Book reviews for Aussie teachers and their students.

Posts tagged ‘Allen & Unwin’

Book Review: “Stay With Me” by Maureen McCarthy (2015), Allen & Unwin

Stay With MeWith a long list of book credits to her name, Maureen McCarthy is a familiar name in the world of publishing.  Her previous books including, The Convent, Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life and Chain of Hearts, have firmly established her reputation a writer of quality fiction for both Young Adults and Adults.  McCarthy’s latest offering, titled Stay With Me, engages with the topical issue of domestic violence and provides a sensitively written psychological portrait of a victim of such abuse.

Set in the landscape of country New South Wales, 21 year old Tessa, along with her 3 year old daughter Nellie, escape the hands of her abusive partner Jay.  What follows is a dynamic narrative that freely flits back and forth in time, as it outlines the circumstances surrounding her seduction, resulting entrapment, physical and emotional abuse, along with her mental deterioration.  Paralleled with this is the story of Tessa’s grandmother, whose committal to an asylum and death shortly thereafter, has haunted the family since.

With a protagonist aged in her early twenties, McCarthy has penned a tale that will resonate strongly with a New Adult audience.  In the classroom this story will find its place with senior students.  Although the beauty of the language and the sophistication of the narrative ensure its suitability for whole class study; the subject matter of the text may deem it a tricky choice for some contexts.  However, in spite of this, the text itself remains an appropriate choice for independent study and meaningful comparisons might be made with film texts that might include Water for Elephants (2011) or even Alice Walker’s profound novel The Colour Purple (1982) along with the 1985 film adaptation.

Stay With Me is a deeply moving and highly immersive story whose authentic and harrowing portrayal of abuse will haunt its readers forever.

Tanya Grech Welden

Boomerang Book Winners for the Year 2014

Claire ZornI love books so much that it is nearly impossible for me to choose favourites.  However, I for the purposes of this blog (and because it may be useful for my audience of teachers and students) I am going to try very hard to play favourites.  Early January each year I plan to evaluate the books from the previous year, identifying those that I have found most enjoyable and, more importantly, the ones that are most useful in terms of their educational merit in the classroom.  I am going to call these the “Boomerang Awards”, since these are the titles which I am most likely to go back to time and time again as a teacher.

Overall “Boomerang Book of the Year 2014”

Without a doubt the best book I read in 2014 was an awesome title published by University of Queensland Press.  The Protected, written by Aussie author Claire Zorn is a gorgeous contemporary set in the rural setting of the Blue Mountains.  It tells the story Hannah, who struggles to  survive in the aftermath of her older sister’s death.  There is nothing I didn’t like about this story and if there ever was a book I’d be pleading to have in a class set,  it is this one.  A finely crafted story that is as beautiful as it is poignant, The Protected is suited to students in grade 9-10 for shared reading or, for older middle school students and senior school students through to year 12.

Runner-Up “Boomerang Book of the Year 2014”

Another book that I thoroughly appreciated was Zana Fraillon’s No Stars to Wish On.  Published by Allen & Unwin in 2014.No Stars to Wish On Fraillon’s story is told through the innocent eyes of 6 year old Jack, who is forcibly “removed” from his family and forced into a foster home as a Ward of the State.  In gorgeous prose we follow his mistreatment at the hands of the cruel Sisters and dare to hope that he will finally reunite with his family.  No Stars to Wish Upon is a uniquely Australian story that explores a dark episode in our history.  It is deceptively simple, however, the depths of its themes (and the darkness of the content) place it firmly within the Middle years.  I would have no hesitation in using it at year 9 as a shared text, for senior students in an independent reading program,  or as an extension text for independent reading by advanced readers in the latter part of primary school.

“Boomerang Best Series of the Year 2014”

These Broken StarsWith so many series appearing on book shelves across the nation (and “virtually” across the world), I felt it might be useful to highlight the one I  found most captivating for the year of 2014.  The Starbound Trilogy, written by Aussie author Amie Kaufman and American Meagan Spooner secures the title this year.  These Broken Stars and This Shattered World explore the Science Fiction universe where all is not as it first seems.  Where many series tend to follow the same protagonist for each episode, The Starbound This Shattered WorldTrilogy operates within the same world but with a different setting and different protagonist (the previous key characters seem to come back for cameo roles only).  For this alone I applaud the series, since each book will work as a stand alone book too!!!  I would not use this series as a class text (it is too long), however it is something to  share with your avid readers who are always looking for the next big thing.  This is it, bring on the film production!

That’s it for 2014.  If you like what you read please go back and read my longer reviews via the hyperlinks above.

by Tanya Grech Welden

“This Shattered World” by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner, Allen & Unwin (2014)

This Shattered World

I’m a little over YA series novels.  To me they reek of marketing; a tool to make me commit to buying more books (like I don’t already read and buy enough anyway).  Yes, this is the second in a series, and while I loved the first installment,These Broken Stars, I was a little tentative about its sequel.  Too often they fail to meet my expectations.  However,This Shattered World, succeeds where so many have failed.  Rather that writing a story that follows on directly where the previous left off, Kaufman and Spooner, have chosen to create a series within the universe of the first and while referencing characters from the previous book, they  introduce a new cast of characters in a fresh context.  It works; and more importantly, even though it is a series it operates effectively as a stand-alone novel.

This Shattered World focuses upon the characters of Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac who live on Avon.  From opposite sides of the track, the romantic elements provide unquestionable parallels with Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story type narratives.  This is a planet at war, with Jubilee representing the forces sent to crush the brewing rebellion in which Flynn plays a key role in.  Kaufman and Spooner’s writing is compelling and their development of character is admirable.  They have crafted a story which investigates intelligently the nature of political uprisings from both sides, along with the real cost to the humans involved.  Furthermore, and developing the Science Fiction elements of the story, This Shattered World, continues to explore how Scientists might manipulate people and technologies, calling into question ethics and morality.

Although I probably wouldn’t use this kind of book in the classroom as a shared novel; falling loosely into the Dystopian genre, it is something that I would definitely recommend to students from year nine or ten upwards.  For me, it is more Science Fiction than Dystopian and is a great story to extend students beyond The Hunger Games, while whetting their appetite for more sophisticated texts. Senior students may find it useful for an independent study, comparing the book with either Dystopian or Science Fiction titles.  However, to be fair the book probably lacks the kind of depth required for the rich analysis undertaken in higher level literature courses.

Apparently there is another story in the series yet to come.  I understand that this one explores life on Corinth and no doubt introduces readers to another amazing world and great cast of characters.  Why stop at three books?  It seems to me that Kaufman and Spooner are really onto something here and I have no doubt that they could write another ten books in the Starbound universe.  Go for it ladies; what the world really needs is more Science Fiction written by women for women!

Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden

**Allen & Unwin provided me with a free review copy for this book.  I have otherwise not been paid for any review or endorsement of this book and my opinions reflect my own unbiased view.**

“Twinmaker: Crash” by Sean Williams, Allen & Unwin (2014)

crash

I was captivated by the first instalment of the Twinmaker trilogy Jump (you can read my review here) and was consequently eager to sample the next offering in the series by acclaimed South Australian author Sean Williams.

In Crash, Williams continues to follow the story of Clair as she is pursued by dupes whilst continuing to seek the truth about d-mat and track down the elusive Q.  Crash has a similar energy to the first episode although this time I did find the constant chase across the globe and resurrection (and re-resurrection) of minor characters wearisome at times.  Crash adds a host of new characters to the mix to further complicate the plot.  Of particular note is the rather mysterious Devin and multi-talented PK (Peace Keeper) Sargent, both of whom keep the reader guessing as to their motives.  The relationship between Clair and Jesse continues although I was a disappointed that my understanding of Jesse failed to deepen with him still feeling a little underdeveloped.

Williams continues to make thought provoking and insightful statements related to the role of technology in the modern world.  However, I did not feel that in Crash he added any additional ideas to those that were introduced in the previous volume.

This is a very long and somewhat dense novel when one considers that it is aimed for the Young Adult audience.  Regrettably, this probably places it outside the interest level for many of the adolescents I teach.  Furthermore its length may restrict its use in the classroom.  On a more positive note, excerpts of the text might provide valuable insights and a discussion point for use in the Science classroom, particularly those touching upon ethics as they relate to technology.

Overall, a fast faced novel with equal measures of energy and intrigue, well suited to Science Fiction devotees within the upper age bracket of the Young Adult genre.

Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden

**Allen & Unwin provided me with a free review copy for this book.  I have otherwise not been paid for any review or endorsement of this book and my opinions reflect my own unbiased view.**

“No Stars to Wish On” by Zana Fraillon, Allen & Unwin (2014)

No Stars to Wish On

“Sister Maxine is the tallest nun here. Taller even than Mother Superior usually is, although when Mother Superior is really angry she makes herself grow bigger and taller than anyone. That must be because she is part monster.” (p.131)”

Told through the eyes of Jack, a young boy, and the parallel narrative of Amrei his teenage cousin and prophetic hero, Zana Fraillon’s novel unveils the experience of the Forgotten Generation in Australia. When Jack is 6, he and his siblings are forcibly removed from their poor but loving family home. His mother and the aunts he live with are charged with the somewhat vague crime of immorality and are consequently deemed inappropriate caregivers.   As a Ward of the State, Jack, is sent to live in a Children’s Home. Here he is deprived both physically and emotionally and subjected to unimaginable cruelty at the hands of the Nuns who are charged with his care.

Sparsely written in simple and sensitive prose, Fraillon’s confronting story may be read on a range of levels making it appealing and appropriate for use with students from year 7 upwards. Although many of the ideas in the story will require careful and sensitive navigation, especially with younger children, Fraillon’s book provides meaningful opportunities to explore the human propensity for evil. This discussion could easily lead to a focused exploration of UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child with younger students appreciating thematic comparisons with fairy tales (Cinderella or Snow White) or film (Frozen). In addition older students could pair the novel with the likes of David Peltzer’s “A Child Called ‘It’”.

“No Stars to Wish On” is a chilling tale that consistently aches; nearly succeeding to drag its reader down into a pit of futility. Fraillon’s powerful and overwhelmingly desolate story was one that left me spellbound by the promise of Amrei’s quest and the sparsely scattered fragments of joy that punctuated the narrative with moments of hope.

Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden

**Allen and Unwin provided me with a free review copy for this book.  I have otherwise not been paid for any review or endorsement of this book and my opinions reflect my own unbiased view.**

“Pandora Jones: Admission” by Barry Jonsberg, Allen & Unwin (2014)

Pandora Jones

“Pandora Jones: Admission” is the first novel in a dystopian series by well-respected Australian author Barry Jonsberg.  It tells the story of Pandora, the lone Melbourne survivor of a devastating virus epidemic that wipes out more than 99 percent of the world’s population in mere days.  The teen protagonist, Pandora (Pan), is airlifted from the scene of the devastation and taken to an unknown military-style installation.  She remains unconscious throughout the ordeal and when she wakes, weeks later, she is integrated into the mysterious new world of ‘The School’, a place where the few remaining survivors are supposedly occupied with the mission of rebuilding.

I imagine that many students in the lower end of high school will appreciate the themes and the whizzing pace of the story, actively seeking to gobble each morsel of the book with relish, before racing through the rest of the series.  For me, even though I appreciated Jonsberg’s brilliant premise, this blinding pace left me wanting a little more meat on the bones of some of the minor characters.

In terms of theme there are some fantastic cross-curricular links to be made between Science (the study of virus mutation) and History. In particular, students studying year 8 History (ACARA) will draw some useful parallels to the bubonic plague.  Similarly, rich comparisons could be made between this book and other popular print and visual texts, including Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies”, Stephen King’s “The Stand”, “Outbreak”, “Contagion”, “Planet of the Apes”, the list goes on.

A small word of warning.  This book has a highly confronting, albeit superbly written, prologue.  It literally seemed like I was being dragged into the story by my hair, only to be spat out a few pages latter in tatters, feeling as though I’d fought a battle against a dragon and lost.  While the book did feel a little short, with the ending a little too abrupt for my liking, I am choosing to forgive Jonsberg this time since he promises to develop the ideas he has established so well in the next and subsequent books.

Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden

“Through My Eyes: Naveed” by John Heffernan, Allen & Unwin (2014)

naveed

Naveed is sick of war – of the foreign powers and the Taliban, the warlords and the drug barons that together have torn Afghanistan apart.  He’s had to grow up quickly to take care of his widowed mother and little sister, making what little money he can doing odd jobs and selling at the markets.  When he adopts Nasera, a street dog with extraordinary abilities, he has a chance to help rebuild his country.  But will a new friend’s betrayal crush his dreams of peace forever?  From the winter of war comes the spring of hope.

“Show them, don’t tell them.”  I say this to my year 8 students on a regular basis.  John Heffernan, in his book “Naveed: Through My Eyes,” does precisely this; gently guiding his reader through war ravaged Afghanistan, revealing to his audience the tragedy and bitter struggle of a people who eke out a daily existence in what can only be described as hell.

At the centre of the story is Naveed, an Afghani boy, who following the death of his father, killed by a Taliban bomb; is forced to support his mother and younger and crippled sister.  We follow Naveed as he struggles to provide for his small family, undertaking odd jobs and relying on the goodwill of others while constantly at the mercy of war lords, drug barons and the street gangs that now control urban Afghanistan.    His daily existence is dominated by a futility only briefly punctuated with glimmers of hope.  When he meets and befriends Nasera, a street dog, his luck begins to turn.

“Naveed” is a straightforward and accessible read, making it suitable for students in the middle years.  It is a good length to be shared on its own with groups of students as a class text.  As part of the “Through My Eyes” series that focuses on the lives of children living through modern conflicts; the text could easily be taught alongside other books from the same series.  In this way it could be used effectively in reading circles.  The text fits neatly into the curriculum areas of English, History, Religion Studies and the Social Sciences, with opportunities for strong exploration of social justice issues and cultural diversity as they emerge in these subjects.  It could pair effectively with a number of contemporary films or other longer texts, such as The Kite Runner.  Such pairings could yield greater depth of discussion making the story suitable for students in the latter years of the Secondary English curriculum.  Similarly, the content of this text make it appropriate for teaching the National Curriculum for History at year ten level.

“Naveed,” is a simple story told honestly.  Despite dealing with multifaceted issues within a complex historical context, Heffernan’s story reaches out to a contemporary audience with a poignant and hope-filled message.

Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden

**Allen & Unwin provided me with a free review copy of this book. I have otherwise not been paid or rewarded for any review or endorsement of this book and the above opinions reflect my own unbiased view.**

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