Book Review: Tell it to the Moon, by Siobhan Curham

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tell_it_to_the_moonAs much as my English teachers would cringe to hear the word ‘lovely’ used to describe a book, that really was the first word which sprang to mind when I finished reading this story of life, friendship and relationships.

This story is about four girls heading to their late teens who have forged a strong bond through their private club (I know, it sounds a bit twee but go with it) the Moonlight Dreamers. What makes this group of ordinary girls work so well is the very fact that they are both ordinary and unique at the same time – as are we all.

There is Oscar Wilde-worshipping Amber who is suffering a writer’s block and wears vintage men’s clothes (I think she was my favourite), Rose who as the child of a famous actor and former super model dreams of being a baker with her own cake shop, Maali who is an Indian girl whose worry about her ill father causes her to question her faith in her gods and Sky the poet, who after being home schooled all her life finds herself at school for the first time. An eclectic and charming bunch of girls, much like any you might find in many high schools.  Tell it to the Moon is the second story featuring these characters, with the first (Moonlight Dreamers) relating how the girls met and became such close friends. This book picks up their friendship when they are separated over Christmas holidays, missing each other and looking towards the promise of new challenges and dreams to work towards for the coming new year.

The point of view moves smoothly from one girl to the other and each character is genuine and likeable; you find yourself encouraging them to keep going and not give up as they work through their personal challenges. The diversity of both the protagonists and secondary characters adds interest and gives deeper resonance to the story. They take strength from their friendship and this gives them the courage to be honest with themselves, to share their problems with each other and in turn grow in confidence.

As a coming of age story, it is a gentle and real one; it makes for a refreshing change of pace from the typical intense and gritty YA stories. The issues the girls face and work through are valid, their dreams are big and they are well on the way to understanding their worth.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Tell it to the Moon
by Siobhan Curham
Published by Walker Books 2017
ISBN: 9781406366150

 

 

Book Review: Alex Approximately, by Jenn Bennett

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_alex_approximatelyAlex, Approximately is sort of a modern-day novelised equivalent of the movie, You’ve Got Mail, aimed at a new generation.

Our protagonist, Bailey, loves classic movies and follows a strict habit of avoiding things that take her out of her comfort zone. So, when things become too uncomfortable at home with her mother’s new boyfriend, she moves to a small Californian coastal city, to live with her father. The fact that her online friend, fellow film-buff Alex, also lives there is just an added garnish.

However, not one to rush into things, Bailey determines to track down this mysterious “Alex” and suss him out before even tell him that they’re in the same city. The city, resting on the Californian Coast, somewhere near Monteray Bay and with the redwood forests as a backdrop, is a surfer’s paradise. It’s also home to a bizarre museum known as “The Cave” (which I feel was loosely based on The House On the Rock in Wisconsin). Here she picks up a summer job, and also catches the attentions of sexy, if infuriating, surfer boy, Parker. Their initial meetings are typical to the genre: he gently mocks her, and ultimately seems to be intent on trying to embarrass her. She bites back. They grow closer, become friends, and eventually Bailey decides she should stop trying to lightly stalk “Alex” in favour of her new relationship, and their already fairly infrequent online conversations cease.

If you’re reading this book for discussions about classic movies, I’m afraid you’re likely be disappointed. What you do receive, instead, is the awkward world of teenage dating and a frustrating case of hidden identity, interspersed with an intriguing array of background characters (Parker’s mother is most excellent!), and a somewhat-antagonist, Parker’s ex-friend, Davey. Davey is all kinds of messed up: he injured his knee a few years ago, became addicted to painkillers, and switched from there to harder drugs. He exhibits a variety of antisocial mannerisms, including a deep resentment of Parker, and Bailey has also caught his eye…

On the surface, Alex Approximately feels like a fairly light, superficial read. The twist, Alex’s identity, is easily figured out (and is pretty much spoiled on some of the promotional material, although not, fortunately, the blurb). It does contain frequent mentions of recreational drug use (although the main characters remain drug-free), violence, and some fairly descriptive sexual content. Thus I would not recommend it for the younger or more innocent reader (I would suggest, ages 14+).

It also fails to deal with some of the harder issues, such as Davey’s drug addiction, and he is cast more as the villain in need of taking out than the teenager in need of serious help that he clearly is. Bailey, for all that her father calls her “a good detective” at one point, is possibly the worst detective I’ve seen in a young adult novel, and completely fails to figure out who Alex is, despite the fact that even her father has guessed (but refuses to tell her or even drop substantial hints, presumably because the situation amuses him).

Whilst I would describe it as extremely readable, and quite entertaining, it could have been so much more.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Alex Approximately
by Jenn Bennett
Published by Simon & Schuster
ISBN  9781471161049

Book Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, by Lauren James

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_loneliest_girl_in_the_universeRomy Silvers finds herself alone in space on a journey to populate Earth II with a cargo of frozen embryos. When transmissions from Earth are interrupted with overtones of war, she becomes afraid for her own future. Just when things seem dire, help arrives in the form of another ship from Earth under the control of “J”.

This is an exciting tale of hope and despair. Romy fills in the background, but also the questions which begin to puzzle her about her mysterious rescuer. Is everything as simple as it seems?

Dystopia books are very popular at my school. This generation feels the danger of climate change, racial dischord and terrorism acutely. Creating fiction from this very real setting, captures the imagination of many young adults.

Lauren James is a 25-year-old British YA writer. Her science background is evident in the detail included in this title. It is a gripping read, with a twist: but my lips are sealed.

I already have takers for my copy of the Loneliest Girl in the Universe.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe
by Lauren James
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406375473

Book Review: Slave Power, by Raewyn Dawson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_slave_powerSlave Power is the first in The Amazon Series, and introduces a new voice in the Young Adult market. It is a tale of friendship, of determination, of love, and of dedication. Set in the historic world, and around the Black Sea, it follows two very different girls, brought together by unfortunate circumstances.

The fifteen-year old heroine, Melo, is one of the most talented Riders in the Wild Horse Tribe. Her prowess, combined with her compassion, has stirred the jealousies of older beauty, Mithrida. Envious, and devious, Mithrida hatches a plan to remove Melo from the tribe, a plot which results in Melo falling into the hands of slave traders. Here she befriends a young girl, Atalanta. Atalanta’s family, and her entire tribe, fell to the slave traders, many slaughtered, others captured.

They are taken to a isolated island to train as fighter-slaves. Here, Melo meets Sofia, a young priestess-in-training, and her older brother, Mati, captures Melo’s eye (and perhaps her heart as well). Whilst Melo helps to inspire and improve the spirits of her fellow slaves, the Amazon tribes must unite against the very real threat of the slave traders. Meanwhile, Mithrida, still plotting and planning for her own gain, forms an allegiance with the enemy.

The author has taught classical studies, so she knows her era well, and creates her world in evocative detail. With strong female role models, messages of compassion, kindness and finding value in others, “Slave Power” is an inspiration read for young adults, contrasting sharply with the more dark-world dystopia that currently floods the market. It promotes cooperation, and peaceful resolution. Romantic relationships are minimal, with the teenage heroine pursuing friendship first – a worthy message for the youth of today!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Slave Power
by Raewyn Dawson
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473389376

Book Review: The Haunting, by Margaret Mahy

cv_the_hauntingAvailable in bookshops nationwide. 

Eight-year-old Barney Palmer lives an almost-ordinary life with an almost-ordinary family, with two exceptions. Barney has been haunted all his childhood, and the Palmers are a family of magical blood. Every generation a ‘Palmer magician’ is born; this is seen as both a gift and a curse to the family. When Barney feels a “faint dizzy twist” in the world around him on the way home from school, he knows that he is about to be haunted again…but something is different about this haunting. For one, it seems to be linked to the death of Barney’s great-uncle (and namesake) Barnaby.

It soon becomes clear to Barney and his family that Barney is being haunted by something potentially dangerous. Barney begins to hear voices, has bizarre dreams and begins to look rather ghostly himself; pale-faced and constantly tired. Sometimes his eyes don’t appear to be his own. Sometimes his body feels like somebody else’s. With the help of his sisters – silent, mysteriously tidy Troy and talkative, curious Tabitha – Barney begins to get to the bottom of his family’s history.

My favourite thing about this book would have to be the characters; they feel fresh and bold, and their dialogue is so realistic. Tabitha and Barney both seem to share the role of the protagonist; while Barney is being haunted he feels like a ghost sometimes, observant and silent. On the other hand, Tabitha’s personality is so bubbly and overwhelming that she dominates the story with her note-taking, matter-of-fact commentary and constant stream of questions. I like Tabitha.

Only a few pages in, I could already see why this book had received the Carnegie Medal back in 1982. Margaret Mahy’s use of language is completely unique, and her way of storytelling is so effective. Conversations between the characters seem to crackle with energy, while the story progresses at a satisfying pace. The events of Barney’s haunting are told through the eyes of the children, so there’s this innocence about the way the story is told. (At first Barney refuses to confess that he is being haunted at all; he does this because he is afraid that he will upset his beloved stepmother Claire, who is expecting a baby.) Somehow it makes the scarier parts of the story that more chilling.

Overall, The Haunting is the perfect paranormal thriller – it manages to be a story that readers of any age will be gripped by, as they have been for 35 years now. Margaret Mahy is just one of those authors whose work is really timeless; that word gets thrown around a lot, but her work really does suit the description. I can imagine in another decade that The Haunting would have the same effect on its readers.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

The Haunting
by Margaret Mahy
Published by Hachette
ISBN 9781869713676

Book Review: Pieces of You, by Eileen Merriman

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_pieces-of_youA first novel by an Auckland based award-winning short story writer, this is clearly aimed at the Young Adult demographic. I have two daughters who are only recently out of the teenage years, both quite different girls who had quite different experiences of those years. So my review is very clearly tempered and coloured by my own long distant teenage memories, and also the more recent experiences of my daughters.

Aside from the first three years of life which fortunately we don’t retain memory of, I would say the most traumatic time for most people is those teenage years. I have strong memories of hating myself, hating those around me, struggling with friendships, horrible girls, floundering, huge self doubt, complete lack of self-esteem, wishing and hoping I was adopted. Being tall, skinny, with glasses and braces was never going to be a good start to young adulthood, but somehow I made it out of all that.

On the plus side my teenage years weren’t burdened with social media, phones, texting or sexting, easy access to alcohol and drugs. For my girls the teenage experience has been everything as it was for me, plus all those things. I am not at all surprised there are so many unhappy, confused, bewildered teenagers and young people, with spiraling rates of depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, compared to 40 years ago.

The relevance of this novel, therefore, to teenagers is undeniable, particularly those of school age. The recent high level media coverage over mental health in young people and the unacceptably high rate of youth suicide in this country makes this novel doubly relevant. Good on the author for tackling such a huge subject as teenage mental and emotional health. This novel tells the story of 15 year old Rebecca who has moved with her parents from Dunedin to North Shore, Auckland. She is not happy, uprooted from her close friend group and everything familiar. So far no surprises. She starts school, finds making new friends difficult and is trying very hard to fit in. She goes to a party one night with a girl from school, only to be lured away by a boy at the party and indecently assaulted.

She is, understandably, quite traumatised by what has taken place. To cope, she begins to cut herself in secret, the bleeding helping her deal with the mental and emotional pain of what has occured. She then meets her next door neighbour, a boy from her school called Cory. Things improve greatly for Rebecca, she makes friends, she settles into school, and her and Cory become very close, sharing a love of reading and writing. Rebecca’s narration is full of the drama and intensity of first love, and very well done too by the writer. So much angst! Intimacy between the two of them however becomes very problematic due to Rebecca’s panic and shame at what happened at the party earlier in the year. At the same time, Cory appears to be having some health issues himself, taking regular sick days, and not being fully engaged with Rebecca. The cutting continues.

Much of this plot line is very relatable for anyone who has ever been a teenager, myself included. Some shocking things happen, but again this is not unusual in the teenage world. And there is certainly plenty in this novel to provoke discussion between teen and their meaningful adult, or for the young person to think on while and after reading this. My younger daughter has not read this, but she and I have talked about it, the issues and outcomes. I always value her opinion, experiences and observations. Am I a lucky parent having such an open relationship with my daughter? I don’t know, but I do know, as with Rebecca and Cory, that teenagers are incredibly secretive, and can fully understand how parents say they didn’t see coming whatever danger or awful situation their child has got themselves into. As happens in this novel.

However, I seriously wonder how true to the average kiwi teenager these two are, how relateable they are. We have two middle-class kids, living with both parents still married to each other, and siblings, in a relatively affluent part of Auckland, and of above average intelligence. They want for nothing. There is one Asian teen, and while Cory is Māori, there are no Pasifika or LBGT teens. I suspect that there are thousands of teenagers in this country whose lives, families, and class rooms bear very little resemblance to the lives of Rebecca and Cory, who probably wish they only had the problems these two have. I find Rebecca’s naivety at fifteen going on sixteen not truly realistic, which makes me wonder if the author’s target audience is the younger teen, rather than the more knowing mid-high school and older teen.

But what I really could not get my head around was how these kids talk to each other. For a start, any parent reading this review will know how the word ‘like’ peppers every single sentence, so much you want to scream. In this novel – none of that. I was expecting more swearing, more rawness in the exchanges these kids have with each other, more real. It was all very sanitised. I remember watching the UK series Skins a few years ago. Now, we don’t want our own teens to be like that, but it was riveting, realistic, not afraid to show what life for many young people is like. My girls, in their sanitised middle-class world, loved it. We ended up buying the whole series. It was frightening, confronting but excellent, and I just don’t feel that there was enough of that in this novel.

Still the fact that this review is so long, shows that the book has got under my skin and that has to be a good thing. If you are a parent of teens or young teens, then this would certainly be a worthwhile book to leave lying around for someone to hopefully pick up, as it covers a lot of very relevant issues to the lives and well being of our young ones. Although how successful it as at resolving problems and issues facing teenagers is debatable, despite the list at the back of support services to contact.

One thing I did really like about this book is the chapter headings. They are all classic book titles, many of which would be studied at school or university, such as Catch 22, The Outsiders, Atonement and many other great novels and authors. Each title had some sort of relevance to what was happening in the chapter – very clever.

I would love for a teen to read and review this book, several teens if possible, just to let us older and out of touch adults know if this novel accurately reflects the average teen life.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Pieces of You
by Eileen Merriman
Published by Penguin
ISBN 9780143770473

 

Book Review: One of us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus  

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_one_of_us_is_lying.jpgAs a teenager I was an avid reader of anything I could get my hands on. It may have been a few years since I picked up any young adult fiction, but if One of us is Lying is an example of what’s available today, I’m tempted to read more.

Set in Bayview High, the book centres on five – soon to be four – students who all end up in detention after cellphones they didn’t own were found in their bags. Bronwyn, the top student who never puts a foot wrong and is headed for Yale; Cooper, the baseball star being looked at for the major league; prom queen and everyone’s favourite, Addy; Nate, the bad boy drug dealer on probation; and Simon, the creator of hated gossip app About That.

Suddenly there is a commotion outside the classroom and the students see the aftermath of a minor car accident in the car park. While their teacher goes to investigate, Simon has a drink of water, collapsing soon after. Nate is aware Simon is suffering a severe allergic reaction but his EpiPen can’t be found. Cooper is sent to the nurse’s office to get one but finds the box is empty. Simon is rushed to hospital in a bad way, and everyone is stunned when they hear later that he has died.

The four remaining students are in the frame for Simon’s death when police discover his cup of water contained peanut oil. All four are shown to have a motive when an unpublished About That post shows Simon was about to reveal damning secrets about each of them. The kinds of secrets that can ruin lives…

The book is split into short sections narrated by the four main characters, and this took a bit of getting used to, but it’s an effective way for each to tell their story.

I won’t spoil the ending by revealing who was responsible for Simon’s death, but every one of them had a good reason for wanting him dead. However, so did a number of other students he had crossed swords with. And who is behind the Tumblr posts written by someone who says they are the killer? The posts that keep revealing more secrets the four want to keep quiet?

Did one of them kill Simon, or are they all in on it? Was it someone else? The last part of the book reads like a good murder mystery, with lots of red herrings, dead ends and a sudden realisation people are not always what they seem. The questions are all answered and tied up neatly, and there is even a happy ending or two thrown in for good measure.

This book deals with some sensitive issues, so maybe a little parental guidance and support would be a good idea.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

One of us is Lying
by Karen M. McManus
Published by Penguin
ISBN 9780141375632