When the Ground is Hard

Living in Swaziland, Adele’s mother wants a better life for her daughter. Even though her father lives at a distance with his other family, Adele is well-supported and goes to a private school.

However, Adele finds things have changed when she returns to her boarding school after term-break. Her position in the ‘top girl’ group has been taken – by a girl whose father is more wealthy than her own. Worse still, she has been relegated to a room supposedly haunted by a dead student, and one she will share with an impoverished student, below her own social status.

Lottie is a uniquely bold student; either in spite of or because of her poor background. She is at Keziah Christian College as a supported student on a scholarship, and she takes no nonsense from anyone, even challenging teachers at times.

In contrast, Adele likes to keep things on an even keel. That is until her struggle with the top girls becomes heated and she has to choose a new path to get through the school term.

‘When the Ground is Hard’ is told by Malla Nunn, who was born in Swaziland and attended a mixed-race boarding school. The struggles of Adele and Lottie echo her own (and her mother’s) experiences in this #ownvoice story, as they battle to rise above the prejudices of racial segregation.

I wanted to tell a story that honoured the women and girls with whom I grew up – strong, brave, broken, vain, furious – girls who struggled to find their place in a racially segregated world where they, and I, were kept down for no good reason. (From Malla Nunn’s website.)

Adele and Lottie’s friendship is slow-growing but beautifully developed as they reluctantly team together.  Once Adele’s changed status at school opens her eyes to the levels of prejudices and hardships faced by mixed-race girls and women (particularly strong in the 1960s when the novel is set) they begin to bond. Cleverly, this is enhanced as they read Jane Eyre together, and reflect on Jane’s experiences and their own destinies.

A book which touches on many issues. Highly recommended 14+

# Available as ebook.

Derek Dool Supercool (Younger readers)

With so many great YA books about, it’s not often I pick up and review something for younger readers. However, I have just chuckled my way through the first book of ‘Derek Dool Supercool’ series – ‘Bust a Move’.

Young readers will love Derek, as he tries to convince everyone else at his school that he is as cool as he thinks himself. Especially if he can win the dance-off at Rutthill’s school disco!

Even though Derek often has other kids laughing at him (they get points if they doink him on the head in their handball games), and he is on permanent litter duty at lunchtime, he somehow still believes he is the COOLEST, FUNNIEST and most HANDSOME kid at school!

This book is full of fun characters – including Derek who’s ego is bigger than most, his “friends” Booger and Big Denise, and his arch-enemy, Carmichael Cruz. Author Adrian Beck brings them all to life through their over-exaggerated actions and emotions. We learn little things about them in short sections within the story – e.g. how Booger gets his name.

Characters Big Denise, Derek and Booger from the back cover.

Add to this wildly entertaining illustrations from Scott Edgar, and you have a great book for a relaxing but fun read. Even the text and page layout are enjoyable. Words jump out at you. Dad Jokes appear. And special characters, Gilbert and Gertie, make sarcastic comments about what is likely to happen in the story.

This is probably a book for 8+ age group, but who’s going to stop anyone older investigating what younger readers are laughing about? A fun book for the family/class to share.

# The good news is that Derek, Booger and Big Denise return in ‘Derek Dool Supercool – Going Viral’ book very soon! 

Collaborative writing: Take Three Girls

How great is it to get a book which is written by, not one, but three renowned authors!

‘Take Three Girls’ deals with the complexities of teen life, set mainly in a boarding school situation, but dealing with many of the day-to-day issues for young adults, wherever they are.

Focussing on three girls – Clem, Kate and Ady, it weaves their lives together – in spite of some strong differences among them.

Clem, a previously competitive swimmer, is struggling to come back to her part in the elite school swimming team after injury. Quiet Kate is trying to determine where her future lies – is it in an academic or musical direction? And Ady, who is not a boarder, is dealing with where she stands, as her family begins to struggle both financially and personally, for the final years at St Hilda’s private school. What choices will they each make?

The weft of the book begins with the school’s wellness program, which ties them together as partners. As it aims to have students consider things (like identity, self-image, friendship and bullying), the story reflects issues which may well arise for many teenagers.

The warp happens when online sledging appears via vicious social media posts, aimed at girls at St Hilda’s – and ultimately, including the names of Clem, Kate and Ady. (Who is behind it, and how can they deal with it?)

There are parts of the book which will be confronting for some readers – particularly the PSST posts. Some of the situations in which the girl find themselves are not wonderful either, and their choices are not always ideal. But this is not Pollyanna, nor is it set in Pollyanna days. Today, teenagers are susceptible to anonymous cyber-bullying. Schools are not perfect places. And so, this book is both gritty and challenging, as it explores these issues and:

friendship, feminism, identity and belonging. (from the blurb on the back cover).

As already noted, it is also a collaboration between three talented Australian authors – Cath Cowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood – and is soooo well done.

You might expect it was a hard thing to do. However, each of the authors has stated how much they enjoyed their part in writing the book. That the book is so complete reflects this, and it sounds like a fabulous thing to create together.

# For more discussion on the collaboration, and how they worked together, see this post from Writing NSW which followed ‘Take Three Girls’ winning Book of the Year in the CBCA Awards 2018.

## Recommended 15+

### Available as an ebook.

Worse than school?

“There are lots of things worse than school.”

This comment, made by Charlotte, begins an argument between her and Luke’s best mate, Blake; on a day they decide to skip school. It later becomes something Luke ponders more deeply, as he gets to know Charlotte a little better.

In usual Steven Herrick style, ‘the Bogan Mondrian’ is told in a clear, waste-no-words fashion.

Luke and his friends are relatable characters – teens biding their time at school, but preferring to spend a more casual existence away from school. As regular visitors to the principal’s office for truanting and cheekiness, they are nonetheless likeable.

Luke is still coming to grips with life after his father’s premature death from cancer. Charlotte has recently enrolled in the local public high school he attends, though she is clearly from a wealthy background and could attend a costly private school. Even though they live in contrasting worlds of wealth, their friendship evolves as they work through their own personal issues, and occasionally gain support from each other.

That said, it is not always an easy relationship, with aggression and flareups often arising. Luke is uneasy about Charlotte’s homelife, and Charlotte is not very willing to be open and honest with everyone – under attack and often quite aggressive herself.

Other characters woven into the story provide interesting levels of support for Luke, in the absence of his father. Rodney, a petty local criminal, gives Luke a few pointers/things to think about at times, and later in the story, tools for action. Neighbour, Mr Rosetti, also provides advice and amusing banter each time they cross paths. Even Buster (the local mutt that Luke adopts for his walks) has a important place in grounding Luke’s emotions throughout the story.

For Blue Mountains readers, there will be places and names you may well enjoy recognising. On the other hand, you may have to allow poetic licence to Herrick as he tells his tale – with the cultural divide north and south of the highway a bit irksome, and the efforts of the Mr Pakula, the school principal, (seeking out truants himself) a bit questionable. But still the story must be told.

You will find that there are worse things than school; things sadly that some young people face daily. Herrick’s fictional youth tackle these the best way they can – though not always with glowing success. Lots of food for thought and highly recommended reading.

# Those who wonder about the title and cover design can find information on Mondrian here.

## More importantly, after you have finished ‘the Bogan Mondrian’, you can read here the reasons why Steven Herrick wrote this book.

### Shortlisted for CBCA Older Readers 2019.

Be proud of who you are…

When we first meet Rob in ‘A Song Only I Can Hear’, he is shy, uncertain of himself, and in the throes of first love. He has a few significant people in his life, but not many friends. And a bully lingers at school.

Fortunately, he has a fun, if quirky, family – one which many readers will relate to. Then again, how much help is a fat, balding dad with bad dance moves, and a mum who always sides with the school when things go awry? Even his grandfather, who swears like a trooper, doesn’t seem to understand him. So apart from his friend Andrew, how much help is anyone?

Initially, Rob’s main concern is to win the heart of Destry, but how can he do it? Suggestions come his way in a series of mysterious text challenges from someone anonymous (not surprising since he only has about 4 contacts on his phone).

As the texts come in, Rob grows a little with each challenge, while curious to find out who they are from.

Though Rob’s decisions aren’t always perfect or met with the desired result or applause (with some comical episodes), it is mostly fun experiencing his journey. There are also moments to reflect on – and tears to shed, and as Jonsberg brings this tale to an end, have your tissues handy.

While the anonymous texter challenges Rob to take action, a twist in the story also challenges the reader and what they believe, in a moving and surprising novel about family, love and identity. You might, like me, think you need to reread it at the end.

How well do we know those around us?

What things do they struggle with?

How often do we judge others we don’t really know?

What more should we try to know about our own families?


## One of the Indie Book Award Winners for 2019!

See more about the Indie Awards for 2019 here.

Don’t Stop – playlists of life

Planning events these days will involve a playlist – that is, the significant songs that can be used during the event. Special songs for the wedding couple, meaningful songs for a birthday celebration, reminiscent songs for anniversaries. The Spotify generation can relate to this – and plan their playlist.

Stevie has a playlist her father left her – to deal with different days and different times – even though he wasn’t expecting to leave her life quite so soon. Her mother certainly didn’t expect that either – and Stevie has also ‘lost’ her too since she is severely depressed and unable to cope with daily life in any form – including caring for Stevie.

In another world, Hafiz was sent from his family – forced to flee as a refugee from Syria – and to leave his parents behind. Facing life without his parents (in a strange new country, in a new school), Hafiz finds some solace in Stevie’s isolation from others, when he first sits at his allocated desk, beside her, in homeroom.

Each has their own struggles, which slowly surface as they slowly expose different parts of their life to one another. And together, they find support.

Curham’s novel Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow’ blossoms from the Fleetwood Mac song – as Stevie and Hafiz deal with the usual teen issues, along with their fragmented family lives. It is told alternatively by Stevie and Hafiz, giving two sides to the story. How these unlikely friends, cautious about sharing with others, ultimately work together (without romantic involvement) is what keeps you reading, and provides lots of food for thought.

What are your takeaways from this book?

Though it is set in England, would it easily transfer to an Australian setting?