YA fiction

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 Greatest Superpower by Alex Sanchez

Out of the blue, Jorge and Cesar’s parents announce that they are getting a divorce, at least that is how it seems to them. They are 15 year old twins and they are shocked. Jorge has always been close with his dad but when he announces that he is moving out into a house nearby that rocks his world. Then when his dad announces to the family that he will soon be transitioning into a woman called Norma that is an even bigger shock. This is the story of what happens to the relationships in the family, about love conquering all and friendship, with people who understand you and will help you through your troubles.

I really loved the relationships in the family, between Jorge’s mum and dad, with each other, and with the boys. The chats they had were lovely, warm and felt very real. I loved the diversity and the way that Jorge’s friends accepted Norma. I loved how it wasn’t all plain sailing and I thought the issues were dealt with sensitively. With any book about transgender characters there are always community members who will find a book inauthentic. What I want is for there to be books with characters dealing with issues about rainbow families and characters and for there to be lots of them. So, for me, this book is a win.

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 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.

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.

The Gifted, the Talented and Me by William Sutcliffe

Oh thank goodness, a YA book that isn’t full of angst and misery! 

This is a kind, good hearted, bouncy treat, our leading man is a little bit troubled by the fact that he has been moved from his old life and friends to a new life in the big city. Sam misses his old life and even his old school, he has been enrolled in a school which is specifically designed to bring out the creative side of it’s students, to cater to the artistic and dramatic side of them. Sam’s siblings are delighted, they are able to fit right in, Sam is alone and isolated, hopelessly in lust with a gorgeous girl who is not remotely interested in him, nobody plays football and he is isolated and lonely. Not to mention his mum who has also decided to unleash her latent creativity. Goodnatured Sam deals with all this, but it isn’t easy. He has to negotiate a lot on the way to his happy ending but the way he gets there is awesome. And along the way of course, Sam is going to find out that he too is as creative as the rest of the family.

I really like William Sutcliffe’s books, they are just the right size, they are engaging, his characters speak to each other like people in the real world would, he is a great writer for teens. Highly recommended for teenagers, just the right amount of bad behaviour and risk taking to be safe for even the most conservative. I really liked this book.

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotic by David Arnold

noahReasons to read this book:
The writing: David Arnold completely nails current teen speak. It feels authentic and on point. It feels like he is inside Noah’s mind, with all the fixations and drama of being a teenager, using the internet to answer the big questions, being obsessed with books and music of particular artists especially Bowie, but comic book culture and movies. Remembering phrases from these and quoting from them all the time. There are so many quotable passages in this book, some that make you stop and ponder and want to write them down.
The Relationships: Noah, Alan and Val are such individuals, those of us who work in high schools know these kids. They stand out and are unafraid to be who they are. Noah’s sister Penny is wonderful, a great anchor for the family life with the crazy uncle, the unusual parents and the whole back story of their lives.
The angst: I love how Noah’s sporting life is handled, his injury and the guilt it induces even though the lie is perpetuated despite the bad feelings.
The goodness: This book has so much to offer in the way it deals with kindness and concern, not just for the people Noah knows but with the relationship he forms with an elderly man and his eventual understanding of the way his weird uncle behaves. Noah is eventually wise to how others feel and perceive him and I really liked that growth.

Yes this is thoroughly weird in some ways, but it is a novel which is so relatable and genuinely goodhearted, it made me smile often and it made me think. In YA fiction that is what I’m after. I want to offer my kids books which are different and not cookie cutter and this book is certainly that. All the kids I’ve talked to about this book are keen to get their hands on it and that is a great sign. Give it to your John Green and Rainbow Rowell fans. Give it to those who want to read something real and unfettered. They’ll thank you for it.

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

ghostThe beginning of this book is so thoroughly creepy I was hooked from the first lines. A young girl tied to a stake about to be burned to death, everyone is watching and nobody is helping her. The tone changes immediately and you realise that you have been reading the ending and now you spend your time wondering how those horrific scenes will come about. Creeping menace, lots and lots of it, abound in this book!

Sil’s family are spending the summer in an experimental archeology exercise in Northumberland close to the moors and near to the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. They are living life as it was in the bronze age. Wearing tunics, living in a primitive tent together, cooking over a fire and foraging for everything they eat. It is not fun at all. Sil’s dad is a domineering, bully of a man. Her mum is meek and mouselike. She is beaten and submissive to her husband. Sil has become used to doing exactly what her dad requires because it is easier and she is less likely to end up with bruises. The way that Sarah Moss has written him is so good, you really feel his simmering anger! Along with Sil and her family, there are 3 university students and their professor who are living the ancient lifestyle with them as part of their studies. One of the students is a young woman who becomes close to Sil and who, partly inadvertently, leads Sil astray and into danger.

This is a small book with a great big story. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a book which would appeal to reluctant readers due to the instant entry into the action and the easy vocabulary. It is very well written and I’m going to be buying copies for school. I would recommend it for junior high school age students. Although it is set in Britain near the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall I think that young people anywhere would relate to it.

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

I Had Such Friends by Meg Gatland-Veness

friendsThis one is right up there for me. It is the kind of voice I love and I’d personally call this a cross-over novel, one that works for adults and YA. It is set in a small Australian town where people play footy, surf and the culture of bloke is at it’s peak. It is tough to stand out in this place. You fit or you don’t. If you don’t you’ll be picked on and persecuted and made to pay. Hamish is a poor, skinny kid who has nothing cool about him. The story takes place over Hamish’s last year of high school. His only friend, Martin, whom he really doesn’t like but you’ve got to talk to someone, is even more hideously uncool. Hamish has been stuck with him by default even though he can’t stand him.

At the start we are told that Charlie one of the schools most popular guys has been killed in a car crash which also involved the utterly gorgeous Annie, the school sweetheart, most beautiful creature who ever walked the earth. Annie has survived and emerged sad and lonely. Hamish has worshiped her from afar but always known that he has no chance with her. She and Charlie are the school elite, but now Charlie is dead and everything is different. Change is on the way, one day Peter the school bad kid, gives Hamish a ride home from school and everything starts to happen. Peter and Hamish become the kind of friends who don’t talk about anything but spend time together and gradually gradually they begin to build a relationship. At the same time Hamish and Annie are becoming girlfriend and boyfriend and Hamish has gone from untouchable to being in demand. But all is not what it seems.

This book is about relationships, attitudes, sexual tension and racism. You have so much in here! I loved Peter, I loved him so much more than Hamish and what happens to him is horrific. I loved so much about this book but I admit that it isn’t perfect. There are some problems with the writing in places. And I really had a problem with Annie, she seems to be almost unnecessary to the story other than a bit player. I loved the relationship with Hamish and his parents and could totally see that playing out. I thought the sex was really well written too. There are problems but overall I thoroughly loved the story and the way that the scenes felt so realistic. I loved Hamish struggling to keep up with Peter at the beach with the way he pondered lying to his parents.

I’d love to see this book in lots of small town libraries, it is shocking and I think quite realistic in the way the casual homophobia is visited upon teenagers. It is certainly not a hopeful book. The actions of the teenagers and their rage against Peter and Hamish is horrific to read. It makes you understand why country Australians race to the big cities to reinvent themselves as gay people. I know this happens in every country! I read this at the time that I watched Hannah Gadsby and her Nannette show and possibly that is why is resonated so strongly with me.

I’m going to be buying and recommending this book. Possibly with a tighter review than this, as I’ve got a bit statementy here!

If you are a fan of Jasper Jones and books by Scot Gardner then this book is going to work for you.

Thanks to Netgalley for access to this book.

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers by Brian Conaghan

feathersOh this is such a charged book. So many things to think about and process. Bobby Seed is a 17 year old boy dealing with far too much. There is his mum, dying of MS, his handful of a younger brother Dan who doesn’t really understand what is happening to their mum and Bel, friendzoned when she doesn’t want to be and helping Bobby shoulder responsibility out of the goodness of her heart. All this responsibility is wearing for Bobby, a mum who can’t look after either him or his brother and all the drama of daily teenage life, it is boring, it is relentless, it sucks and it is only going to get worse as his mum gets worse.

Then Bobby is encouraged to go to a group for those caring for an ill parent and whammo, there he meets Lou, exotic, sexy as all get out and equipped with a vintage Vespa. And Lou likes Bobby, starts hanging with him and because they have shared experience and plenty in common it seems they might have something more than friendship looming. But, Lou is tricky, he tells stories, is he to be trusted? As things move along, mum getting worse, Dan being Dan, Bel always there and Bobby’s guilt getting larger and larger, it all gets so incredibly complicated. Lou is possibly more than he seems. A crisis point is reached when mum asks Bobby to help her die.

This is a slow, thoughtful novel. It is full of Bobby’s angst at the terrible situation he finds himself in. This huge responsibility, weighted with love for Dan and his mum, his grief and his heartache. Interwoven are his thoughts on his emerging sexuality and confusion at the way Lou treats him and all the weirdness surrounding the way Lou acts. I loved the character of Bel, so kind, tolerant and so willing to help so that she doesn’t have to deal with her own terrible homelife.

This would be a wonderful novel for students to study, so full of moral complexity and full of heart. You root for Bobby, you want him and Dan to be ok. This novel is one which will make you think and feel. I’ll definitely be buying it for our library.

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

tragicI’m way behind on catching up with this author, lots of my friends have discovered his wonderful way with teenage characters and here and I only just getting to it. Now that I have read this one I need to get going on the other book by this author that we have in the library.

Mel has secrets that she holds close in order to protect the new life she has built in a new place, away from where a tragic event took the life of her brother, which she witnessed. This is more than enough tragedy to bear but there is also the fact that Mel has crippling mental health issues and holds them in check, but just barely. Oh it is hard. It is hard to read of her coping, hard to read of her not coping.

This book wouldn’t be for everyone, Mel can be a character who seems hard, who isn’t always nice to her friends, who hurts people, but you have to understand how tense she is and how hard it is to tell anybody her stuff. Most of the time she can manage to keep it together and hold everything in with coping strategies, but then that just isn’t enough. When the crisis comes it is going to be huge, and all you can do is stand by and wait for the peak and hope nobody gets hurt.

This is a sad story, well written but the style is unusual and that may irritate some people too. A solid 4 star read for me.
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Under the Lights by Abbi Glines

underI’ve been generous with these two stars. As the book went on I disliked the characters, their attitudes and the way they carried on more and more. I hadn’t realised that this was book 2 in the series when I started it, I don’t think it mattered that I hadn’t read the first one, and I’m not going to read it now. I’m a bit gutted as I’ve bought the series for school on the strength of reviews I’d read, I should have realised from the gushing that it wasn’t going to be for me.

At the beginning I enjoyed meeting Willa who has had a very troubled life, with a mother who is flakey and we hear over and over how Willa ruined her life because she was born when she was too young. Luckily for Willa she has grown up with her grandmother mostly, having loads of fun with the children of the family her grandmother works for in ‘the big house’. Then Willa goes back to live with her mother and discovers sex drugs and social media and is involved in an event which lands her in juvenile detention. Now she is back at grandmothers house and rebuilding her life. This is all good!

Then we encounter the boys from the big house and the guys and girls they are friends with and it all turned to custard for me. The attitudes towards the girls are horrifying, there is not a single ounce of respect for them from the boys. The comments on their sexual behaviour are horrible, on what they wear, on what they look like. I thought this was a novel with attitudes from the 1950s. Sexist and classist and redneck. I finished it in the end because it was a bit like watching a train wreck, you know it is awful but you can’t take your eyes off the horror. I really need to strip off a star. There, I feel better now.

I hate the idea that this is popular with teens, I hate the idea that the attitudes portrayed in this novel are considered acceptable by young people in this so called enlightened age. Don’t read it.

Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

unearthedI completely loved this book. Nicely played Kaufman and Spooner! Science Fiction and archaeology combined in an action packed thriller set on a far away planet where aliens have left clues for the human race. Earth has huge problems with it’s environment and is gradually becoming destroyed to the point where people will have to find either a way of fixing it fast or will have to move to another planet. The race is on to be the person who will find the technology on another planet to bring back to Earth to save us all.

Deciphering the clues in massive temples though, provides vast challenges, they are puzzles with death as the outcome if you get them wrong. Amelia is a scavenger, raiding ancient sites on far off planets to sell for cash which she is using to pay her sister’s captors back on earth. She runs into Jules, who is the son of a disgraced historian, someone who said too much and who is now in jail. Jules has travelled to this planet to try and solve the biggest mystery ever and to prove that his father was right, but also for the personal satisfaction of being the guy who solved a massive mystery. Jules has studied the messages sent back to earth by the inhabitants deciphered the codes and is on a mission to find out what the clues in the messages mean for humanity.

This is going to be hugely popular, I hope it has an awesome cover with an androgynous cover on it. the fraught relationship between the two protagonists is great. The way that total mistrust leads to complete trust is so nicely done. I love the protagonists alternating chapters.

Secondary school libraries are going to want to buy lots of copies of this. And it is just the beginning of a series, one I will be following avidly.

All The Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler

dirtyWell, this is going to be controversial! Public libraries rush out and get this as soon as it is available, school libraries, I bet this one gets you some interesting comments! I can see the lights flashing and the censors racing to ban this from every library in the land.

Someone here on Goodreads has placed a comment that it should be reviewed by males, and I can see that, after all, we are firmly placed inside the head of a teenage boy who is thinking about sex, having sex, exploring all manner of sex and being generally a sex crazed teenage boy. This isn’t a relationship book and yet it is, this isn’t a helpful guide and yet it is.

I liked almost all of this novel.

I liked that it was short. There was no need to draw this out. Nice job Daniel Handler.

I liked that this teen guy seemed real, no stupid conversations, no helpful parents, just him and his penis and his constant thinking about using it.

I liked the honesty, the judgments that he was putting it about too much, the attitudinal change of his friends and classmates as he embarked on a relationship which excluded all of them.

I loved the way his relationship with his best friend changed as they tried out sex and then tried to figure out where they fitted in the hetro/homo state of the world.

What I didn’t like:
I didn’t love the girl in here, she seemed so one dimensional compared to him. But I get it, it is really all about her – ahem … attributes.

Many people will cringe at this book, but I’m going to buy a copy and hand it to our school counselor because I really liked it and I see it as having a voice that young people might really like, but there will be a bunch of haters and they are gonna hate real strong.

Yep, this is a novel about sex. All of the everythings about sex, from the point of view of a teenage boy and so it is really aptly named.

Thanks Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this. It was very enlightening and I won’t be looking a teenage boy in the eye for a couple of days now that I know what is going on behind those eyes.

My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul

cover77953-mediumIt is hard to find books which appeal to reluctant high school age boy readers at the moment which are stand alone and which are not fantasy. I was excited to get my hands on this one via Netgalley and will certainly buy a copy when it is released.

This is Hank’s story. Hank’s mum and brother have died and left him with a broken heart and a broken dad.  His dad has taken up with a string of inappropriate, not teenage son friendly girlfriends. Dad drinks way too much and it seems his only interests are baseball and beer.  Hank is not into either of those things. As he tries to get on with his life Hank is making his way through high school and is very keen on the popular girl in his year. He decides to make a grand gesture and invite her to the prom.  But not just in any ordinary way, he decides that he will write his invitation in sparklers on her lawn.  Obviously, she will gaze upon this and be desperate to go with the person who made this awesome thing happen.  Unfortunately, Hank underestimates the flammability of the tree he ends up putting his sparklers under, and almost sets her house on fire.  He thinks he has got away with his stupid idea, but Peyton an odd girl who lives nearby has seen him and is using the information against him.  Thus, Peyton and Hank end up becoming friends, but it is a long road to this friendship.

This novel starts off as a fun romp and ends up dealing with lots of big issues.  Abuse, neglect and a serious case of pyromania, but friendship is at it’s heart. These kids really talk to each other. Through misunderstandings and miscommunications and a lot of racing around on bikes, Hank does a huge amount of growing and he is a lovely person and as we come to understand Peyton we feel for her pain. This is a great book with lots of good messages and I loved the humour. Great for year 9 – 11 boys and girls as well.

Brides Farewell by Meg Rosoff

I have loved every book that Meg Rosoff has published.  The totally gorgeous and tensely gripping How I Live Now, Just In Case which was quirky, funny, slightly snarky and sexy, and What I Was which has a great twist at the end and an old fashioned feel.  I like the way Meg Rosoff envelops you with her characters, and I get totally caught up in her books and do nothing else but read them till they are done.

The Brides Farewell I read in a day, it is the story of Pell who runs away on the morning of her wedding, she ends up taking her mute little brother with her unwillingly, but he is determined to come.  She cannot face marrying Birdie, the boy who has loved her for years, and her home is a miserable place.  Poverty, squallor and with marriage and the constant production of children not seeming like a great option, she is out of there.

So Pell begins her journey, she is a fighter, she is tough, resilient and I adored her.  I actually didn’t think I was going to like this book as much as I did, and I was delighted with it.  If you have loved her other books then do read this, if you haven’t ever read her and you want a book with a gutsy girl, burly blokes and sensitive children, horses, and gypsy fortune tellers go and get hold of this.   There is a great interview with Meg Rosoff here.  Crikey, she is just really hot actually.  Quick Meg write me another book.