YA Thrillers: ‘Found’ & ‘After the Lights Go Out’

Fleur Ferris has endorsed Lili Wilkinson’s latest novel After the Lights Go Out (Allen & Unwin) with the words, “A terrifying yet hope-filled story of disaster, deceit, love, sacrifice and survival.” These words could also apply to her new book Found (Penguin Random House Australia). Both Australian YA novels have intriguing titles and are classy examples of thrillers set outside country towns in hidden bunkers. They complement, and could be read alongside, each other.

After the Lights Go Out begins with an absolutely riveting scene where homeschooled Pru and her younger twin sisters Grace and Blythe have to escape from their house on an isolated property on the edge of the desert to a hidden underground bunker. Their father, a mining engineer, built it in secret and named it the Paddock after Winston Churchill’s WWII bunker. We learn quickly that he is paranoid, anticipates secret government conspiracies and that he is a doomsday prepper. This is a training drill.

Later, when the lights go out, the girls know that this is The Big One and they execute their exhaustive training and protocols such as Eat perishables and Exchange worthless currency for supplies. Tension ratchets because Pru is anaphylactic, there has been an explosion at the zinc mine and her father is missing, and the girls aren’t sure whether they should share their supplies with the townspeople of Jubilee.

Bear, Elizabeth’s father in Found is also highly protective and intimidating. He wouldn’t be happy about her kiss with Jonah but he doesn’t witness it – he’s been taken by unknown people in a white van. When her mother realises what has happened she whisks Beth out of town and through a cross-country route along channels across the paddocks to a bunker under a dry dam on their farm. This bunker is made from shipping containers and is as well-equipped as Pru’s. Their flight is also just as original and exciting.

The reason for Beth’s family’s dangerous plight is quickly revealed and the story then steams ahead with help from Jonah (who shares the narration) and Trent, a bad boy who may be trying to reform. The stakes are raised even higher when Beth’s mother is shot.

Both Fleur and Lili describe their very Australian rural settings with authenticity and care. Lili’s diverse characters range from a British Asian church minister to warm-skinned love interest Mateo who has two mums. Found is action-packed and heartbreaking and will be relished by all high school readers who love a fast-paced, filmic read.

Other highly recommended books by these authors include:

Fleur Ferris Risk, Black, Wreck

Lili Wilkinson Green Valentine, The Boundless Sublime, A Pocketful of Eyes

Five Favs from Afar – Picture books a plenty

Time to feature a few (plus a few more) stories that originate far from our shores but possess buckets of charisma worth sharing with the small people in your lives.

Found by Salina Yoon Found

I am fast becoming a fan of Salina Yoon thanks to her beguiling Penguin picture book series. Her latest (if you don’t count the penguins! –  Penguin and Pumpkin), is Found, a story personifying selfless friendship and sound morals, as anthropomorphically depicted by Bear and Bunny. Crisp, clean narrative accompanies solid simple illustrations that utilise perspective well and convey emotion in a supremely stripped-back honest way. Kiddies 2 – 5 years-old will adore Bear’s attempts to re-home a lost bunny, undoubtedly relating to his consequent heartbreak when he discovers how deeply attached he’s become to Bunny when forced to give him up. May 2014

ThThere's a Dinosaur in My Bathtubere’s a Dinosaur in My Bathtub by Catalina Echeverri

Remember Mr Snuffleupagus, Big Bird’s unerring buddy who never revealed himself to Sesame Street folk? Well, Amelia has a secret too. She has a French dinosaur named Pierre in her bathtub who is even more apt than Snuffy at remaining surreptitious. Unbeknownst to the rest of the family, she and Pierre have terrific fun together. They share galactic hot chocolates and tour magical lands of candyfloss trees; but only during the summertime. Come autumn and it’s time for Pierre to move on. Echeverri paints a fantastical world more enormous that Pierre himself. Bubbling with whimsy and colour and the occasional French phrase, this picture book is manifique for pre-schoolers and dinky di dinoWhale in the Bathsaur lovers. February 2014

(and if you want more great bathtub yarns, check out Whale in the Bath by Kylie Westaway and Tom Jellett . A similar tale about dealing with disbelief and wild imagination whilst trying to dislodge a gigantic sea mammal from the bathtub before all trouble breaks out. Massive fun from Allen & Unwin September 2014)

The Dawn Chorus by Suzanne BartonThe Dawn Chorus

This one positively hums with heart. Charm flits effortlessly from page to page. A true tactile delight; from the sumptuous cloth cover to the beautiful collage and painted illustrations. Peep is a little bird with a modest yearning to be part of a greater whole, The Dawn Chorus. However, despite his best efforts, he never makes the morning shift in time and despairs his singing dreams are at an end until he meets someone who sings as sublimely as he does. She too is not part of The Dawn Chorus, for a very special reason. An uplifting fresh look at fitting in and self-discovery. Glorious for 3 – 5 year-olds and those not-so-early birds. June 2014

On My Way to School

On My Way…series

Sarah Maizes and Michael Paraskevas are one of those picture book writing teams that ‘work’. They have created a rollicking series of visually yummy picture books spotlighting various reluctant-child-vs.-pressured-parent situations beginning with On My Way to the Bath. These two, On My Way to Bed and On My Way to School follow the familiar pattern: child asked to do something by ubiquitous unseen parent; child presents argument against request; child (and her companion Froggolini) embark on a series of madcap adventures endeavouring to delay the inevitable for as long as possible. Every double page in each of these books is saturated with bold, zany colourful fun. Mundane is aptly transformed into marvellous with clever child-typical twisty endings. Exasperated On My Way to the Bathparents will find it hard to wipe the smiles off their 2 – 5 year olds’ faces with this one. Hijacking a child’s imagination has never been such silly fun. February and August 2014

There’s a Lion in My Cornflakes

Sticking There's a Lion in My Cornflakeswith another slice of silliness, we end today with the first time collaboration of Michelle Robinson and Jim Field and There’s a Lion in My Cornflakes. Ever wanted something so bad you’d do just about anything to get it? Eric and his brother, Dan make the ultimate sacrifice spending a whole year’s pocket money on one hundred packets of cereal so that they have enough vouchers for a free lion. They endure cornflake overload until Mr Flaky finally delivers their prize, but it’s not what they expected. A quirky, laugh-out-loud tale about the dire consequences of wanting too much and not always getting what you want. It encapsulates the magnetic attraction kids possess for things often out of reach with a wildly whacky style. And, it comes with thirty vouchers to get them on their way! Brilliant. I am in love with Field’s exuberant illustrations too. Suitable for consumption by 2 – 6 year-olds and those who don’t buy breakfast cereals for the taste but for the toys! July 2014There's a Lion illos

All these titles by Bloomsbury Publishing Australia and available now through Boomerang Books.