Young Adult

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

jupiterThis is an absolute gem of a book. I loved the characters from page 1, I shed tears at the terrible things that had happened to Joseph in his young life, I desperately wanted things to be ok for him. This tiny and completely perfectly formed novel is one I meant to read ages ago but didn’t quite get to, I’m so pleased I’ve read it now. It is the story of Joseph who has been removed from his abusive father, sent to prison due to something terrible that he did to a teacher because a kid gave him drugs and he went crazy. He loved a girl and fathered a child and now he is being fostered by the kindest family you could ever meet. But Joseph is so damaged it seems like he might never thaw from the angry, het up, damaged young man he has become. His foster brother desperately wants to melt him and over time you see the relationship between the two boys develop over a shared love of cows and the trials of going to school in the most miserable climate you can imagine.

Gary D. Schmidt does place so well, you feel so much for these people living in this miserable cold, you feel the skin on their fingers freezing and their breath turning to ice crystals. You feel the warmth of the animals and your emotions are tugged and pulled at the beautiful sparse writing. Crikey this is good!

If you are a high school librarian and you haven’t read this and don’t have it in your collection you are missing a gem. Buy 3 copies and share this with your reluctant readers, your country kids and your teachers.

And look!  Molly made a book trailer for it.

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Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

thunder

Well, thank goodness for that! It would have been so upsetting if this novel hadn’t lived up to the first in the series. The ending sets us up brilliantly for a third and gives us a new hero, but that is getting ahead of things.


The story picks up with Rowan reinventing himself from Scythe to justice maker, he is taking the bad out of the Scythes. Expunging the bad and keeping the good. This is of course totally outside the rules and he is in hiding. Citra is now a fully fledged Scythe and is working alongside Marie, her humane approach to killing is not efficient and she is under pressure to work faster. She gives people time to prepare for death and there is an argument that she should be working more efficiently. Back from the dead is Goddard, evil as ever, he wants control of all the Scythes and sets about making that happen. Citra is a threat to him, so he is out to get her.

This story is full of great twists and turns, unexpected characters from the past and with an ending which sets you up nicely for the next one. I don’t know anybody who hasn’t loved these books and I think this is an author who is so reliable that you can trust him to take you on an exciting and thrilling ride. That is certainly the case with this book. As we powered towards the end, the tension was full on!

My boys are fighting to get their hands on this and I’m going to need lots of copies. A very good read.

This Story Is A Lie by Tom Pollock

LieThe title says it all. Loop upon loop, lie upon lie, it isn’t the narrator who is unreliable in this story, it is everyone around him. Just when you think you have it sorted there is another twist and you are duped again.

Pete is the shy mathsy nerd to his twin sisters confident angry, rebelliousness. These two are as different as siblings could possibly be yet there is a strong bond, they have been bought together by their love of their mother, a frightfully important scientist who is doing secret work. Dad is never spoken of and is mysteriously absent. Pete is friendless and isolated but not unhappy as he has security and love at home, this helps when he is bullied and picked on at school.

As more or Pete’s problems are revealed to us, his paranoia and his obsession with counting and managing his life by dealing with it using numbers, you begin to realise that all cannot be what it seems. Things come to a head at a large function where his Mum is to be awarded the highest award in the country for science by the Prime Minister. All hell breaks loose, there is violence and suddenly Bel is missing and Mum has been stabbed. At this point you realise this is a thriller. The pace is wild and the action is kick arse. In the extreme.

This is one of those books where you have to suspend your disbelief and just go along for the ride. It is full on! I was guessing all the way to the end, Bel is such a cool character, totally kick arse and nasty and at the same time so loving to her brother. I loved being in Pete’s headspace, the wheels turning while he tried to figure out what was going on, who he could trust, who was good and who was evil.

This is movie ready and I have cast the characters already in my mind. It isn’t for the faint hearted and there is violence and gore all over the place. Tom Pollock does a brilliant job of keeping you guessing. A really cool and interesting concept and I enjoyed every second.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me access.

La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust, book 1, by Philip Pullman

dustAfter reading this I’m ready to forgive Philip Pullman for all the books he has written that I didn’t want to read. This one made the wait worthwhile. It takes you into Oxford where His Dark Materials began and we meet Lyra as a baby, but this story isn’t really about Lyra it is about Malcolm Polstead, the son of the publican of the Trout. The pub is close to a convent and in the convent there is a baby, a baby who needs to be protected from dangerous forces who are out to get her. Malcolm and the kitchen maid Alice rescue baby Lyra in Malcolm’s canoe and begin a journey which will be terrifying and deeply fulfilling.

I knew from the first page that this was going to be wonderful. The fact that the peacocks were called Barry and Norman was enough for me, I felt that I was in safe hands, that Philip Pullman was going to make me smile and fear and worry about the characters who were coming along as the chapter progressed.

The presentation of the book is lush and gorgeous, the cover alone is a thing of beauty. The illustrations at the beginnings of the chapters are simple and perfect. The print is large and friendly and makes the book seem like a giant, but it isn’t really. It is a manageable size and best of all, it never talks down to it’s reader, it understands that it is for a reader of all ages. I just loved it.

Timebomb by Joelle Charbonneaux

timebombLook at all those 5 star reviews and I’m giving it a 3.5. I found it hard to get into at first, it felt a little bit messy at the beginning, however once the story gets going it really rocks along. You’ve got a lot of characters being set up at the start which you need, but there are so many people I just got a little bit lost. Then once they are all at school on a Saturday for their various reasons you realise they are in terrific danger and then it becomes a great big rollicking survival story. Being stuck in a multi story building where bombs are going off is a very scary scenario and the story is about how they survive and deal with this horrible situation.

I like Joelle Charbonneau’s writing, her The Testing and it’s sequels are one of my really popular books at school, she does tension and teenage drama really well. She has a lot of characters in here and they all have issues. The kind of issues that teenagers all over the world are dealing with, these are all dealt with really well. A few of characters I didn’t actually come to grips with until they were at the centre of the action but the majority of them were people I came to understand and feel for.
There are some really good plot twists and as the book goes on, it is as tense as a really good crime novel.

In summary, it is a good book, thoroughly engaging once you get into it This is a novel which has mass appeal, I’ll definitely be buying copies for my students.

Thanks very much to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

Sparrow by Scot Gardner

SparrowOne of the best books I’ve read this year! Scot Gardner is one of my favourite authors, he gets teenagers and he writes them well. This one is particularly good. It is the story of a boy called Sparrow, it takes place in dual time settings, beginning on an uninhabited island where he has washed up after his ship sinks, this island is far from idyllic, there are terrible creatures everywhere all of which want to hurt (or even eat) him. We also meet Sparrow before this happens when he is living on the street, helping out in cafes to try and get free food to keep himself from starving. We begin to find out how he ended up in this situation and there is nothing good about his past life. He has been abused, mistreated, lied to and abandoned. Despite all this Sparrow is loveable and kind to others.

Sparrow’s journey from abandoned urchin to imprisoned youth is gripping. I fell in love with him from the very first sentence and I cried at some of the appalling things that happened to him. Sparrow’s relationship with the cafe people is wonderfully written, very realistic, full of pathos and at times raw and edgy.

If you are looking for books for teenage boys just head out and buy all of his books for them. They are properly real and beautifully constructed, but their real beauty is in the characters of realistic boys who deal with the crap life throws at them in amazing ways. A real contender for my YA book of the year.

Below is Scot Gardner reading the first chapter.  You should definitely listen to it. Definitely!

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.