Recent Reads: Young Adult fiction

I’d be the first to admit I judge books by their covers all the time, but sometimes the blurb is so compelling I have to try the first chapter anyway. Such was the case with Noteworthy, a book with a deceptively bland cover much like the author’s previous book, Seven Ways We Lie. I mean, look at them! A+ for colour-matching but C- for covers that don’t match the content:

Cover of Noteworthy by Riley RedgateCover of Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate

Actually don’t look at them, just open them up and start reading instead, because listen to the description of Noteworthy:

After learning that her deep voice is keeping her from being cast in plays at her exclusive performing arts school, Jordan Sun, junior, auditions for an all-male octet hoping for a chance to perform internationally.

I didn’t realise I needed a book about a girl going undercover in an all-male a cappella group, but I definitely did. The blurb doesn’t mention it but she auditions and spends much of the book passing as a teenage boy and (against her first inclinations) becoming friends with the other members of the group. The author describes her book as “approx. 1/3 slapstick comedy, 1/3 hideous music puns, and 1/3 explorations of toxic masculinity and performative femininity,” which is fairly accurate, so if you’re a fan of puns and a cappella and figuring out who you are while pretending to be someone you aren’t, then give Noteworthy a try. If you want something a bit darker with a larger cast of characters, each based loosely on one of the seven sins, then try Seven Ways We Lie.

Cover of Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Ramona Blue is the most recent novel by Julie Murphy, whose book Dumplin’ I enjoyed last year. They have similar themes of teenage girls in small towns trying to be confident in who they are while suffering from crippling doubts, but where Dumplin’s self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean deals with this by entering the local beauty pageant, Ramona Blue is aggressively happy to stay living in a trailer with her dad and supporting her pregnant sister, definitely isn’t frustrated that she can’t go to college, definitely isn’t upset that her summer girlfriend has gone back home to her boyfriend.

In the middle of all this Ramona’s childhood friend Freddie moves back into town and they start swimming at the local pool, which Ramona turns out to be rather good at, and maybe also start having feelings for each other, but that can’t be right because Ramona has always known she was gay, hasn’t she? And she still likes girls, so what’s going on? Spoiler! it’s the elusive bisexual, now captured in fiction. I was worried when I realised the direction the book was going in but it was handled really well, and is only one strand of Ramona’s complex story.

Cover of Allegedly by Tiffany D. JacksonIf that’s still too light-hearted for you then maybe you’ll appreciate Tiffany D. Jackson’s grim debut, Allegedly.

Inspired by a similar case in Maine five years ago, Allegedly is told from the perspective of the now sixteen-year-old girl (Mary) convicted of manslaughter of a white infant when she was only nine. Her case is famous; books have been written, a film is in the works, and at the time of her trial the public were pushing for the death penalty. Eight years later she’s living in a group home while attempting to study for her SATs despite the interference of the women who run the home and the other girls living in it — while newly pregnant. The discovery that the authorities will take away her baby when he’s born prompts Mary to re-open her case, declaring she has been innocent all along. Was she? Or is she just doing whatever it takes to keep her unborn child?

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi

I read this book at the perfect time: at the end of a particularly trying week, on the first day of a particularly nasty bug.

Reading something comforting in bed with a hot water bottle was the only activity I could bear, and luckily When Dimple Met Rishi delivered in spades. A lot of the books I usually read feature unexpected (or expected) character deaths, or stressful situations, or characters coping with losing a parent (this particular trope keeps popping up unexpectedly since losing a parent myself last year, and I’m not a fan! Publishers, take note). When Dimple Met Rishi is the antidote to all that — cute and sweet, but with enough depth to not be irritating. Perfect cosy winter reading.

Cover When Dimple met Rishi

Dimple Shah is almost running out the door in her eagerness to get away from her overbearing, traditional-minded mother (who wants her to find the Ideal Indian Husband) and to start studying to become a web developer. To her surprise, her parents agree to pay for the summer program for aspiring web programmers she’s been eyeing up for years.

Rishi Patel is a romantic who wants to find what his parents have achieved — a fairytale but practical marriage. When his parents tell him they’ve arranged for him to meet their friends’ daughter at Insomnia Con, he leaps at the opportunity — maybe a bit too hard, because Dimple is anything but thrilled to meet him. In fact, she didn’t even know he existed.

There are quite a few tropes playing out here, but I like them all so they get a pass. Dimple and Rishi are both engaging characters who make some stupid mistakes, and best of all they realise they do actually like each other quite quickly rather than the author coming up with flimsy misunderstandings in order to string the suspense along. Instead the conflict is through them figuring themselves out, what they want to do with their lives and careers, balancing cultural tradition/family with an American upbringing, and deciding whether being in a relationship is compatible with university study. Some of which I’m still figuring out myself, so maybe I need to a summer conference. The romance is pretty cute, and Dimple is usually quite good at pointing out when Rishi is being too smug.

I would have liked a bit more development of Dimple’s room-mate, Celia, as she is poorly served by both some of her friends and by the narrative. And some more detail on the app-building and the program would have been interesting to me. But given that it’s a book entitled When Dimple Met Rishi, I can’t complain too much if it’s all about them.

If you’re a fan of funny contemporary teen romance with geekery and Bollywood dancing, then get thee to a library and pick this one up. If you’ve already read it, have a look at:

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

When Dimple Met Rishi
by Sandhya Menon
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473667402

Cover to The Geek's Guide to UnrequitedCover of To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeCover of Looking for AlibrandiCover of Fangirl

The Pearl Thief

Cover of Code Name VerityElizabeth Wein has been one of my must-read authors since reading the beautiful punch in the gut that is Code Name Verity a few years ago. I’ve since tracked down the rest of her bibliography and can honestly say there isn’t a book she’s written that I haven’t loved.

This probably doesn’t make sense to you if you’re not a re-reader, but there are certain books that worm their way into your heart and you need to read them again in order to spend more time with your favourite characters. Books that make you grin foolishly or tear up on the bus. Books that make you thrust a copy into your friends’ hands and say: ‘Read this! It made me have feelings and I need you to read it so that we can have feelings together!’

Elizabeth Wein frequently provokes such outbursts from me. (Sorry, friends.) So I was very excited to read her latest novel The Pearl Thief. Technically it’s a prequel to Code Name Verity but it works well as a standalone.

Cover of The Pearl ThiefJulie arrives at her recently deceased grandfather’s estate in Scotland in 1938, having come home early from boarding school. No one’s around so she wanders down to the river in her brother’s kilt and an old jersey, enjoying the summer afternoon. She falls asleep tickling the trout… and then wakes up in hospital with a giant bump on her head and no memory of what happened.

This is only one of the mysteries she has to solve, as missing scholars, dead bodies and stolen river pearls start to pile up, along with a lot of unfounded local suspicion toward the Scottish Traveller community. Which is awkward as Julie is getting to be quite good friends with two Traveller siblings, Euan and Ellen. Will they figure out the real culprit before the Travellers are framed for the crime?

So many of my favourite things contained in one book: mystery, archaeology, librarians, and Julie running around the moors dressed as Davie Balfour from Kidnapped!, kissing the local girls. Sound like you? Reserve a copy of The Pearl Thief now and beat the rush! And if you also have feelings about Elizabeth Wein’s books and need to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

The Pearl Thief
by Elizabeth Wein
Published by Disney-Hyperion
ISBN: 9781484717165

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover of Rose Under FireCover of Black Dove, White RavenCover of A Coalition of LionsCover of The Sunbird

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

In Eric Lindstrom’s latest young adult novel, A tragic kind of wonderful, Mel is a beautifully complex young woman grappling with confronting decisions and emotions, navigating relationships with her family, friends and her internal ‘animals’.

Cover of A tragic kind of wonderful

Lindstrom’s use of a first person narrative allows the reader to experience the intensity of Mel’s experiences, memories and decisions as she tries so hard to navigate her present dilemmas and the omnipresent events that led to her brother’s death.

As much as Mel would like to curl up and withdraw from the world, her own spirit and those around her prove time and time again the importance of connections and taking leaps of faith.

Mel must face her greatest fears and be honest with herself and others to an extent that to her feels like jumping over a huge cliff.

Before I read this book I thought my review would centre on the ever present challenge Mel had with her Bipolar disorder. However I now feel that Eric Lindstrom presented Mel’s experience so empathetically that I understand how mental illness did not define Mel but was ultimately what made her and her bonds with family and friends all the more tragically wonderful.

This book shows us ways in which mental illness and traumatic events can impact individuals in similar and very different ways and the possibilities for hope that exist at the darkest of times.

A tragic kind of wonderful
by  Eric Lindstrom
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008147471

The Best Kids & YA books of 2015

Cover of The princess and the ponyAs a librarian with a passion for children’s literature I read nothing but books for kids and teens all year long. I visit schools around the city to promote great new reads for kids so I always have to keep up-to-date with the new and exciting books we get in at the library.

I have read a lot of great books for kids and teens this year, from picture books to novels and nonfiction. As always, I borrow more than I can read, but there are so many books that I want to read. Picture books, at least, are easy to read and you can read them again and again.

Each year we put together our Holiday Reading Guide, which includes the best books of the year selected by librarians across all our libraries. Our 2015 Holiday Reading Guide is out now. It includes:

If you’re looking for some great books to read over the summer, make sure you check out the 2015 Holiday Reading Guide.

Here are some of my favourite books of 2015 from the Holiday Reading Guide:

Picture Books

  • Cover of Piranhas don't eat bananasPiranhas Don’t Eat Bananas by Aaron Blabey – Aaron Blabey is my top author/illustrator of the year. He has published 6 books in 2015 and they’re all brilliant. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas is the story of Brian, a Piranha who should like meat but much prefers fruit and veges. His friends aren’t happy and try to put him on the right track. He tries to persuade them that ‘fruit is the best’ but they would rather eat feet, knees and bums. This is a hilarious read that has kids and adults cracking up.
  • The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton –  Princess Pinecone wants to be a warrior and she needs a big, strong, fast horse to help her. Her parents don’t get her wishes quite right and she ends up with a short, fat little pony that farts a lot. This little pony might not be what she asked for but together they become a great team, and help the meanest warriors show their cuddly sides.

Younger Fiction

  • Cover of Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-PigThe Shark-Headed Bear-Thing by Barry Hutchison – Ben just wants to have an adventure and be a hero. When a girl called Paradise turns up in his village seeking a hero to save her village from a rampaging monster, Ben knows he’s the hero for the job. A very funny adventure story, featuring the greatest game ever invented – Burp or Death!
  • Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-Pig by Polly Faber and Clare Vulliamy –  A charming collection of four beautifully illustrated stories about the unlikely friendship between Mango, a little girl, and Bambang, a Malaysian tapir. Mango Allsorts is good at all sorts of things, not just karate and chess. Bambang is most definitely not-a-pig and is now lost in a very busy city. When the two unexpectedly meet, a friendship begins, filled with adventures, and of course, plenty of banana pancakes.

Older Fiction

  • Cover of Olive of GrovesOlive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad – an enchanting, entertaining and incredibly funny book, packed with imagination. Olive is sent to Mrs Groves Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers, where the headmistress is bonkers, the school bully is a pig, boys blow up broccoli with dynamite, and she meets plenty of colourful characters. This is my book of the year.
  • The Marvels by Brian Selznick – The latest amazing book from the very talented Brian Selznick, told partly through illustration and partly through text. The first 400 or so pages of the story are told just through illustration and introduce us to the Marvels. The second part of the book tells the story of Joseph and his search for the truth of his family and his connection to the Marvels. A true masterpiece.

Young Adult Fiction

  • Cover of Because You'll never meet meThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness – This beautiful, funny, moving novel looks at those who aren’t the ‘chosen ones.’  Mikey and his friends are the chosen ones. They just want to go to prom and graduate without their school being blown up again. They are navigating everyday life in their town, while the Indie kids are battling the Court of the Immortals.
  • Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas – Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie has a life-threatening allergy to electricity, and Moritz’s weak heart requires a pacemaker. If they ever did meet, they could both die. Living as recluses from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times. The story is original and intriguing and the characters are two of the most interesting teenage guys you’ll ever meet.

Because you’ll never meet me by Leah Thomas

There is nothing quite like finding a new author whose book you fall in love with instantly.  When the book you read is that author’s debut novel you are both disappointed and excited. Disappointed because you can’t gobble up everything else the author has written (because this is their first novel) and excited because you’ll (hopefully) have more of their stories to look forward to. I was overcome with these emotions when I finished Leah Thomas’ debut YA novel, Because you’ll never meet me.

Cover of Because you'll never meet meOllie and Moritz are two teenagers who will never meet. Each of them lives with a life-affecting illness. Contact with electricity sends Ollie into debilitating seizures. Moritz has a heart defect and is kept alive by an electronic pacemaker. If they did meet, Ollie would seize. But turning off the pacemaker would kill Moritz.

Through an exchange of letters, the two boys develop a strong bond of friendship which becomes a lifeline during dark times – until Moritz reveals that he holds the key to their shared, sinister past, and has been keeping it from Ollie all along.

Because you’ll never meet me is one of the most extraordinary books I’ve read in a long time! This book is unlike any book I’ve read and I struggle to express how truly wonderful it is. The story is original and intriguing and the characters are two of the most interesting teenage guys you’ll ever meet.

The story is told in alternating chapters, by Ollie and Moritz, two very different guys who could never meet but find solace in the letters that they write to each other.

Ollie lives in America, in a cabin in the woods with his mother, far away from civilisation and everyone else his age. He has known nothing but this isolation for as long as he can remember.  Ollie must live this life because he is allergic to electricity. Whenever he gets close to anything electrical he starts to see loops, swirls and plumes of colour, which trigger crippling seizures.

Moritz lives in Germany, was born without eyes and sees using a form or echolocation, like a bat.  He also has a heart condition and is kept alive by a pacemaker. He is ignored by his peers and tormented by the school bully.

Through their letters to each other they share their experiences and their unique lives, giving each other strength when they need it the most. Leah Thomas hints that there is some connection, other than through their letters, between the two boys, and when this is revealed the story goes in a different direction. I won’t talk about this as it is a great twist in the story.

I got completely caught up in Ollie and Moritz’s stories and put myself in their shoes. You know it’s a great book when you want to know what’s happening with the characters when you’re not reading their story. My heart was in my throat so many times while I was reading and I just kept on hoping that Ollie and Moritz would make it through their tough times.

One of the things I love the most about Leah Thomas’ book is that she tells this incredible story in just one book. Everything comes together perfectly at the end and there is a real sense of hope. You don’t need any more books to carry on the story of these two characters. They stay with you and you can imagine where their story might go next.

Because you’ll never meet me is a truly memorable story that will stay with me for a very long time.  I highly recommend it, especially if you love Annabel Pitcher or R.J. Palacio’s book, Wonder.

2015 LIANZA Children and Young Adult Book Awards Winners

Cover of Conrad Cooper's Last StandThe award ceremony for the 2015 LIANZA Children and Young Adult Book Awards was held at the National Library in Wellington on Monday 15 June. The LIANZA Children and Young Adult Book Awards are awarded annually by LIANZA, the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa, for outstanding books for children and young people.

Congratulations to all the finalists and the winners!  Here are the winners:

Grab a copy of these award-winning books at your library. To find out more about the LIANZA Children’s and Young Adult’s Book Awards check out our page on the awards.

Winners of the Summertime Sounds Competition

Summertime Sounds Teen Music CompetitionOver the Summer we ran our Summertime Sounds competitions which challenged teens to create a theme song or a playlist for their favourite young adult book.  We had some amazing entries for both of the competitions and the judges were blown away by the creativity of all the teens who entered.  It was a tough task choosing the winners because we could tell how much effort went into each entry.  The winners each receive a $50 Westfield voucher.

Drumroll please…The winners are:

  • Original theme song 15-18 years – Matthew P with Divergent inspired by Divergent
  • Original theme song 11-14 years – Izzy C and Sarah H with More Than This inspired by The Giver
  • Playlist 15-18 years – Grace C playlist for Princess Academy
  • Playlist 11-14 years – Sara D playlist for Clockwork Angel

You can listen to all of the song entries on our playlist.

Matthew describes his theme song for Divergent:

My theme music is for Divergent by Veronica Roth. It is scored for symphonic orchestra and has a sinister and mysterious feel to match the dystopian setting of post-apocalyptic Chicago, but has happy, joyous parts to portray the romantic subplot of the relationship between Triss and Four despite the society they live in. The structure loosely matches the plot- The mysterious opening as the protagonist explores her identity and doesn’t know which faction to choose. The driving triplet rhythm in the strings signifies her choosing the Defiant faction. The piece builds up in intensity to match the exciting moments in the plot, with quiet parts when the action and conflict aren’t present. It builds to a thrilling climax like the novel and abruptly fades away, sounding unfinished, portraying the end of the novel as they board the train, setting it up for the next book in the series. The main theme represents the character if Triss and the variations of this theme explored throughout the piece represent her experiences throughout the novel.

Izzy and Sarah describe their theme song for The Giver:

Our song is about the character of Jonas and the development of his views and opinions about the world he lives in. At the beginning of the song Jonas suspects there may be more to his sheltered life, and he feels he is different from others. As the song progresses, Jonas becomes more suspicious, as he gains more knowledge about the community. By the end, he has seen colour, memories of the past, and he has experienced pain, all of which have strongly influenced his view on the way the community functions. Jonas now knows for certain that there is ‘More Than This’

We have tried to give double meanings to some of the lyrics in the song. For instance ‘We’re black and white’ shows how they are literally living in a world without colour, but also shows how the people in the community are always open and honest, without any ‘grey areas’.

For some of the lyrics in the song, we have been inspired by particular quotes in the novel, Such as the lyric, ‘But when you lose something, there’s always something to gain’ was inspired by ‘We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.’. We have slightly flipped the meaning of the lyric, making it more positive. This shows Jonas’s hope for the future, that even though he let go of his life in the community, he gained freedom and true emotion.

Thanks to everyone who entered our Summertime Sounds competitions and congratulations to the winners. Find out more this and our other competitions for teens on The Pulse.

Purplerulz’s Top Five for 2013

To add to the lists being written from everyone’s reading for the year, I’m going to put forward my top five.

This may not be my absolute top five if I had a decent memory and I had kept my completed bookshelf on the library catalogue up to date… New Year’s resolution – I will do this in 2014! But they are ones that have stuck in my mind and have lingered long. They are in no order, I can never just have one favourite book.

cover of Every Day

1. Every Day by David Levithan: Imagine waking up every day in a new body, in a new life. For one teen this is all he/she knows but when faced with true love and a desperate desire to stay put, how will they get the life they long for? Great Young Adult fiction that speaks to adults as well.

2. Levels of Life by Julian Barnes: This little stunner of a book combines the raw pain of Julian Barnes’ grief after the death of his wife, with little known facts and stories about hot air ballooning. Odd combination, but it works. Highly recommended.

3.  The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson: An eighties dystopian novel about a post apocalyptic California dealing with a threat from foreign shores.

4. Perfect by Rachel Joyce: Could Ms. Joyce top the charm and cleverness of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry? Why yes she can, this book is very different to her first, but an excellent premise and wonderful characters.

cover of Perfect

5. The Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy: No year of mine can go by without a Cormac or two, and this is probably my favourite book of the year if I really had to pick one. Stunning prose, bleakness and such wonderful characters, he never disappoints. Check out my earlier blog about this great book and author.

And as this is my last day at the libraries for two whole weeks, count them…16 days, I’m arming myself with a couple of recommendations from colleagues and a few movies.

Harvest by Jim Crace and The Novel Cure are at the top of the pile.

I’d like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday period, even if you are working.  May the awesome book fairy shine upon you and the Santa of perfect prose leaves something so excellent, it lingers in your mind for a long time.

Meri Kirihemete!

Fan girl squee – meet one of my fave authors!

As part of NZ Book Month celebrations here in Christchurch, we have very cleverly managed to organise a couple of visits by Karen Healey, one of my most favouritest authors ever.

I came across Karen’s first book Guardian of the Dead purely by accident. Sifting through a pile of new books some years ago, I found a cover that I really liked, and put it on my desk. It was only when I took the book home and started to read, that I found that it was a local book, by a local author, and set in and around my very own Christchurch. Jam-packed full of excitement, mystery, magic and Maori myth, it kept me riveted till the very end. I loved the way Karen had blended European and Maori history, literature and legend, and had set the book in a Christchurch that was absolutely recognisable.  Her second book, The Shattering, followed a year later, and was just as good a read.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Karen’s third book When We Wake. I took it home and devoured it in one sitting. It’s the story of Tegan, 16 years old and living in Melbourne in 2027. She goes to a political rally, is caught in an assassination attempt and shot, and wakes to find that she’s become the first person to be cryogenically frozen and revived. It’s 100 years in the future, Tegan has lost everyone and everything from her former life, and things in the future aren’t as rosy as they should be. In fact, they seem to be worse than they were when Tegan was alive the first time round.

Karen HealeyYou can come and meet Karen Healey and hear her talk about her books and writing as part of New Zealand Book Month celebrations.  She’ll be at Upper Riccarton Library on Tuesday 12 March at 5pm (with pizza for tea!), and at Central Library Tuam on Thursday 28 March, also at 5pm.  Bring a copy of her book/s with you, and she may even sign them for you!

If you want to read more about Karen, try her website. Read our 2010 interview.