Award-winning books dominated this month’s issue of reviews of young adult books.
Angharad of Tinted Edges reviewed MALLEE BOYS by Charlie Archbold which won the 2016 Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award:
This is an engaging and well-written book that I think will definitely appeal to country teenagers. Archbold has an engaging style of writing and captures the inner voice of two very different young men. In a time where people are talking a lot about things like toxic masculinity, the interplay between Sandy, Red and their dad is a really interesting way to explore different kinds of masculinity – even within a single family. Sandy is one of those quintessential non-blokey characters who is a little bit older than Charlie from “Jasper Jones”, and who I think I liked a bit better. Sandy has a quiet, gentle confidence about him that I think a lot of teens would relate to. I also think that this book handles the issue of grief and the diverse ways that people experience grief really well.
Claire reviewed Cally Black’s multi award-winning SF novel, IN THE DARK SPACES:
This was such a different story especially for the YA genre, so simple yet so complex if you wanted to delve deeper. The story of the poverty of the working people, rich mining giants happy to push whoever they want out of the way to achieve their goal of making more money, an alien race who have had enough of said company stealing the minerals they consider theirs and that they need to survive…This is an easy story to read that had me completely engaged throughout. I can definitely see the parallels of how our traditional land owners are treated by our large mining companies and how the distance between the rich and the poor is growing in our country.
Carolyn reviewed THE DARK DAYS CLUB (LADY HELEN #1) set in 1812, London by award-winning author Alison Goodman:
A Regency London infiltrated by demons in human guise with only a small band of dedicated warriors able to detect and fight them! This is the world Lady Helen Wrexhall finds herself in when at 18 she should be looking forward to her the dances and parties of her first season… Lady Helen soon finds herself torn between two worlds, one where she can be a devoted wife and society lady or a darker more dangerous one where she must learn to be brave and strong.
I loved this fun read, with the urban fantasy element mingling very well with Regency London. Lady Helen is a complex character who has always had to hide her intelligence and quick wit in society and it will be interesting to watch her develop during the series (and to see if she succumbs to the Earl’s charms!).
Tien read two of Ellie Marney’s Books; ALL THE LITTLE BONES (CIRCUS HEARTS #1):
All the Little Bones is a very pretty book with a lot of feels…I may have a tiny tad bit disappointed that there wasn’t that particular [fantasy] magic but circus has always held a special magical place in my heart so this turned out to be a special sort of read especially when I came across words in my native tongue (Bahasa Indonesia)! *oh how my heart sings* (and pssst, I found out today, this particular character’s story is coming in book 3, squee!!)… If you love YA romance (or even New Adult, as I feel this book borders on NA), you’d love this magical romance!
ALL FALL DOWN (CIRCUS HEARTS #2) :
I think my problem with this series is that the books are just too short! I’d love a couple extra more twists in these stories. I am very much looking forward to book 3!! I was disappointed that Ren was mostly missing in this instalment but can’t wait to read about her next.
All Fall Down is a story of redemption; of trust and loyalty. The characters in this book is a little bit older (19+) so again I’d say this borders on New Adult though there is limited sexual content (lots of smooching, peeps, relax!). Sometimes, I find New Adult books to be too much so if you’re looking for a clean-ish sort of New Adult book, I’d highly recommend this one.
The final instalment in Ellie Marney’s trilogy CIRCUS HEARTS is ALL ACES which was reviewed by Emily Wrayburn:
I can’t really explain why I wasn’t as into this final instalment of Circus Hearts as I was the first two. I think it is partly because I am coming out on the other side of my really enthusiastic desire for circus and carnival books…There is still plenty that I liked in this one. I really enjoyed the descriptions of Zep Deal’s performances. I’ve never seen a cardsharp perform before but I trotted off to YouTube after finishing this to find something akin to what is described in the book because it sounded amazing.
Ren, our narrator, is a bit different to the narrators of the previous two books. She’s more awkward, which I enjoyed, and…I really felt for her in the scenes with her family where she felt torn between family obligation and her love of the circus.
…There is plenty still to like, and I think it’s more to do with me than the book that I wasn’t more into it. If you are in the mood for YA contemporary, this is definitely a series I recommend.
Cass Moriarty reviewed HEXENHAUS by Nikki Watters and the book sounds fascinating:
Hexenhaus (UQP 2016) is a fictionalised tale of witchcraft anchored on true events, by author Nikki McWatters, who has woven together three different tales, based on three young women living in very different times.
This is YA fiction, although the themes and historical accounts of torture and deprivation are visceral and authentic, and may not be suitable for younger readers. But for adolescents, this book offers a tantalising and dark exploration of the origin of the term ‘witch-hunt’, and depicts how real life historical characters were caught up in the religious and pious fervour of the day.
On one level, this is an historical novel based on solid research about the European witch-hunt trials and the trauma of that time. But on another level, it draws parallels with modern Australian life, and with the current zeitgeist of the embracing of difference versus the fear and panic of the unknown or unfamiliar.
This book is such a great way to demonstrate how our differences unite us, how history is real and being made all the time. It shows the similarities of these girls’ lives, despite the years and countries separating them. If you have a young person interested in witchcraft, this is an enthralling read that also satisfies with plenty of historical accuracy and facts. And it is perhaps a timely lesson about intolerance and misinformation, misunderstandings and folklore, prejudice and fear.
Brenda reviewed MATES AT BILLABONG by Mary Grant Bruce which was first published in 1912:
For a book which is 106 years old, it was a delight – totally enjoyable with quite a few laugh out loud moments – mainly because of the antics between Jim, Wally and Norah. But there were some sad moments as well, and I will admit to needing the tissues. This one, and a few of the others in the series, are available for free through Project Gutenberg, which is where I picked up this copy. Highly recommended.
Finally, I reviewed Eleni Hale’s debut novel, STONE GIRL:
‘Stone Girl’ tells the story of twelve-year old Sophie who finds herself completely alone when her mother dies unexpectedly. Sophie becomes a ward of the state and is shunted around accommodation options without ever having the opportunity to resume a ‘normal’ life; one with school and routine, and where people care about how you’re doing and what you’re achieving.
Eleni Hale tackles the subject of children in care with unflinching honesty in her debut young adult novel, ‘Stone Girl’. Hale mines her personal experiences as a ward of the state during her teen years to bring readers an authentic account of what life can be like for children in Victoria’s child welfare system.
My reading of ‘Stone Girl’ gave me the impression that Sophie fell between the gaps in the welfare system, but what if the gaps are great big chasms and we are failing some of our most vulnerable and voiceless children and youth?
Powerful and disturbing—’Stone Girl’ is a must-read for anyone who cares about Australia’s children.
Thank you to all those who reviewed books for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge. Please consider signing up and adding your review. You can sign up here to join the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge at any time.
NL King is an author, blogger, and presenter. Her debut book, Jenna’s Truth, is published by boutique small press, Serenity Press based in Western Australia. Nadia is passionate about using stories to reflect a diversity of realities in order to positively impact teen lives, and runs a teen book club for the Centre for stories. She also enjoys writing short fiction and lives in Western Australia with her family. You can read her blog, find out more about her and her writing at her website, or follow her on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter or Instagram.