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.
ISBN: 9781760654153 Imprint: Walker Books Australia Distributor: Walker Australia Binding: Release Date: April 1, 2022
Australian RRP: $17.99 New Zealand RRP: $19.99
Allison Rushby has repeatedly proven her gift for suspenseful spookiness for middle-grade readers and this new book, in my opinion, might just have tipped the scales of my favourite so far. Eleven-year-old Lolli (Olivia) has never known her mother, who died when she was just three months old. She knows that her mum had some mental health issues and a difficult life but that’s about all she knows. She’s been raised by her mum’s friend, Freya, somewhat by default really, but that hasn’t stopped the two developing a bond as close as any biological mother and child would have. Their other much-loved family member is Freya’s great-aunt, Elsie, owner of an extraordinary old house in Spitalfields, London.
The house is a museum that’s not a museum really. It’s an installation – a theatrical set, if you will – where each room reflects a different period of history, and how it might have looked when occupied by family. For the many visitors who come to see it, especially at Christmastime, it is a thing of wonder and joy. For Lolli, it is the source of nightmares. She knows that as a baby she screamed if taken into the house, and she remembers only too vividly her last visit when the ‘thing’ swooped down her and almost crushed her. Now Elsie needs her help, and Lolli must overcome her fears and panic, control her mind and bring all her energies to bear to solve the ages-old dark secret of the house.
Readers will absolutely love the slow reveal of clues and facts that help us to follow Lolli’s thoughts, and her reflections on her own life and her connections to both people and the world. As with Allison’s other books, the creepiness is at exactly the right pitch – enough to scare a young reader deliciously but not leave them traumatised. Parallel to the exquisite ghost story, is a warm and wondrous take on family, and what it means to each of us, whatever our circumstances.
For those who know my own, I read this paragraph and got very teary – as the seventh anniversary of my girl’s passing was last week, and The Kid’s 17th birthday is this week – and for this one passage I truly thank Allison for her words which are so applicable in our context.
“Your mother was a good person, [Lolli]. And don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. All she’d want for you in this life is for you to be a good person too. That you are always brave enough to be your best self. That you strive to do the right thing. The good thing. The loving thing. The helpful thing. The kind thing. That’s exactly what your mother would have done herwhole life long if the world hadn’t broken her first.”
I was interested to read Allison’s notes at the back of the book and learn of the inspiration for the house in her story. You can read more about Dennis Severs’ House and understand the fascination for so many. For me this is exactly what ‘museums’ should be like – they should be living things as much as possible. [I don’t want to see a discarded object with a card tag attached to it, lying pointlessly on a shelf. I would much rather see it in its ‘actual’ setting! Canterbury Museum in NZ remains firmly in my memory after visiting when I was about 13 or so for the amazing Christchurch St collection and more.]
This is just one utterly fab read! – a little bit of history, a lot of creepiness, a bit of angst, a lot of love – all in all, a perfect package for any reader from around an astute 9 years up to 13 or so. I highly recommend it to you and I know I am looking forward to book talking it with my Year 7s before the holidays.
ISBN: 9781839130571 Imprint: Andersen Press Australian RRP: $26.99 New Zealand RRP: $28.99
There are some seriously fabulous YA books coming out of the UK recently – and I’m not trying to take anything away from our local authors at all – it’s just that every single UK title I’ve read, probably in the last year, has completely blown me away. This is another of them.
Dark and intense, it is the story of one boy’s relationship with his da, set amid the angst and terrible sadness of PTSD. The nameless narrator, referred to as Boy or the boy, relates the events he experiences living with his dad, in a caravan in the woods. Actually, it’s more the events he experiences once his dad is ‘banged up’ and he struggles to work things out on his own. It’s not that he can’t go home to his Mam, but more, the intense loyalty he feels towards his father, with his certainty that he is the only one who can ‘get through’ to his dad in the moments of danger. Boy knows he can manage in the caravan on his own but it’s the dark forces circling, like the Bad Man, Toomey, and the hidden beasts lurking that are his biggest enemy.
His meeting with Sophie is paramount in his struggle to keep a grip on some kind of hope and lifeline to normality but even more than this, has been the arrival of an elderly dog he calls Mol(ly) – both of these become his comfort and bolster in the danger he faces.
This is not an easy read. There are kids who will struggle with it – not because it’s difficult technically, but because it is quite confronting emotionally but those who persist will be well rewarded. There are many teens for whom life is not easy, but the lifeline/s offered by friends, family and others are so important , and equally important, is for us to put such books into the hands of young people.
This is another beautifully presented book I have read in the last week or so – with a striking dust jacket, fabulous end papers and evocative illustrations.
I will be definitely be book talking this one at our first ChocLit meeting when term begins and I highly recommend it for your astute readers from around 14 years upwards.
Mem Fox has triumphed again with this simply beautiful new picture book inspired by the most personal of motivations – the bond between loving grandparent and grandchild.
In their first collaboration Mem and Freya have produced a gentle and warming exploration of life and death that will resonate with many readers, both young and old.
When a tiny star falls to earth it turns into a baby to be cherished, nurtured and loved by its family, growing and thriving in that security of warmth and tenderness. All the time, growing taller and getting older and eventually creating its own family where the circle of love continues. After many full and happy years the star that was begins to become frailer and to shrink until once again becomes tiny, so tiny that it disappears it seems. But no, once again the tiny star sparkles in the night sky reminding all that the love we feel never ends.
Some readers will know that I am raising my beautiful granddaughter so I can completely relate to this expression of love and the accompanying realisation that one day we will not be here for our grandchildren. In the meantime, how privileged are we to share so deeply in their lives and forge these bonds that will last forever.
Thank you Mem and Freya for this outstanding and tender testament to that love which, I have no doubt, will be not only welcomed but lauded with praise.
Highly recommended for both your professional and personal shelves to share with young readers from toddlers upwards – why not pre-order yours now!
Stay posted for a forthcoming Q&A with the inimitable Mem soon!
Riley has not been coping so well since his mother disappeared. Neither his father nor his brother seems as concerned as he is. Even his much loved grandparents appear to be disengaged from his urgency to solve the mystery. His seemingly never-ending meetings with the police going over and over the events of the last day he saw his mother are frustrating and useless.
When Riley recalls the legend of the Whispers, mysterious creatures who inhabit the woods near his house and rumoured to grant wishes, he determines to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve his dearest desire.
He engages assistance both intentionally and inadvertently from his best friend and his ‘crush’ and the resulting events are both filled with humour and poignancy.
Howard has produced a narrative which is in turn gripping, powerful, sorrowful and joyous. At times I found it difficult to continue as the clues unravelled to the conclusion – too close for comfort really – so I would be cautious about to whom I would give this book to read. That being said, it is masterfully and sensitively written and perfectly suited to able middle school readers from around 12 years upwards.
I often think that if a book leaves you feeling slightly unsettled it must have achieved its goal. This was a quick read so it was done and dusted in one sitting but the reflection afterwards probably took equally as long as the actual reading.
This is the story of some stories. The stories are shared in a recount of interviews of four teenage boys from the same town on the Sunshine Coast. To me it blends bogan and Aboriginal and mainstream culture in ways that are quite complex although simple on the surface. The boys are often rude and disrespectful, prejudiced and intolerant yet they speak with the only honesty they know. Their histories are not pretty and their current lifestyles often not so as well. However, like most teens they think they are invincible and it is this that creates the biggest shock in the climax of the narrative.
Obviously in my work I encounter teenagers on a daily basis and at times I see this disregard for almost everything continually and I find that depressing. Yet at the same time I know there is good in many of them and see them rally to causes, to mates and to their passions in positive ways.
To my mind this will be a powerful book if we can get it into the right hands at the right time. Be aware there is considerable use of offensive language so you would be cautious about where you place it in a collection but that being said it is worth sharing and promoting.
Recommended for mature readers from around fourteen upwards