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

Book Review: Like Nobody’s Watching, by L J Ritchie

cv_like_nobodys_watchingLJ Ritchie is a graduate of the Whitireia Polytechnic Creative Writing Course and this is his first novel, about surveillance and how easy it is, even when seeking to do good, to become seduced by the power that comes from access to unauthorised information.
The novel is set in a not-so- thinly-disguised Wellington secondary school and revolves around a group of good friends who find that there is a great deal of bullying going on which is caught on camera. However, it seems also that no-one is bothering to check the camera footage regularly, so some fairly unpleasant acts do not get their come-uppance.(Side note – having worked in a school with surveillance cameras, I know just how time-consuming it is to check footage, so its unsurprising to me that bad behaviour goes unnoticed…).
But back to the novel. Of the group, naturally one is an expert hacker and is able to get into the school system undetected by using the password of a former teacher. (Next side note – many teachers have typed their password into a screen visible by students at one time or another. Mostly they report that and change the password. Not in this case, which helps the story!)
The plan is to let the bullies know that they are observed, and thereby potentially end the bullying behaviours , but eventually – and inevitably – the plan goes wrong the roles are reversed.
The story is quite well put together, although I must say I don’t particularly enjoy the present-tense writing style. However it does give a sense of urgency and drives the book along. The characters are pretty well-drawn, if a little stereotypical (geek, with a  conscience; pretty and talented girl who turns out to be not as pretty in her behaviour; one of the group with an unspoken crush on the geek…) but there is enough variety to keep you interested.

Overall, I think it’s an okay, if undemanding,  first novel and should appeal to younger teenaged readers.

 

Reviewed by Sue Esterman
Like Nobody’s Watching
by L J Ritchie
Escalator Press
ISBN 9780994137203

Book Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks, by Emily Barr

cv_the_one_memory_of_flora_banksAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.
Flora Banks is no ordinary teenager. She is 17 years old, but has no memories since the age of ten, when a tumour took part of her brain. To compensate for her lack of memory, Flora relies on keeping notes: scrawled messages along her arm, post-its, and a notebook carried with her always, and photographs on her cell phone. No memories last longer than a few hours, until the night she kisses a boy on the beach and discovers, much to her amazement, that she can remember it. Unfortunately, it is also the kiss that ruins her friendship with best-friend-since-childhood, Paige. The boy leaves, to study in the Arctic north, and her parents are called away – Flora’s barely-remembered brother is ill, very ill, and he needs them more than she does. For the first time in her life (as far as she knows), Flora is left alone, alone with the memory of the boy who kissed her. The boy she remembered…

Written from Flora’s perspective, this makes for an uncertain narrative: how much of Flora’s life is she sharing with us, and how many secrets are hidden in the blank spaces between the paragraphs? What is truth and what is fantasy? The longer her parents are away, the stronger and more independent Flora becomes, until they don’t come back and she decides, instead, to chase the fantasy and seek greater understanding of herself.

The One Memory is a roller-coaster ride of emotion and uncertainty, tempered with frustration. Flora is likeable in her innocence, her seeming-fragility that masks are harder, sharper core. Watching her grow to become more than just the memory-hampered teenager, is both rewarding and a little frightening. It should be enjoyed by fans of John Green and Jennifer Niven, and anyone who likes a good teenage drama with (relatively) good morals.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The One Memory of Flora Banks
by Emily Barr
Published by Penguin Books
ISBN 9780141368511

 

Book Review: A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, Illustrated by Jim Kay

Available in bookshops nationwide.Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_monster_calls_special“He heard the creaking and cracking of wood again groaning like a living thing, like the hungry stomach of the world growling for a meal.” Fourteen-year-old Conor O’Malley isn’t entirely surprised to wake up one night and discover a monster at the window. He has been expecting it for years and quite frankly, it is not as terrifying as the nightmare that has been plaguing him. The one he refuses to think about.

And now the Yew tree on the hill has somehow come to life and has grabbed him… and yet Conor is not afraid: “Shout all you want,” Conor shrugged, barely raising his voice. “I’ve seen worse.”

The next time the Yew tree monster returns, It and Conor meet in the dark where the monster reveals Its purpose. It will return to tell Conor three tales from Its vast and ancient history. In return, on the fourth visit, Conor must tell It a tale – the tale of his Truth. Conor is rightly incredulous – surely stories are not what monsters come after you for? However, this is no ordinary monster and a story is what it demands. ‘Stories are wild creatures,’ the monster said. ‘When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?’

To get to Conor’s truth, we follow a beautifully written coming of age story of a young boy trying to come to terms with his mother’s grave illness and the impact it has on him. With an absent father and a cold and aloof grandmother, Conor has no-one to help him deal with the inevitable. Instead he chooses to fervently believe she will get better and refuses to talk about it, secluding himself from friends and sympathetic teachers at school.

And what of the monster’s stories? Three clever fables that strive to show Conor that life can be unfair and things are not always as they appear; good and evil is not always easy to determine; good people do bad things, and bad people can do good things.

Powerful and gripping writing, accompanied by dark and vivid black and white sketch illustrations propel you through the story, reading faster to get to what is going to happen next. To see how Conor is faring, to see if he is going to be all right. And to see what the monster is going to reveal to him: (*ever so slight spoiler alert) “You do not write your life with words,’ the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.”

This wonderful story was first published in 2011 and this re-release is a beautifully presented hardback edition complete with colour photos and interviews with the author and the actors who are bringing this story to life. The extra goodies complete the whole background to the story and bring extra depth to the tale.

Author Patrick Ness has said of this book: ‘A Monster Calls (is) never solely a book for children. A good story should be for everyone.’ And it is.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

A Monster Calls (Special Collector’s Edition)
by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Published by Walker Books
ISBN: 9781406395771