The Boy Who Steals Houses

Some time ago, I heard/read that what defines YA apart from adult fiction is the notion of ‘hope’. (I need to research where this was…). And having just finished ‘The Boy Who Steals Houses’ I have a clear example of this idea.

How can a child from an abusive or negligent family relationship develop any hope for the future? If your basic needs of food shelter and love are not being met, what impact does that have on your life?

C.G.Drews does not shy away from difficult family relationships. Her previous book, ‘A Thousand Perfect Notes‘ dealt with an abusive mother of a talented musician, as he struggles to find his place in the world – while pressured to meet his mother’s expectations. In ‘The Boy Who Steals Houses’, Sam has to deal with responsibility for his older autistic brother in the absence of parental care. (Note, in ATPN Beck also looks after his younger sister…).

There are many things Sam has to deal with – an abusive father, an absent mother, an autistic brother, his own anger issues – but all he longs for is a normal family. But what is that? And who can you trust?

Avery seems to think Vi is trustworthy. Sam isn’t so sure.

Moxie trusts Sam, even though he is secretly living in her mother’s study. And her family doesn’t know.

Sam doesn’t trust Mr De Lainey enough to think he will not turn him into the police. But where else can he go?

Where do you go, when all your options are running out, and your past is catching up with you?

With an intriguing title and characters with quirky natures, ‘The Boy Who Steal Houses’ IS a hopeful tale. The contrasts between Sam’s and Moxie’s families are great, but they each face their own difficulties. There are some playful characters to be enjoyed, along with instances where poor decisions are made – will things work out in the end for Sam and his brother? And is Moxie’s life as idyllic as Sam seems to think? How do you deal with not only being a *glass child, but also one who is homeless?

‘The Boy Who Steal Houses’ is one of the YA books on the 2020 CBCA Shortlist – a worthy nominee. If you want to know what inspired the story, read from the C.G. Drew’s Author Q&A where she gives some really playful and insightful answers. Lots of advice too for budding writers!

# Should all YA books have an element of hope?

## Do you always expect a happy ending?

### Who is your favourite character in this story? (Then read what C.G. Drews says herself!)

 

*Glass child – “… Glass children are children who are growing up in a home with a sibling who takes up a disproportionate amount of parental energy.” (See Urban dictionary definition for more detail.)

Edit: ‘the Boy who Steals Houses’ is an Honour Book in this year’s CBCA Awards. Congrats!

the Ruin

Here is one for lovers of crime fiction – a more mature read for senior students and adults. ‘The Ruin’ is the first novel for Irish-born author Dervla McTiernan – the first of (now) several books centred on Garda Cormac Reilly.

Set mainly in Galway (which was actually Dervla’s hometown), it links together a 20-year-old cold case and an apparent suicide. Since his move from Dublin where he was a well-recognised investigator, Detective Reilly has sadly been given yet another cold case to sort through. However, this one has him intricately involved, as it follows up one of his first cases as a rookie police officer.

The prologue tells of Cormac’s first encounter with Maude, Jack and their dead mother in a crumbling country house. Then, 20 years later, he investigates what happened to Maude and Jack after their mother’s death and so the story begins.

In Galway, Cormac’s situation in his new office environment is fraught with all the difficulties of a newbie fitting into the local situation; especially with little recognition of his past professional achievements.

Maude arrives on the scene, attending her brother Jack’s funeral, and seeks to understand why he died. Aislyn, his partner, is also reluctant to believe that Jack was suicidal. Are their instincts correct?

There are many other questions to be answered in ‘the Ruin’, as a web of lies needs to be pushed through:

  • Who can be trusted?
  • Are the garda (police) being effective and vigorous in their investigations?
  • What is hidden in the past?
  • Can Cormac Reilly uncover details from so long ago?

Author Dervla McTiernan had a legal career in Ireland before migrating to Australia with her family. Interestingly, she has tied Australia lightly into this story. Her insight into the legal system in Ireland is obvious, but depressing, if real. Cleverly, it is the twists and turns and the possibilities in ‘the Ruin’ which keep you guessing as the investigations continue. Who is really telling the truth?

For readers interested in writing (and crime fiction), there is a Writing Studio conducted by Dervla, where she discusses some of the basics of writing: https://dervlamctiernan.com/better-reading/ which is well worth a visit. With 2 more books in the Cormac Reilly series (‘the Scholar’ and ‘the Good Turn’ there is lots more on offer! It would also be interesting to listen to this as an audiobook, even just to listen to the Irish brogue… 😊

Look out for the movie which has been optioned for production too!

Echo Mountain

As I delved into family history and considered the troubles my ancestors dealt with, I was also reading ‘Echo Mountain’, and then reflected on what many people faced in the years of the Depression when they lost their jobs and livelihoods.

Set in times of economic troubles, Ellie’s family moved to the mountains for a simpler, more manageable life. Life on the land. But life is harsh. And then tragedy strikes.

Though Ellie is the middle child and youngest daughter, she shoulders many of her family’s troubles. While her sister Esther does her fair share of housework (which she seems to like) it is Ellie who has to complete a lot more ‘yardwork’ since the accident.

Fortunately, she is an outdoors kind of girl, a trait once encouraged by her father. That, and her desire to find a cure to bring her father back to health, leads her to tracking down Cate, known in the mountains as a hag or witch, but also a healer.

With Cate’s instruction and guidance, Ellie uses skills well beyond the normal ability of a 12-year-old girl to heal. But it is not just her father she works to heal – a broken family, a broken woman and wild mountain boy become critical parts of her story.

The circumstances which brought about each person’s life-difficulties are carefully woven into this tale from Lauren Wolk, an award-winning American poet and author. (Her previous novel, ‘Wolf Hollow’, won a Newbery Honour in 2017.)

She provides a good insight into life in the Depression years, as the family battles to make ends meet – building, hunting, fishing and bartering goods with other mountain folk. The tasks Ellie is required to do may have some feeling squeamish, while in awe of her determination and intelligence. The skills of others in the story creating intricate wooden carvings and musical instruments are also something to be discovered along the way (I actually wish there were some illustrations of these).

Ellie learns a lot simply by doing things. There’s something for all of us in that. And there’s something for lovers of historical fiction and family stories in ‘Echo Mountain’.

Do you test out your own ideas just by doing what you think should work (like Ellie)?

How far would you go to help a member of your family?

Do you think we should always accept what we are told about different people?

Recommended 10+

Ghost Bird

It’s a mystery – Laney is missing and Stacey doesn’t believe the story told by Laney’s boyfriend, Troy.

The police don’t seem to be doing much about looking for her, though her family mob are searching where they can. The divide between black and white in the outback community is pretty clear:

“Everyone knows that some parts of the town are ‘white’ territory and others are ‘black’. Even the pub has a whitefulla and a blackfulla side.”

As Laney’s twin, Stacey feels it is up to her to follow her own instincts to find her, despite repeated commands from her mother to stay put. Her nightmares continue and though respectful of her family, she must do something – including speaking with Mad May Miller.

There are many tensions within the community – between black and white, poor and wealthy, current and past landowners.  Thus, Lisa Fuller brings together elements of racism, family loyalty, past conflicts and tradition into this intriguing debut novel.

While covering only a week in a divided community, there are many questions to be answered along the way:

  • What really happened to Laney? Can she be found alive?
  • What was/is it like to live in a divided community?
  • Should Stacey follow her instincts?
  • When is it time to get over old grievances?
  • Can the solution come from the past?

The characters of Stacey and her cousin Rhi are real and relatable, as are her family members and Mad May Miller. This would be a great class novel, but read it before it becomes one to enjoy the language and situations it introduces. A worthy nomination for this year’s CBCA shortlist!

# In this interview, Lisa Fuller responds to the comment: ‘One of the loveliest aspects of Ghost Bird is the infusion of your culture with a strong emphasis on family.’ and more.

EDIT: Ghost Bird is an Honour Book in this year’s CBCA Awards. Congrats!

Toffee – sweet & hard

“I like the idea of being

sweet and hard

a girl with a name for people

to chew on.

 

A girl who could break teeth.” Toffee.

When Allison flees from home and seeks refuge in a shed (in what she thinks is an abandoned home) her life takes an unexpected turn. The home is where Marla lives – an elderly woman, lonely, confused and neglected by her family.

Written as a verse novel, ‘Toffee’ (by Sarah Crossan) is physically easy to read, but somewhat hard to deal with – it raises issues about family violence and elder abuse/neglect. However, each of these is slowly and softly revealed, as we learn about Allison’s family situation and her feelings about those she left behind. There are also parallel revelations about Marla’s family.

Gradually Allison becomes ‘Toffee’, gaining a feeling of safety. She is slowly accepted in Marla’s home, as Marla thinks she is her friend from the past. For Allison, a new identity and friendship are welcome; especially given the comforts of Marla’s home, where her father’s ways can be forgotten.

Along the way, Crossan shows the complications of life for both Allison and Marla…

Allison longs to have a normal family life, and can’t understand what tips her father’s moods. Is she to blame? Should she be a better daughter?

Marla also longs for a happy family life, and the life she remembers from long ago. At times, she is forgetful and confused, which Allison/Toffee learns to manage.

What does it mean to be ‘family’? What are real friends meant to be like? Who can you trust? These are some of the ideas explored in ‘Toffee’, as Sarah Crossan* shows that not all family situations are reliably the same.

In this video, Sarah outlines why she likes to write verse novels like Toffee – made up of a “series of snapshots” for the reader, rather than the “film” version of a prose book.

*Other books by Sarah Crossan include ‘Apple & Rain’ and ‘The Weight of Water’

** Sarah Crossan is currently the Irish Children’s Laureate for 2018-2020.

 

What does family mean to you?

Do money and wealth lead to happiness?  (consider Lucy’s situation)

What do you really value in life?

Recommended 13+

Past the Shallows

After reading Favel Parrett’s There Was Still Love, I had to find ‘Past the Shallows’ (which I had somehow missed in 2011). This was her debut novel, though she had quite a successful writing career before then.

Just like in ‘There Was Still Love’, the settings and experiences in ‘Past the Shallows’ are beautifully captured, so the visit to the southern region of Bruny Island is well-worth the journey. In fact, the coastal setting and the ocean are significant ‘characters’ within the story.

Three brothers, Joe, Miles and Harry live a troubled existence in this remote location following the tragic death of their mother. Joe has left home and thus, Miles is the one who is commanded to help on his father’s fishing expeditions, while Harry, the youngest is left to his own devices.

For his brothers, the chance to surf is a breakaway from their sad lifestyle, even though the area they surf is tough and unforgiving. Harry, who fears the ocean finds his escape once he discovers Jake and his owner, the reclusive George. Though we might fear a solitary man living in an old rundown cottage, (and maybe Harry should also) George provides a grandfatherly influence in Harry’s life.

As Favel Parrett carefully discloses details about the Curren family’s past, we grieve for their losses and rejoice in the precious snippets of family love they knew. Each of the boys has something to remember, learn from and live through. Is there hope?

Just as their remote location has both grim and beautiful aspects, so too do their lives. There is both joy and sorrow in this tale, with the bond of brothers a strong element. And there will be both laughter and tears as you read this one.

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+

There Was Still Love

This story oozes feelings and emotions; even in the little things. As you read, you can taste the meals Lucek has with his grandmother. They are deliciously described, even though they may be simple fare. You can also sense the atmosphere of their humble accommodation – a small apartment in Prague.

Told from two main perspectives – that of Lucek in Czechoslovakia under Communist rule, and his cousin, Liska living in Melbourne, it flicks between locations and periods of time as the family links are revealed. Relatives through their grandmothers (twins separated at 17), Lucek and Liska share a precious culture, though they too are separated by half a world.

Many of Lucek’s observations are innocent, but perceptive. His fondness of his grandmother, Babi and his great uncle is strong, even when they behave like grumpy old people. Beautiful moments break through in the story, which makes you want to hug Parrett’s characters. You laugh and cry at their playful antics, and feel their sorrow when things go awry.

Similarly, though Liska lives in a free country, her family lives simply. They save from her grandfather’s meagre wage so they can visit their homeland. Though they live in a relatively free country, they are not always treated well, and in 1980 suffer from prejudice and homesickness.

The home visits to Prague are joyful occasions for sisters, Eva and Mana (Babi), while Lucek ponders why he and Babi don’t have the same freedom to make a visit to Melbourne. He is also puzzled why his mother, Alena, continues to travel outside Czechoslovakia with the Prague Black Theatre troupe, leaving him in his grandmother’s care.

In an interview last year, author Favell Parrett revealed her book was inspired by a jar of gherkins! One she found in a Melbourne deli, which was the exact brand of gherkins her grandmother used to buy. The memories it sparked sent her on a journey to delve into her past to honour her immigrant family, and especially grandmothers. (Part of this novel was originally published as a short story – giving the flavour of the story here.)

Parrett encourages anyone with grandparents or older relatives to talk to them. “Because when they’re gone, those stories are just dust. And that’s what makes up a life really – what did you want to be when you were young, when did your heart first break, who was your first love.” From: An ode to the women who carry our world on their shoulders

‘There Was Still Love’ moves between different times as the family story evolves, and between Lucek and Liska as storytellers, so while I have read this story as an audiobook, I am keen to do a re-read with a physical book. (It’s so much easier to follow the changes in a physical book, don’t you think?) Also, I am late to discover the writing of Favell Parrett but ‘Past the Shallows’ will definitely be my next read.

# Can you describe your grandparents’ home? What does it feel like? 

## What is your favourite family memory?

### How often are you able to chat with the older generations of your family or neighbours? 

The Last Days of Us

Some stories touch your heart – is that why you like them?

For me, there are so many touchpoints in this novel – identifying with loss of a sibling, road-tripping and typical working out ‘who you are’ as a teenager.

All this comes about as Zoey’s life crashes into oblivion following the tragic death of her brother. Unable to cope, she spirals away from her friends as they try to help her, and away from parents dealing with their own grief. Fortunately, a wakeup call (finding herself passed out at the wheel of her car) and an invitation to join her ex-boyfriend on a road-trip pulls her back into reality – a little.

Her plan is to get back with Finn, her ex, even though Cassie, her best friend is also coming on the trip.

As they travel from Adelaide to Melbourne with Finn’s cousins, Zoey works through memories and actions of the past. This is mainly generated by the questions and taunts of Finn’s super attractive but sullen cousin, Luc – Mr Grumpy she calls him.

Drawn together by the road-trip, it seems they have a little more in common as time progresses and they learn about each other. The trip itself is buoyed along by Luc’s effervescent younger sister, Jolie. It seems no-one else is too bothered to plan, so she guides their itinerary.

Along the way, Zoey begins to see things differently, and events lead to an exploration of friendships and family relationships – her old friends, her new friends and different family dynamics around her. It’s an emotional story (tissues please).

‘Losing a loved one is the hardest thing, and I think it changes a person forever.’ Author ,Beck Nicholas, in Acknowledgements, p.333.

It certainly changed Zoey. Now is she ready to change again?

Will she win Finn back? Can she do that to her best friend, Cass?

And how long can she put up with Luc’s brooding behaviour? Will she just do that to appease her newfound friend, his sister, Jolie?

More importantly, can past mistakes finally be forgiven?

# NOTE: The copy I read was a ‘dyslexic friendly’ book, which I personally found difficult. From what I have read, I can see that the font used could help somewhat. However, why hasn’t the publisher used left alignment for the text?  since justification of text removes prompts required for a dyslexic friendly style.

the Honeyman and the Hunter

With a beautiful but intriguing cover, ‘the Honeyman and the Hunter’ presents a story combining two cultural lives lived out by a teen with both Indian and Australian heritage.

Beginning on the Central Coast of NSW, we see Rudra’s days of summer surfing are scarred by local bullies, and his early mornings are controlled by his father’s demands.

With his friend Maggs, he tries to deal with the bullies, while at home his mother tries to deflect his father’s harsh treatment. Not an idyllic summer break, as he questions his own identity and future. Is he simply destined to be a fisherman alongside his father?

In the past, his mother (once a determined science graduate, now a waitress) has endeavoured to teach him about his Indian heritage. However, it is the sudden arrival of his didima – grandmother – from India that really sparks a chain of events which results in a journey to India and a journey of self-discovery.

Neil Grant has backpacked, bussed and blundered through India, Yugoslavia, the United Kingdom, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka. Thus, his travels have provided rich research for his books – and his love of the ocean calls from the pages of the Honeyman. Elements of Indian mythology are woven through the tale also, as Rudra learns about his mother’s heritage through various people as he travels to fulfil Didima’s dying wishes.

As an Aussie Indian, Rudra is ‘caught-between’ and bumbles along, indecisive, at times. Once he has made up his mind to commit to his grandmother’s wishes, however, there is little that can stand in his way. But what are the sad consequences of some of his actions? or are the events actually out of his control? what is his destiny?

The Indian mythology in this story is intriguing; as is the mystery which slowly unravels as Rudra uncovers his family secrets. I do wish there was a glossary of some of the terms and characters used (even though they are mainly explained along the way), just so that I could follow the text more intimately.

‘The Honeyman and the Hunter’ raises many questions about family expectations, the significance of cultural differences and the impact of decisions we make on our journeys in life. A great story for the appreciation of rich cultural diversity you could well find in your Aussie neighbourhood.

Recommended 13+

# Included on the CBCA Notables List for 2020