This Guardian Prize winner 2015 for Young Adults is outstanding. It is a novel about art. Literally.
Iris is 14 years old and she has never consciously met her father who is now dieing of cancer. His name is Ernest and he has made a fortune dealing in art of all the great painters. Now on his death bed Ernest invites Iris, her mother Hannah and her partner Howell, to his estate for the last days.
There is a lot of time to make up and a lot of surprises.
The outstanding feature of the novel is the characterisations. Iris is very bright but she doesn’t look in the mirror and see somebody she doesn’t like. She is tomboyish and has a best friend in 17 year old Thurston. He has the imagination and character to be great he just doesn’t seem to want to be. He adores Iris.
The mother Hannah is a case. She has a fashion models body, dresses in tight clothes and high stilettos with a cigarette in one hand and clinking vodka and ice in the other. She is constantly dodging creditors with her maxed out credit cards. He partner Howell is a beauty. Film star looks with one eye in the mirror as he watches himself go by. He is on the fringes of Hollywood waiting for his big break but with Hannah behind him it will never come.
Iris is caught in the middle of it all and it is no surprise that she is a bit disturbed. She loves fires. Meeting her father and their conversations before he dies are sensational.
The language of the novel contains bitter sweet observations that will have you smiling with admiration. Howell for instance has toilet bowl white teeth.
The ending will have you on your feet applauding. The best book I have read this year.
The Dead I know by Scot Gardner. Pub. Allen & Unwin, 2011.
It is so powerful that the realism of it overwhelmed me. It is mesmerising.
Aaron has just left school and he gets a job in a funeral parlour with a great character called John Barton who is a saviour for Aaron. John Barton cleans Aaron up, haircut, dresses him for the part and teaches him everything to know about the death profession.
Aaron is a natural but he has demons of his own. He lives with his mother in a carvan park and she suffers from dementia. To make matters worse Aaron has a recurring nightmare that causes him to walk in his sleep. He sometimes wakes 5 kilometers from his home.
To tell you any more would ruin it for you, but once you start you will be compulsively attracted to reading this novel like I was. Look for a cameo role by John Barton’s daughter Skye, she is just brilliant.
Scot Gardner has a style of writing that dazzles you. He writes short chapters that move the plot along and keep you reading when you really want to stop. I guess if a phrase can sum up this story it is “To truly know death, you’d have to have loved”.
Get it and read it. This novel has the wow factor!
Noah Barleywater Runs away by John Boyne. Pub David Fickling Books, 2010.
Early in the morning before the dew has set and before everyone is up, eight year old Noah Barleywater dresses, and without breakfast or telling anyone, runs away from home. Why?
He passes through a couple of villages where people are not friendly and finally comes to a huge and very impressive tree. Behind the tree is a ramshackled house made of wood, so feeling very hungry he goes in and finds a toy shop where all the toys are made of wood and around the walls are a number of puppets.
The shop appears magical to Noah for magical it is. An old man who owns the shop comes out to him feeds his hunger and together they swap stories about their lives and the reason why Noah has run away.
John Boyne describes his novel as a Fairytale so if you know the story of Pinocchio you will understand why. This is a magical tale that links past and present, it ends well and wishes everybody a wonderful life.
It is the story of growth, facing circumstances and taking chances. A boy grows into a young man and a young man grows into an old man. Sometimes with regrets.
Something in this novel for everyone but aimed at children of middle school and Intermediate age.
Slog’s Dad by David Almond, Illus. Dave McKean. Pub. Walker Books Ltd, 2010.
Davie has a friend Slog and Slog’s father is dead. His father was a heavy smoker and bit by bit he lost his legs and the rest was going too. Before he died he promised Slog he would come back and see him in the spring and Slog believed him.
One day in early spring Davie and Slog are out walking and Slog sees a tramp that looks and dresses just like his father used to. Slog is positive that the tramp is his father come back to see him. You will have to make your own mind up about that.
A short story that won The National Short Story competition in 2007, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and now it is a book illustrated by Dave McKean who famously illustrated Neil Gaiman’s picture book Wolves in the Walls and the Newbery medal winning The Graveyard Book. Read these as well they are brilliant stories.
Dave McKean’s illustrations are just brilliant and give a dimension to the story that is supportive of the written text, yet add a mysterious element of their own.
Will appeal to many levels from Intermediate to Senior Secondary. Don’t miss it.
The Beginner’s Guide to Living by Lia Hills. Pub. Text Publishing, 2009
This book is deep. I wasn’t expecting anything like this but boy am I glad I read it. This is a finalist in the NZ Post Book Awards and deservedly so but it is for a limited audience of those that are sensitive and think deeply about life and death.
It is essentially the story of 17 year old Will who is grieving over his mother’s death. Anna has been runover by a drunk driver in a red Honda and Will is in turmoil. He seeks answers in philosophy and reads from Nietzsche, Buddha, William Blake, the Doors, John Paul Sartre , Annais Nin and a number of others.
Does it do him any good? It would be nice to explain things in a few words but you can’t. You take what is given and deal with it.
Will is a sensitive boy but finds love in the person of Taryn, a 16 year old with plenty of depth herself. She helps him and herself as well, and their relationship is one of the highlights of the book.
Lia Hills must have boys because she shows great knowledge in her presentation of Will and her creation is very believable but with a greater depth than most boys reveal to anybody. I liked that.
The book is divided into four parts perhaps showing Will going through the steps of grieving from denial through anger to acceptance.
Definitely Senior Secondary in appeal or to anyone who likes to contemplate the meaning of life and death.