February 17

Two boys, two families – the Kite Runner

Two boys, two families, together from ‘babyhood’, but with differing destinies. That is the foundation of ‘the Kite Runner’.

Set initially in Afghanistan in the 1970’s, it is a tale of friendship, loyalty, betrayal, prejudice and forgiveness. With this background of economic crisis, political instability and the uprising of the guerrilla opposition forces, the mujahidin (“Islamic warriors”), life is extremely challenging.

For Amir, the son of a wealthy well-respected businessman (Baba), life should have been almost carefree. But without his mother (who died in childbirth), Amir struggles to gain his father’s love and attention. Blessed with a playmate, Hassan, he is, however, able to enjoy some childhood joy.

Hassan lives with his father, Ali, who works as a servant to Amir’s father. Though Baba and Ali have also been friends since childhood, their status in Afghanistan is defined by their heritage; thus Ali and Hassan, scorned upon as Hazaras, are fortunate to work for Baba.

As a young child, Amir has the undying loyalty of Hassan. In contrast, Amir finds it hard to defend Hassan when he faces the taunts and attacks that come his way from the local Muslim bullies. He also struggles to meet his father’s ideal of a son, except for one particular occasion – and even then, he ultimately fails in another respect.

Having been born in Kabul himself, Hosseini was the child of middle-class parents like Amir. His family, too, left Afghanistan when he was young and were unable to return due to the Soviet invasion in 1979. They sought political asylum in the United States.

Therefore, it seems like much of the Kite Runner is autobiographical, as it certainly provides a thought-provoking story of life in a battle-torn country. Hosseini provides snippets of information about how another country faces clashes of culture and ingrained beliefs and the impact on the lives of children and their families. He pulls no punches in describing some of the dire situations in which a ‘less significant’ person might find themselves in an age of economic struggle and political turmoil.

Amir’s conscience encourages us to hope that not all mankind believes in these class structures, though his inaction is constantly frustrating. After a surprising act from Amir, the families are separated and then external factors force Amir and Baba to flee the country, and they get a taste of the life of the less-privileged as political refugees.

Throughout the story, Amir reflects on the importance of family and traditions, and the rich cultural Afghan heritage is peppered within this. The atrocities of war and violence are also a strong feature which makes some parts challenging, trying to understand how such things can happen. In spite of these dangers, Amir is ultimately compelled to return to Kabul – to seek peace, redemption and more.

the Kite Runner – book to movie

‘The Kite Runner’ was actually a debut novel for author Khaled Hosseini, and the author states that “if I were given a red pen now and I went back … I’d take that thing apart”. However, it has received many many accolades (and sales) since it was first published in 2003.

(Khaled Hosseini: ‘If I could go back now, I’d take The Kite Runner apart’ from: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/01/khaled-hosseini-kite-runner-interview)

# I’m not sure I really liked Amir, even at the end of the novel: do we have to allow him forgiveness for his actions? is there a better ‘hero’ in the story?

## I have not seen the film version and wonder if it gave an even glossier finish to the tale?

March 9

Before and After – ‘After’ by Sue Lawson

afterCJ is sent to stay with his grandparents in the countryside. It is in the middle of the school year. He is not happy. Neither are they.

Life in the country is also quite different from the city life he is used to. There’s a lot of different jobs to do on the farm. Many different animals to get used to. And then, there’s a whole lot of new ‘animals’ and other stuff to adapt to at a new school.

The trouble for CJ (Callum) is that the town of Winter Creek knows more about him than he does. Nobody has told him anything about his background. What is worse is that Jack Frewen knows a whole lot more about him than he would like him to know. On top of this, Callum also has aspects about his recent past that he would like to forget – if only his nightmares and daytime flashbacks would allow him.

Sue Lawson has packaged some great characters into ‘After’. Why? Because they are realistic and believable. They could be your best mate, your worst (bullying) enemy, or your long lost grandparent. Look left or right, Jack or Ella or Tim may be one of your schoolmates. Nic or Benny may be much like your best friend. Or least, someone you know at school.

Since Callum strives to be a loner at his new school – private and solitary, it is interesting that along the way, he buddies up with Luke; a ‘special’ boy at school, victim of taunts and teasing. Someone who used to be someone great until….

Callum’s quiet acceptance of all that is dished out to him at school, bubbles under the surface through most of the story, at a time when he is struggling with why his mother has sent him away. He doesn’t dob on those who bully him. He doesn’t want to talk about his past. He doesn’t want to sort things out with his mother or his grandmother. How many of the people you know at school and work might be feeling much the same? [Quietly troubled.]

Events traipse along in ‘After’, loosely connected along a line of sporting and school activities. Favours and favouritism raise their heads, as old alliances are paid out with blind acceptance of the way things just play out in a country town. But Callum’s arrival begins to challenge the old order. And some, like Jack Frewen, aren’t happy about that.

Old hurts, anger, blocked memories and misinterpretations are some of the key things Callum has to deal with – which becomes clear to us as we move between the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ elements of this story.  Little by little, bits of Callum’s past are revealed – many of which are new to Callum himself. When some are revealed in an antagonistic manner, how will he react?

‘After’ is a story of hurt, rejection and reconciliation. A story of contrasts and differences.  A story of acceptance and friendship.

What do you think?

Young_adult

See: http://www.suelawson.com.au/books/young-adult/ for more.

* For more great books by Sue Lawson see: http://www.suelawson.com.au/books/young-adult/ – including ‘Finding Darcy’, ‘Allie McGregor’s True Colours’ and ‘Pan’s Whisper’.

January 22

Loyalties – Two Wolves

Where do your loyalties lie? Would you do anything for your friends? your family? What if things didn’t seem to be quite right?

Ben is placed in a difficult situation. He and his sister are suddenly bundled into the car with their parents as they ‘head off for a holiday’. But it’s NOT school holidays, and they are NOT heading off to some exciting resort. And the way that dad is acting is downright crazy!

For instance, why do they have to swap from their old car into an even dodgier vehicle from Uncle Chris? And why on earth are they headed to his grandfather’s dark and dank old cabin, if they are supposed to be going on a holiday? Even his dad hadn’t been there for ages!

As he contemplates the answers to these questions, Ben collects strands of information together to try to make sense of things. After all, he’s always dreamt  of becoming a detective. Thus, he jots down in his notebook all sorts of things; like the surprise visit of police officers at their family home, the family’s rapid departure after this (still in their school clothes!), and all the other insane events which follow.

When his parents are evasive about the reasons for everything that is happening, Ben does his best to uncover the truth. In doing so, he continues to battle with his father and even begins to question his mother’s sanity. Should his parents really be dragging Ben and Olive into the dangerous situation seemingly on the run from the law?

Ben’s choices waiver as he thinks of those who will be impacted – including his pesky sister, Violet, and his parents. As he reflects on events as his circumstances rapidly change, he ponders how much he has inherited from his dad and where his loyalties should lie. Then he worries, is he simply a ‘chip off the old block’, destined to follow his father’s dodgy footsteps?

There are several twists and turns in Tristan Bancks latest book, which is due for release in March this year. Like his other ‘Mac Slater Coolhunter’ books, Bancks delivers a likeable main character, with choices to make, and consequences to consider from his actions.

Bancks is also very adept in using all sorts of media in his storytelling – which makes sense given his background in acting and film making. His skills include sharing some of these creative ideas via a multimedia story brainstorming app, Story Scrapbook, and lots of encouraging advice you can investigate at: http://www.tristanbancks.com/

November 12

Reading: between book reviews

guideSpending time reading catalogues and reading guides is a great way to take a breather between book reviews. It helps gather ideas about all the new books about. Unfortunately, it also increases the length of the list of books you really should read…

The ‘2013-2014 Kids’ Reading Guide’ put out by the Australian Booksellers Association is a recent example of this. From the intriguing picture books, (which deal with fun infant concepts like learning the alphabet, and revisions of ‘This little piggy’), to the latest Anh Do book and classics retold – there is lots to capture the imagination of readers young and old.

Another fabulous addition to this particular catalogue is the inclusion of reviews by young readers – long enough to give you an idea of the story, but short enough not to give away the whole plot. It’s a great way to acknowledge young readers and get an insight into what they enjoy about the featured books – what attracted them and what they they think others might like about the book – and isn’t that what reviewing is all about?

There are several books within the guide that I plan to read, among others that I have read and recommended – e.g. to read: Gabrielle Wang’s ‘the Wishbird’‘Zac and Mia’ by A.J.Betts and ‘the Vanishing Moment’; and recommended: ‘the Sky so Heavy’ by Claire Zorn, and ‘the Kensington Reptilarium’ by Nikki Gemmell. There are also books by Andy Griffiths, Anh Do, Morris Gleitzman and John Flanagan which continue to be popular – many either as continuing series, or in familiar formats to older titles.

An additional bonus to this catalogue is the inclusion of illustrations from Shaun Tan’s latest book, ‘Rules of Summer’ which mix well with the multitude of book covers that readers have to choose from. So browse carefully, before you decide which delight to take home from your local Australian Bookseller.

N.B. For some great insights to the creative mind of Shaun Tan, visit ‘the Rules of Summer’ website

June 17

Great reviews!!

kbr logo reviews a-z

Kids Book Review website

There are so many wonderful blogs to be found on the web – and so many which talk about great books for Australian teenagers! Here’s just a few:

    • # Aussie reviews / Young Adults – providing online reviews of all kinds of Australian books – from adult fiction to children’s books to non-fiction – managed by writer Sally Murphy.
    • # Big Bookcase – news, views and reviews on reading
    • # Books and Reading – TGS – Booklists, recommended reading, book blogs and more from the Trinity Grammar School community.
    • # Fully Booked – the reading blog of Barker College in Sydney, Australia.
    • # Hey! Teenager – teenager/ writer Steph Bowe’s blog about reading and writing YA.
    • # Inside a Dog? – a place for teen readers and the home of Inky, the reading wonder-dog.
    • # JustNew – LibraryThing – link to our library’s newest additions – find reviews and recommendations here.
    • # Kids Book Review – a 100% voluntary children’s literature and book review site that supports and features authors, illustrators and publishers Australia-wide and internationally.
    • # Read Alert – reviews and comments on YA from the State Library of Victoria
    • # Read Plus – a collection of selected books and films reviewed and themed
    • # SpineOut reviews – online digital journal of reviews by kids for kids
    • # storylines – reviews of books and websites from the King’s School community

Many thanks to these communities for adding their thoughts on great reads!!

Are there any others you would like to share?

Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT
May 8

Face value? ‘Wonder’ by R.J.Palacio

After many years of home schooling, August Pullman is facing his first year at school. Like any new student, he is not sure what to expect and how he will fit in. His parents are unsure whether it is the right time for him to start school – they have protected him from the cruelty of the outside world up until now. All of them have been to the school before it starts in order to prepare him for this next step in his life, and buddies have been set up to help out.

The trouble is, August will stand out, due to a facial deformity he was born with. In spite of many operations, he has faced many years of taunts and stares from strangers, and he now faces exposure to a much bigger group of people on a daily basis. Students who don’t ven know him will judge him harshly, call him names and some, even bully him.

The story is told from a number of different points of view – that of August; his sister, Olivia; her boyfriend, Justin; and a school friend, Jack. This helps to show the struggles of people who care for August, along with the joys they have of knowing the boy behind the face. August’s thoughts and reactions in the story are the ones that really make you think.

Problems of fitting in, and the bullying associated with being different in a new situation, are among the issues to be dealt with in ‘Wonder’. The impact on others around Auggie is also one of the key elements of the story. His sister, school mates and others all reflect their position in his life – what they see and how they act to the way others treat Auggie.

Though ‘Wonder’ is probably written for a younger age group (set in grade 5, and with an 11 year old protagonist), there is great value in older students reading this tale. With the different perspectives shared, and the simple way which August expresses his point of view, there are lots of things to wonder about. Do we treat others fairly? Do we too often judge others based on their appearance? How many people are handicapped, not by their own physical disabilities, but instead by the way others label them?

For some, the ending will be wrapped up too warmly – the years of staring and laughing that August has faced being swept under the carpet. However, some of the precepts in the final ‘Appendix’ chapter are worth dwelling on. And if a book like ‘Wonder’ can make people think about life from a different perspective, then that makes it a worthwhile tale to recommend!

For an insight to what inspired the author to write ‘Wonder’, her debut novel, see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/authorinterviews/9086974/Interview-with-RJ-Palacio-author-of-Wonder.html

March 10

Blizzard Lines by Tim Hawkes

In a moment of stupidity, John’s life changes course. His happy self-indulgent existence, as a school boy enjoying a comfortable home and cruising along at school, comes to an abrupt end. He is expelled from school and will face criminal charges – all over a few photos he shared with his mates.

Understandably, his parents are horrified by the prospect of their son being sent to gaol. They both question where they may have failed to reach him and guide him as a teenager. The difficulty for his dad is that he, Peter, is at work at Mawson Station in the Antarctic – and not likely to be heading home for some time.

From the icy and challenging environment of the ice station, Peter Harvey writes to his son in an effort to try to advise his future choices as John’s trial looms closer. Interesting parallels are drawn of the challenges faced by early explorers to South Pole, as well as the daily challenges faced by those at Mawson, and are reflected within the episodes occurring in John’s life at home, as the consequences of his actions become real.

No longer attending a private school with his mates, John starts work as a labourer for a bullying boss, Ben’s dad, and begins to realise what he has lost. He continues to party hard and seek quick thrills. He admires Ben’s slick car and the status it offers, and dreams of owning something similar. But dreams can sometimes turn into nightmares. (Indeed, Ben’s life isn’t as rosy as John first imagined.)

Away from home, his father continues to struggle with his absence from his family at this time of need, and calls on significant others to help his son. Uncle Geoff, and JJ, his grandfather, provide John with physical presences and seek to help him make sense of his predicament. In his own world, Peter seeks help and advice from his work colleagues – all of whom share differing perspectives, which Peter in turn shares with John in his stream of regular emails.

Blizzard Lines (as noted in its blurb) slips between two worlds. John’s world, once comfortable and easy-going, has become a place of stress, angst and danger. Peter’s world is isolated and distant from this, while the people he works with provide insight, comfort and concern.

As things change for both of them, we view conflict and peace, mistakes and choices; and nod knowingly to the feelings experienced by the many of people impacted in this tale. Tim Hawkes has developed real characters, tied them all together in situations which today’s teenagers could very well face. Added to this, he cleverly mixes in some interesting snippets of history, and facts about contrasting worlds in which people live and work. And he describes how different people cope in these different worlds.

Reading Blizzard Lines, you should wonder: Who will grow in character from their experiences? what can be learned? and importantly, who will listen? (and what might the reader take from this book?)

February 6

‘Is your name Parvana?’

She is only 15, but American authorities suspect she may be more than she first appears – but is Parvana really a terrorist?

Parvana’ Promise is the sequel to Deborah’s Ellis’s Parvana and Parvana’s Journey; books which were inspired by the author’s visit to Pakistan to help at an Afghan refugee camp. They focus on the life struggles of Parvana and her friends and family, as they face the turmoils of daily life under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Life as a girl in Afghanistan is particularly challenging. In past books, Parvana disguised herself as a boy in order to support her family, since the Taliban forbids girls working. Education of girls is another forbidden, as highlighted recently in real life, by the shooting of a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, in Pakistan (for daring to oppose its rule and advocating for the right of girls to go to school).

In Parvana’s Promise, Parvana and her mother run a school for girls, and they face lots of dangerous opposition to this. This school is where she is found and apprehended by the US Military, when they bomb the school. From here, Paravana is imprisoned and questioned constantly – but she refuses to utter a word, much to the frustration of her captors.

Parvana’s story moves from the present to the past and back again, as we try to understand why she is remaining totally silent. Her strengths and loyalties shine through, though it is sometimes hard to comprehend that life could really be like this for children around the world. However, through her tale, we catch glimpses of life under Taliban rule which are realistic, given Ellis’s own experiences among Afghan refugees.

Interestingly, Deborah donated the royalties for both Parvana’s Journey and Parvana to ‘Women for Women’ in Afghanistan. A recent interview with Deborah  Ellis  gives an insight into how her books have come about and how she thinks as she writes. It highlights so much how good writing comes from writing about things you really know.

Parvana’s Promise has been criticised for its negative portrayal of both the US military and the Taliban, but Ellis simply wants to focus on the child’s perspective in a dangerous land. What do you think?

November 27

Guest post: by Meredith C.

‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’, by Brian Selznick, is a novel that uses both words and pictures to tell a mysterious and intriguing novel. The main character Hugo is a young orphaned boy who lives in a train station in France, 1931. He operates the clocks while avoiding being seen by the station inspector.

Hugo spends his spare time fixing his dead father’s machine, or automaton. However, to find the clogs and various other parts he needs, he steals them.

The toy store that Hugo steals from is run by an old, grumpy man. One day when Hugo is stealing something the man catches him and forces to work for him. While working for the man Hugo meets a young, bright girl named Isabelle.

The two children must embark on an adventure to discover the secret of the automaton and what lies within it. They also discover that the old, grumpy man from the toy booth is not how he seems, he has an exciting past.

I found the book interesting to use pictures to help tell the story; it was the first book I read with that kind of structure and I am so glad that it was so interesting and intriguing. I would recommend this book for a teenager. I would personally give it 4 stars.

For more information about Brian Selznick, Hugo Cabret and more of his books visit: http://www.theinventionofhugocabret.com/index.htm

November 12

Oh, my darling – Divine Clementine

Clementine has had a fabulous relationship with her aunt, Stella – who is only 10 years older. But one fateful day she sees her groovy aunt smashed by an oncoming bus, right in front of her.

For some, funerals are a place to farewell a loved one – for Clementine, Stella’s funeral launches her into a rage against life. Nothing seems to make sense anymore, and she dives into great depths of depression. She no longer sees the need to  conform to any of the world’s standards, or connect in any way to her school, friends or family.

After the funeral, Clementine joins her mother and grandmother at Stella’s, collecting and sorting though Stella’s things for memorable items. A crazy quilt, a favourite jacket and some of Stella’s diaries are among the items collected by Clementine. Unfortunately, the diaries reveal a lot of things that Clementine doesn’t know about her aunt – and many things her mother had protected her from.

As a result, Clementine dives even further into herself and fails to consider why her mother made the choices she did regarding her aunt. Within herself, Clementine has a lot to deal with – the betrayal of those close to her, her own great sorrow with the loss of her aunt, and the goodhearted but clumsy attempts of her friends, as they try to pull her out of the depression which follows.

‘Divine Clementine’ is a debut novel for Hayley S. Kirk. She deals realistically with problems that many teens could face, as illness and death challenge the solidity of families, and the voices in the story are genuine. What do you think?