30 September, 2013

Children's Book Council Older Readers Short List 2013

So once again it's time to review the Short List from The Children's Book Council of Australia's shortlist. OK, this year I'm running a bit behind. The winners were announced back at the end of August but I have only just got around to reading and reviewing all the books! So here we go, my reviews of all 6 shortlisted older readers books.I tried to limit the reviews to about 6 sentences each.  Click on the link below each book to go to the Goodreads entry for it.

Creepy & Maud by Dianne Touchell
I loved the beginning of the book which made me once again want to Facebook the first line of books I'm reading (The first line was My dad has trained our dog, Dobie Squires, to bite my mum.) Creppy and Maud (not their real names!) live across the road from each other. Both have parents who fight, both are only children and both are social outcasts at school. They form a friendship without actually meeting, writing (sometimes cryptic) notes and taping them to their bedroom windows. After awhile I just felt the story was going nowhere, leaving me feeling frustrated. While it ended with some hope, I just felt the overall story was missing something.

Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield
Friday Brown is a book about running away, discovering your strengths and finding value where others find none. The book covers some rather dark material  - homelessness, manipulation, abuse, drugs - often with no apologies. It's a book that draws you in, making you care about the main characters and their fate. I did find however, the lesser characters a bit two dimensional and would have liked them to be fleshed out a bit more. The end was a bit too neat for me. After the turmoil, Friday seemed to settle back into normal life awfully easily...

The Wrong Boy by Suzy Zail
I will admit when I picked up this my first thought was, really, another holocaust book. But on reflection, we need more, we cannot forget what happened and new generations need to be told the stories of those who were persecuted. As the survivors age and die, we need to not let this atrocity fade into the background.
Whenever I read a book about the concentration camps, it's a jolt to be reminded that Russian soldiers liberated many of the camps - not the stereotypical picture of Stalin's army - I wonder if younger readers realise that in the end, Stalin was no better than Hitler.
The last 50 pages of this book were the most heart wrenching - after liberation, when the main character Hanna had time to consider what had happened to others. Hanna's character survived by being the personal pianist of the commandant - a position that made her hated by other POW's. As always the question is - what would you do to survive?

The Ink Bridge by Neil Grant
The Ink Bridge explores the lives of two boys - one Afghan refugee and one Australian boy. For different reasons, both are silent, a trait that draws them together.
The story is told in three parts, Omed, Hector and Across the Bridge. I found Omed's part the most interesting and heart wrenching. While the book is aimed at older readers, I strongly suggest the adult in their lives also read it as it's fairly graphic in parts. This, like books about the Holocaust are so important. Apart from explaining the desperation of some of our refugees, it provides a great jumping off point for talking about refugees, the war on terror and the issues surrounding these topics.

The Shiny Guys - Doug MacLeod
After a horrible tragedy in his life, Colin finds himself on Ward 44, the psychiatric wing where the psychiatrist in charge is running things a little differently from a conventional psychiatric ward. Colin sees thing - the shiny guys - and along with Mango and Anthea he needs to work out what they want and how to stop them. The lines between what is real and what isn't becomes blurred, leaving not only the patients confused, but the reader as well. MacLeod has portrayed the confusion of mental illness incredibly well, although at times I felt like I was losing the thread of the story - was it about The Shiny Guys, mental illness or something else entirely?

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan
On the remote island of Rollrock, the men ask sea-witch Misskaella to draw forth girls from seals to make sea wive. Achingly beautiful, they are devoted wives, but when they are the only women left and their desire to return to their seal skins and the sea grows strong, what lengths will their sons go to make their mams happy?
It took me awhile to get into the book, but once I did I really enjoyed it. A fable about the dangers of pandering to your own needs and the strength it takes to do what is right. I think this book is borderline YA, it could quite comfortably sit on the adult shelves.

So those are the six shortlisted books. To tell you the truth, I didn't love any of them - not one jumped out as  clear winner for me. In the end, it I was ruler of the world, I would have chosen Friday Brown as the winner with Sea Hearts and The Wrong Boy as notables. The CBC gave the top award to Sea Hearts and notables to The Ink Bridge and Friday Brown.