Review: Burn by Patrick Ness

burnOn a cold Sunday evening in 1957, Sarah Dewhurst and her father wait in the parking lot of the Chevron Gas Station for the dragon Gareth hired to help on the farm. Their encounter with Kazimir — a rare, enigmatic blue dragon — ignites a world-ending chain of events they have no hope of aborting; for this is their destiny. This is fate.

Blending the epic with the intimate, Patrick Ness has crafted a novel of exquisite escapism. He weaves new religions, histories and conflicts into an action-packed, character-focused romp, teeming with rogue FBI agents, a cruel xenophobic deputy sheriff, dragons (of course) and a teenage assassin; and that’s only the start of its stunningly diverse cast.

Burn has the propulsion of a thriller — its two grand action scenes are masterpieces of excitement and stomach-clenching tension — and the earnestness of the very best tales of young romance. Ness is a brilliantly nimble writer, able to flick between blockbuster moments and personal with peerless grace. It’s the stuff of literary magic.

ISBN: 9781406375503
Number Of Pages: 384
Available: 7th May 2020
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd

Review: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

bsg-eizcj311a0tpwi0_osuzy-exegvdfwc1mhpuuessyg6060“Of course, I know there are LGBTQIA activists out there who fought for centuries for me to have the right to fuck up like this… I’m aware that I should be grateful that I have the ability to get broken up with and publicly humiliated the same as my hetero friends. I am progress.”

This tremendous queer coming-of-age story feels heart achingly familiar and extraordinary at the same time. Stunningly rendered in grayscale, with tinges of pink, by artist Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is about two High School girls — Frederica (Freddy) Riley and Laura Dean — in a seriously toxic relationship, and spans a formative year in their lives; through the highs and lows of young, raw, love and the repercussions their noxious romance has on those around them.

Set in Berkeley, California, the cast is extremely diverse, with a broad range of sexualities, race, gender expressions and body shapes presented, not just as background, but as substantial characters, dealing with their own trials and tribulations that don’t always come to the fore — this isn’t their story, it’s Frederica’s —  but lends the narrative credibility. This world feels lived in; the characters breathe.

Complex characters, authentic dialogue, and messy-but-beautiful friendships; Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell have created a modern classic of graphic storytelling. Readers who’ve aged beyond Raina Telgemeier’s work should seek this out immediately. Read it, love it, cherish it. You won’t regret it.

ISBN: 9781626722590
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 304
Imprint: First Second
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publish Date: 7-May-2019
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Land Of Fences by Mark Smith

9781925773583“It’s difference they’re scared of — anyone with dark skin, a different religion, a strange language.”

And so we’ve reached the end of Mark Smith’s brilliant Winter trilogy. Part survival thriller, part post-apocalyptic romance, part coming-of-age tale, Smith’s series has never been anything less than engrossing, spiced with moments of nerve-shredding tension and breathless action, and enriched by probing social commentary. Land Of Fences takes this to a whole new level, as mankind looks to rebuild after its decimation from a virus.

Streetlamps now flicker to life. There is the occasional  guttural raw of a reappropriated truck. The government — whoever that is — have commandeered the airwaves. And the ragtag military has mobilised, splitting the landscape into quarantined and unquarantined zones. Order is being restored; we are witnessing the birth of a new civilisation. But it comes with a heavy price. “Siley’s” — asylum seekers are being forced into slavery to foster the development of this brave new world. Society is more divided than ever. It threatens to keep Finn and Kas apart. If they let it.

Like Marsden’s epic Tomorrow series, Mark Smith’s Winter trilogy is destined to be a classic. Land of Fences is an adrenaline-pumping finale, bursting with timely themes and lasting resonance thanks to its credible, nuanced young characters. For adolescents and adults alike, it is truly unmissable.

ISBN: 9781925773583
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 256
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publish Date: 4-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: It Sounded Better In My Head by Nina Kenwood

9781925773910Bursting with humour and heart, It Sounded Better In My Head should be required reading for for anyone who has ever felt even slightly uncomfortable in his or her skin. Set during that tempestuous period between high school and what comes next, Nina Kenwood’s Text Prize-winning debut is a poignant, realistic tale about the complexity, joy and weight of first love, and the unbreakable bonds of friendship. It reminded me of what it’s like to be young and in love, and the absolute joy of falling in love with a book.

When her parents announce their impending divorce — decided upon months ago, but revealed now, when it’s too late to do anything to change their minds — Natalie finds herself infuriated at the sheer calmness of the situation. Nobody is fighting; no one seems even mildly upset. Fine; these things happen. So her family life is a little rocky. At least she’s got the solid foundation of her two best friends, Zach and Lucy, right? Wrong. They’ve hooked up, which makes Natalie feel like an outsider, and just a little bit jealous; she always assumed a romance between herself and Zach was inevitable; they were just waiting for right moment. Now that future has been ripped from beneath her feet. Everything has changed, nothing makes sense. And then comes an unexpected romance…

It Sounded Better In My Head is a wonderful novel about love, friendship, and the anticipation of life beyond the walls of high school. It’s honest, joyous and unsentimental. Nina Kenwood has crafted a novel that will fill your heart to bursting.

ISBN: 9781925773910
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 288
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 6-Aug-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Secret Runners of New York by Matthew Reilly

ReillyA strangely sedate opening eighty pages — by Matthew Reilly standards, anyway, as he explores the cutthroat world of New York’s richest teenage socialites — soon disintegrates into the pedal to the metal chaos fans expect; only this time, there’s time travel, and the end of the world as its backdrop.

Skye Rogers is our hero: 16-years-old, recently moved to New York City to attend an elite school for the astronomically wealthy. Reilly spends a lot of time detailing her world and her struggle to find a place in it; looming debutante balls; burgeoning romantic relationships; high school cliques, fractured friendships. It doesn’t matter how rich you are; all kids go through the same shit. But add a layer of insane affluence, it’s all a bit more savage. Especially when you take into account the number of students who’ve gone “missing” recently.

Against this “new school” drama is the fact the world is predicted to end in less than a year. Yep, the apocalypse is coming; not that you’d notice. The majority of people assume it’s a false prophecy. So the world keeps on keeping on, everyone focused on themselves. Skye, too; until she’s welcomed into an exclusive club, self-designated the “Secret Runners of New York.” These kids have access to an underground portal that can transport them into the future which suggests the looming doomsday is more than prophecy. It’s an unalterable fact. Or is it?

From the beginning of its second act, The Secret Runners of New York explodes into classic Matthew Reilly territory, the brake pedal long forgotten as he thrusts Skye into several impossible scenarios, and the book becomes a gleeful, exuberant sci-fi thriller romp. The action scenes are handled with Reilly’s customary verve — though The Secret Runners of New York doesn’t have the insane set-pieces of his Scarecrow and Jack West blockbusters — but the book lumbers through its bursts of exposition. Reilly’s style of storytelling has always worked best with a cast of military types and adventurers; entering the mindset of a teenager is a totally different beast. Some of the characterisations come off as stereotypical, which is less noticeable in an action-blockbuster romp, where the action zips along at great velocity, but such unambiguousness doesn’t work so effectively in what is supposed to be a more character-focused drama. For my money, if you want to introduce a younger reader to Reilly’s work, Hover Car Racer remains the must-read.

ISBN: 9781760559076
Format: Paperback
Pub Date: 26/03/2019
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Pages: 352
Price: $16.99

Review: Wilder Country by Mark Smith

9781925498530.jpgThe sequel to Mark Smith’s The Road to Winter is a page-turner with a heart and soul, tightly packed with exquisitely rendered action and nail-biting scenes of peril, all layered with emotional authenticity. Wilder Country is an exceptional tale of young people forced to grow up too soon, take on responsibilities far beyond their purview, and make decisions nobody should have to.

The severe winter has prohibited the Wilders — a violent band of plague-survivors — from closing in on Finn, Kas and Willow. But with the arrival of Spring comes the acceptance that the peace and relative tranquillity of the last few months is over. The Wilders will be hunting for the trio, lead by the savage Ramage, who will stop at nothing for revenge following the events of The Road to Winter. But even with that looming threat, Finn and Kas have not forgotten the promise they made to Rose — to find her baby, Hope, and bring her back. That vow will force them directly into a confrontation with the Wilders, but in a ruined world, honour matters more than anything else, and Finn and Kas will stop at nothing to see their promise fulfilled.

Maintaining echoes of John Marsden’s Tomorrow series, author Mark Smith pulls out all the stops, propelling readers on an  action-packed, wild ride with unexpected twists and turns, and vitally, characters readers care about. Wilder Country doesn’t shy away from difficult truths and important moral lessons resultant of a dystopian society, and on more than one occasion the young characters have to battle with the concept of right and wrong, and whether the laws of the old world are amenable with their new reality. Kas seems more willing and able to adapt to the new ways, where might makes right, whereas Finn is more reluctant to pull the trigger. The dynamics of their relationship is what makes the novel shine.

As compelling as its predecessor, and respectful of the capacity of its readers, Wilder Country pulls no punches, and is a pulse-pounding, addictive page-turner full of depth and emotion.

ISBN: 9781925498530
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 28-Aug-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

 

 

 

Review: Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

MoonriseSarah Crossan’s Moonrise is a poignant, resonant and heart-wrenching exploration of our powerlessness against the justice system, and the emotional toll incarceration, and an impending death sentence, has on the offender and their family. The story is sad, but never overly sentimental, and truly shines when Crossan focuses on the lasting impact of individual moments. The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious young adult novel.

The Moon brothers — Joe and Ed — were inseparable in their youth, the latter being the troublesome and cheekier older of the two, who looked after his sibling as best he could when nobody else would. But Ed always had a wild streak — honed perhaps by a dysfunctional home life —  and a determination to escape the life he knew. One day, he did; but things did not work out as planned. When Moonrise opens, we learn that Ed is on death row for killing a police officer, and Joe hasn’t seen his brother for ten years. When Ed’s execution date is formalised, Joe makes the trip to Texas, hoping that there’s still time to save him, to repeal his fate; and more than anything, wanting to reconnect after so many years apart, and salvage their relationship.

Moonrise is told in verse, which makes the pages fly, its lyrical paragraphs and sentences seamlessly melding together into something beautiful. This is a novel that deftly explores the legitimacy of the death penalty without ever threatening to become a dissertation on the subject. More than anything else, however, it is a book about acceptance; acquiescing to your fate, even when it’s unfair, even when it’s unreasonably harsh. It’s about cherishing the time we have with our loved ones, and living with a willingness to open our hearts.

Moonrise is emotionally tumultuous, utterly gripping and satisfying. It will break your heart, and it will fortify it. It is a thought-provoking meditation on crime and punishment, exquisitely detailing the raw emotions on both sides of the prison cell. It’s about the before and the after, and fighting against the odds. It’s a cruel story, beautifully told. And it is absolutely one of my favourite books of the year.

ISBN: 9781408878439
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Bloomsbury Childrens
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 7-Sep-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Upside Of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

9780141356112 (1)Becky Albertalli follows up her brilliant debut Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda with a fresh and poignant adolescent love story starring eternally lovelorn seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso. Set against the backdrop of the legalisation of gay marriage in America and the planning of her mothers’subsequent nuptials, The Upside of Unrequited is a heartfelt and bittersweet reminder of the pain and exhilaration of first love.

The Upside of Unrequited works because of its characters. There is never any doubt as to the story’s endpoint; this is a universal tale of burgeoning romance, of choosing the right guy over the obvious one, and overcoming your insecurities and being comfortable with who you are. What makes it stand out is its diverse cast, and the deftness with which this diversity is handled.  Albertalli doesn’t overemphasize her characters’ sexual orientation, ethnicity, mental health or size; they’re just elements vividly melded into her story. Every character is well-drawn and relatable.

Molly’s teen angst might prove grating for some readers — it’s tuned to the nth degree, intentionally so — but thankfully before it gets too much she finds a dose of confidence, and the plot shifts into a different gear, and instead of focusing on a possible romance, it becomes about managing newfound romance.

The Upside of Unrequited is a searingly honest book about the power and beauty of first love; and the turmoil involved in discovering it, and accepting it. It deals with some heavy themes and big issues, but never at the expense of its characters. Becky Albertalli’s second novel is another winner.

ISBN: 9780141356112
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 368
Imprint: Penguin Books Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 11-Apr-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Release by Patrick Ness

release-patrick-nessRelease is about that terrifying and exhilarating process of piecing together who you are during the most tumultuous period of your life, when your entire identity is in a constant state of flux. Our teenage years are spent searching for authenticity: exploring new relationships and trying new identities in order to determine who we are, or at the very least, who we want to be, and accepting it.

Over the course of a single day, seventeen-year-old Adam Thorn’s life completely unravels — revelation after revelation pummelling him, threatening to crash-land him into pieces, changing everything — but it’s one of those days that’s necessary for him to become, and accept, who he is; one of those days he’ll look back on and appreciate for its defining moments.  Release is about a revolutionary day in a young man’s life, told with Patrick Ness’s trademark warmth and good humour, and of course, a touch of the supernatural in the form of a ghost who has risen from the lake…

Adam lives in a very religious and strict small-town American home. Living in his brother’s shadow, forced to keep his boyfriend a secret from his pastor father, Adam’s singular outlet is his best friend; the only person who knows how truly messed up he is over the ending of his previous relationship, and the horribleness of his boss at the job he works part-time. Adam’s caught in a hurricane of adolescent emotion, on the precipice of making decisions that will possibly define him, and Ness details this with heart-aching, bring-tears-to-your-eyes honesty.

The supernatural element — the ghost — adds an interesting layer to the tale, but possibly one I could have done without. It neither augments, nor detracts from the book; it just doesn’t seem necessary. The strength of Release is its protagonist, who is unforgettable, and will resonate with readers for a long time.

ISBN: 9781406331172
Format: Hardback (216mm x 135mm x mm)
Imprint: Walker Books Ltd
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

9780143573906Sometimes I’ll reminisce on my first heartbreak (wait, what do you do on your Friday nights?) and simultaneously smile and cringe — yeah, my face is weird — because the memory is a confusing cocktail. On the one hand, it’s still raw, not because of any latent feelings, but because I remember not having the emotional fortitude and experience to cope with the realisation that this great love of mine wasn’t destined to be. It hurt like a motherfucker, and even though the emotion has dulled, I still remember what it felt like. But on the other hand, I do remember the joy of being in love for the first time — pure and undulated, because I didn’t know any better — and I’m not sure if that’s a feeling I’ll ever capture again; because now the brain has the memory to warn the heart: remember what happened last time! Maybe it’s just down to meeting the right person.

Anywho, point is, I remember being a dumb high school kid and being in love, and the weight of that emotion, the incredible burden. I remember the churning of my guts when I asked her out her out the first time; how I’d hand-write a spiel in my notepad of precisely what I’d say over the phone, then freak out when her parents picked up. And I remember how devastated I was when it ended — even though the relationships that followed were far more meaningful, and resonate far more powerfully. So a book that captures the craziness of that period in a young person’s life was always going to pique my interest. But Krystal Sutherland’s Our Chemical Hearts did more than that. It blew me away. I’ve got to say, it’s one of best books I’ve read in some time.

There’s never any doubt: the romantic relationship between Henry Page and Grace Town is headed towards oblivion. Henry’s a quirky kid, who has stayed away from romantic relationships, and is focused instead on becoming the editor of the school paper. He’s two wonderfully loyal friends, and he’s pretty content with the direction of his life. Enter Grace Town, an aloof, unkempt girl who walks with a cane, and who is, naturally, assigned to work at the school paper, too.

It’s only as they grow closer, as Henry falls deeply in love with her, that he realises just how broken and scarred Grace is; that no matter how hard he tries, he may not be able to break down the wall between them; that this relationship may not be destined for the happy ending Henry wishes for.

Sutherland’s novel succeeds because it’s emotionally true. Our Chemical Hearts doesn’t demean young love; it acknowledges it’s importance and its impact. It demonstrates that love, like people, is complicated, and can exist in different forms. It’s funny, heartening and heartbreaking, and a wonderful reminder of how bittersweet first love is. I loved this book.

ISBN: 9780143573906
Format: Paperback (197mm x 131mm x 31mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Penguin Books Australia
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publish Date: 3-Oct-2016
Country of Publication: Australia