narratives, picture books, novels, poetry and in the thousand of other ways in which Indigenous women cast out our voices into the world.

So read all the stories – and, to quote Kathleen Kemarre Wallace again: “listen deeply, let these stories in”.


Young Adults (Non-Speculative): Round Up Two (2014)

I’m back for another round up of non-speculative Young Adults fiction, and it seems that participants have been mining my to-read pile . . . or adding to it!

PeopleMightHearYouKleinAfter recently rereading a bunch of Robin Klein books, it was fantastic to read Orange Pekoe’s review of Klein’s People Might Hear You, the story of a girl suddenly thrown into an isolated world where she is constantly told to keep quiet. It was a novel she was obsessed with when she was younger and she was surprised how much of it came back to her on this reread – though it was noticeably different from more recent books:

From the first page I was also amazed at how old fashioned the writing sounded and how challenging some of the vocabulary is compared to most of the current YA selections I come across. Did I really not notice this as a teenager?

Natalia Clara tackled Zac and Mia (by A. J. Betts) – an alternate point of view novel of two teenagers who meet each Zac and Mia Bettsother during their cancer treatments.

Betts never shies away from presenting to us the grim realities of life with cancer, nor does she sentimentalise the plight of its sufferers. Instead, we are treated to an insight into the minds of modern day teenagers . . . The characters are true to life and easily recognisable to anybody who has ever been searching to find their place in the world. I absolutely took the characters of Zac and Mia into my heart, and didn’t want to let them go when the story ended.

It’s always wonderful to have an insight into books which become more than books to their readers. Chiara from Books girl-saves-boy-bowefor a Delicate Eternity wrote a beautiful review of Girl Saves Boy by Steph Bowe and it was obvious that this is a really special book. From the review we can tell that it’s a book about life, death, love, garden gnomes and lobster related adventures, but we can also see that it’s a lot more:

Girl Saves Boy is one of those non-novel novels. Those ones that are more than just a story, more than words on a page, more than fiction. It’s one of those stories that is so full of heart and it grabs your heart in its clutches and refuses to let it go.

Some other fantastic reviews include Lauredhel’s review of Finding Home by Lauren K McKellar about a girl thrown into the last part of high school after three years of home schooling; A Strong Belief in Wicker’s review of The Regraffiti-moond Shoe by Ursula Dubosarsky which manages to mix polio, red shoes and an obsession with news into a book about Australian childhood; and Cait’s review of Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley – another book where the reviewer absolutely fell in love with the writing:

The writing is poetic. Downright gorgeous. It should be illegal to write this well, (because I can’t get much done when I’m binge-reading the entire book in, say, 3 hours). Now, I’d read ANYTHING by Cath Crowely. Not only is the author Australian (thumbs up for our sunburnt land) she’s freaking amazing.



About Me

YA novels were my ticket to ‘coolness’ in high school, when my speed reading led to an invitation to choose new books for the Melina Dschool library. I continued reading children’s and YA books  long after I was supposed to ‘grow up’ – something which served me very well when I became a teacher and was known all over the school as ‘the teacher with the books’. I’m currently on maternity leave, enjoying the rich world of picture books with my toddler and sporadically blogging over at Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Young Adults (Non-Speculative): Round Up One (2014)

Welcome to the first (non-speculative) YA round up for the year. I’ll be alternating these each month with the Children’s round ups, and it’s really exciting to see the wonderful books which are being reviewed so far.

the-internThere’s been a really interesting mix of recent and less-recent YA books so far this year. Particularly pleasing was catching up with Tien’s review of The Intern by Gabrielle Tozer (which I’ve recently read, but haven’t reviewed yet). Tien was impressed by this debut novel about a young intern taking her first steps into the magazine world, summing her feelings up:

Aaaah… you know that feeling… that wonderful, warm, cuddly feeling at the end of the novel when you found a big silly smile on your face? Yeah, that’s the one! That’s what The Intern has left me with and I can’t seem to get rid of it.

jumping-fences-karen-woodRochelle reviewed Jumping Fences by Karen Wood – the story of Zoe who has woken up after a mustering accident with missing memories. She mentioned that she’s been looking for a book like this – teen rural romance – for quite a long time, and that Jumping Fences didn’t disappoint at all.

Angie introduced the intriguing just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth, highlighting the mixture of adventures on public transport, attitudes towards identity and relationships and the use of dolls as companions in a lonely life. I think I’m definitely going to hunt this one out.

Amongst a couple of less recent YA books reviewed was Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life (by Maureen McCarthy) which has actually been reviewed twice since the beginning of the year. Liz Barr wrote about how she loved this book as a teenager and that she was interested to return to the book as an adult. Yes, she admits, there are cliches in the book, but they are so well written that you often forget that they are cliches.

She also discuqueen kat carmel and st jude get a life mccarthysses how the book has become richer for her since she moved to Melbourne, now that she knows the streets where the story is set. However,

. . . a lot of their Melbourne is gone.  The department stores where Carmel tries on clothes she can’t afford have closed.  The Chilean cafes in Collingwood and Fitzroy serve Tex Mex now.  These girls were the first wave of a gentrification that has dramatically changed the inner north

This  really encouraged some reflection on how we look back at books with strong settings – particularly books which play such a big part in shaping our images of those places when we are young readers. I’m definitely going to be thinking more about that as I read recent and less recent YA books.


About Me

YA novels were my ticket to ‘coolness’ in high school, when my speed reading led to an invitation to choose new books for the Melina Dschool library. I continued reading children’s and YA books  long after I was supposed to ‘grow up’ – something which served me very well when I became a teacher and was known all over the school as ‘the teacher with the books’. I’m currently on maternity leave, enjoying the rich world of picture books with my toddler and sporadically blogging over at Adventures of a Subversive Reader

2013 AWW Challenge Wrap-up: Diversity

In her essay “Literature as Pleasure, Pleasure as Literature” (Antaeus, 1987), Joyce Carol Oates wrote, ‘Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul’.  This is why reading stories is one of the most accessible and enjoyable ways of learning about the lives of other people.  There are many voices that make up Australia, and it’s been great to see so many AWW Challenge participants listening to and reflecting upon them throughout 2013.

Indigenous Authors

Paris Dreaming by Anita HeissOver 2013, there were 45 reviews of works by Indigenous women writers.  Dr Anita Heiss was the most reviewed, with 6 reviewers penning their thoughts on her works.  These included Paris Dreaming (reviewed by Sue), Am I Black Enough for You (reviewed by Marilyn, Sue and Kevin) and I’m Not Racist, But… (reviewed by Phillip and Shannon).

mullumbimbyMelissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby was also popular, with reviews by James, Lisamyself and Writereaderly, who delightfully describes it as ‘such a pleasure to read this place [Mullumbimby] rendered with such smart-arsey love. The multifaceted examination of indigenous rights is smart-thinking and smartly plotted, the narrative trips along, the characters are human, the language vernacular and gritty, and the book an accessible, informed, good-timer.’

Sue from Whispering Gums reviewed two of Melissa’s essays, ‘How Green Is My Valley’ and her Walkley-award winning ‘Sinking Below Sight: Down and Out in Brisbane and Logan’ published in Griffith Review.  In the latter essay, Melissa poses the question, ‘what dreams are possible for the Brisbane underclass in 2013?’ and follows the lives of three women living in poverty.  As Sue notes, Melissa’s essay ‘may not be statistically significant from an academic perspective, but anyone who reads contemporary social commentary knows that what she writes rings true’.

heaven-I-swallowed-hennessyOver July we held a focus on Indigenous women writers to celebrate NAIDOC week, and encouraged our readers to pick up a work by an Indigenous woman writer.  Among the books reviewed was Rachel Hennessy’s The Heaven I Swallowed, a story inspired by the author’s grandmother, who was one of the Stolen Generations.  The book was appreciated by both Sue and Shelleyrae.

theswanbook-wrightAnother standout novel was Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, a speculative fiction novel set in a near future devastated by climate change.  Marilyn Brady, who runs the Global Women of Colour Challenge, named it as one of the best ten novels that she read and reviewed over 2013 not least because, as she writes in her review of the novel, Wright is one of the few Indigenous authors she has read who ‘are using their unique history and culture creatively and experimentally to address universal themes’.

Such an innovative approach can also be seen in Lynette Russell’s Roving Mariners: Australian Aboriginal Whalers and Sealers in the Southern Ocean 1790-1870, reviewed by Janine.  This history, about the South Australian sealing industry, was prompted by Russell’s desire ‘to create a more complex and less linear narrative than has been previously produced for southern Australia’ which required  attention to the particularly unstable boundaries of who was Indigenous and who was not.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin KwaymullinaIn other genres, there were reviews of speculative fiction novel The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (by Mark, Heidi and myself), children’s books such as The Burrumbi Kids (reviewed by Narelle), Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s poems The Dawn is at Hand (reviewed by Philip) and young adult novels such as Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Flash (reviewed by My Book Corner).  This is by no means a comprehensive list, and you can find more works under the heading of Indigenous Writing on our Listings Page.

Authors writing on Indigenous Issues

Red Dirt TalkingA number of readers also commented on works that revolved around Indigenous people, characters or issues, but were not necessarily penned by Indigenous authors.  Marilyn reviewed Jacqueline Wright’s Red Dirt Talking, winner of the Western Australian TAG Hungerford award and longlisted for the Miles Franklin and Dobbie awards, describing it as ‘A complex and entertaining Australian novel about a white woman who comes to an Indigenous community looking for information, only to find herself changed and involved in the concerns of the community.’

Patti Miller’s The Mind of a Thief, about Miller’s exploration of the history of the Wiradjuri people, original custodians of the place where she was raised, was longlisted for the Stella Prize, and was reviewed by Deborah, Melissa and Anna.

Paisley lone protestorThe Lone Protestor, Fiona Paisley’s marvellous history of Anthony Martin Fernando, Indigenous activist in Europe in the first half of the 20th Century, was also reviewed by Jenny and Yvonne.  ‘Creative, intelligent and audacious are some of the words that came to my mind when reading about A M Fernando’, Yvonne writes, for he was a remarkable man whom Paisley brings to life despite, as Yvonne continues, ‘only tiny scraps [of information] hidden in vast archives’.


beloved-faulknerIt was positive to see a novel about disability reaching the limelight.  Annah Faulkner’s The Beloved, about Roberta Lightfoot, who suffers from polio and its ramifications, won the Kibble award and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award in 2013, and previously won the 2011 Queensland Premier’s Award (when the awards were still hosted by the premier) for an emerging author.  I was impressed with Roberta’s tough personality and the lush Port Moresby setting, while Maree describes it as ‘a well-written novel with a great heart’.

Other works about disability included Kate Richards’ Madness: a memoir, about the author’s mental illness.  This was thoughtfully reviewed by Stephanie and Christine, who describes the work as ‘not just a plea for understanding but also for the recognition of the complexity of mental illness  that increased expenditure and thought in the mental health field might address’. 

Queer Writing

LettersToTheEndOfLoveWalkerQueer writers, characters and subjects appeared in a wide range of genres, including romance (Anna Cowan’s Untamed, reviewed by Kat), history (Suzanne Falkiner’s Eugenia: A Man, reviewed by Janine), literary fiction (Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love, reviewed by Amanda, Annabel, Jennifer, Emily and myself), poetry (Susan Hawthorne’s Limen, reviewed by Sue and Marilyn), young adult fiction (F2M: the Boy Within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy, reviewed by Stevie) and an anthology (Car Maintenance, Explosives and Love, and Other Contemporary Lesbian Writings, reviewed by writereaderly).

We don’t yet have a list of queer women writers on our Reading for Diversity page, but I’m hoping to redress this by holding a spotlight on queer writing in March.  Stay tuned for details! 

Diverse Heritage

unpolished-gemOver October, we held a spotlight on Australian Women Writers of Diverse Heritage, with guest posts from Tseen Khoo, Alice Pung, Malla Nunn and Merlinda Bobis.  Tseen, a researcher and writer on Asian-Australian issues, outlined her frustration with the limited readings of texts by Asian Australian women, such as those by Hsu Ming Teo’s Love and VertigoAlice Pung, author of Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter, discussed the theme of class and ostracism in relation to Ruth Park’s novels.  Malla Nunn reflected on how her move to Australia gave her the opportunity to write about her childhood in Swaziland, while Merlinda Bobis, author of Fish-Hair Woman, for which she was awarded the Most Underrated Book Award, wrote a post about the influence of her Filipino culture on her writing.  Next year we’ll be holding similar spotlights on lesbian writers (as mentioned above) and women writers with disabilities.

AWW no borderI have loved working with the AWW team this year, and am proud to be part of an initiative that contributes to the fair representation of women writers in Australia’s literary culture.  In addition, even though I’m deaf, by reading I listen to much, much more than I ever could in real life, and I’m indebted to AWW’s readers – your reviews have allowed me to slip into so many skins, voices and souls.

If you’d like to continue the challenge in 2014 (and I do hope you will!), you can sign up here.  For further suggestions as to what to read from a diverse range of Australian women writers, please visit our Reading for Diversity page.  Those who are also interested in Australia’s fantastic women Indigenous authors can head to the Indigenous and Indigenous Issues lists on our Review Listings page.  Do venture forth and explore!

About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007), about botany and lesbianism, and Entitlement (2012), about Native Title and grief.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

YA reviews Jul-Nov 2013

Teen cancer and transitioning from female to male; adolescent werewolves and stories which draw on an outback youth; racial tensions and fantasy adventures in suburbia; romance, horror, the “messy and real” – writing for Young Adults in Australia is marked by its diversity.

Many of the books reviewed for the AWW challenge in the second half of last year were published in 2013. These including Text Prize-winner A J Betts’ Zac & Mia, reviewed by VeganYANerds and Rochelle Sharp, described as a “teen cancer” story.


Others are from earlier years.

Award winner Sonya Hartnett’s Thursday’s Child (Penguin 2000) is described by A Strong Belief in Wicker as historical fiction with a dose of magic realism”: “a powerful, moving story” with “beautiful writing [which] stopped me in my tracks on many, many pages”.


Dust by Christine Bongers (Woolshed Press, 2009) was named a Children’s Book Council of Australia notable book. Set in the 1970s in a setting which draws on the author’s childhood in Biloela, the protagonist Cecilia is “on the cusp of moving from primary school to high”.

Bongers has the knack of flipping the switch from larrikin humour to pathos. Of painting her characters in human strokes, the good with the bad with the damn frustrating. Of letting the time go by, incident by incident, letting the allusions grow as the illusions slowly fade. (From a review by Jason Nahrung)


Several more recent novels portray aspects of suburbia, including Hate Is Such A Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub (HarperCollins 2013), the story of a girl from a Lebanese-Australian family who encounters racist stereotyping in reverse (reviewed by Bree).


At times the suburbia depicted has a fantasy element, as in Cheryse Durrant’s The Blood She Betrayed (Clan Destine Press 2013), the debut novel in her Heart Hunter series. This book portrays “thrilling adventures in the everyday suburbs of south-east Queensland” (reviewed by Peta-Jo).

The Blood She Betrayed Durrant

Elsewhere the mix of the fantastic and the suburban is deemed less successful; WriteReaderly describes Anna Dusk’s Un-Human (Transit Lounge 2010) as “an Australian vernacular narrative of adolescent girls being werewolves”:

Teenaged Tassie shazzas being gross and boganly visceral and getting dazzas to ‘put yer cock in me’ in the playground and playing out their teen romance-controversies and rages by eating people…

in human dusk

Other novels are portrayed as having a more serious intent.

Stevie Schafter is impressed by F2M: The Boy Within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy (Ford Street Publishing 2009), the story of female to male transitioning:

One of the most interesting elements of the story was tackling anti-trans sentiment from a feminist character.  This is one of the main tensions in the book and I think it’s a smart and jarring inclusion.


Bec Kavanagh considers Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective (PanMacmillan 2013) to be a worthwhile read:

This is a coming of age story where everything and nothing matters all at once. The hormones are so strong that you’ll find yourself fifteen again, looking wildly for that compass to stop the world from spinning out of control around you. It’s brilliant, and messy and real, set in a place that everyone will recognise even if you’ve never been there before.


In total, there were 85 reviews posted as for Young Adults in the July-November period of 2013, so only a fraction of them can be sampled here. The rest can be found on the AWW Review Listing page.


Thanks to all the reviewers and to the people who took the time to seek out, to comment on their reviews and to post links on Twitter using the AWW hashtag. (This year it’s #aww2014.)

Thanks also to Mandy from VeganYANerds blog for her contribution to the round-ups in 2013. As Mandy is unable to fulfil that role in 2014, AWW is looking for a volunteer YA specialist to round up AWW YA reviews each month (or bimonthly) throughout the year. If you’re interested in becoming part of the AWW team, please let us know via the comments or direct message on Twitter @auswomenwriters.

  • Join us on Google+

    Add to the discussion on AWW Google+.
  • Join us at The Reading Room

    Go to Book Clubs > Find Book Clubs & search for Aus Women Writer's Challenge
  • Meta

  • Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 7,156 other followers

    %d bloggers like this: