Double Dipping – Middle Grade Novels that Defy Belief

Novelists use the art of suspension of disbelief in an attempt to encourage readers to surrender logic and sacrifice realism for the sake of enjoyment. Children are naturally more susceptible to stories that defy belief purely because their imaginative acceptance is less eroded than ours is. What I admire about these two middle grade novels is their easy ability to captivate the imagination and suspend disbelief, pressuring readers to levels of discomfiture whilst retraining a sense of irrefutable realism. At the end of both, you walk away loving the characters just a little bit more and happily consider risking life, limb and sanity to walk with them all over again.

The Endsister by Penni Russon

Words flow like silken cream from Russon’s pen in this entrancing tale of ghosts, family disintegration and returning to ones roots. Told in alternating points of view from each family member and a couple of resident ghosts, this story heaves readers from the gumtree-clad hills of Australia to the history-rich, leafy suburbs of inner London with mysterious charm and grace.

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Secrets and Small Places – Sensational MG and YA reads

Being a Piscean, secrets and small spaces do not faze me much. I’m one of those little fishes who loves a bit of enigmatic seclusion and the stimulation of guesswork, which is why I absolutely, nuts and crackers enjoyed the following titles. Each possesses a fluidity of story and cast of characters so cleverly crafted, I felt like I was sharing their experience as if it were my own. These books take you in deep, which for me makes them terrifically satisfying and just a little be frightening – in a can’t-get-enough-of-way.

Middle Grade Fiction

The Secrets We Keep and The Secrets We Share by Nova Weetman

Fire – both compelling and repelling. Catastrophic and cleansing. This sums up the sweep of emotions and characters Weetman explores with Clem Timmins. Clem’s secret begins with a flicker but soon ignites into something she struggles to contain upon losing everything after her house burns down – her clothes, her treasures and her mum. Timmins and her pre-pubescent peers totter on the edge of change with remarkable poise and a raw, heart-wrenching genuineness that will bring the sting of tears to your eyes and a smile to your lips. They clutch at various emotional straws, each wanting happy outcomes but in Clem’s case, too frightened of losing even more, thus retreating into secrecy. This is good old honest storytelling, where enigmatic poignancy tempers robust reality.

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This Isn’t A Blog About Books

This isn’t a blog about books. It’s a blog about ideas. A festival of ideas, to be specific. I spent two days last week at Brisbane’s Ideas Festival and, frankly, my mind is still reeling from all I saw and heard there.

It reminded me that I in some ways can’t wait to be a retiree who can attend all the writers’ and ideas festivals she can possibly fit into her calendar and hours her butt can stand sitting on hard, fold-up seats. I mean, there’s something so incredibly inspiring sitting in a room listening to someone who’s an expert in their field and whose ideas turn my own on their head.

For this reason I’m breaking out of my usual books-focused blog mould and giving you a small sense of what I encountered there. The first session I lobbed into was McMansion to Micro Mansion: How do you challenge the Great Australian Dream? I can’t recount the session’s brilliance in full, but some highlights include:

  • the inverted sentiment that I want my next house to be more modest than my last one (do I hear an environmental sigh of relief?)
  • our new houses are the largest in the world—even larger than the US’s new houses (I actually emitted an audible sound of shame at hearing this one)
  • we have on average houses that allocate a whopping 83 sqm per person (enough to swing more than a few proverbial cats without touching each other or the walls)
  • by 2026, 60% of Queensland households will comprise just one or two people
  • we have given over an inordinate amount of space to roads and freeways
  • we seem to crave big, spacious homes, but when we’re on holidays we happily camp in cosier, more cramped tents, caravans, and the like (does this tell us that we’re actually good in and enjoy small, warm spaces?)
  • we’re having a ‘Katrina moment’ (as in, a rethink of our homes and practices post-natural disaster)
  • many famous writers wrote in really small, modest spaces, including Martin Heidegger, Roald Dahl, and George Bernard Shaw.

The second session saw me go from not knowing who the speaker was to wanting to finding out as much as is humanly possible about him. Anthony Ryan has carved out an impressive (if that’s the most apt description) career working with homeless and marginalised people, and is known particularly for setting up Eddie’s Street Van. His insights?

  • The key to working with the disempowered is presence: making it clear that when you’re with them, there’s no place you’d rather be.
  • Stereotypes are wrong. We need to get past the romanticism of the poor.
  • We need to develop that sense of carpe diem. All of us are going to be dead in the next 100 years. What are we going to leave as our legacy?

There were more points worthy of coverage, but I didn’t write them down—Ryan reduced everyone in the room to tears with some knock-out stories and I, well, I was kind of distracted ferreting around in my bag for tissues and dabbing my eyes.

What followed him were two inspiring sessions with the creative directors of Ideo, a kind of design slash consulting agency that’s doing some pretty mind-blowing work with regards to social change.

One session focused on crowdsourcing (although the Ideao guys said they hated that term—it sounds too much like a one-way transaction, when the reality of this action is that you too give something back). The second was on the theme that small multiplied by many equates something really large.

I have too many notes on these ones to include them all, but here’s a wee snapshot:

  • Netflix crowdsourced an improvement to their ‘you might like this’ algorithm by offering $1 million to the person who could improve it by just 10%. The entry that won merged everyone else’s suggestions, effectively.
  • Microsoft thought they had the market sewn up with Encarta ’97. Then came Wikipedia, a crowdsourced site that doesn’t pay its contributors. The result is that Microsoft went from being the cat who got the cream to the company plagued by the blank response: ‘Encarta who?’
  • Crowdsourcing and social media recently helped create a revolution in Iran.
  • Companies have historically used a sort of one-way monologue to communicate with fans and users. These days it’s a two-way conversation.
  • Valuing the journey is as important as valuing the destination—sounds guffy, I know, but their point was that they learnt as much during their research as at the end of it.
  • Everyone has access to ideas—the value is in the execution (said in response to the thousandth ‘Oh I had that idea’).
  • Don’t worry about the world ending today—it’s already tomorrow in Australia (teehee, especially in light of the supposed rapture).
  • Never waste a crisis (might have been espoused by Winston Churchill).
  • The future can’t be designed in Excel. In short: spreadsheets are the enemy.
  • Small x many = big/(simple + tomorrow) = answer.
  • The key is: how small and how quickly can you start?
  • People need simple ways to engage. This could be as small and straightforward as applying a sticker that says ‘fix this’ in their neighbourhood.
  • Connect the littles to become bigs.
  • Somebody has to start leading a different conversation so everyone can point at it and say: ‘That’s what I want’.
  • We’re too often sticking together feathers and hoping to get a duck—you need to have a strategy; you need to know what the answer is.
  • If you care about the solution, you don’t care who comes up with it.

This wasn’t a blog about books, but it was a randomly assembled blog about ideas that inspire books. The Ideas Festival has definitely given me plenty to think about in recent days as well as next year’s festival to look forward to. I think this warrants attending as many festivals in the interim as possible, and commencing my hard-seat-sitting training now…