Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

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Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde is an absolutely adorable story about the fangirl life and being happy being yourself. It’s absolutely adorkable and definitely not to be missed. I also didn’t realise it was by an Australian author when I picked it up, so that just entirely made my day! Although it is set in the USA, but the two protagonists are Australian. And what could be better than reading a cute fluffy story about two best friends off to a ComicCon type of event to live their dreams of nerdom and to find love?

This book calls to you, it does. Just look at it and all that calling.

The story centres around Charley who’s a sudden star from an Aussie indie film, and how she’s at SupaCon to do press. She brings her BFF’s Taylor (who has Autism) and Jamie (who is Latino) and together they go into 100% GEEK MODE and have the time of their lives. There are famous authors to meet, movie stars to flail over, competitions to enter, anxiety to be tackled, crushes to be confessed, and the realisation that you should be unapologetically yourself at all times. Which is such a beautiful message!

The book is really rather short, but manages to pack a lot of fun dialogue and relatable scenes in. I’m not generally one to rush after fluffy contemporaries, but this was definitely a light and one! It did border on making the characters so perfect, however, that they could’ve practically sprouted angel wings and frolicked about in halos. But I’ll forgive it because these were kids I looked up to! Even if they felt a bit idealistic in the way they were written.

If you’re a fangirl, also, you’re going to love all the fandom references! It mentions Marvel comics and the TV show Supernatural. They mention the Vampire Diaries and Felicia Day, too! And it’s so centred around youtube and tumblr, which Charlie and Taylor are updating constantly. Taylor is also heavily obsessed with a fantasy series, which was made up for the show, but it easily had an “insert fandom of choice here” feel to it which made it very relatable! They were doing cosplays and book signings and film previews and zombie mazes. Basically your little nerd heart will explode with wish to go to this magical SupaCon.

I loved the inclusion of diversity too! Taylor has Autism, and it was so refreshing to see love for ASD girls here because they are overlooked so much in literature. Taylor’s ASD traits (including severe anxiety, very intense obsession interests, and struggle with change) all felt completely realistic and well represented! Also Charley is bisexual and Asian and their other friend, Jamie, is Latino.

And of course there is romance…and it’s super cute! Charley has had a crush on a youtube star, Alyssa, forever….and finally gets her chance to see if it’ll work. But she’s also recovering from a messy public breakup with a costar so putting her emotions out there is NOT easy for her. And Taylor has had a crush on her best friend, Jamie, for years…but she hates the thought of their friendship dynamic changing. And she doesn’t know how to romance. How doth one romance. So her reluctance to act on her feelings is complicating things immensely. I thought the romance was a sweet and lovely touch, and didn’t drown out the rest of the plot.

Queens of Geek is, in summary, EXTREMELY GEEKY. It made me smile with all the fangirl appreciation and the cute dialogue and fantastically winning characters! I wish they’d been a little less “perfect”, however,  but the fun storyline over a quick 3-day period definitely made up for it. I also appreciated the Aussie references and how it represented minorities that definitely need their voices heard. If you’re looking for a fun story: HERE IT IS.

Review: Shtum by Jem Lester

Jem Lester’s exceptional debut, Shtum, poignantly depicts the love, anger, guilt and exhaustion felt by the parents of a young boy with severe learning disabilities.

The autism afflicting eleven-year-old Jonah isn’t the kind most readers will be familiar with – that is, the kind displayed by Raymond in the movie Rain Man, or Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Such is the profoundness of Jonah’s autism, he will never develop language; he communicates through laminated cards. Added to that is his complete unpredictability and fearlessness; he is a boy who requires constant monitoring, and is never anything less than a handful. But crucially, Jonah is not a caricature – an embodiment of autism at its highest spectrum. He is a boy with a personality. He is distinct. He is special, like all children. He is the son of Ben and Emma Jewell, and despite their perpetual exhaustion and fluctuating emotions, there is never any doubt, Jonah is loved, and he always will be. But life is not easy – for any of them. And the sad reality is, Jonah needs better care than they can provide at home. He needs placement at a specialist residential school – but the rigmarole involved in securing a slot seems insurmountable when the novel begins…

Both Ben and Emma are at breaking point. The cracks that have always existed in their marriage have turned into chasms. So, believing the breakdown of their marriage would increase the likelihood of Jonah’s placement at a specialist school – it’s a decision that needs to be made by the courts, based on assertions by various well-meaning social workers – Ben and his son move into his Jewish father’s home. This is not a match made in heaven; father and son have a strained relationship, and neither have ever showed much interest in making peace. But for Jonah’s sake, they put aside their differences, and over the next few months Ben battles his own demons, all the while coming to terms with the breakdown of the various relationships in his life, while the shadow of Jonah’s hearing looms large.

Jem Lester’s Shtum is darkly comical, searingly honest, and unputdownable. It’s a book that needs to be read, so that people understand the challenges facing the parents of children with developmental disabilities, and the ripple effects of these hardships – but also because it’s simply a stunning work of fiction, absolutely absorbing and affecting, and in my opinion, one of the finest novels I’ve read this year.

Buy the book here…

Finding the Love within – Part 2 – Annabel’s Dance

Annabel's DanceI mentioned last week the merits of not judging a book (or a person) by its cover. Today my hypocrisy shows for I’m rather partial to the cover of our Part 2 picture book review about dealing with differences, newly released, Annabel’s Dance, by Diane Jackson Hill and Lois Bury.

It’s quirky and sweet, exudes fleecy softness yet is eye catching and dare I say, more than a little sheepish, which is all rather fitting for Annabel’s Dance tells the hitherto untold story of a sheep whose unique appearance and delicate constitution sadly alienates her from her mainstream counterparts, aka The Mob.

High on a hill lives not a lonely goatherd, rather Annabel’s flock that are everything you’d expect of a mob of sheep; clean, docile and conforming. Then there is Annabel who is anything but. She is messy and unkempt, erratic and in a constant state of disarray. Her oddball behaviour does nothing to endear her to her fellow sheep who are quick to push her aside and keep her there.

Annabel's Dance illo spreadAnnabel retains her fraught emotional balance by retreating within herself, repeating the mantra, ‘Hazy mazy oops a daisy, wriggle your ears but don’t go crazy.’ She tries hard to control her exaggerated reactions to every day events and smells and noises but her incessant restlessness offends the others’ sense of correctness so much so that she is shunned even more.

Annabel’s supersensitive responses exacerbate at shearing time thanks to the aggravating noises and sensations so she avoids it, until over many missed shearings, she becomes a prisoner of her own condition…and wool! To her detriment, one day her overgrown mantel trips her up, literally. Farmer Shanks springs to her rescue and resourcefully and caringly helps her to overcome her worst anxieties. This sudden special treatment forces the other sheep to re-evaluate their opinions about Annabel. But will it be enough for them to follow suit?

Diane Jackson HillHill developed the idea for this picture book in an attempt to understand the behaviours of her granddaughter and the disorders of ADHD and Autism. Whilst doing so, she learned the true life stories of individual sheep found in New Zealand, Tasmania, and Victoria who incredibly escaped annual shearing and have been found with up to 6 years’ growth of wool. Could they by supersensitive too? wondered Hill. And so, Annabel’s Dance was born.

And inspired it is. Hill’s rippling narrative and strong use of visceral vocabulary (wool the colour of ‘whipped cream’, growing in ‘tight crinkles’) is both appealing and entertaining. It conveys Annabel’s plight with sensitivity and respect so that we ache for Annabel but not in a pitiful way.

Lois BuryBury’s gorgeous illustrations focus largely on Annabel, she is the vivid abstract splat in the mob’s otherwise ordered life, thus in spite of her innate shyness, she stands out, a situation many young readers on the Autism / Asperger’s Spectrum will no doubt recognise and take heart from.

This is a picture book that deserves repeat readings and thanks to its robust thick feel pages and sensible layout, will stand up to them. Annabel’s Dance and all her uncontrollable wriggly jiggly quirks is a beautiful celebration of individuality that encourages readers to embrace and accept the exceptional abilities that hide within us all. You just have to uncover the wool over your eyes to see them!

Baaatastic for 3 – 6 year olds and lovers of woolly jumpers, everywhere.

Wombat Books February 2016

 

Review: Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

9780857984739Oh this book is utterly glorious! I picked up Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth on impulse and am totally glad I gave it a chance. This book is so special and I’m squawking with the effort of writing a review to give it justice!

It’s about Australian twins, Justine and Perry (who has autism), who go for a holiday in Canada. I adore books about Australians, especially since I read 80% USA and UK fiction, so I especially appreciated all the words like “sticky-beak” and references to “Possum Magic”. It’s all so very AUSSIE, MATE. The humour is very Australian too. Lots of sarcasm. Lots of dry wit.

I do squint distrustfully at the blurb though, because technically it’s a “holiday” not a “roadtrip”. They go in an airplane across the ocean to Canada. Yes, there is a bit of driving. But one does not call a flight to Canada a “roadtrip”. Sheesh.

But we need to talk about these exceptionally perfectly written characters! I absolutely adored both Justine and Perry! It’s dual narrated, and I think that helped me really get to know BOTH sides of the story — what it’s like to live with a disability, and what it’s like to care for someone with one.

The twins’ father just died, so the holiday is a little respite before Big Life Changes happen. Perry isn’t specifically labelled with Autism (it’s referred to as a “brain condition”) but he has all the traits and I feel this was possibly the author’s way of avoiding labels? I adored how different the two teens’ narrative was! Justine was really down to earth, but Perry had long complex sentences and imagined wild things and had a very literal view of the world. Justine was all types of awesome. She was caring. She was stressed. She was capable. She struggles with a lot of things (potentially moving away from Perry to begin her own life) and wondering if she was doing the right or wrong thing.

Also, like the stalker I am, I snuck to the author’s blog and read about how he wrote this book for his own children! His own son has autism and a twin sister. It made me really trust the book, because I feel like the author knows what he’s talking about! And also, n’awwww. Isn’t it sweet?! I love it when books have a personal flair like this.

And it’s also super funny and dryly witty. Did I mention that already?!?

Yes, go straight through. No need for passports. We love Australians here in Canada…We know you’ve had a rough flight. We know you’ve had a rough LIFE. All those sharks and snakes and rugby players trying to kill you every moment of the day. Far be it from us to make things more difficult. And, here, have this leftover gold medal from the Vancouver Winter Olympics. You’ve earned it.

I definitely loved this book and appreciated how it was an honest and detailed view of autism as well as an incredible story about friendship, siblings, and growing up.

 

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Review – The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

9781444776775Translated by David Mitchell and his wife Keiko Yoshida this is a fascinating look into the world of autism. Written by a 13 year old boy, using an alphabet board, this book is a first hand account of what it is like for somebody with autism.

There is not a lot known about autism and I personally do not know anybody diagnosed with the disorder. The are a lot of myths about autism and assumptions made by people like myself who have no second hand experience with the disorder. A book like this gives an amazing insight and perspective into what the disorder is like and the effects confusion and misunderstanding has on those diagnosed with autism.

The book is set out as a series of common questions about autism that Naoki tries to answer. His answers are clear and empathic. They do not offer solutions or any advice but simply convey what dealing with autism is like for him and an attempt to try an explain the reason behind behaviour and emotional responses. There are no clinical explanations just the thoughts and observations of a thirteen year old boy which ultimately give a unique and brilliant insight into a disorder we still know so little about. Interspersed with Naoki’s answers and observations are short stories he has written that further demonstrate the intelligence, empathy and creativity he possesses.

This is a remarkable book about a remarkable disorder written by a remarkable person.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile: Kaylene Hobson, author of Isaac’s Dragon

kaylene hobson pic Kaylene Hobson decided at the age of ten that she wanted to be a writer. But it took her till she was ”much older” to act on it, she claims. Writing was always just for pleasure.  

Now she has released her first chapter book, Isaac’s Dragon, an amusing and captivating story about a boy who hatches a wonderfully clever and imaginative plan to catch his own dragon (Review here).  

Isaac’s Dragon is based on Hobson’s son Isaac, who has autism.  ”It is meant to be the world from his perspective. He spends a lot of his time in a wonderfully magical place that the rest of us don’t understand. It was originally meant as a way for him to know that I understand him, but now it can help the world to understand him and other kids like him better too…..while reading an entertaining tale at the same time.”  

received_m_mid_1409371748082_1b95137c0d750e2993_0 She wants readers to enjoy the story. To be entertained, amused and even inspired. ”But they should also feel a connection with the character – and experience happiness, sadness, joy and disappointment along with Isaac.” Hobson goes on to say, ”Even at a children’s book level – a good book is fun to read but a great book makes you feel. If along the way it also helps children gain self-confidence and helps parents to see the world through the eyes of their children, even for a little while, then it becomes an amazing book.”  

As an author, Hobson has an end goal in mind; a beautiful sentiment in leaving a legacy for future generations of readers. She aims to have written ”the classics of the future, that stay with children long after the story ends and influences them enough to want to share with their children and grandchildren”.  

Whilst running a social skills group for autistic kids, Kaylene met illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn. ”The idea was for the kids to make some friends but it’s the adults who bonded. The kids have had to become friends now whether they like it or not!” Out of a growing friendship, came the business partnership. With encouragement from Ann-Marie, Kaylene published her story through her own publishing company, which she established earlier this year.  

Kaylene explains, ”Dragon Tales has arisen from a desire to publish our own work but professionally and with a distinction from the hit and miss quality associated with ‘self publishers’. I have a background in business and marketing and Ann-Marie is the creative side and together we wish to give the opportunity to other skilled and talented artists to realize their own dreams and share their talents with children.”  

When asked to share advice for new writers wanting to get published, Hobson relates back to the idea behind Dragon Tales Publishing; ”be true to yourself while having some professional backup for the stuff you don’t know.”  

So, what’s in store for Kaylene Hobson and Dragon Tales Publishing?
”Big things!!” she claims. With another installment of Isaac’s Dragon to come, as well as some ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) specific books that Ann-Marie and Kaylene are teaming up on, life is pretty exciting. Dragon Tales will be releasing a new book by Jo Emery soon; My Dad is a FIFO Dad, which is already gaining a lot of attention prior to release.  

Contact Kaylene Hobson and Dragon Tales Publishing here:
Mobile –Kaylene 0421 706 369
Email – [email protected]
www.dragontalespublishing.com.au
www.facebook.com/dragontalespublishingaustralia

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