Young Adult

The Gaps by Leanne Hall

Anyone who is a fan of the current wave of crime hitting the YA shelves will love this book. It was a slow read for me at the beginning, but once I was in I couldn’t put it down. This is an abduction story, told from two perspectives, you’d be forgiven for not totally getting that you were getting two points of view – at least I didn’t realise for quite some time. So, a little bit of confusion at the start. But I’ve still given it 5 stars so you already know I thought it was good despite the confusion.

It is a missing person story. Yin Mitchell, best friend, great student, well known to all at school, has gone missing. One minute here in school, doing the everyday stuff, next minute gone. Is she murdered? Has she run away? Both of these seem very unlikely, but the fact is, she isn’t around anymore and her family are desperate and her friends are scared and upset. We hear Chloe’s point of view first, she is a scholarship student, she is new to the school. The others have come through from primary, but she is new. Talented and hard working but with different a different life to the other girls at this private school. And then we meet Natalia, someone who has a posse of acolytes, girls who hang on her every word, she and Chloe are not made for each other they clash and Natalia makes Chloe pay. But tying these girls together is the mystery of Yin. They are both affected, both so needing to know where she is.

There is tension, school politics, mean girls, music, art and conflict. I thought it was wonderful, loved the scenes where the art is described. It is a cleverly constructed, interesting novel.

Off the Map by Scot Gardner

I was lucky enough to win a copy of this book. Scot Gardner is one of my favourite young adult authors. I don’t think I’ve ever met a book of his that I didn’t like.

This one is short stories, all set in a small country town, the protagonists are all young people and all of them have a great story to tell. These stories all give the reader pause, they deal with some hard stuff some of them. It is often hard being a teenager and that is captured here in the voices of the stories. They take risks, they hurt each other, they test the rules and they love each other. Some of their young lives are impossibly difficult and some of them are just fine, or are they?

I think some of these stories would be great class read alouds. It would make me really happy to think that lots of young people read these stories, or had them read to them. Another fine book by this wonderful author for young adults. 

The Electric Kingdom by David Almond

Gaze upon this glorious cover! Enlarge it. Look at it’s detail. Siiiiggghhhh!

I loved this novel. Loved it! It is thoroughly weird, beautifully written and I’m going to miss spending time with these characters now that I’m done. I read it slowly, savouring it. I found it moving and so incredibly sad at times, but it is a novel with such a big heart that I also laughed at other times.

This is post-apocalyptic fiction at its very best. At times you aren’t quite sure what you’re reading, but this is a quest book, trust the author, he is going to bend your mind and break your heart. Nico is wonderful, a character I just totally loved. When she meets a group of kids who have a history that ties them together, you just know that this is going to be a wonderful lot of relationships. Kit, my heart belongs to Kit, a treasure of a character. A ragtag group of kids facing danger, trying to survive a pandemic, killer flies who carry people off by sheer numbers lifting them up and carrying them away. It is horrific! I love the use of cinnamon as a deterrent to the flies.

There is so much, so very many ways that this book is amazing. It confirms that David Almond is one of my favourite authors for young people.

Thanks so much to Text for giving me access to this wonderful book. I loved it.

Furia by Yamile Saied Mendez

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Argentina before and I really enjoyed reading about this sporty young woman and her hopes and dreams to be a professional soccer player. A life which is not what her parents have planned for her. Camila must practise and play her sport in secret, to keep her life separate from her family so as not to get into trouble with her volatile father and she doesn’t want to upset her mum. On top of this is the childhood friend Diego, whom she adores, and it turns out it is mutual, but he is in Italy, playing football for Juventus, far away and her heart pines for him.

I really enjoyed this book, read it quickly, though it has taken me a long time to write this. It has a slightly uneven pace but I think it works really well. The pace matches the fast paced games of soccer, and the angst that Camila feels is well written. I really loved the relationships she had with her family and the way that she decides to stand up to her dad. Great book for young people to read a different perspective on life, to learn about life in Argentina and for those who love a sport book which is well written, those are few on the ground. Great book for a school library.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this book.

The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman

I loved The Magicians and it’s sequel The Magician King, so I was really excited to get started on this audiobook edition of The Silver Arrow narrated very engagingly by Simon Vance. It was provided to me by Netgalley and the publisher.

This is quite different from the previous books, and pitched at middle grade readers but I think that some of the younger high schoolers I know would appreciate it’s lovely fantastic feel, especially the fans of Phillip Reeve and Angie Sage. It is a fantastic adventure, and one which appears a simple story on the surface but it has some great messages about taking care of the planet and looking after each other.

A rather precocious girl asks her rich uncle for a birthday present. Kate is most surprised that he agrees and a beautiful silver train is delivered to her house, she and her brother Tom jump aboard and the adventure begins. The train is managed by a crew of animals with whom she has no trouble communicating. Some of them need careful management. The train itself needs careful management, the flames in the engine can never be extinguished, this will be a challenge as the journey takes the passengers on the train through extremely cold, dangerous and underwater locations.

It is lovely story with lots of themes of resilience, teamwork, the value of friendship. It is an action filled adventure and I really liked it.

The Gaps by Leanne Hall

Anyone who is a fan of the current wave of crime hitting the YA shelves will love this book. It was a slow read for me at the beginning, but once I was in I couldn’t put it down. This is an abduction story, told from two perspectives, you’d be forgiven for not totally getting […]

Off the Map by Scot Gardner

I was lucky enough to win a copy of this book. Scot Gardner is one of my favourite young adult authors. I don’t think I’ve ever met a book of his that I didn’t like. This one is short stories, all set in a small country town, the protagonists are all young people and all […]

RuPaul by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara My rating: 4 of 5 stars One of the only things my 3 kids have in common is their love for RuPaul’s Drag Race. It unites them as they discuss the outfits, the relationships between the queens and the unjustness of some of the dismissals on the show. This […]

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi

stampedA history of racism. A history of slavery. A serious look at why it is that people believe that they are a superior race. Told in an accessible way which is engaging and real. I listened to the audiobook because I wanted it immediately after watching a conference keynote between the author of this book Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi who is the author of the book that this is a spinoff from, Stamped from the Beginning which won the National Book Award. It was moving, one of the most powerful talks I’ve ever seen.

This book is a must if you want to be in touch with the Black Lives Matter movement, if you’ve wondered why people are so angry, why statues are toppling around the world. This book is written so that teenagers will have an insight, will know their history, but it is a book that will work for anyone. There is power in the words in this book. The power to inspire people to make change, to adjust attitudes. This is a book to hand to someone who makes the racist comment, the off colour comment.

Jason Reynolds said something that I’ll always remember. If you have a disease you work to find a vaccine, the vaccine hurts but in the end it does good. Being anti-racist actively and consciously is the vaccine, you have to tackle those who are racist for their own good and the good of the world.

Read this book, learn stuff and make a better world with the knowledge you gain

Burn by Patrick Ness

burn

As I always do with a Patrick Ness, I had pre-ordered this.  I had some worries going into it because the last couple of books haven’t been my faves. I was so hoping he wouldn’t disappoint me with this one. And he hasn’t. This is a return to form. What works best for me with this author is when he doesn’t try to do too much with his stories. This one is a dual storyline but it is way more successful in this novel than in Release. You know that the stories are going to combine and you just can’t wait for that to happen.

It is set in Washington State in the USA in the 1950s there is rampant racism and homophobia and so much judgement of people it makes you quite uncomfortable. Sarah’s dad has just hired a dragon to help with the farm work. The dragon will work to clear paddocks of rocks and trees, he is not to be spoken to and while there is a truce between dragons and humans, you shouldn’t get friendly or close to him. Sarah’s dad is very clear on this. However the dragon knows Sarah’s secret and they begin to talk. At the other end of the country a young man is heading north on a mission to kill Sarah. He has been given a mission from on high and he must fulfil his duty. On the way he will meet another young man who will change his life and also change the future. There is a whole bunch more going on in this book but to reveal too much would be way too spoiler alerty.

I loved Sarah and her dragon. I loved all of the love in the story. There is a lot of love! Love for parents, for other people, for dragons and for humanity. There is also a lot of hate, for those who are different to ourselves, for those we are suspicious of and those we don’t understand. It is the balance of these that makes this story so good.

It is an exciting book to read, there is a heap of tension and a lot of action. Patrick Ness is so good at having his little guys wield enormous power and that is exactly what happens here. Grab a copy for your school, have a read and then share it with all your students. I think they’ll love it!

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

displacementI loved this graphic novel. In a time where racist behaviour is being shamed, here is a new take on an old story. During the second World War, Japanese Americans were rounded up and moved to internment camps. These were citizens of the USA. Many of them born and raised there, yet the advent of war meant that they were treated with suspicion.

We meet Kiku, who with her mum is on a trip to a museum, sitting outside she is overcome with a strange feeling, mist and clouds swirl around her and she is transported or displaced, back to the time when her grandmother, a quiet introverted girl, was sent to internment camps with her family in the 1940s. Kiku is caught up in the crowd, next minute she is on a train with the rest of the people and becomes part of the camp population. She tries to fit in, tries to make contact with her grandmother and comes to realise how difficult the camps were. She is stuck there for a long time, unable to get back to her real time. She starts to fit in, makes friends and and becomes part of life in the camp.

This is a treasure of a graphic novel, one that will take you on a journey to a time in history which isn’t spoken of often. A side of the second world war not fought on the front lines but in rural USA.

The art in this graphic novel is stellar, it complements the story so well, the colours are evocative and moody. This is a thing of beauty. A treasure.  Thanks to Netgalley for giving me access to this lovely book.

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

deeplightWant a beautifully complex and interesting fantasy adventure, then just get hold of this and get stuck in.

Hark is a plucky young man who eeks out a living, not always honestly, as part of a group of young street rogues on his island Lady’s Crave which is part of the Myriad group of islands. It is a rugged and dangerous place, apart from the dangers of cliffs and dangerous foes there is also the danger that lurks in the sea. A sea which has levels, once you dive down under the water you eventually reach a level where you can breathe freely. However, monsters dwell here, monsters that the locals call gods, they have become pieces of gods now, these pieces are valuable, people want them, they give power and are downright scary. If you melded bits of gods together you might create a huge monster which would make you so powerful that you could wield that power in a very unpleasant and dangerous way, even become monstrous in your power.

Hark has been caught trying to rob the wrong person, he ends up in court and is sold to the highest bidder into slavery. His purchaser is a very unusual woman, he is put to work in a sanctuary but he knows that she is doing weird things elsewhere.

This is a wonderful story of courage, determination, loyalty and adventure. Layer upon layer of story all linking and tying together in a fantastic way. There is a lot going on, Hark is pulled betwixt and between, divided in his loyalties and desperate for approval. There is a most wonderful young woman character who is deaf, Hark’s bond with her was one of the joys in this book.

This is one of those books which will work for lots of readers. I think that is what Frances Hardinge does, she writes a book for kids, but the story is so complex and layered that it will keep even the most cynical adult hooked. I would be recommending it to readers who loved Percy Jackson’s world, but this is more complex and nuanced. Readers from intermediate and senior primary school all the way up will be caught up in this world.

A Trio of Sophies by Eileen Merriman

SophieI think Eileen Merriman is one of the cream of the crop of writers for young people right now. She writes stories that are immediately engaging, that are the perfect pitch for the audience of young adult readers. Her books have depth and breadth and tackle issues which are current and curly. I think this book is one of her best.

There have always been three Sophies, each different but all good friends. They are in the same class, they have known each other since they were little and their lives are intricately linked. Now in their final year at school, one of the Sophies has gone missing. Despite the efforts of the police, she cannot be found anywhere. This leaves two Sophies and the novel is told by one of them. The swot, the quiet one, the one determined to rise out of her humble life. The story is told in journal form beginning on the 64th day that Sophie has been missing and counting backwards to the day of her disappearance. It is an interesting structure and it works really well. You feel the tension rise, leading up to the day it all went horribly wrong.

Tied up to the disappearance of Sophie A is the story of Sophie M and the English Teacher. A guy who should have known better, a man who shouldn’t be in a room alone with teenage girls. I really liked the way that this aspect of the story was written, the way James Bacon, the English Teacher, draws Sophie in and entangles her in a web of deceit.

This is great writing for teenagers, gritty and real, using language which feels right. A brilliant book for all schools to have in their library collection.

Thanks so much to Penguin NZ for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Please can we have heaps more NZ books like this.

The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri L. Smith

If I was to sum this up in one word, that word would have to be the word stunning. A gloriously atmospheric, melancholic dive into a world we never see portrayed, the world of the women who cared for and loved the Japanese pilots as they set off to sacrifice themselves in war. This is the story of a pilot and a young high school student, their lives disrupted by a war not of their making, and their gradual realisation that small kindnesses have a lasting effect. That their short lives are to be sacrificed for a cause is one thing, but the depravations of war are another, food is short, suspicions run rife in the towns and even though there are small pleasures to be found in simple things, it is difficult.

Hana our heroine is a lovely sensitive young woman, dutiful and dedicated. Juro our hero is a gifted musician and his violin plays a pivotal role in this story. These two characters come from very different lives but they meet due to the war and through tragedy blooms something beautiful.

I’ve always loved books set in Japan. This is due to the fact that I’ve lived there twice in my life when I was young and loved it. I was totally engrossed in this novel and shed a tear in the end. I love the fact that it is different to anything else out there for young adults at the moment. I’ve ordered copies for our library because I’m sure there is an audience for those who want to read something different, something based on real historical events.

Thanks so much to Netgalley and the publishers for giving me access to this glorious book.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

This book is a happy little bundle of froth. A story of an unlikely romance with a nice play on the social media obsession and a bunch of lovely little twists. Pepper and Jack come from different backgrounds and have different family lives. Pepper lives in an uptown apartment with her mum, her sister is away at college and does not get on with her mother. Pepper runs the social media account for the family business a national burger chain. She is a high achieving control freak. Jack works in the family business, a deli on the other side of town. He is a twin and has a close and loving extended family living with him. Jack has invented an app for the kids at school to chat on and this is how these two connect, but they don’t know who they are on the app as it anonymises them. These two are good at water sports and are at the pool all the time. Opposites attract and you can see what is going to happen. Young love will bloom but it will take time and be fraught with difficulties.

I really enjoyed this book, it is full of quick one liners and witty banter. A winning book for the school library and one that will have lots of appeal. There is a lot going on and the pace is really good to keep you turning the pages. A great choice for romance fans.

The Hive by Barry Lyga and Morgan Baden, Jennifer Beals and Tom Jacobson

Crowd sourced social justice, I can see why the idea could occur but as this book shows vividly some things are just built with way too much scope for manipulation.

This is a brilliant contemporary story, already we have a world where you can be taken to task on social media for saying the wrong thing, for backing the wrong idea but The Hive, a government initiative of social justice takes it to a whole new level. The concept is great, lets let the people decide what is right and wrong, lets unleash their opinion and use social media to praise or punish them.

Cassie’s dad was a brilliant IT guy, he was cutting edge brilliant and the government used his knowledge to make the beginnings of The Hive. But the very thing he helped to build is now turning on his beloved daughter after his death. Cassie knows her way around a computer, she knows how to hack but even this cannot protect her from the rage of people voting against her in The Hive. Her ratings skyrocket and she is being hunted to the death. Cassie can’t believe that this is what her Dad would have wanted, he was a good man, it must be something else and she is determined to find out the truth behind The Hive and the people who run it. She is in this danger because she tweeted a comment about The President’s daughter which has raised the ire of him as well as, it seems, everyone in America. She is going to be held to account for her comment and that might even mean that she is killed.

Cassie is rescued by an unlikely source, but can she trust him? Can she trust anyone? She is on the run and if it weren’t for extreme resourcefulness and clear thinking she’d be already dead. Something is going on, something very sinister and Cassie is going to have to sort it out but also keep herself safe.

This is a great book. The action is relentless and the pace doesn’t let up throughout. Cassie is a great character, resourceful as anything but even with that you find yourself yelling at her to take more care. She is reckless and sometimes that gets her deeper in trouble than ever. This is a great addition to any school library, your geeky kids are going to totally relate to a heroine who has the power to change the world.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me access to this fantastic read.

The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen

The Bright Sessions #1

If you like books about unlikely friendships which lead on to unlikely relationships then this book is for you. It is an interesting look at what happens when someone deeply feels the emotions of the people around him, he’s an empath, which in many ways makes him vulnerable to the ever changing moods of people he encounters. It also gives him a clear understanding of the struggles of those who have difficulty expressing their feelings. I like it when there is a character like Caleb who seems to be the popular guy, the football hero, the guy with all the friends and seeming to have it all together, who turns out to be deep in the depths of inner turmoil. I like the journey a character like this goes on. Yes, you can pick where Caleb and the lovely Adam are going to end up, but it is the way that they get there which is lovely. This is sensitively written, funny in parts and will make you have all of the feels, from outrage through to heart meltyness.

I have never listened to the Bright Sessions Podcast but this book is enough to send me on a mission to listen. 

This is a must have for secondary school libraries, it doesn’t matter that the setting is the USA, this book is universal and will have lots of appeal, especially in a diverse collection. It doesn’t move fast, it is a slow thoughtful read but beautifully done. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this great book.

The Mapmakers’ Race by Eirlys Hunter

Endearing and full of life, this is an old fashioned rollicking adventure of the sort that I read when I was a kid. The story of a family of explorers and mapmakers who are competing in a race with an an enormous reward at the end of it. The Santander family are renowned for their skills but enroute to the race Papa has gone missing and Mother has been left at the station. The children, their parrot and an enterprising young man they persuade to join them are on the hunt for the best route for the railway to run to the town of New Coalhaven on the coast. It is an arduous route with rivers to cross, mountain ranges to trek over. There are bees and bears and drama galore. 

What a glorious cover this is!

Their adventure is full of danger and disasters and yet the children persist. When their spirits are low and they are in danger of starvation or hypothermia they persist. What a team they are! And ultimately this is how they survive, by pulling together, harnessing the best of each of their skills and by being kind and loving to each other. 

This book is old fashioned and wholesome, the production of the book is lovely, the pages feel great in your hands. It’s a lovely story made more gorgeous by the wonderful illustrations. I found myself going forward and back to the maps as I was reading it. This book would be a lovely gift for a child, and I will be recommending it widely. I was intrigued by the setting, I was surprised that this author wrote a book set in America, I had expected this book to have a New Zealand flavour, as it is it would work for a child anywhere in the world. I would expect that people who love Katherine Rundell’s books would enjoy this one. 

Invisibly Breathing by Eileen Merriman

I’ve struggled with this book. I have been heavily invested in this authors work and have read her previous two novels with delight and joy. She has nailed teenage voice and the trials and tribulations of teenage life, its conflicts and challenges. She does that again in this one. Yet still I struggled with it, it has taken me an age to read. The characters of Felix and Bailey were great and I loved their romance and the challenges they faced to be together. I thought the anger and abuse were very well written, the struggle of Bailey’s family to cope was very moving. And yet I struggled.

There was a lot going on, a great local setting, a bunch of issues to drive the story. It was fabulous to read a local book for teens with characters with sexuality stuff going on, the gradual awakening of Felix to his sexuality was great. And yet I struggled.

It felt a little unfinished, that it could have been just slightly more tightly plotted. I think it possibly tried to cover too many issues and while that is admirable and Eileen Merriman can be trusted to handle issues sensitively and in ways that appeal to the teenage audience, this one slightly misses the mark. 

Having said all this I will be pushing it at my students, some have already read it and enjoyed it, but for me I’ll push the other two books just a tiny bit harder.