October 24

Twins – Are You Seeing Me?

GrothTwins think and act alike, right? Even fraternal twins do many things the same, right?

Yes, to some degree. I can speak from personal experience of fraternal twins who would often pick the same birthday cards for relatives, and scheme together against the other siblings in the family – often in their own personalised language.

However, as many twins (both identical and fraternal) scream – they are still individuals! The twins in ‘Are You Seeing Me?’ are certainly individuals – both of whom scream for different reasons…

Perry screams when his world gets out of hand. At times when he is faced by the unfamiliar, “Perry has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviours.” 

This is the spiel that Perry’s sister regularly rolls out to explain her twin brother’s unusual behaviour. As his twin, she is determined to protect him from the judgemental gaze of others. When Justine screams, however, Perry isn’t the cause – it’s the interfering concern of others, like her boyfriend, Marc.

In ‘Are You Seeing Me?’ much of the journey for Perry and Justine takes place as they travel to Canada, to seek out their estranged mother, Leonie. She left the twins in their father’s care when they were 4, unable to cope with twins – especially since Perry has a ‘special needs’ tag. Unfortunately, in their nineteenth year, Perry and Justine are left alone as their doting father dies of cancer.

There is also an emotional journey for them as they attempt to re-establish links with Leonie – and she has much to learn about Perry. A chance for her to re-connect.

I love the characters Darren Groth has created. They are authentic and believable. The communication between Justine and her father occurs through a diary he kept from birth, and it provides her strength, understanding and support as she strives to support her brother as he tenuously begins to negotiate the adult world. Perry’s comments and insights provide a ‘look inside’ as he struggles to find independence and ‘free’ his sister of her twin commitment.

Finding out that Groth’s own twins were the inspiration behind this book cements the authenticity and appeal of this book. While it has been aligned to Mark Haddon’s ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, it tells a completely different tale. The relationship of twins shows how the Autism Spectrum Disorder impacts the whole family – and how they adapt and deal with it.

Groth proudly speaks of this in ‘A Dad’s Gift to his Neurotypical Daughter’, which is a very interesting prelude to the novel.

Groth’s tale is funny, informative and optimistic. The bond between Pez and Just Jeans is so lovable, it is a great tale for teens to enjoy.

N.B. I am also looking forward to reading ‘Kindling’, an earlier book by Darren Groth – which also deals with autism.

May 1

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

“I went to Support Group for the same reason that I’d allowed nurses with a mere eighteen months of graduation to poison me with exotically named chemicals: I wanted to make my parents happy. There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.”

Obviously, Hazel doesn’t think much of her Support Group. But as an only child and the concentrated focus of her parents’ life since her cancer diagnosis, she succumbs to their wishes. What else can she do? Her illness has meant that she no longer attends school regularly, she has to sleep a lot, while her mother tries to encourage her to have a normal life. How normal can it really be when you know you have a terminal illness?

This is not a ‘happy-ending’ story. Very often in real life children and families fighting cancer do not have a happy ending. This is not a book to make you feel good, or to tell you how to be when someone you know experiences the illnesses associated with cancer. But it will make you think.

This fan-made book trailer gives some insight into the thoughts within ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ – a story of what happens when teen cancer patients fall in love.

In an interview, author John Green makes the statement:

“It’s important to note or remember that people who are sick and people who are dying aren’t dead. They’re still alive. And sometimes we forget that, and we treat the sick and the dying so gingerly and so carefully, when often what they most want is to be alive while they are alive.” ‘Star’-Crossed: When Teens With Cancer Fall In Love

That is why he wanted his book to be realistic, and not a sugar-coated tale ready for Hollywood to take to film. The kids in ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ want to live and make their mark on the world.

What sort of impression have they made on you, the reader?

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?

 

May 29

the Dead I Know – by Scot Gardner

“In a curious way, I felt unburdened by the lack of hair. Something stirred in the pit of my belly and I wondered if the late Mrs Carmel Gray would like my shirt and my JKB tie and my new haircut. I wondered if I would be in the same room as the body. I wondered if I would smell the dead. Touch the dead.”

Aaron has just arrived to begin a new job. His new employer, John Barton, has already sent him to the barber, provided him with white shirts, a tie and measured him up for a suit! And Aaron has quietly accepted all this happening to him.

Strangely, the world he enters suits Aaron’s personal demeanour. He is told to watch and say nothing; so that’s what he does – he watches and observes. And he learns from John Barton, as he mimics the tasks he needs to perform at the funeral parlour, an unusual occupation for a teenage boy.

Back in his own personal world, things are less ordered and far more chaotic. He lives with Mam in a caravan park, as they have for many years, but things are changing. Often now, he has to rescue the burnt remains of Mam’s cooking, keep on the lookout for Westie and occasionally he finds himself waking in the strangest locations, pinned down by those who try to rouse him from his nightmares.

Little insights to Aaron’s past are revealed as the story progresses, but only as slowly as he cares to reveal details to the new people in his life. I love the way Mr and Mrs Barton deal with him, gently guiding and occasionally pushing him in certain directions. They are understanding adults, who avoid pressuring the somewhat troubled teen, without being too intrusive and making a subtle difference. This contrasts with those he sees at the hospital when his Mam has a broken arm. They feel she has others needs, and pressure him, but Aaron stands firm refusing further tests for her.

The Barton’s impudent and inquisitive daughter, Skye, asks many of the questions we would like to ask, and makes many wild assumptions also. Mostly, Aaron humours her, though occasionally she strikes a nerve. Piece by piece we discover more about Aaron’s life.

Scot Gardner has created another interesting world in ‘the Dead I Know’, and is able to portray the development of friendships across generations in a realistic manner. The quiet fondness of the Barton family for Aaron is accepted, though there is a slight sense of awkward reluctance from Aaron – a little reminiscent of when young Daniel begins to work for Eddy, an 89-year-old Dutch woman in ‘Burning Eddy’. (This book was on a previous CBCA shortlist in 2004)

‘The Dead I Know’ takes us into a different world, where death is all around, and the struggles of life are reduced to family memories and funeral services. Aaron fights past demons, at the same time as dealing with family concerns, and we are able to empathise with his quiet considerations of what is best to do for everyone concerned. Yet he faces his own shadows and personal doubts.

May 1

A thorny situation – ‘Rosebush’ by Michele Jaffe

The image with which ‘Rosebush’ opens is both poetic and dark. A young girl lies broken and motionless, tangled in the clutches of a thorny rosebush. Is she alive? Her eyes are open and glazed, sightless.

For all accounts, she is dead. But not so – since the voice of this tale belongs to her. So begins the recount of the events and relationships which brought her to this day, as she slowly recovers in hospital.

In hospital, Jane has plenty of time to wonder, trying to remember what happened the night  of the party and her strange accident. Her memories are hazy, and don’t seem to fit with some of the things her friends are explaining to her.

Her hospital room is filled with lots of ‘Get Well’ wishes; including some strange and somewhat threatening ones from a secret admirer. Jane begins to develop a sense of paranoia, thinking someone is still trying to kill her. Family, friends and hospital staff try to explain this away, as either  a reaction to recovering from a major accident or the effect of drugs she has been given. But is that all it is?

‘Rosebush’ is a bit of a mystery/thriller, set on the Jersey Shore. Thus, many of the main characters are cast as spoiled, wealthy wannabes, with little regard for how they impact on the lives of others. Jane has decided to try on this type of persona when she moves to the area. She reinvents herself, and is accepted into the cool group at her new school, becoming one of the ‘three musketeers’. As she tries to recall the events leading up to her accident, she also does some evaluation of her ‘friendships’, spending a lot of time observing others as she slowly recovers.

Did she, as the police suggested attempt suicide? Or was someone out to get her? Why? Is she now just going mad? Or does she need to save herself before the killer finishes her off?

Have you ever tried to be someone else to fit in with others? How can you tell when people are being real with you? What is true friendship?

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March 14

Aiming for 80 – Wavelength by A.J.Betts

wavelengthYou have to feel for Oliver: he is trying to study hard for his final high school exams, he knows what he wants to do after school and his precious sleep is being broken as his mum begins her morning muffin preparations. Combine that with 2 younger siblings, whose care he is semi-responsible for since his dad left, and friends who cruise effortlessly in their study, it seems, with their tutor’s help – it’s little wonder that he is anxious about achieving his goal mark. This is the focus of ‘Wavelength’ by A.J.Betts

Mum’s solution: send Oliver to his Dad’s for time out before his exams. The trouble is, along the way to his dad’s for his study break, he loses his bags; he arrives penniless, bookless, without his mobile phone and rather upset. It doesn’t help that he’s had little to do with his dad in recent years, and that for some reason, he can’t seem to get on the right wavelength with Emma, a girl where his dad works, who seems to hate him on sight.

After this auspicious arrival, all sorts of things seem to act against Oliver and his chances for successfully studying to achieve the magic 80 for entry to uni. What can he possibly do? Has he lost his last opportunity to succeed? Why is he even in this crazy situation? Doesn’t anyone understand?

‘Wavelength is authentic, entertaining, with astutely perceived details and some excruciatingly funny rude bits.’ Sun Herald, 13th March, 2011.

Readers should be able to identify with the intensity of Oliver’s frustrations, laugh at some of the situations that arise, reflect on all that happens in the story – to ponder what’s important in life. Betts has provided real characters in this story, and paints a vivid picture of how focussed students might get on a particular goal, and how life often throws something quite unexpected at them along the way.

Many adults write for Young Adults – has A.J.Betts written in an authentic voice for some of the youth of today? Do you identify with any of the characters? Is life like this? If so, has Betts made a point to you?

N.B. you can view this book trailer as a preview: