August 30

Mystery in the making

red notebookIf you lost your bag – handbag, schoolbag or backpack, what would it tell others about you? Without your ID (driver’s licence, school ID, etc.), could you be traced? identified? found?

If you found a bag (mentioned above), what would you do?

In ‘the Red Notebook’, bookseller Laurent Letellier feels compelled, when he comes across an abandoned mauve leather handbag, to find the owner. With little identification in the bag, the mystery begins, and Laurent calls on suggestions from others, and in so doing becomes quite involved.

Following hints given by journal jottings, receipts and personal items in the bag, Laurent works to find the mystery owner. Along the way, he works through testing relationships, and surprising events while he searches.

‘The Red Notebook’ is a short romantic tale, translated from French, which makes you wonder about connections and connecting, our actions and taking time to know people, and how interwoven our lives could be in this busy world if we took the time. Laurent could have simply passed the handbag on to police after he discovered it in the street, but was the journey that followed instead worth it?

Antoine Laurain paints a description of a relaxed Parisian lifestyle, though marked by a mugging early in the tale, and peppered with the literary references you would expect from an authentic bookseller, Laurent Letellier. As a reluctant hero, he follows through his plan to reunite the handbag and its owner, with some interesting results along the way.

While not a YA novel, the emotions, decisions and cultural setting are worth discovery. Considering how people’s paths may cross in life, and the result of choices made, are some of the ideas generated in ‘the Red Notebook’.

How does he do it?  does it really make a difference in the long run? will he be able to solve the puzzle with so few clues? how does it then impact on his everyday life?

February 10

Taking a stand – ‘The Beauty is in the Walking’

the-beauty-is-in-the-walkingDoes the title of a book ever keep you wondering all the way through? Does it capture you more, or less, than the book cover?

I admit that I picked this book up based on the reputation of the author. Australian author, James Moloney has over 40  books for children and teenagers in his writing swag, along with a collection of literary awards. But the title had me puzzled.

It is only gradually that the reader is introduced to the narrator, 17-year-old Jacob O’Leary, who seems to be an average teenager – looking for friendship, his own status and love. What makes Jacob unique is his cerebral palsy (CP).

The Beauty is in the Walking shows how this impacts his daily life, his own thinking and his family’s expectations of him. Also, though he has a strong circle of friends, he is sometimes the victim of bullying. And of course, at times, even these friendships can be fickle and changeable when under pressures such as final exams and outside influences.

Set in a fictional country town in Queensland, the story raises issues about outsiders, racism, fitting in and the adolescent search for romance, against the mystery of a series of violent crimes. Jacob shows strength, determination and commitment when he beleives that the police have accused the wromng person for the shocking crime that has impacted the whole community.

At the same time, he begins to question, with the help of his outspoken English teacher (Mr Svenson) and friend, Chloe, the limited opportunities set out for him after he completes Year 12. He struggles with the plan his parents have set for him (to remain in Palmerston in the family business), against the changing perception of his own potential.

Students will identify with the angst felt by Jacob, as he ventures timidly into his first romantic relationship. They will feel his pain as he deals with his mother’s protective nature, intensified since his older brother, Tyke, has left home. And older students will understand the difficulties and anxieties faced in the final days of high school. (Though students in NSW schools may question the timing of some end-of-year events)

Jacob has a lot to prove – to the community, his parents, his teachers and himself. With determination he will try – can he succeed in his ‘walk’?

July 17

Deceiving book covers – Zebra Forest

zebra_forest_cover-330When Zebra Forest was first shown to me, I was attracted by the cover – but it gave little away about the story beneath. That said, this debut novel by Adina Gewirtz is an intriguing and thoughtful novel about family relationships, and the shaping of our memories.

Annie B. and her younger brother Rew live with their grandmother. They know little about their past – not even their mother’s name, and assume their father is dead. Their unusual family setup is accepted by their local comunity – even school fails to worry should they not turn up regularly, as Annie takes on tasks for her brooding grandmother.

As summer vacation approaches, eleven year old Annie is suddenly confronted at home by a prison escapee, and all her understandings about her family history are shaken, as she and Rew and Gran are taken hostage.

Who is this escapee? How will they, as hostages, deal with their situation? And what will it mean for their family – this threat, this intrusion on their day-to-day existence? Will anyone notice their absence?

Perhaps one of the tragic points hidden in Gewirtz book is the fact that there is little intrusion or investigation when Annie and Rew don’t appear at school; and there is little community concern for Gran – an elderly person repsonsible for the care of 2 young children. Is this a reflection of society today? Or would there be more concern for the family held hostage by a convicted murderer in reality?

Is this just poetic licence explaining away family isolation? What do you think? Could the events of Zebra Forest happen in real life? If so, what should we do about it?

Here’s a book trailer introduction to Zebra Forest:

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/