If you thought kids’ and teens’ reading was going downhill due to time spent on screens and devices – then, think again. Two articles recently publish are testament to the increase in popularity of books for these audiences. On December 16 (2014), literary editor, Jonathon Sturgeon, stated that book trade sales “were buoyed by a substantial increase in sales of Young Adult and Children’s books, up 22.4 percent” during the past year. On Sunday, November 11 (2015), the Sunday Mail published an article in it’s “U” lift out that also discussed the worldwide sales increase of children’s and young adult books. Australia alone, it said, recorded a $1.1 million sales increase in this section of the publishing market.
This is great news for me on many levels – as a parent of teenagers, as a Teacher-Librarian who is promoting books and reading every day of her working life and as an avid reader of YA fiction. It is also great news for our local independent bookstores, Riverbend Books and Avid Reader who do such great work in sourcing and promoting the best books and authors for this age group.
Over the Christmas break, I took the opportunity to delve into some new YA books and revisit an old favourite. For those interested in YA, my reviews of these are below and many other reviews can be found on my Goodreads page.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Written by teen author, Amy Zhang, this story starts with the attempted suicide of ‘it’ girl, Liz Emersen who deliberately drives her mercedes off the road into a tree. Clearly depressed, Liz is unhappy but not a victim. She herself is a mean girl and a bully and having realised the terrible things she has done, decides the solution is to end her life. The novel then covers fragments from before, during and after the attempted suicide.
This story shows incredible insight into the lives of teenagers who can be unlikeable, decent, vulnerable and flawed all at once. Even though they may not have experienced the extremes of teenage behaviours portrayed in this novel, many high school students would be able to identify with the characters, events, emotions and certainly the issues dealt with in this book.
Amy Zhang has produced a story that is really well written and thought provoking, which makes the reader aware that our actions contain consequences for others and ourselves. I echo the sentiment of other reviewers that it is amazing to think she wrote this while being at high school. Both the standard of writing and the final success of being published, should be inspirational to the many aspiring writers I teach. An excellent debut novel.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
At the beginning of this book, Stella Montgomery is witness to a murder and her life is placed in danger as those responsible seek to capture both her and the object she has vowed to hide and protect. This is a most wonderful Victorian mystery and adventure that involves villains, trickery, magic, theatre, courageous children and many plot twists.
In the same vein as books such as The Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, and The Billionaire’s Curse, this book contains kids being orphaned among emotionally absent adults. These kids have to become the heroes in their own lives to solve mysteries of the past and present and to survive the dark scenarios afoot.
Not only is this book very well written, but it also contains a scattering of great illustrations reflecting the author, Judith Rossell’s abilities as an illustrator as well as writer. In particular, the illustration of the “elegant, spindly legs” of the peer, the “seething” Aunts, and the Hotel Majestic with its “towers and turrets and curlicues and columns and chimneys and balconies and lots of curly metal sprouting here and there” very much add to atmosphere created throughout the pages of the book.
A great read, highly recommended for Middle School readers.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book tells the story of Hayley Kincain who has led anything but an ordinary childhood. At the point where the novel begins, Hayley is entering her senior years in high school. Prior to this she has been travelling the roads with her father in his truck, living an unconventional life while her Dad tries to escape the memories and post traumatic stress that haunt him as a returned soldier.
In her return to a ‘normal life’, Hayley makes friends with Gracie and then meets Finn. Both have the potential to be good for her if Hayley would let them in. Hayley is, however, afraid of this – if others see what is really going on with her Dad, his mental health, inability to keep a job, use of drugs to anaesthetise his pain, his neglect of Hayley’s needs and his violent episodes, then her new, ‘normal life’ might be threatened.
As things spiral out of control in Hayley’s life, it becomes impossible to put this book down so worried are you for both Hayley and her father. A good read.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A story that encapsulates what is like to be fifteen. In this coming of age novel, we meet Clover. She is talented, passionate and at risk of ‘cracking’.
The plot of this novel follows Clover as she pushes everyone and everything, including herself, to the limit. She is passionate about the environment and decides to raise awareness about the loss of a local wildlife corridor through graffiti. In order to get her message across, she needs the help of her friend Keek and she draws him into her escapades. However, what some people deem art, others deem vandalism and she soon she and Keek are facing the consequences of being on the wrong side of the law. She also experiments with truancy, parties, smoking, drinking, and drugs and finds herself in trouble on a number of levels.
Throughout the story, Clover is also working out people – who are those she can trust, who are true and loyal friends, how do families function and what relationships are important? As a reader, you worry about her when she is hanging out with the cool girls, when she is flirting with one of the footy-boys who is after more than kissing and when she lies to her loyal and loving mother.
This book is a really good read, full of genuine characters and a protagonist who I could really identify with. I highly recommend it to students in Year 9 & 10.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of my favourite books of all time. It is the story of Connor O’Malley who has been having terrible nightmares ever since his mother started treatment for cancer. Then something extraordinary happens, a monster in the form of a gigantic, walking, talking yew tree starts to visit him regularly just after midnight and it wants something from him – it wants Connor to face the most dangerous thing of all – the truth.
This novel is multi-layered and explores a number of themes such as family relations, bullying and anger but at it’s heart it is about the inner thoughts of a boy who is facing the most frightening thing many of us can imagine. It is a very good treatment of the subject and not sentimental in the least. It is raw and honest and will stay with you for a long time after you close the last page.
The language in the book is simple and beautiful. The tree tells Connor it has three stories for him and then Connor must tell him a fourth and it will be the truth. The original story was conceived by Siobhan Dowd who herself passed away from cancer and it was completed by Patrick Ness, a superb storyteller, who tells us in the Author’s Note that his one criteria was “to write a book Siobhan would have liked”.
I have now read this book four times and each time; I love it more every time I read it. Here are some of the powerful quotes from the book:
“You know that your truth, the one that you hide, Connor O’Malley, is the thing you are most afraid of.” (p.46)
“Sometimes people need to lie to themselves most of all.” (p.72)
“There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.” (p.74)
“Many things that are true feel like a cheat. Kingdoms get the princes they deserve, farmers’ daughters die for no reason, and sometimes witches merit saving. Quite often, actually. You’d be surprised.” (p.74)
“Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.” (p.151)
“You do not write your life with words, the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.” (p.202)
“Of course you are afraid, the monster said, pushing him slowly forward. And yet you will still do it.” (p.212)