Book Review: Bad Apple, by Matt Whyman

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_bad_appleBad Apple is a fun book. That is the whole of it in a sentence. It is a fun book with a jail-break and a road trip and a showdown, all delightfully interspersed with a little bit of humor for everyone. Matt Whyman has written a book that is fast-paced without feeling rushed and fun without losing track of his plot and characters that while bad, are bad in such a good way. This is a book full of unacceptable behavior that will have you laughing like an idiot in the middle of class. Just as a side note, I would not recommend reading this in a Maths class under a desk. You will get in trouble for it and may end up shipped off to a Troll settlement with all the other bad apples.

That’s the idea behind the book, Trolls are real, 99% genetically identical to humans and living underground, swapping out human kids for trolls at birth. Unfortunately, this is only revealed in those teenage years, when bad behavior comes out in full force. One DNA test later and if the Troll DNA has revealed itself, those kids are disowned and sent to a Troll settlement. I know, a pretty rough and disheartening start to a comedy, but the way Matt Whyman manages to diffuse the tension of it and introduce humor and layers to the story is what makes it such an entertaining read. Following the delightful mishaps and gloriously awful behavior from Maurice and Wretch is awesome, and with a plot so full of action and humor, it’s hard to not read all in one go.

Not only this but Bad Apple is in my mind the sort of book that anyone could read and take something away from, weather that is an entertaining story and plenty of laughs or a deeper look at the judgement found in our society. There are huge amounts of layers to this book, hiding in plain sight everywhere you turn and all of it is intellectually stimulating and deserves to be ticking over in the minds of everyone who can see it. I love this book because its one that rewards you for thinking a little harder with a serious message and a societal commentary. The great thing is though is that if you don’t take that message away it doesn’t matter! You’ve still enjoyed a shockingly good and thrilling adventure story so who cares! This book appeals to everyone in this way and that in itself is brilliant.

This is a book I think everyone could, should and would read and enjoy and if it sparks the bookish Maurice or the Bad-apple Wretch inside of you to burst forward, that’s definitely a win.

Reviewed by Michaela-Rose Tripp
As part of the Allen & Unwin YA Ambassador review team 

Bad Apple
by Matt Whyman
Published by Hot Key Books
ISBN 9781471404207

Book Review: V for Violet, by Alison Rattle

V for Violet. V for Victory. V for Vengeance.

cv_v_for_violetViolet White is sixteen now, out of school, and into an endless cycle of working at her mum and dad’s chippie, as is expected of her as a girl her age in 1961. Socially awkward and desperately behind on anything trending, Violet turns to her long-time best friend Jackie to show her the light in a world sashaying into the swinging sixties. But Jackie has changed since they left school. And that’s just the beginning.

Violet’s long-lost war hero brother returns after 16 years of being MIA, things are changing dramatically at home, and young girls are disappearing and being found raped and murdered. Violet prides herself on knowing when people lie; and she almost certain her brother has something he’s hiding … but what?

The first of Alison Rattle’s books that I have read, V for Violet is a historically accurate and engaging coming-of-age story wrapped inside a gripping murder mystery. The main thing I enjoyed about this novel was that the characters, especially Violet, were real, wonderfully relatable, and perfectly flawed; showing us that our lack of perfection is no barrier for saving the day. Violet is a true hero. Another point worth noting was the inclusion of LGBTQ+ content in a novel set in a time where it was dangerous for those people to be who they were. We tend to assume this wasn’t an issue historically, because there were very few who were brave enough to fight for their rights. In a nutshell, it was refreshing to see.

Something interesting to note was the clash of theme and language style. It is undeniable that the themes of sex, murder, and rape are suited for older audiences; however the language level and writing style suggested the target audience was younger. Unfortunately, this did impact my opinion of the story. I believe Rattle may have overplayed her hand with the characters a bit and I was expecting a cleverer way of keeping the audience guessing about the identity of the murderer, which is why I believe it is suited for younger audiences. Also, the killer’s motive was a bit underdeveloped, as though Rattle hadn’t thought in depth about potential motives; I was expecting more.

Regardless, this book is a riveting novel perfect for Year 9 – 1o high school students who enjoy a good mystery. Violet is a simply lovable character and you will only put this book down after you read every last word. I give V for Violet by Alison Rattle nine out of ten.

Reviewed by Saoirse Hill-Shearman
As part of the Allen & Unwin YA Ambassador review team 

V for Violet
by Alison Rattle
Published by Hot Key Books
ISBN 9781471403811

The Kids are All Right: Cornelia Funke, Sally Gardner, Ted Dawe, Mandy Hager

Mandy Hager was the best chair I have seen in action this Writer’s Week. She introduced Cornelia Funke, Ted Dawe, Sally Gardner as award-winning writers that “write the sort of books that you put down and think about for hours afterwards.” I could not agree more.

The first pitched question was about the very concept of writing for children and YA. Each of the authors came from uniquely intelligent perspectives, they all allowed each other to hold opinions and were respectful of these.

Funke doesn’t agree with the concept of YA – she loves to write for children, the stories will be heard where they may. Ted Dawe has been put into a YA box because of the type of novels he writes, and he is at peace with this. Meanwhile, Sally Gardner said it best: “The Y is Why? And the A is the attempted answer. Many adult novels only answer. And I’d rather read books with the Y? Wouldn’t you?”

As this panel included Ted Dawe, there was a discussion about the banning of Into the River. Though I am familiar with the stoush, I was interested in Ted’s perspective:

“There were two interesting things that came out: One was the role of librarians as guardian angels, the second was how staunchly the judging panel believed in their decision. They were told by the sponsor, to go back and rethink their decision. They said ‘this was the book that deserved the prize.’” But it was Auckland libraries that led the call for review, which despite seeing the book banned temporarily, was ultimately successful in getting the restriction removed.

The other writers hadn’t had their books banned, but they agreed that publishers have a tendency to require a certain amount of censorship. Gardner had to place Maggot Moon with a different publisher because her usual one told her to bury it. It has a teacher brutality scene that ends in the death of a student, and a boys-kissing scene. She did allow the kissing to be removed for the United Arab Emirates, reluctantly. Maggot Moon won both the Carnegie Medal and the Costa. But Gardner’s favourite prize was the French prize for imagination.

Funke moved the conversation on to publishers and how things can change once you are a bestselling author. “If you are a best-selling author, you are put in the box marked ‘money.’” While a reader may draw the conclusion that that would lead to more freedom, but actually at that point you are assumed to only write things that sell, in trends. Sally Gardner agreed, calling it the “Versace effect”. The minute you write to a trend though, she says, you stop following your heart. Publishers also, added Funke, seem to dream that you are always writing for a movie deal. “They try to put books in tidy boxes.”

The discussion turned then to morality in books, with Ted Dawe asserting “I didn’t realise it to start with, but I am a social awareness writer.” He sees Into the River as being about the consequences of bad decision-making, not morality per se. Gardner finds it horrendous that parents will jump on books that have the F-word in them, yet not realise what their TV being on is doing to their children. She said of novelists, “We are the guardians.” Funke pointed out that perhaps the reason that people have picked up the theme of bullying because they are themselves guilty of this behaviour – not something Dawe had considered.

The discussion turned on to the power of books, with Mandy saying “The fantastic thing about the book ban was that nobody argued that books weren’t these powerful things.” Gardner added, “The power of words is just fantastic. The power words have to get you to dream and define your situation.” Dawe added that this was why he started writing for boys and why he became an evangelist for boys reading novels, “Otherwise they are trapped like birds in a cage.”

I will be honest, I was blown away by the things these authors were saying, the power behind their words. I have always read fantasy, as escapism – not guiltily, but with an awareness that perhaps it wasn’t the best way to enrich my mind. Funke gave me the perfect reason, as did Hager: “Sometimes you see better through the other side of the mirror.”

Hager moved on to concerns about children today. The biggest concern for Gardner is social media bullying. “I am alarmed that young children are allowed these tools. The potential for torture is too real.” She says, “We live life looking into a machine. What happens when they go blank? What happens when all the pictures are gone?”

Funke doesn’t dislike social media, as it has connected her with fans in Japan, in Norway, in Argentina – and all of these fans start talking together. Note to readers of Funke – if you send her a tweet, she will respond to it. She only has book people following her, so she sees it as a “community of nerds.” Her biggest concern isn’t that children don’t read – she worries that they don’t live. Schoool eats up their whole lives. She would finish school at 1pm, and send the kids to work on the environment – a real concern. But, Funke says, “Society can’t get much worse, I’m optimistic about the future.”

I will relate one more story from this session, because I teared up. Cornelia Funke has a lot of fanmail – she has had some from abused children, from soldiers, from those that were dying. They say to her “You gave me shelter with your words.” Now this is true power. She added, “We can change things, even if we just give comfort. Sometimes we don’t have to do more.”

I will give the final word to Cornelia Funke: “How did I get to have this job? It’s fantastic!”

You will have a chance to see the tremendous Cornelia Funke at The Embassy for Cornelia Funke: Reckless, Fearless, Heartless tomorrow at 2pm. Sally Gardner is also at the Embassy at 11am for Sally Gardner: Maggot Moon.

Attended and reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Kids are All Right
The Embassy, 2pm, Saturday 12 March
NZ Festival Writers Week

Maggot Moon, by Sally Gardner
Hot Key Books
ISBN 9781471400445