Missing by Sue Whiting

What would you do if one of your parents went missing while overseas? Unfortunately, as author Sue Whiting notes over 38,00 people are reported missing in Australia each year – and “roughly 1600 are considered long term missing”.

Mackenzie’s mother could be one of these statistics, after failing to make contact with family and friends while working overseas in the jungles of Panama. Distraught after a length of time, her father decides to take the search into his own hands, and in the dark of night, he and Mackenzie leave home.

What happens as a result of this impulsive move, rushed and without informing anyone, creates a tricky adventure for Mackenzie.  However, she becomes strong and determined, while being rightly cautious in some circumstances. What she holds back from others seems to make her stronger in her search for clues, while unusual circumstances begin to provide clues of her mother’s whereabouts.

In some parts, what Mackenzie is able to achieve is questionable (how old is she really – #12/13 0r older?), but it is easy to be swept away in this puzzling tale – so that you suspend the sort of questions and let the story roll out. All the while you keep hoping for her to be successful in her search, but there is always a lingering doubt.

‘Missing’ is great tale of family love and desperation, trust and wariness – all based on the true concerns for those who go missing from families year after year around the globe. Clearly, Mackenzie loves her mum and shares many strong interests with her (which are important in the story), so it a quite an emotional ride, even right to the end.

Whiting explains here why she wrote such an emotional tale:

 

There is no denying that Missing was a tough story to write and a sad one to read, but I believe it is also an important one. Because it is as much a story about resilience and human endurance as it is about grief and loss. And it’s a story to remind us of the human faces and personal tragedies behind the statistics.

To what extremes would you go to find a missing loved one? Would you be able to match Mackenzie’s efforts?

Are you aware of how important it is to stay in touch? How do we guard our personal safety?

[# I think the story would have worked better if she was older. Some of the initial setting talks about her just finishing primary school.]

Running from the Tiger

Life is different for some people. Not everyone experiences the glossy happy family life which is often portrayed in many books and movies. Sometimes it is just SO hard.

Ebony lives a simple life with her family – with her Mum and Dad and 2 younger sisters on a small property. They aim to be self-sufficient and eke out an existence with their own produce as Dad’s meagre income often falls short of their needs. As the eldest in the family, Ebony bears the burden of many chores and the brunt of much of her father’s anger.

At school, she is a loner until a new pupil arrives in her class. Teena instantly befriends Ebony, and together they come to trust each other and share deep secrets – while battling those who make life hard along the way.

The issues Running from the Tiger exposes are tough ones, which not everyone might feel comfortable with, but Aleesa Darlinson has raised them in an authentic way. So, who should read this novel about domestic violence, bullying and the need to take a stand against these wrongs?

As a story published by Empowering Resources, it could well help victims realise the power they hold within themselves to create change in their own world. It could also open the eyes of others who suspect situations of abuse to ways in which to support victims. Reading can also build empathy for the situations of others, without necessarily having to experience situations in real life.

Be prepared (get the tissues out) for a sad ending, though it is one filled with some optimism.

*** *** ***

To cheer you after this, read another book from Empowering Resources, You’re Different, Jemima! This picture book sees energetic Jemima thwarted in her many attempts to please her teacher at school. Cleverly illustrated by Karen Erasmus, this delight shows how it is important to be true to your own personality, and how sometimes events can change the way you wish them to be and then you can remain true to yourself.

See more books at the Empowering Resources website – books with purpose:

Stories are so important. We each hold so much knowledge and can empower others, through storytelling, so they may learn from our words and feel our support.

You can make a difference. By reading one of our books to yourself or a loved one, you can harness the courage to initiate meaningful conversation that will change someone’s life.

Is it important for readers to deal with, or be exposed to, difficulties others face in life? Or are these stories only meant for those struggling? 

Freedom Ride

freedomSue Lawson’s book, Freedom Ride, has previously been reviewed on this blog, so it is just to offer congratulations for its inclusion on the CBCA shortlist that this post is about. And to offer praise for a well-told historical fiction tale which is sure to make people stop and think.

In Lawson’s book, we are introduced to Robbie – a teenager in a fictional (but representative) country town in NSW. Through Robbie’s eyes, we quietly see the subtle segregation that was ‘accepted’ in Australian history. Naturally, Robbie’s youthful views are his family’s views, but these are slowly adjusted as he critically observes the practices and beliefs of different adults around him. https://crewsreviews.edublogs.org/2015/08/11/history-meets-fiction/

Since this time, Freedom Ride has already received several accolades, being included in the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult Literature, and of course, the current CBCA shortlist.

Freedom Ride was actually released to coincide with NAIDOC week, an annual celebration of Indigenous achievement. It is another worthy choice which young adults will enjoy, even as it teaches us something (cringeworthy) about our past.

How powerful is it for us to learn history from fiction? Do you enjoy reading historical fiction? 

Taking a stand – ‘The Beauty is in the Walking’

the-beauty-is-in-the-walkingDoes the title of a book ever keep you wondering all the way through? Does it capture you more, or less, than the book cover?

I admit that I picked this book up based on the reputation of the author. Australian author, James Moloney has over 40  books for children and teenagers in his writing swag, along with a collection of literary awards. But the title had me puzzled.

It is only gradually that the reader is introduced to the narrator, 17-year-old Jacob O’Leary, who seems to be an average teenager – looking for friendship, his own status and love. What makes Jacob unique is his cerebral palsy (CP).

The Beauty is in the Walking shows how this impacts his daily life, his own thinking and his family’s expectations of him. Also, though he has a strong circle of friends, he is sometimes the victim of bullying. And of course, at times, even these friendships can be fickle and changeable when under pressures such as final exams and outside influences.

Set in a fictional country town in Queensland, the story raises issues about outsiders, racism, fitting in and the adolescent search for romance, against the mystery of a series of violent crimes. Jacob shows strength, determination and commitment when he believes that the police have accused the wrong person for the shocking crime that has impacted the whole community.

At the same time, he begins to question, with the help of his outspoken English teacher (Mr Svenson) and friend, Chloe, the limited opportunities set out for him after he completes Year 12. He struggles with the plan his parents have set for him (to remain in Palmerston in the family business), against the changing perception of his own potential.

Students will identify with the angst felt by Jacob, as he ventures timidly into his first romantic relationship. They will feel his pain as he deals with his mother’s protective nature, intensified since his older brother, Tyke, has left home. And older students will understand the difficulties and anxieties faced in the final days of high school. (Though students in NSW schools may question the timing of some end-of-year events)

Jacob has a lot to prove – to the community, his parents, his teachers and himself. With determination he will try – can he succeed in his ‘walk’?

Light and Dark

all the lightA young blind girl living in Paris. A poor German orphan. A mystical precious gem, the Sea of Flames. And the ominous background of World War II.

These are the characters to be blended together in ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ – a novel 10 years in the  making, a novel awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015.

Marie-Laure, who has been blind since the age of 6, lives with doting father, a locksmith who works at the Museum of Natural History of Paris. Building a small wooden model of their neighbourhood, her father has cleverly encouraged her to use all her other senses to get about. Time spent at the museum has also alerted her quick and curious mind. When trouble looms from the German occupation of Paris, Marie and her father flee to refuge with relatives in Saint Malo, a walled city by the sea. [See image below]

In another world, Werner seems doomed to follow in his father’s footsteps, working in the mines which ulitmately killed him. However, fortune shines on him (though lightly), when he is discovered as a clever young boy capable of fixing radios; saved from the mines, but caste into the Hitler Youth.

‘All the Light We Cannot See’ tells their tales in parallel for some time, slipping backwards and forwards through times from 1934 – 1944, and on to 1974. Through their eyes, we experience the conditions in 2 different countries before, during and after WWII, and can begin to understand the dark condition of Europe and its inhabitants, during these times. Like many war stories, we are exposed to many grim situations and many dark personalities. The presence of the young, through whose eyes this is ‘seen’, makes it all even more chilling – especially if you multiply by the millions of children they might actually represent in real events.

Anthony Doerr plays with light and dark in many ways. That Marie-Laure spends her life in darkness, but brings some lightness to the story, is one. She ‘sees’ quite a lot in the story – sensing a lot about people, even just from the way they walk or speak. Her ability to move about her home town, and her new home and village (at Saint Malo) are what her loving father wisely prepared her for. It is not surprising, however, that ultimately darkness pervades her tale.

city-of-st-malo2

The walled town of Saint Malo

Werner’s story has little light to it. His options are dark mines, or dark enlistment to the Hitler Youth and WWII. As an orphan, he has lived somewhat happily with his sister in a children’s home. Taken from this to work ‘for the Fuhrer’, he experiences and witnesses many dark events and situations. Reading these experiences is harrowing and upsetting; through the study of history we know too well that they are quite true reflections of what happened for many – though perhaps we don’t always consider it from the point of view of children.

Other light plays into the story with the legend of the ‘Sea of Flames’ – a precious diamond which is said to be both valuable and a curse – a diamond which has 3 replicas made to keep it safe. And the light we cannot see – radiowaves – impacts them all.

As you might expect, the storylines don’t remain parallel, and events (and the Sea of Flames) draw their lives together, though perhaps not as truly expected.

Here’s a short video you might like to watch before you read the book – Anthony Doerr discusses the inspiration for ‘All the Light You Cannot See’. Or read this interview.

Pieces of Sky

skyAs I read this book, I felt as though I had read it already. Was it purely because I had started it a while ago and come back to it? or were the flavours of it similar to others I had read? or did it just resonate teen thoughts to me? I think ‘yes’ to all.

Trinity’s writing is authentic in voice, real for her audience and true to the age group. Like many adolescents, Lucy is seeking real friendships, questioning past and future friendships, while dealing with a major crisis in her life – why did her brother die?

‘Pieces of Sky’ will create discussion – of issues, family relations, dealing with death and how we remember the past.

For me, it was unclear which time period the story was set (memories seemed to fluctuate across different times) and Lucy’s perception of Cam seemed too idealistic – or is that how we like to remember others?

Lots of options to consider : themes of friendship, truth and family relationships. Well worth a read, though I don’t think the author has all the answers. But then, who does?

‘Pieces of Sky’ is a debut novel for Trinity Doyle, who has  also worked as a music photographer, graphic designer, among other things. To find out more about how Trinity thinks, visit her blog : Trin in the Wind – including her details about getting that first book published!

History meets fiction

I thought of Micky – there was nothing useless or dirty or stupid about him. He was funny and worked hard. He was smart too. Actually he was just, well, normal. And that man on the television, Charles Perkins, spoke better than half of Walgaree.

freedomThis quote comes from Sue Lawson’s book, Freedom Ride; a fictional tale tied into the real events of the 1965 Freedom Rides which occurred in NSW. (Their aim was to draw attention to the poor state of Aboriginal health, education and housing.)

In Lawson’s book, we are introduced to Robbie – a teenager in a fictional (but representative) country town in NSW. Through Robbie’s eyes, we quietly see the subtle segregation that was ‘accepted’ in Australian history. Naturally, Robbie’s youthful views are his family’s views, but these are slowly adjusted as he critically observes the practices and beliefs of different adults around him.

With little previous exposure to the plight of Aborigines in his community, Robbie only begins to question community values when a holiday job sees him working side-by-side with Micky.

Historic events litter the tale, setting it in a real time and place in Australia. For a brief history about the time in which it is based, see BTN Freedom Ride

Was this how things really were in country towns in the 60’s? Some would argue this was not the case. But Sue Lawson has taken a pocket of humanity to illustrate the racist attitudes which promoted the Freedom Ride movement. Many who lived in similar locations would agrue that these emotions were not rampant in their mind’s eye – but for those suffering racist taunts and restrictions, it would have felt this way.

An interesting tale to put young adults in another person’s place and time in history.

Moving on – but sisters forever

protectedAlmost 12 months after her sister’s accident, and with a court case looming, Hannah is still struggling. But she is not alone – her mother drifts aimlessly about much of the time and her father has also lost his spark, sustaining both physical and emotional injuries. This is much as you might expect when a family loses a sister/daughter.

Hannah, however, must continue her journey as a school student, facing the many trials and tribulations of adolescence.

Strangely, in some ways, life is easier at school without her sister. Before the accident, Hannah was bullied at school, with little help from her older sister, Katie. In fact, Katie’s presence often made things worse, as Hannah failed to develop the same standing at school, and Katie failed to lend any sisterly support. (Should Hannah feel guilty about this?)

The enjoyable part of Claire Zorn’s writing is how she captures place and time. Set in the Blue Mountains, the school and social situations in the Protected ring true. As with the Sky So Heavy, her characters are authentic, move about in real places in the community, and some act as thoughtlessly as egocentric teenagers sometimes do.

However, Hannah doesn’t have to struggle alone all through the book, and there are ultimately different degrees of healing for the family. Quirky little inserts (lists, goals, likes and dislikes) hint at the sisters’ relationship, differences between them and add the flavour of sibling intimacy. Thus, some of the situations will make you squirm, while others will have you cheering on the efforts of those who aim to help.zorn2

So, the story probably isn’t new (reflect back to the Incredible Here and Now, a male perspective), but the way in which it unfolds is real and believeable. Since people react to loss in many different ways, it is valuable for us as readers to take the time to step into someone else’s shoes; which indeed we can do as we read the Protected.

Congratulations to Claire; just like the Sky So Heavy in 2014, the Protected has been shortlisted for the Older Readers CBCA awards in 2015. (For a little insight to the author, you can read: Claire Zorn, author of The Protected, answers Ten Terrifying Questions)

 

A10567 – just a number?

altmannAs I read Alexander Altman A10567, I recalled Suzy Zail’s earlier book the Wrong Boy – and it made sense that this book should follow. It made even more sense, when I read an interview where she spoke of wanting to tell her father’s story of surviving Auschwitz.

As Suzy stated in this interview:

There were history books and photos in the library, but not all children liked to read history books. Not all of them were ready for graphic images. I’d been to schools and libraries and talked to children about their holocaust reading and knew that the best way I could help them understand the holocaust was by giving them a character to care about.

In Alexander Altman A10567, she certainly gives young readers someone to care about (primarily 14 year old Alex). And as she describes the trials and desperation of those in concentration camps, there is also lots to think about on a personal scale. In doing so, Zail has not protected young minds from the brutalities of war, but causes you to think about the dark things that have happened in the world’s history, and the powerful instinct of survival.

Alexander’s world is understandably turned upside down as his family trudges towards the Jewish concentraion camp of Auschwitz. The alone, in survival mode, his wits are sharpened and his trust in others switches off. He sees too much, and questions everything in his efforts to survive. Truly a reflection of the brutal experiences and suffering which Zail researched – but there is hope and humanity to be discovered – somehow.

As another reviewer stated:

Alexander Altmann A10567 is not for the faint-hearted. People die horrendous, senseless deaths between its pages. However, Alexander Altmann A10567 is not to be missed if you can manage to push through. The power of one simple act of kindness truly can change the world.

pic-A-U-Auschwitz concentration camp gate

Auschwitz Concentration Camp Gate

With the character of Alexander Altmann based on the experiences of a real Auschwitz survivor (Fred Steiner), Zail has personalised history, shared the atrocities of war and made history accessible to young readers. Many will identify with the changing emotions of Alexander – even though it might be really hard to imagine being in his place. Certainly, it provides another way to understand some of the impacts of the Holocaust on the Jewish people – fitting well alongside other books such as the Book Thief, the Boy in Striped Pyjamas and of course, the Wrong Boy.

# One of the 21 CBCA Book of the Year Awards Notables for 2015.

Write about what you know…

dietIn her first novel for young adults, Tamar Chnorhokian does exactly that; the Diet Starts Monday is set in Western Sydney and involves the mix of cultures you might expect to find there.

Zara (or Zaruhi, as her Armenian family wants to call her) is a typical western Sydney teenager, except for the fact that she is a size 22 girl with a crush on the hottest guy at school. Because of this, she decides yet again, to go on a diet – but with renewed determination this time, as the Year 12 Farewell looms at the end of the year.

Privy to Zara’s thoughts and anxieties, we can identify with her body image angst, and empathise with the things that trigger her poor eating habits. There are also little hints about what her friends think of her dieting efforts, and her fixation on Pablo Fernandez (after all he already has skinny girlfriend, and, what about his gross habits?).

There are times when you want to shake Zara back to her senses, and make her realise that as she loses weight, she is also losing the respect of her long term friends, Carmelina, Ramsi and Max because of how she is now behaving. I know I was also waiting for her new ‘friends’, Pamela and Holly, to turn around and trip her up on her self-discovery journey. And how was she now treating her own family?

The voices and characters in TDSOM are quite authentic, and the places they go are also real. As a member of Sweatshop, Western Sydney Literacy Movement, this is precisely what Tamar aims to do – to be real and provide an authentic reflection of the community she knows:

SWEATSHOP believes the best way for Western Sydney communities to identify issues that affect them, take control of how they are portrayed and perceived and build alternatives is through literacy.

(Tamar) was one of the original members of The Sweatshop Collective and has been collaborating with Michael Mohammed Ahmad since 2006. Tamar identifies strongly with her Western Sydney community and her Armenian background. [Sweatshop, Western Sydney Literacy Movement]

In an article in the SMH just before her book launch, it is clear how close to Tamar’s heart Western Sydney is:

I wanted to write a positive representation, because there are only negative representations in the media. Where I live, there are wonderful things that happen there, that is the thing I wanted to talk about.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/my-secret-sydney-tamar-chnorhokian-20141126-11to2k.html#ixzz3NpAX7qmw

Readers should easily be drawn in to The Diet Starts Monday (we all know that phrase) and will be keen to find out what happens over the HSC year for Zara and her friends. Writers will be impressed with the example set by Tamar as she sets our her commitment and contribution to Western Sydney literacy and literature development in this novel.

What might you change in TDSM to reflect the area you live in and the personalities you know in your school and community?