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Archive for the ‘Realism’ Category

Slice of Heaven by Des O’Leary.

September 12, 2018 Comments off

slice heavenSlice of Heaven by Des O’Leary. Pub. Makaro Press, 2018.

This is a terrific novel about kids going to High School in South Auckland and the lives they live in this multi cultural community.

Many people will refer to South Auckland as “the Hood” and in many ways that is exactly what it is. The rap culture and the Gangsta model have to a certain extent captured the psyche of the kids in South Auckland and it is more than just pretence. It is their lives.

Sione & TJ, Deepak & Raj, Nigel &Junior, Jordan, Hieu, Oko, and Redemption are all on detention at school when they are press-ganged into joining the school softball team for a game against a visiting school. They all have crap attitudes, have no interest in school or softball but hey it is better than detention. The real team never showed up because they couldn’t pay the $20.00 for travel and use of the gear.

From this beginning they become a team but heaps happens in their home lives as well. Sione has hard working parents who came to New Zealand so their kids could have a better future not running wild with the gangs. Sione does some dumb things and takes a beating from his father. Other characters have bad family problems and live in poverty stricken over crowded homes.What hope do they have?

Superbly written and told by Des O’Leary who was a teacher in Aorere College  South Auckland and certainly knows what is what with kids culture. His characters are Samoan, Tongan, Maori, Indian Fijian, Vietnamese and others and the strongest feature is the dialogue between the characters. They talk to each other in an aggressive manner with embarrassment and the put down major weapons but there is an underlying sense of humour about how they talk that will captivate readers. One thing you don’t do is call a Vietnamese, Chinese. Read it and find out why.

The social and economic depravity of the area is also a theme “the old man shuffled past the kids looking for cigarette butts on the ground”. The gangsta stuff with the coloured bandanas and the attachment to “our turf’ is a factor and most characters are pretending to be people they aren’t.

The point is will the softball connection change their lives?

Excellent novel for teenagers about an area with attitude that has some mystique in New Zealand culture. Great cover, says it all.

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow.

August 6, 2018 Comments off

girlGirl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow. Pub. HarperCollins, 2016.

If I had to give advice to a new writer I would say write what you know, write what you have experienced, write honestly about how you feel and write with a purpose.

Kathleen Glasgow has done all of those things in this compelling young adult novel about 17 year old Charlotte (Charlie) Davis. Charlie thinks that nobody normal will love her.

Charlie has had a harrowing life and has NSSI or non suicidal self injuring. Yes she cuts herself on the arms and legs and amazingly feels that she is in control of her body while she is doing this. She keeps a Tender Kit with her at all times – a box that enables her to cut herself and repair herself afterwards.

The book opens in a psychiatric centre for young girls who do the same as Charlie. She doesn’t speak, she has been living on the street and her body has been cut to ribbons. We learn of her journey to this crisis point in her life in part one of this novel and it doesn’t make for pleasant reading. Abusive mother, bullying at school, drugs, sleeping rough, brutal men, self loathing, worthlessness and extreme self harm. Yet strong friendship from those around her.

Part 2 of the novel takes Charlie out of her Minnesota environment to Tucson Arizona where she finds work at the bottom of the pile and starts to get herself together again. She is vulnerable, she needs love and attention and she needs a massive break in life.

Can she get it or will her past come back to haunt her? read part 3 and find out.

I loved Charlie to pieces. I didn’t want to stop reading about her. I wanted to care for her and for much of the novel I was totally apprehensive. You will be too.

Beautifully written in short sharp episodes that keep you hanging on. It’s tough and has a powerful message ” sometimes you have to let stuff go if you want to move forward”

Boy Under Water by Adam Baron, illus. Benji Davies.

July 30, 2018 Comments off

boy under waterBoy Under Water by Adam Baron, illus. Benji Davies.. Pub. HarperCollins, 2018.

This novel for intermediate and junior high school readers is about growing up and it addresses a massive question – “Do grown-ups tell you the real stuff or do they try to shove it aside like an old tent stuffed behind a sofa”?

Every family has secrets, secrets that affect other family members and friends  behaviour, and kids do not understand. Why don’t they know? and what will happen when they eventually find out?

Cymbeline Igloo is nine years old and he lives with his mother. He has artistic ability and his mother gives art lessons. Family history comes to a shattering crisis when Cymbelline has to go to the swimming pool with his class. His mother panics and Cymbelline wonders why his mother has never taken him to the pool or any body of water where he could learn to swim.

Cymbelline attends after a challenge from a class member and while waiting to commence a swimming lesson he is pushed into the deep end and sinks to the bottom. His mother erupts. The next morning when Cymbelline wakes up his mother is gone.

I am not going to tell you anymore you will have to read the novel and believe me I did not guess the ending, nor will you but it is brilliant.

Superbly told and explained by Adam Baron with an underlining dark and witty humour. He is talking to the kids and opening big secrets. Deftly illustrated by Benji Davies.

You will find out about the name when you read the book.

Don’t stop Thinking About Tomorrow by Siobhan Curham.

July 24, 2018 Comments off

dont stopDon’t stop Thinking About Tomorrow by Siobhan Curham. Pub. Walker Books, 2018.

I bet that somewhere in the World in this very moment in time, a refugee is wishing that things in their own country were safe and they could return. They will be thinking that people in the country they are in feel threatened by them and resent them being there. They will despair for the future of themselves and their families and friends

This is true of Hafiz a teenager from Syria whose escape to freedom you will read about in this novel. He is lucky to be alive and lucky that he has an aunt and uncle in the UK that can support him. He is a gifted footballer and has aspirations to join the best, but will he be given the opportunity to show his talents and develop the way a UK national would?  Read this novel and find out.

Stevie is a talented guitarist and singer, she is 14 years old and is living with her severely depressed mother who can’t get over the death by violent means of her husband and Stevie’s father. They are living on the breadline and things look hopeless. They have to move on and they need a break. Read it and see if this happens.

Stevie and Hafiz come together at school in a class that has some bullying and less understanding kids, but not all. Their relationship develops, they are good for each other but they are going to be sorely tested.

An excellent novel that examines modern day issues of refugees and mental depression and the effects it has on lives when attitudes of hatred and lack of understanding are to the fore.

This book could have drifted into  a state of sentimentality but it doesn’t. You feel for both Hafiz and Stevie and their chances in life in a hostile world. Their story is as common as life itself and the message is, things have got to change!!

Written in short chapters consecutively by Stevie and Hafiz which makes it very easy to read in short bursts but if you are like me you will keep reading long after your eyes are drooping onto the page.

A story for readers in the intermediate to young adult age group. Adults will get reward from it too. But be warned there will be tears.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

July 21, 2018 Comments off

front deskFront Desk by Kelly Yang. Pub. Walker Books, 2018.

Migrating from one country to another to better your standard of living is as common as life itself. For 10 year old Mia Tang and her mother and father it becomes a hardship that tests their resilience to the core.

They came to America, California to be exact, with $250 and the hope of freedom. What they got was exploitation, racism and bigotry but still they got through. This book takes the American dream to pieces.

They answer a promising advert to be managers of a motel in Anaheim for the king of exploiters, Mr Yao. He promises them the earth, but knows they have no choice and treats them like slaves. As you read you hate Mr Yao to the core.

My Yao has a son of Mia’s age and they go to the same school. A respectful but often confrontational relationship builds up between the two Chinese children.

Mia has the job of looking after the front desk of the motel while her parents slave away at maintaining and running the 30 room business often encountering the rough side of American culture. It is sad, soul destroying and uplifting. It often makes you angry but Mia and her parents stick to it.

“Why is everything in America about money? questions Mia and “None of us knew it was going to be like this” rues her father.

Mia’s optimism is never daunted and she makes friends with a Mexican girl Lupe and with the regular tenants of the motel. I thought if Mia can get through this then so can I and I did not regret it. Nor will you.

This is one of the most readable novels I have read this year and it is for everybody from Intermediate age through to young adult

Nobody Real by Steve Camden.

April 11, 2018 Comments off

nobody real.jpgNobody Real by Steve Camden. Pub. HarperCollins, 2018.

It took me three days to read this astonishing novel. I sat down poured a whiskey and said Wow. A mixture of realism and fantasy that is strangely satisfying.

To paraphrase a theme from the book “the real us lives in dark corners”. If you don’t want to go there don’t start this book.

Marcie or Mars is about to turn 18 and has just finished her final exams. Everybody says your whole life is in front of you, but first she must settle with the past.

When she was a toddler her artistic mum left and she grew up with her artistic father who is an agonised writer. He has had a novel published that critics called brilliant. Marcie copes with life by creating an invisible friend who is like a boy polar bear she calls Thor. He has been with her for 10 years and it is time to go. She has to be weened off Thor and it is up to Thor to do it.

What Marcie doesn’t know is that Thor has his own unreal world which parallels the real world of Marcie and when his work with Marcie is done he will face the Fade. What is the Fade? You will have to read the novel to find out.

Marcie needs to be herself, she has to make her own mistakes and she has to settle with the breakup of her parents. Her  road to reconcile with the past and her current friends and family is going to be bumpy.

Fascinating style of writing. Written in different fonts for the real and the unreal often poetic, always interesting, often confusing but totally compelling. One of the best young adult novels I have read for a long time.

Love Hate & other filters by Samira Ahmed

January 26, 2018 Comments off

love & hateLove Hate & other filters by Samira Ahmed. Pub. Hot Key books, 2018.

Some powerful novels for young adults come out of Trump’s America these days, most related to the social upheaval that his been inflicted on America because of racial, religious, political and terror related events. This is one of them and it is very good.

Maya is 18 years old, she is a Muslim Indian whose parents are successful dentists in small town America. They are unashamedly staunch traditionalists who came to America with some taboos packed tightly into the corners of their immigrant baggage. They want the best for their daughter and to control her life in the traditional Indian way.

Maya is an American girl and with American aspirations who wants to make movies. She has a video camera with her all the time and films family events. She is very quick witted and literate in a Jane Austen sort of way and she is attracted to the star football player of her high school, Phil, and he is attracted to her. Their rom com relationship is one of the highlights of the novel as is Maya’s relationship with her traditionalist mother.

When Maya tells her mother she does not want an arranged relationship with Kareem, who is delightful by the way and understanding, and wants to go to film school in New York, the family is in turmoil. The mother fears she will wear mini skirts and eat pork.

It gets worse. Between chapters there is another plot going on. A suicide bomber is plotting , preparing and ultimately commits the  terrorist act killing hundreds including children. People take it out on Maya and her family, they are assumed guilty by association as everybody considers the bomber was Muslim.

Read this novel it is fascinating. I was hooked from the first chapter which describes a traditional Indian wedding with it’s Bollywood overtones. The wit and depth of feeling is compelling. One of the best.