Category Archives: YA fiction

The Silence that Binds Us – Johanna Ho

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Harper Collins Australia

October 2022

  • ISBN: 9780063059344
  • ISBN 10: 0063059347
  • Imprint: HarperCollins US
  • List Price: 34.99 AUD

Many of us fell in love with Joanna Ho’s exquisite writing with Eyes That Kiss in the Corners and Eyes That Speak to the Stars. Now it becomes apparent that her talent is not confined to lyrical picture books. This, her first YA novel, is searingly beautiful, poignant and powerful. Exploring themes of mental health, racism and class distinctions. Maybelline Chen is an American Chinese Taiwanese girl who goes against the norm for her background. Her dress, appearance and interests completely confound her traditional mother who seems to find no pride or joy in her only daughter. May’s older brother, Danny, however can do no wrong it appears. Until, that is, Danny freshly accepted to Princeton, stands in the path of an oncoming train, unable to withstand his depression any longer.

In the shockwaves that follow, which engulf the entire community, May and her parents struggle to regain any kind of equilibrium, and those of us who have experienced this deep and unexpected grief will relate to their brokenness. More than that, there are voices raised against May’s parents specifically, but all Asian families in general about the perceived academic pressure put upon their offspring. Those who can see the truth know it is not just Asian parents in this community heaping the expectations on the heads of their young people, and along with this racist attitude, is the realisation that students of colour are facing discrimination of a different kind.

Ignoring her parents’ advice to ‘keep her head down’ May fights back to take charge of her own ‘narrative’ through her writing and galvanises other students into action at the same time.This is a story of courage and perseverance, and the often difficult path to truth telling in the face of sometimes real intimidation. I found it utterly captivating and powerful, and read it with real urgency to know the outcome. Ho’s writing is just sensational. She captures the voice of her various characters beautifully and explores these difficult issues with subtlety and sensitivity.

I highly recommend it to you for your mature readers. While lower secondary kiddos could manage it, I think it better suited to your mid-to-upper readers as it can be quite confronting at times. I feel it will rouse their righteous indignation and would give rise to some deep discussions around the themes.

*This is my ‘give away’ title for February so if you would like to win it, comment on the post and your name will be in the lucky draw at the end of the month* (Australian readers only, sorry)

Well, That Was Unexpected – Jesse Q. Sutanto

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Harper Collins Australia

November 2022

  • ISBN: 9780008501464
  • ISBN 10: 0008501467
  • Imprint: Electric Monkey
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD

In actual fact, this is hands down the most enjoyable YA novel I’ve read in a long time. Coincidentally, it is one of a posse of recent YAs that are Asian-focused in one way or another. Even more interesting perhaps is that it’s the second with an Indonesian setting I’ve read in a relatively short space of time, and given Indo is our very near neighbour – plus, also because I have a very dear Indo friend (Hello Miss Lily!), it’s great to learn some more about this country and the culture, even the difficult or unpleasant parts. I love all of the background to this one: the backdrop of Chinese Indo family dynamics, the Indonesian culture with the strict (and yes, to our sensibilities) sometimes brutal restrictions, the exploration of more than just the tourist sites (which is the knowledge extent of most Aussies I’d say), the focus on topics that have run hot, particularly in the past year or so, such as toxic masculinity, slut-shaming and gender diversity. That is to say, they have run hot in much of the Western world with much positivity arising from strong advocacy – not so much in Indonesia where the religious implications and traditional family values are paramount.

But more than all of this – I love that this is, at its heart, an utterly adorable and engaging rom com with a hetero couple. {Don’t shoot me. I have many gender diverse friends and have always actively supported the LGBQT+ movement – but seriously, it was getting harder and harder to find a YA Romance that had a boy/girl relationship – and you know what? they do still exist!} Sharlot has been raised in LA by her single Indonesian mother without ever having contact either with the country of her heritage or her extended family. When she decides that she will sleep with her (secret) boyfriend after much careful consideration, she’s quite unprepared for the reality and backs out at the last minute – no awful consequences from the b/f but her mum walks in to discover a very compromising scene and in a kneejerk reaction, has Sharlot hustled onto a plane pronto ,and they are both bound for Indonesia and traditional family. Meanwhile, in Jakarta George Clooney Tanuwijaya (yes, that is correct) is caught by his father in an equally compromising, albeit solo, situation.

So what would any concerned, traditional Chinese Indo parent do? They would try to find their child a ‘suitable’ romantic interest. And so, begins a complete comedy of errors – with George’s dad, along with his 13 year old sister, and Sharlot’s mum ‘catfishing’ on the local social media app with a view to sparking a relationship. Their feeble attempts to be hip and attractive to the other person are highly entertaining, but become even more so when George and Sharlot finally meet via the engineering of their respective families.

Those families are far more complex than first imagined. Sharlot’s mum and George’s Eighth Aunt are long-lost best friends – in fact,much more than that. Their sapphic friendship was the impetus for Sharlot’s mum leaving Indo, although not in and of itself. Add into this mix, George’s attempts to please his father by being more interested in the family business – they just happen to be the second wealthiest family in Indonesia!- by creating an app called OneLiner aimed at educating and encouraging young men to shed their toxic attitudes and behaviours. There’s a lot going on but, trust me, it’s really not as complicated as it sounds – and it totally is hilarious. The secondary characters are just as quirky as the plot and there is plenty of diversity (both gender and cultural) to offset the main couple and the main plot. I loved it very much and read it very quickly. I especially love that Sharlot has as fine a command of the Anglo-Saxon vernacular as I do and her conversations are literally peppered by expletives. On that note, the publishers have a 12 years suggested age for it but, conservatively and mindful of all my library cohorts, I would not be handing it to anyone under Year 9. Lots of swearing and sexual references which would easily rouse the ire of not-so-tolerant parents (or admins).

Highly recommended for your older or suitably mature readers.

The Heartstopper Yearbook – Alice Oseman

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Hachette

OCT 13, 2022 | 9781444968392 | RRP $32.99

When I saw the little piece today that Netflix has announced that Heartstopper Season 2 has wrapped up, I just knew it was the day to share this one! The graphic series that started as a slow burn 2 years ago or soon, with many of us recommending i,t has steadily gained a huge following but the Netflix series not only clinched its popularity but saw it skyrocket like nothing I’ve seen since the frenzy of HP years ago.

This is going to make the ultimate stocking stuffer for any tween or teen in your circle, as Alice Oseman takes her readers through the whole journey of Heartstopper, with profiles on characters (and even pets!), the artwork including ‘how to draw’ activities for fans, backstories and more.

While there is some room for an owner-reader to personalise the book, I don’t believe this precludes it from a library shelf as these pages are few. For the most part this a celebration of the phenomenon that is Heartstopper along with some very pertinent commentary on the Pride movement, diversity and acceptance for all. The allure of this series is that it is genuinely sweet and wholesome, and every kiddo I know who has read it is not only instantly hooked but dragging in their friends to get hold of it next.

It is beautifully presented in this hardback edition, and would make a marvellous gift at any time but perhaps especially for a Christmas surprise. If, like me, you’ve needed four copies of each volume in the series in your collection, you won’t want to miss out on getting this one.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 upwards.

Ellie Pillai is Brown – Christine Pillainayagam

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Faber & Faber

July 2022

ISBN: 9780571366910
ISBN-10: 0571366910
RRP: $17.99

This is a debut novel of true exceptional talent IMO. I love a good romance and when it’s interwoven with self-discovery, diversity, cultural differences, regular teen relationships and issues, and music – all the better! Also, this is definitely the first YA (or indeed any book) I have read that features Sri Lankan culture/family life.

Ellie knows she is weird. Her taste for old movies, classic rock (think Beatles and the Stones) are just the tip of the iceberg. She always feels slightly left out but thank goodness for her best friend, although there are times when Ellie feels her mum takes more notice of, and spends more time with Jessica, than with her own daughter. Their family has been out of kilter since they lost Ellie’s little brother, Amis, and both parents as well as Ellie are still often raw and hurting from his death. At school, Ellie is on the periphery always but her great joy – and secret- is Drama class. Her parents would flip out if they knew that despite their objections, she has taken the subject for her GCSEs – not only do they think it a frivolous waste of time but believe that Ellie has zero talent.

All that is about to change with the arrival of a new Drama teacher who, as it happens, is also brown. At the same time, twins, Ash and Elina, start at the new school and Ellie ends up with a real dilemma. Her growing interest in Ash, is going to drive the biggest wedge ever in the history of friendship between herself and Jess.

This has got it all – humour, romance, serious reflection on topics such as grief, sexuality, cultural differences, neglect and family relationships and, along the way, Ellie inserts her own playlist into the narrative which readers can access via QR codes. The whole is cleverly and deftly done. For once, I am not rolling my eyes at another cliche ridden YA novel full of angst and moaning. Even the serious issues are gently handled in a way that would make hugely relatable to teen readers.

Highly recommended for your readers from Year 7 upwards.

Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade: Enola Holmes #8 – Nancy Springer

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Allen & Unwin

August 2022

ISBN: 9781761066245

Publisher: A&U Children’s

Imprint: A & U Children

RRP: $16.99

As we all eagerly anticipate the new forthcoming Netflix adaptation, what better way to feed our love of Enola and her adventures than by reading this newest in the series? (In this house we are both fans of not only Enola but definitely Millie Bobby Brown!)

Nancy Springer’s series following the adventures of Sherlock Holme’s ferocious young sister has been a smash hit and created a huge following, mostly among girls from around Year 6 to Year 9. In this latest episode our favourite sleuth is determined to rescue her friend Lady Cecily Alastair, an unfortunate young woman who is being cruelly treated by her nasty and domineering father.

After the success of the initial ‘spring’ from her family home, Enola is relieved that she has secured Cecily’s safety but her relief is short-lived when Cecily disappears from the secret office Enola maintains. For many this would not be such a disaster but Cecily is hampered by her dual personalities – one left-handed, confident and resourceful and one right-handed which has been forced upon her and rendered her meek and helpless. With no money nor resources, no skills or friends to call upon – how can this young woman possibly survive the streets of London?

Of course, Enola’s adventures would not be complete without snarky intervention from older brother Sherlock (who always feels himself to be superior- wrong). The banter between the two is highly entertaining as always but Enola’s superior female intellect is more than a match for Sherlock’s rather more prosaic kind of intelligence.

This series hardly needs any ‘selling’ – suffice to say your kiddos from around Year 6 upwards will just gobble it up and just in time for the new Netflix adaptation!

Dreaming by Starlight – Siobhan Curham

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Walker Books

August 2022

ISBN13:9781529504019

Australia RRP:$16.99

New Zealand RRP:$18.99

I completely fell in love with The Moonlight Dreamers, and the follow-up Tell it to the Moon and have enthusiastically talked them up while pushing them into the hands of my middle secondary girls. Thankfully they agreed! So it’s really exciting to see the newest title which segues from the original group of girls into a very different but just as delightful circle.

Jazz and her parents have just re-located from Sydney to Brighton in the UK and it’s just too much misery as far as Jazz can tell. No surf, no sand just rocks, not even water warm enough to swim in, not to mention a very snobby and cliquey private school. Luckily Jazz’ older cousin Amber, picks up on her unhappiness vibe and takes her under her wing before she heads off to Paris to study. Amber is confident that if Jazz follows the example of the Moonlight Dreamers with some tweaking of her own, she will soon find her tribe.

Even though Jazz is highly sceptical, she figures she has nothing to lose so next thing she is sharing some postcards to invite likeminded girls to join forces. Jazz, Portia, Hope and Allegra are as unlikely a combination as could be, and at first, things are not entirely without drama, but before too long the four girls have become as close a team as is possible, not only helping each other to achieve their dreams but, along the way, finding new purpose for helping others to do the same.

This is another truly heartwarming story which will captivate readers from around 12 years upwards. It is sweet and feel-good and, most of all, it extols that beautiful bond that females of all ages can have and the role they play in building each other up. I defy any reader to leave this one feeling untouched!

Highly recommended for readers from Upper Primary onwards.

A Little Spark – Barry Jonsberg

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Allen & Unwin

August 2022

Imprint:A & U Children

ISBN:9781760526924

RRP: $16.99

Once again Barry Jonsberg has crafted a narrative that will speak volumes to middle grade readers. 13 year old Cate is in her first year of high school and her seventh of being the only child of divorced parents. Neither is too bad really. At school she has her best friend Elise, who is also now going through the whole parents splitting trauma. Outside school, she lives with her teacher mum and her new partner, Sam, who is an incredibly kind and understanding guy. Every fortnight she spends the weekend with her dad, who feeds her imagination with rich role-playing and theatrical wonder. Cate is a gifted writer despite her youth and already on her way to being a published and prize-winning author.

But, as can happen, life throws a curveball. Sam is offered a tantalising and life-changing work opportunity in the UK and Cate’s mum is determined they will all go. Cate is resistant to the whole idea, not least because she knows she will leave her dad with no one, not to mention abandoning Elise in her hour of dire need. And then, in one of their fun-filled adventures, Cate and her dad are involved in a major car crash which almost kills him and leaves her with some serious injuries. Understandably, Cate’s mum is even more determined that Cate will go to the UK. But this is one feisty and clever girl who resents being used as a pawn, so with her father’s assent, a court case begins to establish where Cate will live. But what seems like an almost 50/50 chance falls apart at the last minute and things just go from bad to worse. Without saying any more, or throwing in spoilers, Cate’s life changes for the better in some ways and then for the worse in others. Readers will laugh with her (and Elise) and they will cry in her moments of utter despair.

It is a truly magical story which will capture hearts and minds. I love that Barry has completely nailed authentic voices for both these teen girls (and in a way which will not date). With strong themes of family, domestic conflict, friendships, divorce, grief and self-belief, mature and discerning readers from around 11/12 years old will thoroughly enjoy this one. I absolutely loved it and I think it would make a superb title for a book club for your lower secondary readers.

Highly recommended for Year 6 upwards – there is some low level swearing, so if your school is particular about that, exercise caution. Grab teaching notes here.

The Wearing of the Green – Claire Saxby

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Walker Books

April 2022

ISBN: 9781760653583
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $18.99
New Zealand RRP: $21.99

It is certainly no secret that I love historical fiction, and colonial Australian history is a particular favourite of mine. I loved this exciting new narrative from Claire Saxby – whose prowess with picture books is already so well established. Set just two years before my first ancestors arrived in this country, this recounts the importation of young Irish girls to become, essentially, servants and/or wives in a colony that was heavily male dominated. With Ireland in tatters after the Great Famine (also known as the Great Hunger, the Famine or the Potato Famine) and 1 million dead as a result, many young girls ( among others) faced uncertainty without family or home to shelter them. These girls were outfitted with a basic wardrobe and shipped to Australia, among them young Biddy Blackwell whose older brother has been out in the colony for some years.

When Biddy arrives and her brother Ewen is nowhere to be found, she is sent to work on a remote farm with a cruel master, an indifferent and downtrodden wife and finds she is little more than an unpaid slave. Surviving first the conditions in which she finds herself, but then even worse after her master’s first wife dies and he brings home a new one, equally as nasty as himself, Biddy manages a daring escape following the mayhem of a flood, and finds herself back in the city under the protection of the hostel. While she discovers some clues as to Ewen’s possible location, she needs to restrain herself and finds herself working for an eccentric but kind journalist as his ‘eyes and ears’ in the courtrooms of Melbourne.

The prejudices and persecution with which the Irish immigrants are faced is rising fast and when Biddy attends the court sessions and sees one well-known dissenter, Brendan Black, she is elated to find she has finally discovered her missing brother. Naturally, his situation presents some problems but with the help of new friends and supporters, the way is made smoother and Biddy can finally hope for a new start, complete with family.

Claire Saxby’s inspiration for this novel was her own family history and this little known episode in Australia’s history is important to understand as its impact on the rise of concepts such as fair pay and work conditions cannot be under-estimated.

Highly recommended for readers from upper primary to mid-secondary and for students of Australian history, this is certainly a prime candidate for ‘read around your topic’.

Katipo Joe Spycraft – Brian Falkner

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My review of this absolutely fabulous read is now live on Kids Book Review – don’t miss out, especially all of you with those blasé teens who need a good reading rev-up!! I loved this book and now I need to find time to read the earlier ones!

Guest Reviewer: Jessica Finden

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Introducing the lovely Jess, currently teacher-librarian (part-time) at Carmel College, Thornlands. Jess is definitely the glue that holds together the Bayside Secondary T-L Network and works hard always, organising meetings, and our regional Readers Cup competition. In tandem with her Head of English she has transformed the set novel program at Carmel with both flair and success. Her sessions in her library including book groups are, I know, highly valued by both the student participants and her college.

Today she is sharing her thoughts about a recently published novel, gaining a real foothold in libraries.

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

March 2021

ISBN: 9780143796992

Imprint: Penguin

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

RRP: $19.99.

Recommended for Teens 15+

There are some instances when you pick up a book and you just know that you are going to thoroughly enjoy reading it.  House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland was exactly this for me.  A dark, modern day fairytale – equal parts tantalizing and horrific, Sutherland’s ability to infuse her writing with the gothic use of the sublime and the uncanny keeps you entertained even as you squirm at the unfolding events.

As children, Iris Hollow and her two sisters disappeared.  A month later, they returned with no memory of what had befallen them.  With a change to their eye colour and hair and a small scar at their throat, their parents knew that something disturbing had happened to them.

17 year old Iris is just trying to live a normal life and finish high school but her older, famous and dazzling sisters are busy living anything but a normal life.  When Iris’ older sister Grey disappears, Iris and her sister Vivi follow a trail of peculiar clues leading them not only to where Grey is but unlocking answers from their past – answers that they may not wish to uncover.

House of Hollow entices you to fall down the rabbit hole into the lives of the Hollow sisters, knowing that you are not going to like what you find at the end.

5 stars

I do have this book on my TBR list – and aside from anything else, just check out that fab cover art! Thank you so much Jess for joining us today!