Book Review: Release, by Patrick Ness

cv_release.jpgAvailable today in bookshops nationwide.

The novel explores relationships in all their complexity through the character of teenager Adam Thorn, taking place over the course of a single day.

Ness said he was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. ‘I feel like I can’t write a good book unless I scare myself, and what’s scarier than taking your inspiration from one of the finest novels ever written in English? The intense focus of Mrs Dalloway, its psychological power, seemed an unexpectedly superb way to portray a YA character.’

And so it has transpired. This is a remarkable – and remarkably different – offering from the awesome Patrick Ness.

There will be no spoilers from this reviewer – but the book deals with the tangled mess of family and personal relationships, homophobia, sexuality, religious bigotry and murder just for starters.

As with all of Ness’ work, there’s much more going on than the surface story. I want to say ‘the secondary plot’ but in fact the ‘other’ story clings and twines its way around the novel until the strands finally come together – a bit like the tendrils of a creeper winding up a host plant until they reach the top, and join. So not really a secondary plot at all, but an integral part of the story, woven and meshed throughout the day-long events that make up Adam’s complex and demanding day.

The characters are wonderfully written – in particular the depth of friendship between Angela and Adam is brilliantly drawn – and credible.

The struggles that all of us face at some time in our growing-up and developing into the adults we want to be are there with all their attendant complexities; Ness has the ability to make the reader think and reflect on significant moments in one’s own life, with compassion and understanding. Even the bleakest situations can be viewed thus, even though the thoughts and actions involved may not be supported.

The tensions in relationships, the heartaches and thrills of first loves, the humour, the depth of understanding of young people discovering their sexuality – all of these are written with immense understanding and compassion. Patrick Ness is reconfirmed as a truly wonderful writer.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Release
by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406331172

 

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

Now available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_strange_the_Dreamer.jpgThe most beautiful books are always the hardest to review, and whatever I write, it is difficult to capture the sheer beauty that is Laini Taylor’s prose, while embracing the mesmerising surreality of the worlds she conceives. Her style is lyrical, evocative, and rich with imagination. Strange the Dreamer is unlike any tale you may read this year, but suffice to say it is an immersive, magical read with a taste of romance and tragedy. Add this to your reading list this winter.

They say that the dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around, and Lazlo Strange has always been a dreamer. A war orphan and a librarian, Lazlo has always been fascinated in fairy tale and myth, particularly that concerning the lost city known as Weep. But what happened to the city 200 years ago, when it was cut from the world? And why – how? – did it lose its name, 15 years ago? Lazlo has always wondered, but feared he would not be the one to find it. For he is just a librarian, no hero, no golden alchemist, no legend in the making. However, when a living legend, the man they call the Godslayer, suddenly appears on the doorstep – together with a band of unusual beasts and heralded by a great white bird – Lazlo realises he cannot let this opportunity slip through his fingers.

But Weep is not the city he has dreamed of. It is buried in sadness and burdened with a past that haunts even those that can no longer remember it, hidden in the shadows of the mysterious “gods”. These gods may have been destroyed, but their presence still lingers on in the darkness and the flicker of a moth’s wing, and in the shattered hearts of those touched by the tragedy of their reign.

The prose is exquisite and rich, the characters wonderfully real. Between these pages there is heartbreak and hope, both bittersweet and beautiful. Taylor has taken the traditional tale: the orphaned underdog rising to become the hero, but given it a fresh twist and an exotic taste. It will entrance you, surprise you, and haunt you long after that final page is turned.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Strange the Dreamer
by Laini Taylor
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9781444788976

Lonesome When You Go: A Q & A with Saradha Koirala

cv_lonesome_when_you_goLonesome When You Go is Saradha Koirala’s first YA book, after having released two collections of poetry. We are happy to be able to participate in the Lonesome When You Go blog tour this week, following Kids’ Books NZMs Blair recommends, and Hooked on NZ Books He Ao Ano.

From our review by 14-year-old Isabelle Ralston: “Lonesome When You Go follows the story of a teenage girl named Paige as she faces all sorts of challenges with her bandmates, friends and family. Over the course of the novel Paige discovers that she can’t always control everything in her life. This novel is filled with lots of fun, quirky unique characters, who help Paige discover that she’s never alone even when it seems like no one is there.”

We asked Saradha a few questions about the basis for the book, what comes next, and what her favourite YA titles are at the moment.

pp_saradha_koirala1. When did you begin writing Lonesome When You Go – was there a particular trigger?
I started writing Lonesome ages ago! It was around the end of 2011 when I’d been teaching at a girls’ school for a few years and had ideas about what was perhaps lacking in the library for some of my students. I wanted to have a cool female lead with a strong voice – actually I probably wanted her to be cool and nerdy at the same time, but I’m not quite sure that’s how Paige turned out! I was lucky in 2012 to receive some funding to write my second book of poetry, Tear Water Tea, and used some of that bought time to also make progress on Lonesome When You Go.

2. Was it a book that came quickly? Can you describe some of the challenges writing the book, perhaps around disguising characters who were somewhat real?
None of the characters started off as real people (although they feel very real to me now!) and I realise this I could have explained this to my high school friends and ex-band mates up front, to alleviate their anxieties about me writing this book!

The main challenges for me were around creating a coherent plot. I’m primarily a poet, so I really got stuck into writing “scenes” – little snapshots of imagery and emotion – and struggled to tie these together into a story. I got some help from an awesome writing group, but the structure and story arc did not come easily at all.

Another challenge was time. I started teaching full time again about halfway through 2012, but dedicated my summer to working on Lonesome. It really was quite a long process of writing – mostly for a few hours on Monday evenings once school went back – and I put the whole manuscript away for about sixth months before I dared look at it again and then crafted it into something I felt okay about sending to a publisher.

3. You also experienced having a band in Rockquest as a teen: what was that like? Did you make it to finals? Are the winners still around now? (did you go to their concerts and boo?)
It was completely amazing to be part of Rockquest ’96! 1996 remains one of may favourite ever years for my own memories, but also what an incredible time for rock music! (I go on this rant often.)

Our band formed just for that year and we had some really fun and messy times rehearsing. My brother was the lead guitarist, his best friend on vocals and my boyfriend of the time was the drummer! As you can imagine it was fraught with love, arguments and shifting allegiances. We made it to the regional finals in Nelson and I vividly remember our performance in front of a mind-blowingly huge crowd (although some of that memory is now mixed with Paige’s fictional experience!) but remember little else from the night. I have no idea who won, but they’re probably incredibly wealthy and famous now.

4. What are you in the midst of now? How do you balance writing poetry with writing YA?
Last year I completed a third poetry collection and another YA novel. With time and space this one came much more easily to me. Now I’m busy trying to get some of the poems out into the world and am working on a third YA novel (1996 features heavily) that is somewhat more challenging to write than the first two. It’s a bit unwieldy at the moment, but I’m really enjoying trying out different styles and structures.

I still find writing poetry comes a bit more naturally to me and I have to really make a concerted effort to focus on writing fiction. Not that it’s a chore – I completely love it and I feel incredibly lucky to have time to dedicate to writing at the moment – but it takes plotting and planning and there are more rules and expectations when writing fiction, I find.

5. What are your favourite current YA books set in high schools?
People keep asking me variations on this question and I find my answers keep changing! Probably because there are so many favourites and so many great YA books to choose from, so I’ll just take it as an opportunity to mention some more awesome YA books!

In terms of books set in high schools, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky rates very highly for me. I also think John Green and David Levithan capture the high school vibe really well – Paper Towns in particular has some nice quirky schooly moments. I grew up with a rather Americanised version of high school life from movies and books, which really wasn’t anything like my experience at all. When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah feels like a very real and authentic high school story (especially for me now living in Australia) and Abdel-Fattah always does a great job of exploring issues that should definitely be being discussed among young people in the classrooms and corridors of high school.

Thank you Saradha: tomorrow sees My Best Friends are Books take on the tour, courtesy of Zac McCallum.

Lonesome When  You Go
by Saradha Koirala
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN  9780994123749

Book Review: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_hate_u_givePossibly the most important benefit, and greatest joy, of reading is that it opens a window into new and different perspectives; we enter character’s lives and spend time in their shoes, allowing us to imagine and understand lives that may be far removed from our own. In The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas takes us into the life of Starr Carter, a contemporary African-American sixteen-year-old girl living in a poor and rough ghetto neighbourhood.

She has just witnessed her unarmed friend be shot in the back by a white police officer.

Being the sole witness places her in an uneasy position, not only in her wider community but also with the friends she grew up with and the new ones she’s made at the posh mainly white high school she goes to. If she speaks out, she places herself in danger, if she doesn’t, she contributes to a continuing societal problem that affects everyone she loves. Fully supported by her family, she navigates her way through grieving for her friend, and anger and frustration at the racial injustice faced by her community. Following her journey, we are shown different perspectives and insights into the choices people make, some with very little options open to them.

Starr and her siblings are being raised to be strong, respectful and aware of their history. Her parents are doing the best they can to teach them, give them opportunities and keep them safe; supporting their children through this harsh experience with humour, discipline and love. Starr works hard to walk between the two worlds she lives in, having to reconcile the contrast it creates in herself: ‘My voice is changing already. It always happens around ‘other’ people, whether I’m at Williamson or not. I don’t talk like me or sound like me. I choose every word carefully and make sure I pronounce them well. I can never, ever let anyone think I’m ghetto.’

As she moves between one world and the other, we too experience how each community perceives the other; the subtle prejudices and misunderstandings as well as the interest and desire to understand and find commonalities.

This topical story is intense and gripping, it is real and believable and it is alive with fully-formed characters who you can hear and visualise. It is relevant and thoughtful and well balanced. I kept trying to slow down and put it away; not to avoid it but to try to prolong a story I didn’t want to end. This is one of those books that you declare should be on the high school reading list; The Hate U Give has well and truly answered the recent call for more diversity in literature and film.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
Walker Books, 2017
ISBN: 9781406372151

Book Review: See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng

cv_see_you_in_the_cosmosAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

This book centres on Alex, an 11 year old (but “13 in responsibility years”) who is fascinated by rockets and life on other planets. His mission is to launch his own rocket complete with his iPod on which he has recorded his comments about life on earth and what it’s really like for him.

It’s fair to say that Alex is not your average 11 year old: his dad is dead, his mum has a raft of issues of her own, and his older brother does not even live in the same town, so Alex is pretty much left to his own devices.  He is very resourceful, and very responsible. He sets out, without permission, because his mom is having one of her “days when she stays in bed and does not respond, to go to the South West High Altitude Rocket Festival taking along his dog Carl Sagan – named for his hero – and his rocket. This is where it turns into a road trip – and what a trip – there’s a zillion twists and turns and potential disasters and that’s before he even  gets to the festival.

It’s on the whole strangely credible, even if at the same time quite unlikely, and it gives the reader a great deal to ponder on about resilience, bravery and the importance of family. It helps that all the total strangers Alex meets up with are helpful, responsible and willing to take him as he is, which is probably somewhere on the autism spectrum. I don’t think that is particularly realistic but it does keep the momentum up. Faced with all the challenges which Alex encounters, most of us would give up and find a quick way home, but it’s part of the delight of this book that he doesn’t. It also shows an awareness on the author’s part of the challenges posed to, and by, kids on the “spectrum”, and the single mindedness which so often accompanies this.

I think it is an excellent story. It’s well-constructed, funny and sad sometimes at the same time, and Alex and the rest of the main characters (who cover a very wide range of the odd and the particularly peculiar, all good-hearted as can be) are quite credible.

Highly recommended for those who loved “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “Wonder”, but also for anyone who loves a story where challenges are confronted,  analysed and resolved through good will and compassion.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

See You in the Cosmos
Jack Cheng
Published by Puffin
ISBN: 9780141365602

Book Review: The Hypnotist, by Laurence Anholt

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_hypnotist.jpgIt is not often that a book so terrifies me with its building tension that I need to put it down at night and return to read it in the light of day. The Hypnotist was such a book. In the south of the United States, against the background of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, fourteen year old Pip is sold by his orphanage to a white farmer.

The bewildered Pip is taken to the ominously named Dead River to act as a carer to the farmer’s invalid wife. There Pip meets Irishman Jack, a hypnotist and neurology professor, who offers to home-school Pip and Hannah, a mute Native American girl who also works on the farm. Through their shared love of stories, notably Dicken’s Great Expectations, Pip and the farmer’s wife develop a relationship of mutual respect and tenderness. But outside of these growing friendships and the budding romance between Pip and Hannah, racial conflicts are intensifying. The presence of the farmer’s son, Erwin, an angry Vietnam veteran and white supremacist, looms large over the farm. The tension grows with the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan and its special breed of hatred. (It was at this point that I needed to stop reading before bedtime!)

The book’s narration switches between Pip, Jack, and Hannah, giving their unique perspectives on a troubled time in American history. The characters are very well-developed and bring their own individual insights and voice to the story. Farmer Zachery’s southern dialect is delightful to read:

… Way it works at Dead River – if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Most ‘f all you gotta read t’ her, y’ hear? Tha’s why ah picked you outta all the kids ah coulda chose.

This is a remarkable and extremely moving story of friendship, respect, and courage, made all the more timely by recent events in the United States and Europe. I would highly recommend this book for readers aged 12 and over, due to some of the themes.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

The Hypnotist
by Laurence Anholt
Published by Corgi Children’s
ISBN 9780552573450

Book Review: Gemina, by Amie Kaufman

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_geminaTalk about an adrenaline rush! Gemina is the action-packed follow-up to Illuminae, a book quite unlike any I have ever read before. A combination of transcripts, reports and IM conversations, interspersed with some absolutely delightful drawings by the very talented Marie Lu.

New characters, new setting, and a few familiar faces, but the same heart-racing, page-turning, rollercoaster-ride-of-emotion that I experienced with its predecessor.

Gemina is set in Heimdall, the jumpstation and destination for the refugees from the Kerenza events of book one. Hanna’s father is the resident captain, and Hanna is somewhat pampered, but definitely not to be underestimated. It’s hard to live the high life in a space station at the edge of the universe, but Hanna still wears the latest fashions, dates the most handsome guy, and illustrates her life in her journal.

Nik is a member of a notorious crime family, delving (reluctantly) into their underground drug operation (it involves cows and alien parasites, and is one of the most disturbing things you will ever read about, trust me). Their lives have little in common, and their paths rarely cross.

Until BeiTech operatives invade the jumpstation. Their mission: seize the jumpstation, silence the incoming Hypatia crew, and destroy all evidence of the Kerenza attack. Little do they know who they’re going up against. Hanna’s more than a pretty face, and Nik has quite a few aces up his sleeve. But can two teenagers survive against armed militants, alien predators, and a malfunctioning wormhole that threatens to tear space and time apart?

Like Hanna and Nik, we’re in for one heck of a ride!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Illuminae Files_02: Gemina
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781925266573