Book Review: Unpacking Harper Holt, by Di Walker

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_unpacking_harper_holtWhat happens when your life doesn’t look the way you imagined it? Many of us face this challenge at some point during our lives – something unexpected happens and alters us, changes our view on life and what we do within it in a way that can never be undone, even if we want it to be.

Teenager Harper Holt has just moved to Melbourne, Australia, with her father Hugh and mother Helena. Harper has been warned, they’ll only be there for six months max. The Holts move so often that Harper never fully unpacks her belongings and cannot call any house her home. She is sick of always being the new girl at school, sick of leaving friends behind and having to make new ones, she just wants to stay in one place long enough to call it home. It has always just been the three of them as a unit, with their special bond, their jobs within that unit, and their weekly habits to tie them all together. But then something unimaginable happens and Harper Holt’s life will never be the same again, even though she wishes it could be.

Di Walker’s debut Unpacking Harper Holt is a Y A novel that explores the effects of grief, bullying and feeling lonely, even when you’re in a crowded place. Written as a novel for teens, complete with listed internet resources for dealing with bullying and grief, I was also struck by the feelings this work brought out in myself as an adult. Grief and loneliness is a personalised thing, everyone experiences it differently, but Di Walker manages to include everyone in the experience, to the point that the book reminded me of my own losses and experience of a world and viewpoint forever altered by something beyond my control. This novel explores the desire to control your own experience, the want to change things back to the way you used to know it, and the reality of there being no way back.

I recommend this novel for anyone going through a tough time, for anyone needing help in finding sunshine again. Unpacking Harper Holt provides a vision of what is possible in dealing with life-altering circumstances, how one can accept what life has dealt them and move forward into a new way of life. It shows how friendships and connection with others can help to heal the wounds of grief and bullying.

This book is perfect for that teenager in your life who needs help and reassurance. It is also a good read. In the future I could see this book becoming part of a school’s curriculum to help all students understand what lies behind bullying and also the potential effect of grief on fellow students as well as oneself. This isn’t something I’d normally pick up to read, but I’ve found it very therapeutic and highly recommend it.

Review by Penny M Geddis

Unpacking Harper Holt
by Di Walker
Published by Walker Books, Australia
ISBN  9781760650599

Book Review: On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_on_the_come_upI grew up never worrying the power was going to be cut off, never worried about rent. Brianna lives in a poor suburb, and her mum has lost her job, which sees the gas, the electricity and the rent in arrears. My life up to age 16 is about as different from Brianna’s as it is possible to be. That is why I read, and why I have always read widely.

‘We can’t have any power, either… All these people I’ve never met have way more control over my life than I’ve ever had. If some Crown hadn’t killed my dad, he’d be a big rap star and money wouldn’t be an issue. If some drug dealer hadn’t sold my mom her first hit, she would’ve got her degree already and would have a good job.’

Bri lives in the Garden, where the recent shooting of an unarmed African-American boy saw their part of town erupt in riots, resulting in a destroyed suburb centre. She reflects, ‘I’m a hoodlum from a whole bunch of nothing.’ She is 16, and meant to be studying for her SATs, but she’s a talented rapper who can’t help seeing a career in hip-hop as a way out for her family. Her mum Jay is an ex-drug addict who is doing college classes to help her get ahead, and her brother Trey graduated college but hasn’t yet got a decent job. Her Aunt Pooh is the biggest supporter of her dreams, getting her a breakthrough invite to The Ring, where Bri battles another rapper to be the best.

Angie Thomas has evoked setting and characters effortlessly. Bri’s habit of thinking in rhyme, in couplets fills in her life for us. Her relationships with best friends Malik and Sonny, as well as with her brother, help us understand her motivations. One day, at school, she is slammed on the ground by a pair of racist security guards. Soon after, faced with the chance to write a song for a beat with a small-time music producer her Aunt knows, she wrote about her experience, then some – ‘Strapped like backpacks, I pull triggers; all the clips on my hips change my figure.’

Despite those who know her well urging caution – that’s not the life she lives – she uploads it, and her dad’s former manager Supreme picks up the song and sends it viral. Soon enough, she realises she has made a mistake, as kids follow her, rapping those lines; and as kids sing her song before a riot begins. Bri’s journey towards understanding herself and what she wants from the world of hip-hop is the centre of On the Come Up. The tension is real as she navigates racism, false expectations and infamy, as well as her own rage and frustration, to own her own narrative.

One of the other themes of the book is friendship & romance. Sixteen is an age at which friendships begin to either intensify or wane. Bri thinks she is in love with her best friend Malik, but Malik gets a girlfriend. The fallout from this barrier drives a wedge between she and Malik and their friend Sonny, who is gay and in love with someone else entirely. This is a universal theme, complicated by circumstances. ‘I know your mum works hard and y’all aren’t rich, but you’ve got it better than me. We didn’t have lights for awhile, Malik. We’ve barely had food some days… My freaking shoes fell apart, bruh.’

Thomas has not shied away from using social media and its impact on young lives as a theme in the book; she also uses teenage language so fluidly I’d swear she was a teen. I’ve seen so many authors now set their books in an earlier period, simply to avoid these ways of communicating that they don’t understand. Thomas gets it, and not only that, she was a teen rapper herself – though if you’ve heard her name, it’s probably thanks to her smash hit debut novel The Hate U Give.

Read this book if you enjoy gripping, real YA. It’s a story that needs to be heard, from a part of America that is ignored and disempowered on a daily basis.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406372168

 

Book Review: The Goose Road, by Rowena House

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_goose_roadOne girl’s epic journey across France with her flock of Toulouse geese amid the terror and chaos of World War One is the subject matter of this debut novel by Rowena House.

It is 1916. News has just arrived that 14-year-old Angelique Lacroix’s alcoholic father has died in battle. The only chance Angelique’s family have of surviving the financial strain and keeping their farm is if she walks her geese across France and sells them for a significant amount of money.

Rowena House’s historical novel, inspired by her winning short story entry ‘The Marshalling of Angelique’s Geese’ in a competition run by Andersen Press in 2013, is both a historical journey into World War One affected France with the soon to arrive Spanish ‘Flu epidemic, and a charming personal story about a young girl dealing not only with the rearing of a beloved gosling to lead her geese onward on their treacherous journey, but also hunger, anger, violence, truth, and the unfathomable need for love in this world.

This book was a pure delight to read, which is surprising for me because I am one who normally shirks away from books involving war when I can. An easy page-turner with wonderful movement in the language like this:
‘I think of Emile, and his horror at watching that shrapnel shell screaming towards him. Does he still see it in his dreams? A shiver runs through me, and a twinge of guilt: I’ve never really wondered before whether Father saw the missile that killed him.

‘Maybe that’s why Mother wanted me to forgive him: not because of what he’d done to us, but because of the things he’d seen on the battlefield.’

Angelique’s journey is in turns inspiring and tear-jerking in ways I never thought I’d ever feel about geese. You yourself feel caught up in the journey, especially knowing that at the bittersweet end ownership and bonding with the geese must be sacrificed in order to save one’s home and family. Particularly, I will hold in my head forever the image of the tame geese wishing they could fly up in the sky with the wild geese they encounter on the way.

Ok, so go out and read Rowena House’s debut, I thoroughly recommend it.

Review by Penny M Geddis

The Goose Road
Author by Rowena House
Published by Walker Books Ltd
ISBN: 9781406371673

Book Review: The Rift, by Rachael Craw

Available today in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_riftA few years ago, Rachael Craw captivated me with her excellent Spark trilogy. Now, in November, she returns with her new young adult novel, The Rift. Taking us on a new journey, to an island inhabited by a mysterious herd of deer, deer which hold the cure for any ailment. These deer must be carefully managed, and conserved, both for their safety and the safety of their world.

Engrossing and immersive, Craw has created an elaborate mythos, and settled it in with science. She has given us two heroes: Cal, a fisherman’s son, now initiated into the rangers, the people that protect the Herd; and Meg, the daughter of the head ranger, who has not set foot on the island for 9 years – since the tragic event that wounded her, and changed Cal and the rangers forever.

Now, she must return with her mother to settle an argument over property, only to find new turmoil. The way of the rangers is being challenged, and conspiracies and intrigue abound. As she becomes entangled in the complex snare, she cannot deny her growing attraction to Cal. Once childhood friends, could they now be something more? But their shared past has left him altered irrevocably – he can no longer bear the touch of another person.

The writing is eloquent and evocative, thrusting the reader into this strange and otherworldly place, whilst also delivering a modern political theme of corporations and greed, of putting profit before people.

I also especially loved the scouts (the rangers’ bird companions), and the manner in which  Reeve (a crow) communicated with Cal and Meg – and manipulated events to bring them together, added not only a touch of humor, but also unexpected delight.

Overall, another engrossing and thought-provoking tale from an NZ writer who deserves to be ranked highly in the young adult market. I look forward to reading more!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Rift
by Rachael Craw
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781760650025

Book Review: The Anger of Angels, by Sherryl Jordan

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_anger_of_angelsThis wonderfully written tale marks the return of New Zealand author Sherryl Jordan to the historic fiction market. Set in a country inspired by Italy, it encompasses two realms: one ruled by a generous and benevolent duke, the other by a cruel prince.

Our heroine is Giovanna, the jester’s daughter. She has had a relatively unconventional upbringing and dreams of travel and adventure. That is, until her father’s latest performance is heard by the wrong ears – and suddenly the cruel prince’s eyes, and attention, fall on her city. Now, the fate of her people may lay in Giovanna’s hands and, armed with a dangerous secret, she must journey into the hostile land and plead for forgiveness – or seek retribution.

As befits any strong young adult book, there is romance too, and Raffaele makes for a worthy love interest. Whilst undeniably handsome, he is marred by a slight physical variation that marks him as different – and the source of the occassional scorn. He also comes armed with a strong dose of heretical cynicism – which does not go down well in lands where the church hold reign. He has fled the tyrant prince’s Kingdom,  along with his artist brother, Santos, and has seen much of the horrors it contains.

Giovanna is a worthy protagonist. She does not need a man to save her from danger – instead the two support and complement each other. The setting is evocative and somewhat romantic, a nice counterpoint to the dark dystopia novels currently ruling the teen market. And, despite all the tragedy and treachery that does befall our heroes and their home, there is also the strong element of hope. Overall, a fresh and compelling read with a few minor loose ends that I would hope hint at future novels.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Anger of Angels
by Sherryl Jordan
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781760650605

Book Review: Maya & Cat, by Caroline Magrel

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_maya_and_cat.jpgCat does not want feather boas, nor pink shoelaces or a pompom on a stick and although she ate every oily silver morsel of fish, Cat is searching for something much more precious. So Maya sets out with Cat in tow to knock on doors to see if one holds what Cat is seeking.

Maya & Cat is a heart-warming story that follows a little girl and a cat as they seek out the thing that Cat is missing most and the thing that Maya discovers she is missing too; companionship. A perfect story to read together; young children will enjoy the gentle, poetic language. Caroline Magrel’s adorably quirky watercolour illustrations take us through the wet and gloomy, lamp-lit streets of a seaside town. They leave you with that sense of peace and tranquility you feel when you’re warm and cosy indoors while a storm rages outside your windows.

This unique feel-good picture book written and illustrated by Caroline Magrel would make a wonderful addition to any young child’s bookshelf. Maya & Cat makes for a pleasant and comforting read – the perfect bedtime story!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Maya & Cat
by Caroline Magrel
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781921977282

 

Book Review: Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow, by Siobhan Curham

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_don't_stop_thinking_about_tomorrowStevie and Hafiz are two fourteen-year-olds from very different backgrounds. Stevie is a talented guitarist who is passionate about music – but she has a difficult home life, living with the challenges of her mother’s unemployment and crippling depression after the recent death of Stevie’s father. Hafiz is a gifted footballer, new to England after a gruelling journey on his own from his war-torn home in Syria, desperately missing his parents. The one thing Steve and Hafiz have in common is that both of them are struggling to fit in at school – until they find each other.

This is a fabulous book about diversity, mental health, the plight of refugees, and overcoming prejudice. But mostly it is a story about friendship. The book unfolds in chapters alternating between Stevie and Hafiz’s perspectives. Slowly we learn more about their backstories and the events that have led them to the moment where a well-meaning teacher instructs the new boy to sit next to the lonely girl. This is a very contemporary tale, with its empathetic and tactful discussion of mental health issues and the refugee experience. Stevie and Hafiz’s voices are unique and genuine and the author carefully avoids slipping into a schmaltzy treatment of some very tough topics.

My daughter and I were both big fans of Curham’s earlier books, The Moonlight Dreamers and its sequel Tell It To The Moon, so I was very keen to read this new novel. To my surprise, I think I like this new book even better than the other two; no mean feat. Both of the characters are endearing and extremely likeable. And how can you not love a book that includes a Spotify playlist? This is a thought-provoking and extremely enjoyable read for anyone twelve and over.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow
by Siobhan Curham
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406387803