Unforgettable YA tales that stick

Live throws up some questionable situations at times, which, for young people especially can result in unforgettable experiences. I love young adult novels that encapsulate such experiences in stories with unreserved candour and humour. Here are some unforgettable examples.

Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell

Touchell’s ability to reach deep into the grey sticky bits of both adults and seven-year-old boys and extract meaning from them for us in ways both poetical and moving is awe-inspirForgetting Fostering. This is a powerful and intelligent fiction for young readers written with precision and heart. As Foster’s world of stories and thus reality recedes into a place he can’t identify, he is forced to farewell the other most important thing in his life, his father.

Foster may inhabit a seven-year-old’s body and possess a sweet naivety and omnipresent reverence for his father still, but when his father begins to forget everything including Foster, Foster’s outlook on life, school and relationships is sent akimbo. For the first time in his life, he is adrift in a place where his father can no longer accompany him. To make matters worse, his mother is barely able to cope with their unexpected and irreversible demise let alone Foster’s feelings.

Losing a parent to (early onset), Alzheimer’s disease is no straightforward matter as Foster discovers. How it affects his position in his family is the question Touchell throws at us again and again with poignant force. At times brutally honest and real and at others stoically proud and witty, Forgetting Foster focuses on surviving battles we were not meant to fight.

Forgetting Foster is a sort of grown up version of Lisa Genova’s Still Alice; it is no less intelligent and revealing however translates the angst and ludicrous frustrations and realties of Alzheimer’s from the carers’ point of view instead of the sufferer’s. How Foster comes to deal with these realisations is the resolution for a story that has no real happy ending.

Focusing on a younger character but with buckets of lower secondary school reader appeal.

Allen & Unwin June 2016

Another Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick

Poetic, raw and real, I savoured every syllable of this verse-coming-of-age novel by Herrick. Mullet Town is an intelligent narrative about surviving on the peripheral of lAnother Night in Mullet Townife, both emotionally and materialistically.

Mates Jonah and Manx exist in a one mullet town, content to throw a line in the lake every now and then and wade through the treacherous bog of teenage parties and relationships. For Manx, who may aspire to more but is also driven to defend his simple existence from the ‘wealthy blow-ins’ who want to sell the town out, life suddenly becomes more complicated. How he manages to keep his head about water and remain supportive for Jonah plays out in an emotional journey Herrick cleverly wallpapers with gentle, lyrical wit.

The end petered out a little too matter-of-factly for me but life is not always full of neat and tidy endings. As long as the mullet continue to swim, there remains a glimmer of hope for the residents of Mullet Town – this is the departing assurance, which is in itself enough.

Gritty and extremely readable, a highly recommended verse novel for older readers.

UQP June 2016

My Australian Story: Black Sunday by Evan McHugh

Black Sunday is riveting and tactful. I thoroughly enjoyed McHugh’s account of one of the most unexpected and largest mass (beach) rescues in Australia in the late 30s. Ironically, I had come across old newspaper reports about this day in February 1938 whilst researching another topic. I was astounded and shocked by what I uncovered. Black Sunday

McHugh’s use of simple diary entries by 12 year-old David McCutcheon aka Nipper to detail the events leading up to Black Sunday, entreats intimacy and candour whilst painting a vivid picture of Bondi and its surrounds on the eve of WW II. Even those who have never swam in Bondi’s ever changing waters or basked on her golden beaches will gain a strong sense of place and time thanks to McHugh’s thoughtful epistolic prose.

The actual event itself is not over dramatized rather occurring naturally after a nine-month relationship with Nipper whose life ambition is to be a surf lifesaver like his grandpa, his diary, and the colourful cast of characters that people his life. There is a beautiful balance of emotion, history, and humanity in this Australian Story, which pays homage to heroes in every guise not least of which those that serve Surf Lifesaving Australia. Respect in the highest. Well suited for primary and lower secondary readers, Black Sunday is a fitting and vivid unforgettable tribute to Australia’s not so distant past.

Omnibus Books August 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Reviews – YA fiction addiction

YA stackAccording to teen author, Charmaine Clancy there are a few issues that rate more highly than others for teen readers of YA fiction. These include problems dealing with: sexuality, freedom, relationships and friendships, social power, anger, fear, risk taking, social responsibility and bullying, to name a few.

The following YA titles represent modern day takes on common reoccurring teenage dilemmas, ticking at least one or more of these boxes. They are all highly recommended reads for young people plummeting into puberty and new belief systems as they navigate the next course of their lives. All riveting, well-crafted stories that will leave your nerves tingling, your heartbeat racing, and your tears well and truly jerked. Enjoy!

Intruder Intruder by Christine Bongers

I ripped through this one like a dog on steroids at an agility trial. Terrific. Gutsy, three-dimensional characters displaying equal parts humility, vulnerability, and bravado while tossing around some cracker one-liners people this teenage angst-y tale about losing and finding.

Kat Jones is left exposed and violated after an intruder invades her home. Feeling alone and isolated after the earlier death of her mother, she must rely on her despised next-door neighbour, Edwina, and Hercules, Edwina’s ugly canine companion to overcome her current dread and face her former demons. Fortunately mutt love and new bloke on the block, Al all help to rebuild Kat’s fragile lines of defence.

Christine Bongers writes with dramatic heart and unabashed confidence. Her reference to devils-on-horseback was a marvellous slingshot back into the 70s for me too. Great that teens can be entertained and educated in one fell swoop of the pen. A pure pleasure to read. Teenage somethings will suck this up.

Woolshed Press imprint of Random House June 2014

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain by Steven Herrick

Eleven year-old Jessie is a boy with seemingly insurmountable problems not least of which is accommodating his square-fit self into the round-fit ideals of his communal-based school and community. Local bully, Hunter complicates the mix further until enterprising, Kate rallies with Jessie to ‘Save the Whales’ and inadvertently, Jessie’s sense of humanity and place.

Delightfully, Hunter proves that even the most malignly misunderstood antagonists can be real modern day heroes when ‘some things are too big for (one) boy to solve’ alone.

The conclusion was a little soft and spongy however, a sense of optimism as sweet as bubble bath fug hung about long after the end. Slightly eccentric, more than a little funny, warm, tender, and witty. The back cover blurb does not do this story justice; it meandered on a bit but I don’t think that will stop upper primary aged boys and girls thoroughly enjoying this sometimes acerbic, mostly uplifting read. I certainly did.

UQP May 2014

Sinner Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the fourth book in the immensely popular Shiver series. I can’t comment on the first three having dived into this instalment without preamble or past research, but found it stood proud and solid on its own and at no point whatsoever did I experience any confusion or wonder what had taken place previously in the lives of main protagonists, Cole St Clair and his love interest, Isabel. Like the storyline itself, they and the characters surrounding them are crafted with stinging conviction.

Cole has a secret that only a select few are privy to. He is the epitome of a genius, self-abusing, addictive personality, overachieving rock star whose Achilles heel is Isabel, a girl with a macadamia tough exterior he is desperate to crack. How Cole sheds his former demons and absolves his misdeeds with the help and hindrance of those he meets under the surreal light of California is page-turning material.

Stiefvater masterfully tells Coles and Isabel’s story in a raw and powerful way that often leaves you chuckling at their darkest hours. Thrilling stuff for older teens.

Scholastic Australia August 2014

State of Grace State of Grace by Hilary Badger

‘A utopian rose in a bed of dystopian thorns’ is a fairly accurate description of Hilary Badger’s (aka H.I. Larry of the bestselling Zac Power series) first venture in YA fiction. From the first sentence, an unsettled, creepy air descends upon the reader beautifully obscured by a veil of lush garden-of-Eden idealism. Since her creation, Wren has lived an idyllic life in a perfect paradise with life-loving companions and a deity like no other to worship, Dot.

However, not all is as ‘dotly’ as it seems (per the local non-negative lingo of the inhabitants of Dot’s Paradise). When cracks begin to appear in Wren’s memories and belief system, she and fellow creation, Blaze must decide whether to confront their horrid pasts or succumb to an unreal future.

A disturbing and illuminating combination of our not too distant future lives that rests lightly on friendship, authoritarianism, blind faith, and facing truths. There are zillions of twists, some no bigger or harder to appreciate than a butterfly but most are comfortably homed in a solidly built world thanks to Badger’s bright imagination. 14 + year olds will enjoy the mystifying experience A State of Grace provides.

Hardie Grant Egmont October 2014

 

CHILDREN’S BOOK WEEK: Michael Gerard Bauer

It’s not so much writing for teenagers and young adults I enjoy, it’s more writing stories centring around them. The teenage years are such a fun and exciting time to write about. It’s a time full of discovery and possibility where feelings and emotions are often more intense and focused and friendships and relationships are at their strongest.

My favourite book as a child was Wind in the Willows. I read it many times and every time I lost myself in the world of the Riverbank with those wonderfully unique characters of Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger.

When I was a teenager myself I read lots of Agatha Christie murder mysteries and adventure books like King Solomon’s Mines and books by Alistair MacLean like Where Eagles Dare. Another big favourite was Lord of the Rings. One holidays I read War and Peace but just because I wanted to be able to say I’d read what I thought was the longest book in the world. I even ended up liking it.

There are so many Children’s and Young Adult books by fantastic Australian authors that I love – far too many to mention them all. But I will make mention of books by Scot Gardner, Barry Jonsberg and Steven Herrick because if I don’t they’ll beat me up!

My favourite YA book is probably The Messenger by Markus Zusak. That book inspired me to have a go at writing.

CBCA Book Week Fact

Did you know that Michael Gerard Bauer’s first novel, The Running Man, won the 2005 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Older Readers?