Mind Provoking Prose – MG and YA Reads for the Venturesome

If the prospect of bored minds and restless spirits daunts you, consider these literary excursions for your middle grade and YA readers. Not only are they mind provoking and incisive, they offer experiences for the venturesome reader to revere and ruminate over long after they’ve read the last page.

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

This is a brave story set in Australia in the not-too-distant future with global implications. Peony lives with her sister and aging grandfather on a fruit farm. Her chief aspiration is to be a Bee – the bravest, most nimble of farm workers who flit from tree to tree pollinating flowers by hand. If this concept sounds slightly askew, it’ll be one you are thoroughly comfortable with by the time you’ve experienced MacDibble’s palpably natural, narrative. Could this be the end of the world as we know it or, as I’d rather believe, just another notable chapter in the history of humans being humans – badly.

Whatever your take on climate change and the way we treat the planet, How to Bee, never wallows in despair or hindsight and neither does Peony who positively radiates tenacity, kindness and sass so loudly, her voice really will be resounding long after you read the last page. When  Peony is taken from her home by a mother who aspires for more than just the meagre country existence the rest of her family and friends endure, her brassy drive and cast-iron determination draw her right back to the home she loves, like a bee to its hive. But not before she spreads a little hope and good sense in the big scary city.

This story will make you grin, cheer, cry just a bit and want to fly with Peony as she Bees. It’s about being true to yourself, to those who love you, about living your dreams wildly and the profound power of friendship. It could also quite possibly change your whole outlook of and appreciation for fruit. More highly recommended than an apple a day for middle grade readers from eight upwards.

Allen and Unwin April 2017

The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky

Ethereal and elegant, The Blue Cat slinks through your imagination with an almost unearthly inference. Columba’s 11-year-old take on a world in mid-war upheaval is refreshingly uncontaminated and jolly. This is a captivating tale of two worlds colliding in Sydney in 1942, an example of one of those brief chapters in the story of your life that will remain with you forever like the memory of a hot summer’s day.

Fluctuating in emotions and opinions, Duborsarsky’s narrative explores fears and simplistic thinking that young readers will find familiar despite the remote time-period. A curious and satisfying read for 10 – 14 year-olds.

Allen & Unwin April 2017

Shaozhen A Novel – Through My Eyes Series by Wai Chim

This evocative novel based on real-life events and places is part of the compelling Through My Eyes series edited by Lyn White. The series features stories about children enduring life either in conflict zones or following natural disasters. This one by Chim focuses on a boy’s experiences living through the 2014 drought in Henan, China.

Provincial, conflicting and drenched in authenticity, Chim’s account of Shaozhen’s desire to leave his remote rural village and better himself in the big smoke, extinguishes under a blanket of dust, failed crops, and despair. Severe water shortages result in desperate measures and shackle Shaozhen to his hometown until he comes up with a way to save his family and friends. This is a story laced with worry and desperation but delivered by Chim with a reassuring light touch that makes it thoroughly accessible to young readers from eight years onwards.

Allen & Unwin August 2017

Hexenhaus by Nikki McWatters

I recently spent some time in one of Ripley’s Odditoriums and found myself transfixed by the weapons of torture display; scolds’ bridles, thumbscrews, witches’ collars many of which I had just read about in Hexenhaus. It brought this riveting, provocative, and utterly compelling tale into chilling reality. Disturbing but nevertheless, a period of history that begged to be better understood.

Hexenhaus is set in three different time periods and is almost like three books interwoven as one. Twined together by the ugly thread of gossip, fear, bigotry and misappropriated politics, McWatters deftly weaves history’s onerous realities into life with her dramatic and eloquent account of three distinct heroines and their Wicca-related circumstances.

There is awfulness and there is humour. There is tragedy and a sprinkling of romance. The fusion of present day and our not so distant past will tweak the interest of both history fans and modern day YA lovers. Nobody likes a witch-hunt (any more) yet it is almost impossible to divert your attention from this fascinating historic narrative about them. Definitely something for 10 – 14-year-olds and lovers of witch lore to experience.

UQP November 2016

The Fall by Tristan Bancks

Gripping and faster paced than you’d expect from a guy on crutches for the entire novel, as our hero, Sam is, Bancks’ staccato style and persuasive development of character produces a read that oozes atmosphere and an exaggerated sense of being hunted. Young tweens and teens will be quaking with the delicious tension this grown-up story of the boogieman provides.

There are plenty of moments when almost-thirteen-year-old Sam’s desperation clots into malignant, unreasonable dread, the type of over dramatization young kids are prone to, and he reacts in typical kid fashion only he doesn’t just pull the covers up higher over his face, he barricades himself and the dog in a secret cavity in the wall. Yet Sam’s predicament as the soul witness of a murder is never muted or dumbed down. Instead, we crutch along with him to the very end…and back again. The Fall takes readers to the very edge of disbelief and dares to push them over. Another cracker from a clever storyteller and suspenseful distraction for 9 – 14-year-olds.

Random House Australia May 2017

Becoming Aurora by Elizabeth Kasmer

Loved it loved it loved it. Moving, a bit magical and unequivocally memorable this coming of age story by Kasmer is quietly magnificent. Rory aka Aurora, is running with a wild and unruly pack. Their disillusionment and her need to remain in their allegiance blinds her to what she perceives as the less righteous path in life and ultimately lands her in community service. This retribution sparks the beginning of new friendships, unexpected alliances and personal confrontation of prejudices that run deep but ultimately go nowhere.

Set in a small town rife with local petty crime instigated by gangs that struggle to find direction, this novel attacks discrimination, regional town shortcomings and friendship with bold, persuasive strokes.

Rory’s relationships with ex-boxer, Jack and migrant teen, Essam are tender and unaffected revealing Rory’s hidden benevolent nature and emotionally redefine a girl who at first comes across as aloof, unsympathetic and craving.

Strung with consuming tension, Becoming Aurora packs a punch and is a worthy YA read for 14-year-olds and above.

Read more about this absorbing story in Joy Lawn’s interview with Elizabeth, here.

UQP September 2016

Published by

Dimity Powell

Dimity Powell likes to fill every spare moment with words. She writes and reviews stories exclusively for kids and is the Managing Editor for Kids’ Book Review. Her word webs appear in anthologies, school magazines, junior novels, as creative digital content, and picture books - you'll find them all here at Boomerang Books. Dimity is a useless tweeter, sensational pasta maker and semi-professional chook wrangler. She believes picture books are food for the soul and should be consumed at least 10 times a week.