Promise Me Happy

Nate wonders what really makes people who they are. Is it determined at birth, or is it a result of how you are raised? Either way, things are not looking good for him. His dad is abusive, his mother is dead and he’s just finished 18 months in juvenile detention. Now he is off to some unknown location to stay with some unknown family member – his uncle, his mother’s brother.

It’s like he has completely shut down in juvie, and can’t see anything positive ahead – especially when he first meets his uncle, Mick. Neither Nate or Mick are lovable characters when we first meet them – in many ways, they are alike.

As Nate slowly explores his uncle’s community and the people within it, he begins to recollect happier times with his mum and a personal connection with the local environment. Quirky characters like Gem and Henry cross his path, and his thoughts start to move outside himself. They are authentic characters and you will love them both for different reasons.

Nate sees Gem as unique, and more beautiful inside and out than any other girl he has known. Henry is an eccentric little 8 year-old, who provides a bit of local knowledge to Nate, and at times, some unwanted companionship – till he grows on him. Even his relationship with Mick moves well beyond its gruff beginning.

However, encounters with the local tough guys test his self-control, and he begins to wonder again, if he is destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, unable to control his anger.

‘Promise Me Happy’ by Robert Newton is a great journey which makes you wonder about the ways people deal with confrontation, being different and how people can react when someone important leaves their lives. Keep the tissues handy, but feel happy that you have been on the journey with Nate in the end.

What is it like to lose someone close to you?

In what ways can we deal with our grief and remember the important things? to keep our emotions in check?

# ‘Promise Me Happy’ is on the 2020 CBCA Longlist for Older Readers

## Robert Newton also wrote When We Were Two (which was awarded the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2012) and Mr Romanov’s Garden. His other books can be found here.

### Available as an ebook.

Aurora Rising

In recent years, science fiction hasn’t been a genre I’ve read a lot – though many many years ago authors like Stephen Donaldson and Douglas Adams were favourites. ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir would have been the most recent sci-fi I have read. Thus, re-entering the genre was interesting.

‘Aurora Rising’ was a great re-introduction. It begins with A-grade student, Tyler Jones, missing his opportunity to hand-select the best of the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy for his team. Distracted by a girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space, his team is thus composed of the leftovers – supposed misfits. Then, their first assigned ‘mission’ as graduates becomes complicated by Aurora’s presence.

Set in 2380, it mixes 7 different characters together in a venture to find a prohibited colony/planet with the purpose behind Auri’s rescue. The mix is both clever and fun, as each one reveals differing skills and personalities.

Tyler is the Goldenboy, the leader. His twin sister, Scarlett, is both clever and charming at the right times. Alien, Cal, provides valuable universal insights and protections for the group, while Finian’s technological talents get the group in and out of many hairy situations. With support also from ace pilot Cat, and silent but strong Zila, a careful observer, the chosen team is rounded out.

Rescued Irish/Chinese, Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley (Auri for short) becomes the focus of much of their journey when it becomes clear that she is more than a 200-year-old teenager awoken from cryogenic sleep. Her extreme psychokinetic powers are gradually revealed, as the team seek the real purpose of the journey they were first assigned out of the Academy. Just as well, as it seems there are others in the galaxy who have dire plans for them all – destruction, obliteration!

Screengrab of Tyler from: http://amiekaufman.com/extras/

As well as having sci-fi elements, ‘Aurora Rising’ has great connections between the misfit team, wisecracking interactions among them, and some intriguing love/hate interests along the way. Almost like a sci-fi rom-com!

After reading ‘Aurora Rising’, those who are fans of co-authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (also through the Illuminae Files) will be ready for the next book in the Aurora series (Aurora Burning) due for release in May 2020. There was also news on Jay Kristoff’s website that Aurora Rising going to be adapted for television. Amie Kaufman also has a website where you can download some great images of the team, along with lots of other information on writing the Aurora series.

Are you ready to see how MGM will portray each of the team? Make sure you read the book(s) first!

# Already recognised as a New York Times bestseller, Aurora Rising is nominated for the 2020 Indie YA awards shortlist.

## Available as an ebook.

CBCA Notables 2020

CBCA Notables 2020 – https://cbca.org.au/notables-2020

Once again, there is an amazing array of titles selected for this year’s CBCA Notable List. Books in the YA category range from those from well established Australian authors – like Garth Nix, Neil Grant, Robert Newton and Vikki Wakefield, alongside newly found authors like Lisa Fuller.

[Lisa has already received the David Unaipon Award for an Unpublished Indigenous Writer for Ghost Bird.]

There is also a range of genres and settings on the shortlist, including lead characters dealing with:

  • coming of age issues (It Sounded Better in My Head),
  • cross-cultural family complications (The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling & The Honeyman and the Hunter),
  • broken families (Promise Me Happy)
  • coping with changing teen relationships (When the Ground is Hard) and challenging misfit roles (Aurora Rising)

With such a great selection of books, it is not only hard to contemplate what the shortlist will be, but also which ones to read first. It’s certainly a great collection to guide our YA readers! Some have already featured on other award longlists like the Indies and the ABIA awards for 2020.

BOOK OF THE YEAR: OLDER READERS: NOTABLES 2020

The Man in the Water by David Burton

Devil’s Ballast by Meg Caddy

*The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

The Boy Who Steals Houses by C.G. Drews

The Last Balfour by Cait Duggan

How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller

The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

*Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

*It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood

Monuments by Will Kostakis

All That Impossible Space by Anna Morgan

*Promise Me Happy by Robert Newton

Angel Mage by Garth Nix

*When the Ground is Hard by Malla Nunn

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard

*This Is How We Change the Ending by Vikki Wakefield

Take the Shot by Susan White

Impossible Music by Sean Williams

*These books have been/are being reviewed here.

# The full 2020 CBCA Longlist for all categories is worth a look for ALL reading ages.

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.

Between Us: Barriers

Ana lives in a detention centre in Darwin, having escaped her home in Iran, and initially being transported to Nauru. From Wickham Point Immigration Centre, she is able to attend school, but that is about all. No freedom. No hope. No life.

On her first school day, a new guard (Kenny) feels sorry for her and tells her to look out for his son (Jono) if she needs help. Kenny later regrets doing this, as other guards warn him the refugees will take advantage of anyone they can – in their eyes, the asylum seekers do not deserve any special treatment.

Jono is quite taken with Ana, and does befriend her, even after he finds out about her refugee status. Disinterested in school, but interested in Ana, he creates a lot of anxiety for his father. Kenny tells him to avoid Ana, even though the impact of her friendship is a mostly positive one, so the conflict (and distance) between father and son grows.

Set in an actual detention centre, Wickham Point (now closed), ‘Between Us’ addresses the difficulties and misunderstandings which exist around many asylum seekers. In his naivety, Jono occasionally upsets Ana with his insensitive comments and actions, but he does try. Ana is caught between two worlds, with some freedoms at school that she has not experienced for a while, though her family’s refugee status is never far from her mind.

Wickham Point Immigration Detention Centre

In ‘Between Us’, Clare Atkins does a wonderful job raising the issues which confront asylum seekers – their mistreatment, misunderstandings, cultural conflicts and lack of human rights. This is a sometimes gentle, but then confronting tale. (Ana’s home flashbacks are particularly gruesome.)

It contrasts the lives of Ana and Jono as they both deal with normal adolescent issues, which are also tinged with cultural and family expectations, and societal blindness to their personal problems. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but makes you think.

Raw but real. Insightful but challenging. Highly recommended read.

Also good for group/class discussion – don’t let that put you off!

Winner, CBCA’s 2019 Book of the Year for Older Readers.

CBCA’s 2019 Notable Book of the Year for Older Readers.

iBBY Australia’s 2020 Honour Book for Writing.

# Available as an ebook.

It Sounded Better in my Head

It’s Easy Being Teen. Right? Not always…

Natalie has never been one of the beautiful girls at school, and for much of her teen years has suffered with chronic acne – which has caused her to be very withdrawn. Fortunately, she does have 2 close friends (Zac and Lucy) and so she looks ahead to sharing her post-school future with them.

As they await their Year 12 results, all things seem to unravel when Natalie (who tells her story) is faced with the news of her parents impending divorce. At the same time, she begins to feel like the third wheel when Zac and Lucy ‘hook up’, adding another layer of angst for Natalie.

Natalie voices a lot of her problems – but in her head – she doesn’t say them out loud. We know how she’s feeling and what she would like to say, but she lacks the confidence to follow through. This, of course, leads her to some places and situations where she would rather not be.

There are other relationships for Natalie to negotiate in this, the last summer before university, when she experiences a number of firsts. She tries to rise above her personal insecurities, while her safe world crumbles around her…

Filled with authentic characterisation, this is a great debut novel from Nina Kenwood, and has already won the 2018 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing. It is also one of the nominees for the 2020 Young Adult Indy Awards.

* Do any of Natalie’s thoughts echo what you have sometimes thought or experienced?

** Can reading help us to empathise with others who may live different lives to our own?

*** Here’s Nina’s website – all very new.

**** Available as an ebook.

Revisit: the ‘Once’ series

As the 75-year commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz approached on January 2020, it was a good time to revisit the ‘Once’ series.

Written by 2018-19 Australian Children’s Laureate, Morris Gleitzman, this series has had world-renown for many years.* The first book, ‘Once’, was written in 2005 and presents Felix, a young Jewish boy, who sets off on a quest to find his parents in war-torn Poland.

What follows are several books which introduce the (younger) reader to the trials faced by those who suffered under the Nazi regime in World War II.

In spite of its tragic setting, among the events of World War II, and Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe, ‘Once’ (and the following titles) is also a story of hope and friendships that stood the test of these times.

As Felix tries to make sense of the Nazi’s book-burning (a shock when his parents are booksellers. Why would anyone do that?) and other even more atrocious activities, the realities of his life (first in an orphanage, then further afield) reveal the conditions for many people in Poland at this time.

The life of Janusz Korczak among Jewish  orphans inspired Morris to write this series

Felix’s view of life (as a ten-year-old) at first seems naive, but it enables him to have a somewhat positive perspective, as he hopes to track down his parents. However, as his story continues, different aspects of life under the Nazi regime become apparent – things like the increasingly cruel treatment of Jews AND anyone who might offer them help. As Felix’s understanding grows, there is more to be learned, each step of the way.

Author, Morris Gleitzman explains how his family background (his grandfather was a Polish Jew) lead
him to research and, ultimately, to write the ‘Once’ series:

My grandfather was a Jew from Krakow in Poland. As a young man he left Poland, decades before the Holocaust, and ended up living in England. But many members of his family stayed in Poland and most of them were killed by the Nazis.

So researching and writing Once became a personal journey. It took me to Poland for the first time. To the streets of Kazimierz, the ancient Jewish area of Krakow, and to the Jewish cemetery where I found a memorial with my family name on it… (From Morris Gleitzman website on ‘Once’.)

There are currently 6 books in this series – the final (?) title, ‘Always’, should be released later this year. Are you ready for it? Or are you like me, in need of a re-read of this important series?

* ‘Once’ has been translated into many different languages, and won the 2011 Katholischer Kinder- und Jugendbuchpreis, (the Catholic Children’s and Young People’s Book Award in Germany) among many other awards, national and international.

** Morris’ books have been published in about twenty countries, including the UK, the USA, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Indonesia, Czechoslovakia, Russia and China.

*** The publication order for the series is: Once (2005), Then (2009), Now (2010), After (2012), Soon (2015) and Maybe (2017) – though I’m sure I heard/read Morris state they can be read out of order, each book complete within itself…

**** Available as ebooks and audiobooks.

Cloud and Wallfish

Imagine how you would feel if your parents picked you up from school, and whisked you away to a foreign country? No time to say goodbye to friends, unable to pack your favourite things – in fact, having many of your school possessions dumped in a bin, never to be seen again!

On top of this, imagine they expect you to change your name (just as they have), and to ‘remember’ where you went to school as somewhere you have never heard of – and to forget where home is. This is what happens to 11-year-old Noah Keller when his parents take him to the ‘other’ Germany to support his mother’s research studies. They even tell him his birthday isn’t really in March but in November.

‘Cloud and Wallfish’ by Anne Nesbet is an interesting tale which follows Noah/Jonah and his parents at a climactic time in history – as change begins in East and West Germany – nearing the end of the Cold War.

As Noah adjusts to a confusing new home, his mother deals with her studies, and his father ‘writes his novel’ while acting as the house-parent. There are lots of rules to take on board too – it seems that East Germany isn’t very accepting of Americans, who they label as brash and opinionated. Thus, Noah stays quiet and alone for some time, acceding to his parents’ requests to stay ‘under the communists radar’.

In telling Noah’s story, ‘Cloud and Wallfish’ outlines some of the historical changes happening at the time his family are there – based on the author’s personal experiences having lived in East Berlin in 1987, and again in 1989 just before the Wall came down.

Peering over from East Berlin – website details the history of the Berlin Wall – click on image

Noah’s struggles (loneliness and his own ‘Astonishing Stutter’) are buoyed in the story when he meets Cloud-Claudia; though he still also remains eager to go to school. However, that is not an easy thing to do.

Those who love a bit of history, or even just learning about other ways to view the world*, will enjoy ‘Cloud and Wallfish’. Episodes in Noah’s life are followed with some explanations, in ‘Secret File’ pages which provide an historical understanding of events.

It raises a lot of questions about the past, world politics and rules. It will also have you thinking about when it is wise to keep a secret – about yourself or others. And whether there is a time you need to reveal all you know – even if it may impact on others, because that’s what Noah has to consider time and again.

# Do you like historical fiction?

## Do Noah’s experiences and actions ring true for you? (i.e. do you think this is the way an eleven-year-old would really act?)

Recommended 10-14 years

For details about the fall of the Berlin Wall see: Fall of Berlin Wall: How 1989 reshaped the modern world

*considering a ‘worldview’

# Available as an ebook.

Laureate – “Read For Your Life”

Ursula Dubosarsky was welcomed as the new Australian Children’s Laureate for 2020/21 at the National Library of Australia today.

In keeping with previous laureates, Ursula is renowned and well-revered as an author of children’s books, across many age groups; as well as being one driven to promote reading among the youth of Australian for many years.

If children learn to love to read—not just to be able to read—then they will be readers their whole life long. It’s about human motivation. A child has to want to read for themselves, not be told to read,’ said Dubosarsky.

‘Joining the library gives them access to an unbounded wealth of reading material, where slowly they can start to find what they really want to read. A child becomes a lifelong reader not by chance, but by opportunity. That’s how you make a reader for life.’ (Quote from Ursula via Books+Publishing website)

From all (Twitter) accounts, her selection was greatly applauded today – by those present at the National Library of Australia today, and in online spaces too.

Certainly deserving for an author of more than 60 books (which are listed here). In addition to this are the many hours she has dedicated to workshops and presentations for students, teacher librarians, teachers and other professional associations over many many years.

Australian Children’s Laureate theme 2020/21

And so begins her new mission to encourage:

… a generation of readers that would continue to read their whole life long and to do that, children need access to all kinds of books, and “more books than any one family or even school can every provide”. (From SMH article: New children’s laureate worries for teen readers)

Congratulations, Ursula. We are right behind you!

Van Apfel Girls – Why are they missing?

My daughter commented the other day about how many new books she had read recently were now using flashbacks and multiple viewpoints*. This may have related to the genre she has been reading (several crime and mystery stories), but I certainly reflected on this comment as I read ‘the Van Apfel Girls are Gone’ – flashbacks are crucial.

The story itself reflects back to “the long hot summer of 1992, the summer the Van Apfel sisters – Hannah, beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – vanished…” (Blurb on the back cover)

Told by one of the girls’ friends and neighbours, Tikka, it is a tale of pondering, wondering and wishing. What if Tikka had…? What if people had noticed…? What if friends and neighbours had…?

Twenty years after the girls went missing, Tikka returns to her family home to be with her older sister, Laura, who has tragically been diagnosed with cancer. Also told from the point of view of an eleven-year-old girl, it provides a young viewpoint, as remembered by Tikka.

Together and separately, Tikka and Laura think about the events leading up to the girls’ disappearance, and the seeds are sown for the reader to contemplate what actually happened – and why. The recollections of others are also finally laid out for Tikka and Laura to ponder.

In spite of the title, you are never quite sure what happens to the Van Apfel girls, but there are lots of dim, dark secrets revealed along the way. Some of the nuggets of information are cleverly hidden in the story (while others may be distractors) so that you are never quite sure what will happen next, or what is the real impact of (several) people keeping observations to themselves.

# Does this story leave you with all the answers?

## How does this story make you feel about keeping secrets?

Recommended 15+

# Nominated for the Indie Book Awards 2020 for the best Australian books published in 2019 – category Debut Fiction.

* She was recently reading ‘See What I Have Done’ by Sarah Schmidt and ‘the Secret of the Tides’ by Hannah Richell.