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Grace Beside Me by Sue McPherson (Magabala Books)

13 Jul

Published literature for young adults by Australian Indigenous authors has taken a significant step with Grace Beside Me. The storytelling is compelling, while thoughtful, and the voice is memorable. We discover Fuzzy Mac (named for her hair) and her life in episodic chapters which form a whole narrative. Fuzzy is an authentic character: a character that seems impossible not to find living in a country town somewhere in the mountains.

Because her mother died from a heroin overdose, Fuzzy lives with her grandparents: Pop who loves words and is understanding and wise, and larger-than life Nan who has strong opinions and language, and grounds Fuzzy in the facts and truths of life. As Fuzzy get older, Nan gives more information about her mother, the sweet Koorie girl who took the wrong path but loved her baby daughter. Fuzzy’s sense of identity and strength is honed by her grandparents. She shares their ethos about community and avoids some of the traps set for teenage girls with no lack of authenticity, and real angst in one shocking scene. Grief is also genuine about racism and the treatment of Indigenous people and Kevin Rudd’s Apology forms a core of one chapter, ‘Sorry Day’.

Fuzzy and her family are all guardians of stories, believing that, ‘It’s the listening and telling of these stories that bring our people close, both young and old. Stories keep our culture strong and our faith alive.’


The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (first in ‘The Tribe’ series; published by Walker Books) is another new recommended novel by an Indigenous author, Ambelin Kwaymullina. It is aimed at a younger readership and the style is very different from the realism of Grace Beside Me. Ashala Wolf is set in a post apocalyptic world after the Reckoning, 300 years earlier, which caused some people to develop special abilities. Ashala is the sixteen year old leader of The Tribe, a group of Illegals with abilities. Like the characters in Grace Beside Me, Ashala and her tribe believe that the world can’t be changed with violence, but through ideas.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant


Metro Winds by Isobelle Carmody (Allen & Unwin)

12 May

Metro WindsAlthough there are subtle differences between place and style, the stories in Metro Winds explore the archetype of the quest through the lens of speculative fiction. The fantasy stories, ‘The Wolf Prince’, ‘The Girl Who Could See the Wind’ and ‘Metro Winds’ are the book’s highest points. Perhaps incidentally, these three stories have female protagonists but they also emulate the conventions of ‘quest fantasy’. Significantly, they describe a search for identity and place. For example, the girl in ‘Metro Winds’ is wrenched from her home beside the ocean and taken to the city, where her windows are painted shut. She later experiences an epiphany and discovers her true self in the surreal, untamed metro.

The three stories with male protagonists are linked by air travel in the real world. Each of the protagonists has travelled from Australia, or a similar place, to Europe. Airports are waiting places. These stories share that weariness: time has changed and folded; a task must be achieved. In ‘The Dove Game’, the man is keeping a rendezvous in place of another man who died amongst the eucalypts. ‘The Stranger’ is in search of vampires in Greece and ‘The Man Who Lost his Shadow’ enters an even darker place. All the men are seeking, and all believe they must cross time and space to fulfil their quests. Their worlds are those of ‘real’ places while the fantasy stories, particularly ‘The Wolf Prince’ and ‘The Girl Who Could See the Wind’ move from the real world to the secondary world of fantasy. Willow, the girl who could see the wind, is taken to an Australian-like place from her northern hemisphere home by her grieving mother. This new place becomes home but the park she sees from her window, and is not meant to enter, is not in a dimension that most others can see. The young woman in ‘The Wolf Prince’ becomes a princess in the land of faerie, which sits physically beside her Venetian-like city. She is able to move between the two places after fulfilling the tasks that allow her to transform her prince but where does she truly belong?

Many of Isobelle Carmody’s themes, motifs and concerns from her acclaimed Obernewtyn Chronicles appear in Metro Winds. These include dreams, secrets, beasts and misfits. Some of the short stories are for older readers – mature secondary and adults, but the others will beguile all readers of sophisticated speculative fiction.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

The Fault in Our Stars and other novels by John Green (Penguin Books)

21 Apr

Fault in Our StarsHazel is only 17 but dying of lung cancer. She watches lots of America’s Next Top Model and attends a cancer support group for teenagers. Half-blind Isaac brings his mate, Augustus, along to the meeting before his only sighted eye is removed. Augustus had recovered from osteosarcoma cancer so seems to be in a good place but doesn’t stop staring at Hazel. In anyone but such a hot guy it would be creepy. They become friends and then even closer but it is difficult to see a future with Hazel’s condition. Her favourite book is An Imperial Affliction but it has no ending. She has futilely contacted the author to discover what happens to the characters but Augustus uses his cancer-sufferer ‘wish’ to take her to Amsterdam to meet him. The story then takes unexpected and poignant turns.

Author, John Green, enjoys exploring metaphors here and particularly also in his 2009 novel Paper Towns. He also uses many references to other texts, such as the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Francois Rabelais and T.S. Eliot.

His novels seem to feature male main characters who are usually skinny and desperate for a girlfriend and sex. The Fault in Our Stars is different because an intelligent female, Hazel, is the protagonist. In the other novels, Green’s young men often obsess after attractive, strong, unpredictable girls who seem to be seeking death, particularly gorgeous Alaska in Looking for Alaska. Alaska, like Green’s early important female characters, is wildly original, outrageous and able to keep boys, especially Miles who is new to boarding school, slathering. She is a match for Margo Roth Spiegelman in the superbly plotted, keep-you-guessing Paper Towns who keeps Q (Quentin) chasing her from one paper town to another when she disappears.

Green’s writing, considering its weighty issues, is still humorous and he writes stories which keep his crossover audience of older teens and adults thinking and wondering. It is impossible to stop at reading only one of his books.

The Fault in Our Stars (Penguin Books) 2012

Will Grayson, Will Grayson (Text) 2010 With David Levithan

Paper Towns (Harper Collins) 2009

An Abundance of Katherines (Penguin Books) 2006

Looking for Alaska (Harper Collins) 2005

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

House of Night Series by PC & Kristin Cast

1 Oct

One of the most fun and exciting young adult series around, these books chronicle the adventures of fledgling vampire, Zoey Redbird and her friends who live in a world much like ours except vampires are real and have integrated into human society.

Penned by a mother-daughter team, one a high school teacher and the other a poet, these are well-written and gripping stories that you’ll want to read in one sitting.