Welcome to this month’s round up of reviews of diverse books by diverse writers! I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it much easier to concentrate on reading now that the coronavirus restrictions are starting to lift a little and we’re allowed to go out again.
It’s counter-intuitive, but it seems like our readers and reviewers have experienced a similar phenomenon. You’ve added 47 reviews this month to the Australian Women Writers Challenge database tagged with “Diversity”!
And just in case my good-news statistic from last month motivated you at all, that’s an increase of 15% compared to April (which was an increase of 41% on March).
Remember you can join in the Australian Women Writers Challenge at any time. You don’t need a website or even a Goodreads account. You can post your review on Facebook, Instagram or even your favourite online bookstore – Sign up for the Challenge here.
And now onto the brand new books for this month!
Politics for tweens: The Year The Maps Changed, by Danielle Binks
Sorrento, Victoria, 1999. When a group of Kosovar-Albanian refugees are brought to a government ‘safe haven’ not far from Sorrento, their fate becomes intertwined with the lives of Fred and her family in ways that no one could have expected.
Nadia L King was impressed that “Binks manages to make the political landscape accessible to middle-grade readers” – not an easy thing to do! She somehow make the grimness palatable for kids with colourful, relatable characters.
Brenda Telford gave it 5 stars and highly recommended it, while Max @ Underground Writers agreed on the educational value: “Well-researched and written with compassion, this book is excellent for young and curious eyes.”
Ashleigh @ The Book Muse highlighted the political angle too, but also enjoyed it on the storytelling level:
There were so many things I loved about this book… There are some very cool nineties references I loved – watching movies on VHS, sleepovers, and a time before computers and technology like iPhones became something just about everyone had and used every day – a time when switching off the computer really meant switching off, and we sent hand-written invitations for parties. Kids rode bikes in their neighbourhoods, and we read newspapers in print.
Apart from the technology, I feel like my kids have been experiencing elements of a slower 90s childhood over the last couple of months. There have certainly been daily bike rides around the neighbourhood.
Refreshing YA & mental illness: The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling, by Wai Chim
Billed as a “nourishing tale about the crevices of culture, mental wellness and family”, The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling is the story of teenager Anna Chiu. She runs the family restaurant and looks after her younger brother while her mum stays in bed. Her wish list consists of the same thing most teenagers wish for – a normal life. But when her mum finally gets out of bed, life is anything but normal.
Angharad Lodwick @ Tinted Edges found the novel a refreshing new take on the YA genre, with a lot to say about mental illness:
I felt that Chim did a really good job of accurately portraying mental illness, especially around inpatient care, the chronic nature of many mental health conditions and the fact that there often isn’t an instant, magical cure.
Wai Chim was interviewed by Dark Matter Zine on the Authors for Fireys podcast.
Life in NT isolation: An Alice Girl, by Tanya Heaslip
Brenda Telford enjoyed “the reminiscence of music of the era” and called it “a well-written memoir which I have no hesitation in recommending.”
In an interview with Theresa Smith Writes author Tanya Heaslip says:
…during this current climate of fear and ‘unwelcome isolation’ for many, my story offers the chance for readers to dip into a world where isolation was the norm; where it was embraced and we joyously used to enhance creativity, courage and resilience.
It sounds like this books offers an excellent opportunity for armchair travel. Ashleigh @ The Book Muse tells us:
The Northern Territory came to life in this book, and was as big a character as Tanya’s family, evoking a sense of place that feels familiar yet at the same time new and unfamiliar to many readers who live in cities or suburbs.
Disability in exile during a pandemic: The Trespassers, by Meg Mundell
Fleeing their pandemic-stricken homelands, a shipload of migrant workers departs the UK, dreaming of a fresh start in prosperous Australia. For nine-year-old Cleary Sullivan, deaf for three years, the journey promises adventure and new friendships.
Eerily relevant to our present day, Nalini @ Dark Matter Zine assures us The Trespassers was published 6 months before anyone had heard of COVID-19. She gave it 5 stars, and says “Mundell does an excellent job of representing disability respectfully. She’s also obviously done her research, understanding how isolating it is to be deaf in a hearing world.”
Meg Mundell was interviewed by Dark Matter Zine on the Authors for Fireys podcast. The Trespassers has been widely acclaimed and optioned for a television series. I’ll definitely be adding it to my reading list.
More reviews of books featuring diversity
A Companion to Australian Aboriginal Literature was reviewed by Cass Moriarty. Cass Moriarty recommends it “as an excellent source for writers… who wish to deepen their knowledge of Aboriginal literature and culture to strengthen their own writing.” This international collection of eleven original essays fills a gap by discussing crucial aspects of Australian Aboriginal literature and tracing the development of Aboriginal literacy from the oral tradition up until today.
Cherry Beach, by Laura McPhee, was reviewed by Brona’s Books. Following two childhood friends from Melbourne to a year spent in Canada, Brona calls it “angsty and full of the drama of young adult friendships and relationships”.
Angharad Lodwick @ Tinted Edges reviewed Queerberra. Produced and edited by Victoria Firth-Smith with photography by Jane Duong, Queerberra is a photobook showcasing some of the wonderfully diverse LGBTIQA+ people who live in Canberra. Angharad hails it as “a beautifully curated collection of photographs of 100 humans being authentically themselves around the city of Canberra”.
It’s wonderful to see more reviews linked up this month of books we showcased last month, with:
- 5 reviews of Sonya Bates’ Inheritance of Secrets from Shelley @ Underground Writers, snowqueensvt, Mrs B’s Book Reviews, Denise Newton Writes and Theresa Smith Writes
- 3 reviews of Anna Whateley’s Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal from Cass Moriarty, Veronica Strachan and Ashleigh @ The Book Muse
- 2 reviews of Natasha Lester’s The Paris Secret from Mic Loves Books and Mrs B’s Book Reviews
- 2 reviews of Kirsty Manning’s The Lost Jewels from Jenny Mustey and Theresa Smith Writes
Reading for diversity
I hope you’ll consider adding one or more of these books to your reading list. If there’s nothing here which piques your interest, check out some of our recent Diversity round ups or have a look through the reading lists on our Reading for diversity page.
You can also find more books by Australian women writers from diverse backgrounds, or featuring diverse themes, by typing “Diversity” into the keyword search on our Books reviewed page (you can sort the mega-list by genre or year of publication to narrow your search a little).
Reviewing for diversity
Keep the reviews coming! Remember to check the “Diversity” box when you link your review if the author is from a diverse background or your review touches on Indigenous issues, migrant heritage, LGBTQI/non-binary or disability experiences.
I’m Rebecca Bowyer, a storyteller, novelist and Diversity Editor here at the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I live in Melbourne, Australia with my husband and two young sons. When not at my day job or wrangling kids, I can be found writing my next novel, or writing about books, reading and writing over at Story Addict.
Maternal Instinct, my first novel, is out now.