Category Archives: Young Adult

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.

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.

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!

James Gong: the Chinese Dragon – Paul Collins

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Hybrid Publishers

February 2022

ISBN: 9781925736793

RRP: $16.99

Your middle school kids will love this second instalment of James Gong (see James Gong: The Big Hit if you missed the first). Paul Collins has drawn on his experiences as a martial arts expert to bring another action-packed episode in the life of James Gong to readers with the same fun and verve as the first.

Since his big movie role of the earlier book, James has moved into virtual martial arts (I sure didn’t know that even existed!) and has been participating in competition, in which Ming Lee, the Chinese Dragon, is the undisputed virtso Queen. James’ friends, Ethan and Jay, are back as well as his nemesis Brian Tossa, but the new relationship that builds between James and Ming is a real plus. They make a very satisfyingly balanced combination – James, with his usual ham-fisted and often sketchy decisions, and Ming, who is far more considered and level-headed. Of course, nothing stops the pair from entering into the illegal virtso competitive field where the stakes, and dangers, are even higher but with any luck their combined ‘skills’ might win through.

I know nothing about martial arts, let alone the virtual kind, but it is very obvious that Paul’s expertise in this field is not exaggerated as his details provide authenticity to all the action, which is both exciting and tense. It is this that will prove the drawcard to your readers, particularly those who are reluctant to pick up novels. It is a very easily accessible text for the not-so-strong readers, with the non-stop exploits creating genuine engagement.

This is a definite promo for my new Year 9 English kiddos, many of whom have put their hands up to admit they are not readers. This could definitely be a winner with some of them I know.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards.

You’ll Be the Death of Me – Karen M. McManus

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Penguin Australia

November 2021

ISBN: 9780241473665
Imprint: Penguin
RRP: $17.99

Really, this author and her books need no promo via my humble opinion, although I am more than happy to provide it. In my library and among my reading circle, these are just unstoppable – particularly so since the series exploded onto the small screens. The teen thriller market is just huge right now and looks set to continue blazing across the best-seller lists for some time.


This is one of McManus’ stand-alone novels and centres on three young people who take a day off school on a complete whim, all of them for very different reasons. Ivy, Mateo and Cal were friends in middle school following another spontaneous ‘walkabout’ day but have somewhat drifted apart now they are in senior school. For all three their memory of The Greatest Day Ever, shared in innocent good fun, lingers and with all the various pressures on each, makes the day off idea all the more appealing.

But when they arrive in Boston and start wandering, and arrive at an art studio used by Cal’s mysterious friend, they are confronted with what appears to a murder scene. As if that’s not confronting enough, the victim is a fellow senior, known to them all. Brian “Boney” Mahoney is pretty much a jerk but he’s also a jerk who was just voted in as Senior Class President, over Ivy – even though he only ran as a joke. That does appear to put Ivy in the frame as a potential suspect, especially when the news breaks. But her two comrades also have secrets which impact on the situation. Cal is ‘involved’ with one of their teachers and Mateo’s cousin/sister has got herself tangled up in some kind of criminal activity.

It really is another convoluted and gripping narrative with suspicion falling in one direction after another and it took this reader quite some time to even start to sort out the who’s who in this nefarious plot. Your teens are going to love it and I know it’s going to be in high demand/rotation when we start back at school.

Highly recommended for your readers from around 14 years upwards – some strong language and drug references but nothing too shocking.

Sofa Surfer – Malcolm Duffy

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Harper Collins Australia

May 2021

  • ISBN: 9781786697684
  • ISBN 10: 1786697688
  • Imprint: Head Of Zeus – Zehpyr GB
  • RRP $16.99

On any given night in Australia 116,427 Australians are homeless. 27,680 of these are young people aged 12-24 years. Most of the homeless youth aged 12–18 years in 2016 were living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings (61%) or in supported accommodation for the homeless (26%).

Youth HomelessnessSalvation Army

121,000 16-24 year olds were homeless or at risk of homelessness in the UK in 2020 Centrepoint UK

Over the past year I’ve read some cracking teen books from the UK, and this is right up there with the very best. It’s engaging, often funny, extremely poignant and tackles a social issue of the gravest concern not only in the UK but also here in Australia.

When Tyler’s family moves from London to live in the spa town of Ilkley, West Yorkshire, the 15-year-old is well ticked off and prepared to resent absolutely everything about their new lives. He misses their old house and his friends, and he hates the ‘small town-ness’ of Ilkley. The fact that his parents have opted for renovations to their new house rather than their usual summer holiday somewhere exciting is, as far as Tyler is concerned, the nail in the coffin. His resentment continues to build, and his only outlet is taking his dog Dexter for long walks where he can vent his feelings on a blissfully unaware canine.

Desperate for something to fill the empty days, Tyler goes to the local lido (that’s the local public pool to us!) where at least he can enjoy his swimming prowess. To his great surprise he’s approached by an awkward gangly girl, whom he estimates to be around 18, with an almost unintelligible Geordie accent, long skinny limbs, baggy swimmers and gawky specs who asks him to teach her to swim. Of all the things he might have expected to happen this was certainly not one of them but ‘Spider’ as she is known is surprisingly persuasive and, being keen to earn himself some money for headphones, Tyler takes on the challenge.

And challenge it is – Spider is not the most confident of pupils and certainly not the most physically adept but she does make progress even though she’s not always reliable with Tyler’s payment for lessons. As the lessons progress, Tyler begins to realise that Spider’s life is one fraught with anxiety and difficulties as she ‘sofa surfs’ at a resentful cousin’s place, tries desperately to find some work and sense of self-worth. Tyler faces the opposition of his parents who are not at all keen on him becoming embroiled in any way with such a person and when local girl Michelle fixes her sights on him in a very possessive way, his life becomes even more complicated.

What starts out as simple swimming lessons, becomes a friendship marked by true empathy and compassion and as Tyler works his way through helping Spider, he also works his way through his own (relatively inconsequential) family problems and begins to realise how fragile family relationships can sometimes be. It is such a relief that at the end of some harrowing moments there is a good outcome for Spider but sadly, the statistics reveal that this is not always the case especially for young women. Tyler’s shock when he learns Spider is only 16 – so a year older than himself – is very confronting and will certainly give teen readers some pause for thought.

It is a sobering thought that in so many affluent Western countries the incidence of youth homelessness is on the increase and not only can support agencies find themselves overwhelmed but can also be perceived as contributing to some of the problems. You can read more about youth homeless in Australia here and check out agencies such as the Salvation Army, Mission Australia or Homelessness Australia. The novel concludes with the contact for Centrelink in the UK – the leading youth charity in that country.

I know my readers who love the work of writers such as Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan are going to love this book and it will certainly be top of my book talking list at our next ChocLit meeting.

My highest recommendation for teens from Year 7 upwards.

The Shadow Arts – Damien Love

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Bloomsbury

July 2021

Imprint: Rock the Boat

ISBN: 9780861540860

RRP: $14.99

A few months ago, Alex’s world changed forever. Now, just when it seems life is almost getting back to normal, his grandfather crashes back into the picture with grave news…Innocent lives –  even history itself – could be at stake.

Monstrous Devices was one of the most gripping and splendid debut novels I have ever read and I have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment. Let me say right now, it did not disappoint, and I have no qualms that any readers who have so far become engrossed in Alex’ adventures and the mystery of his grandfather, the tall man and the little girl and the battered tin robot will feel the same.

Like the first book this is a thrilling fantasy/adventure that is edgy and dark with some very unsettling evil villains and seriously creepy machines. I included the first in my pre-holiday book talking ‘best holiday reading picks’ to the Year 6 cohort and made sure I underlined that this is not a series for the faint-hearted or squeamish! Needless to say there was a clamour to be the one to borrow it – especially when I told them I had started this sequel and it was just as exciting. It is going to be such a pleasure to give this one a book talk when the new term starts.

Alex has been struggling to get back to ‘normal’ since the whirlwind adventure that blended ancient magical powers with chancy mechanized killing machines. His brief taste of the power that the mysterious tablet commands has taken hold of his thoughts and he has tried to learn to manipulate it. In a moment of danger, Alex’ grandfather re-appears, dapper and suave as ever, and once again the pair are off on a breakneck trip across Europe, this time to rescue their friend, Harry, unravel the mystery of the disappearing paintings and uncover the tall man’s plot to resurrect an ancient evil force. Their travels lead them to the depths of the Black Forest on the very eve of Walpurgis, and along the way Alex begins to piece together his family history, the true identity of the tall man, the connection of the little girl and most of all some of the strange and unfathomable secrets about his grandfather.

When his grandfather becomes unable to carry on, it is up to Alex to put together all the missing pieces, and harness all his powers to ensure the tall man’s plans, which could signal the end of the world as we know it, come to naught. In the process, he learns much about himself and his own resilience, not to mention empathy and intuition.

Beyond the reckless chases, the nimble escapes and the humorous interludes there is a deep theme throughout of the light and dark of human nature, the power of creation for good and evil and the wants and desires of those who seek power, of whatever kind.

Once again this is a triumph of well-crafted writing which will thoroughly captivate your readers from upper primary onwards. It will certainly be a book that your kiddos will want to debate and discuss post-reading so make sure you set time aside for that.

Highly recommended for readers from around 11/12 years upwards – but possibly not ones easily scared by flying sharp mechanical objects that are programmed to attack no matter what. I suggest you issue all loans with a sachet of table salt – just for good measure!

100 Remarkable Feats of Xander Maze – Clayton Zane Comber

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Harper Collins Australia

June 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460759455
  • ISBN 10: 1460759451
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD
  • Age: From 14 years

Believe me when I tell you that you will fall in love with Xander, and be sad to leave him at the end of this beautiful feel-good coming-of-age novel.

Xander loves to make lists and #1 on his list of People I Love Most in the World is his Nanna, who has lived with him and his mum since Xander’s dad died. Nanna has been Xander’s ally, confidante, support team and his very best friend and now that she has stage 4 cancer, Xander is determined to do whatever it takes to save her. Nanna wants him to make a list of 100 remarkable feats that he will hope to achieve by the end of the school year. It’s going to be a very tricky mission especially with feats like:

#2 Make a friend

#10 Kiss a girl (preferably Ally Collins)

#28 Go to a party

#58 Get a job (any job)

#87 Learn to keep secrets

#100 Save Nanna

As we read Xander’s list we get a very clear insight into his quirky personality and a poignant understanding of why his Nanna has encouraged him to both create and fulfil the remarkable feats. For someone who knows her time is short ,and who has been this beautiful boy’s stalwart support, the greatest gift she can give him is the confidence and skills to step out on his own.

When Xander’s 100 remarkable feats list unintentionally becomes a matter of public record, he is surprised to find that he has help from unexpected quarters and many of his feats are accomplished almost before he realises. Xander’s journey into friendships, new situations and stepping well outside his very narrow comfort zone is both hilarious and moving, with one of the most genuinely likeable cast of characters I have encountered in a long time.

I will certainly be giving it my best and biggest promotion at our final ChocLit meeting for this term during the coming week and I highly recommend it for your readers from around Year 7 upwards. The themes of grief/loss, resilience, identity, belonging, mental health in particular will resonate with many teens, and for your classroom program you will find the teaching guide a great resource.

The Prison Healer – Lynette Noni

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Penguin Australia

  • Published: 30 March 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760897512
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $24.99

I’m going to have a lot of my secondary students clamoring for this one. They are huge fans of Noni’s previous books, both boys and girls and this is another intriguing dark fantasy (with some dystopian touches) thriller for them to enjoy.

Set in an infamous death prison, Zalindov, seventeen year old Kiva has survived ten years of imprisonment – not for any wrong-doing as such but because she was captured along with her father who was charged with consorting with rebels.

After her father’s death Kiva took up his role as healer, then only aged 12, and has become an indispensable but hated prisoner. Seen as the Warden’s pet and the first to deal with incoming criminals by treating them and carving the ‘Z’ into the back of their hand, Kiva is reviled by the other inmates and it is only the orders of Warden Rooke that keep her relatively safe and whole.

The warring factions in Kiva’s world, the royal family and the rebels, are intent on creating division and this extends to the prisoners as well. The rising tensions within and without the prison are causing increased pressure on Kiva’s work in the infirmary and her emotional balance, held in check for so long. When the Rebel Queen is captured, gravely ill, Kiva must try to save her for two different reasons. One is that the authorities have ordered the rebel leader to be well enough to undergo the Trials by Ordeal and the other is that coded messages from her siblings on the outside have begged her to keep the queen safe, that they are coming to rescue them both. The arrival of a strangely mysterious prisoner, Jaren, threatens to upset Kiva’s balance even more and when she, in desperation, volunteers to submit to the Trials in place of the still sick queen, she must lean on the young man for help to endure and survive. At the same time, she is trying to uncover the reason for the mystery illness that is wreaking havoc with the prisoners, who are dying in droves.

This is complex and exciting with many twists and turns. Astute readers will very easily be able to piece together the various pieces of the puzzle from the cleverly inserted clues within the narrative but this will in no way detract from a satisfying read. It is quite dark and there are concepts best suited to older and mature readers: drug use/addiction, torture and violence and sexual references but that being said, I don’t feel it would be necessary to restrict this to our senior students (we put a disclaimer inside the cover for books with more mature issues/concepts).

I have every confidence that this new trilogy will prove every bit as popular as The Medoran Chronicles and with the second volume due for release in September, fans will not have to wait too long.

Highly recommended for readers from around 14 years upwards.