The Tell

“A tell is a sign a person gives out, accidentally, when they are trying really hard to keep something a secret, and I just happen to be an expert…

I don’t know why or how exactly, but I seem to have a gift for reading the tells.” Rey Tanic, 14 year old. (p.11-12, the Tell)

Rey (Raze to his friends) has a few other instincts which he can’t really explain – although he thinks it may have something to do with his family heritage as the son of mafia boss. He has something to tell his father when he next visits him in prison – but what is it?

When he gets an (unscheduled) visit sooner than he expected, Raze is unsettled by his father’s behaviour – even after he raises his issue.

Rey struggles with the wealth and trappings which are the proceeds of the family business (fine possessions, mansion home and attendance at a private school), and does NOT want to follow in his father’s dark footsteps. While a lot has been hidden to him in the past, Rey uncovers many grim details as he gets older.

‘The Tell’ raises questions about family heritage – are we destined to repeat the actions of our parents? Is it in Rey’s genes to follow the violent family business, like his older brother, Solo? At times, his moods and actions make him think so. And what can a kid do to make a difference?

I see my face in deep shadow, eyes glittering like diamonds, the resemblance to my father never stronger. (Rey angered by abuse Candy has faced.)

Candy. Ids. The best part of Rey’s existence is spent with these friends, making street art in the inner city of Sydney – friends with their own struggles. Each of them is somewhat alone with these, but will they share and find support together? Have a peek at this trailer to get a feel for ‘The Tell’:

In ‘The Tell’, Martin Chatterton tosses Rey around in some wild and threatening situations – in jail, followed by criminal thugs, and even hiding in a police officer’s attic (unknown to him). It is action-packed, exposing the dark underworld Rey hopes to escape. The reflections of his father Rey finds within himself make us ponder how it will all end – like father like son? or can he break the mould?

Recommended 13+

Amal Unbound, a novel

Life is precarious for many girls around the world – and education is not always freely available. For Pakistani girl Amal, school has been a wonderful privilege which she was lapping up, until things go frightfully wrong – her plans study to be a teacher in ruins.

Amal Unbound echoes some of the realities for many girls around the world:

  • bound by traditional roles in their remote community
  • suffering for their low status
  • caught in their family’s debt spiral
  • extorted by people in positions of power

Amal also echoes the bravery and strengths of girls like Malala Yousafzai, whose desire for girls’ education lead to her being shot at point-blank range in 2012 by Taliban extremists. Like Malala, Amal yearns to better her position in life beyond accepting a traditional subservient female role. When things go awry for her, this desire becomes even more heightened – but what can a young girl do?

Malala’s story

Aisha Saeed is a Pakistani-American writer, teacher, and attorney. She is one of the creators of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks social media campaign. Her book, Amal Unbound, raises the issues of inequalities and indentured servitude (i.e. slavery for debt) which affects millions of people worldwide. It also recognises the need to be brave and take a stance against this – like Malala, and those who support the Malala Fund.

In most cases, education is a vital key, worldwide. For those caught in the tragic circumstances poverty sometimes deals them, it helps them strive for more; and for those in privileged positions, education aids understanding of the difficulties faced by many, and invites us to support ways to break down the barriers that hold girls back.

As Aisha Saeed states in her notes, Amal is relatively lucky in her servitude conditions – others suffer far worse. However, her loss of family life is her cruelest punishment, with lots for YA readers to consider. It would be interesting to know if the author plans a follow-up story…

For more detail about how she wrote the story, and why, read this interview – Q&A with Aisha Saeed.

This book is about resistance and about not giving up. That’s a message that a lot of people are connecting to as well. – Aisha Saeed.

We learn a bit about Pakistani culture from Amal Unbound. Was there anything which surprised you?

Did the beautiful cover portray the contents?

# Recommended for 10-15 year olds.

Discovery: Letter to my Teenage Self

Subtitle: Outstanding Australians share the advice they wish they’d been given growing up. (2016)

This book was pulled together (i.e. edited and published) by Grace Halpen when she was 15 and in year 10 at a school in Melbourne. Having written her own ‘Letter to my Teenage Self’, she was then inspired to gather letters from well-known adult Australians in various fields of experience.

Writers include sportspeople, performers, writers, politicians, researchers, entrepreneurs and more.

Adam Gilchrist advises his younger self to learn a musical instrument; Josh Frydenberg sends the  message that persistence pays off; Layne Beachley warns against comparing yourself to others – “Always believe you are deserving of love and you are enough, just the way you are.”

Many of the contributors point out that we all make mistakes – but this is how we learn. Respect for others is also a common theme. Recognising the support you can get from parents and friends, who have your best interest at heart, is not always obvious to teenagers – another common idea expressed by many.

Some try to help their younger self understand and get through bullying episodes – reflecting back and now being able to raise their heads triumphantly in a successful career – and wondering how their bully fared in life. (e.g. Missy Higgins, Judith Lucy). Others suggest that teens not take themselves too seriously (“Guess what? No one is watching your every move” – James O’Loghlin), and “try to be a little less arrogant” (Sir Gustav Nossal).

As well as these sentiments, there is a lot of encouragement to ‘be yourself and be courageous in following your dreams’. This is in spite of the angst many remember – angst about fitting in, body changes and all that is involved in the journey through the teenage years.

Discovering who you are in the teenage years is a challenging time. Many of these letters will speak to the heart of both teenagers and adults alike. Thank you to Grace and her willing mentors – this is a fantastic collection well worth dipping into.

Read about Grace’s editorial journey here.

Other contributors include Guy Sebastian, Peter Alexander, Jackie French, Dannii Minogue, Shaun Tan, Stephanie Rice, Maggie Beer and many more. (I only wish there was an index or table of contents which listed the letters of the 53 prominent Australians!)

# The edition I read was a Dyslexia Friendly book – obtained from Blue Mountains Council Library. These books have a special font and layout to help alleviate some of the issues experienced by readers with dyslexia.

## It is also available as an ebook from various sources.

### Another bonus from this book, is the fact that all profits from the sale of the book go to the Reach Foundation, which works to “inspire young people to believe in themselves and get the most out of life.”

What would you like to tell your younger self?

I’ve finished; now what?

So you’ve just finished reading a fantastic book. Once you have let go of the characters which are probably still spinning around in your head, how do you decide what to read next?

Well, apart from browsing the pile of books you may have on hand, you may like to get a bit of help, so here’s a few ideas:

Inside a Dog is a fabulous site for Australian YA readers, not only for recommendations but also to be involved. Find out about new books, enter competitions, submit your own reviews and even publish your own work. Totally relatable, as much of it is written for teens by teens.

So if you want personal accessible recommendations, definitely start here. You can also follow Inside a Dog on Twitter or Instagram for regular updates!

LibraryThing allows you to add the books you read, and then recommendations and other information come to you. Have a look at our LibraryThing (seen on the sidebar below) – click on a book and check the information available to you about it and other similar titles.

Similarly, you could Join GoodReads. This is a community of readers, which works a bit like NetFlix once you have added some titles to your own profile. Recommendations come up based on what you have read, liked or commented on. You can choose to be as private or public as you want – either using it as your own personal catalogue, or commenting and reviewing the books you read and joining in with the conversations of others, including friends and groups. Easily accessible as an app too.

Sites like WhichBook? are good for making you think about what you like in a book, and for generating some title suggestions also (though maybe short on Australian authors). Work your way through the options which matter the most to you, and recommendations are made.

Happy reading – I hope this gives you some great suggestions – but don’t forget that the Library staff at both school and local libraries are always ready with recommendations for you also, so don’t be afraid to ask!!

Lenny’s Book of Everything

Lenny has a younger brother, who after a while isn’t really her little brother any more – since he “has a condition” and won’t stop growing. This becomes a challenge for Lenny, her mother and of course, Davey – especially as he nears school age.

In many ways, mum Cynthia is in denial, even though she has had “dark heart feelings” about Davey’s future right from the time of his birth. Thus, Lenny tries her best to understand and cope with the other complications of their family situation – neglectful absent father, remote Nanny Flora and hardworking mum, Cynthia, all while being a normal kid.

Like most families, they have their own quirkiness and ways to get on. Davey and Lenny love to imagine travel together. They long to get away to create a kinder world of freedom and adventure for their family.

A weekly delivery of the Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia feeds their urges for discovery and creates an interesting side story. The kids absorb the facts voraciously (Lenny is obsessed with beetles and Davey with eagles), while mum fights to claim her winning free subscription to the encyclopedia.

A kindly neighbour, Mrs Gaspar, helps out by caring for the siblings while mum works multiple jobs. What an interesting character she is! Along with Mrs Gaspar, several significant others pop into their lives (including a love interest for mum; a long lost relative for Lenny…).

There has been great praise for this title, including this quote from author Melina Marchetta:

A beautiful read. I savoured every word and loved every character… such a big heart and not a beat out of place.

Lenny is searching – for her father, for a family connection, for meaning in her life beyond the day to day trials and challenges of Davey’s “condition”. These feelings could be part of any child’s life. With characters full of life and ideals, this story of both triumphs and heartaches will be enjoyed by many.

And did you notice the amazing cover? Have a look at it again once you have finished reading it!

What do you think of Lenny’s choices?

Is she a good sister?

Was it right for her to keep secrets from Lenny?

# Awards/nominations  for ‘Lenny’s Book of Everything’ to date (May 1 2019) :

Longlisted Book of the Year for Younger Children, ABIA Awards 2019 AU;

Shortlisted Best Book for Older Readers, CBCA Awards 2019 AU;

Award Winner Best Children’s Book, Indie Book Awards 2019 AU

Big questions – the Honest Truth

Your friend has gone missing, and you have finally worked out where he is heading. The trouble is, you think he doesn’t want to be found. And he is trusting you not give him away. What should you do?

For most of his life, Mark has been battling to stay alive. When his cancer returns, he decides he wants to do what he wants to do – and not be dictated to by others such as doctors. In other ways, Mark is lucky – he has loving parents, a great friend in Jessie, and a loyal dog. These are his supports – but he has had enough. He wants to be a normal kid, but how can this happen if you spend your life in and out of hospital?

‘The Honest Truth’, by Dan Gemeinhart, is a gentle but emotional tale, dealing with big questions – of life and death, friendship and promises. It will have you in tears; then in the next minute, pondering what YOU might do if YOU were Mark’s friend.

For those who have loved books like ‘the Fault in our Stars’, or ‘Zac and Mia’, this tale presents the thoughts of a terminally ill protagonist who fights to achieve a personal goal. It intersperses these with the thoughts of his friend Jess, and how his parents deal with his choices. How this occurs, and the impact his disappearance has on others, make for a moving story with a powerful message about some of the important things in life.

A closing quote from the Honest Truth states:

“What Jessie said wasn’t a lie. It was just a better kind of truth.”

How this fits with the story is for the reader to discover; just like understanding “the mountain was calling me”, and why. Recommended read.

It’s Black and White – audio with print book, too.

Night-Circus-UK-coverThe ‘Night Circus’ begins with an unusual delivery – a 5 year old girl delivered to her estranged father. It sets the tone for a tale filled with magic, mystery and strange happenings – nothing in this story is fully explained, at first.

Celia’s father is no ordinary father but a master magician. He claims however, that his trade is not in creating illusions, but in performing real magic. As her father’s daughter, Celia becomes involved in a high-stakes competition set up between Prospero and his long term rival – a magician know only by the mysterious name Mr A.H. The challenge is to prove whether magic is innate, or whether anyone intelligent person can develop the performance with skilful teaching by a master.

‘Let the games begin!’

Throughout the story, a major character is Le Cirque des Reves. This is no ordinary circus, since it arrives unannounced, without any fanfare and is setup from nightfall to dawn. Inside its black and white structures, spectators are treated to intriguing performances, theatrical stunts and out-of-this-world experiences unmatched by any other – all of which are intricately described and embellished beyond your imagination. In spite of the circus having no known schedule, a dedicated band of followers (reveurs) manages to anticipate and herald their arrival.

There are other significant characters who also anticipate the arrival of the circus and its entourage, as Morgenstern cleverly mixes the story together. In doing so, she has developed many intriguing characters and histories, in her debut novel – as well as some intriguing inventions for the circus itself.

However, this was one story which was a little difficult to follow in the audio version, as the chapters skipped from one time period to another, although the voices hinted at change. So it was great to jump into the print version from time to time, where it was much easier to track these time changes.

The book trailer below gives a hint about the style of the book – old worldy, black and white, circus focus with a bit of mystery, magic and love woven through:

 

 

Morgenstern also mixes an array of colourful characters and scenarios in her magical tale. Celia is not the only talented illusionist, as she is in competition of course with the dark and intriguing Marco, Mr A.H’s protégé. The history of her father (Prospero), the conception and development of the circus, and its impact on people are facts which are teased out at an agonizing pace. In a world of mystery and illusion, there is little that is really as it first seems. Many in this world are performers, and all is not always as we first see it.

It was easy to get caught up in the circus world, to suspend belief and engage in the battle for magical supremacy, even though you felt there was no chance of a happy ending – especially if you have empathies for both Celia and Marco, and the circus family. In this story, it is hard to decide who is the victim or villain, hero or heroine – or is it? A recommended read for you to puzzle over.

In this article from the HuffingtonPost, reviewers speak of the differences in reading and listening to the Night Circus – what do you think are the main differences?

Which way would you prefer to experience a book?

Or in which order would you try? Book? Audio? Movie?