The Devil You Know by Leone Norrington. Pub. Allen & Unwin 2009.
Amazingly the Australian author who wrote this novel is hardly known in New Zealand but she should be. I have heard of the Barrumbi Kids but never read it.
I guess she writes about Australian stuff but the themes of this novel are universal and powerfully presented by Leone Norrington. So powerful in fact that some adults may balk at giving it to their intermediate and high school kids to read. They shouldn’t.
Damien lives with his mother, he is about 12 years old, they live in rough household conditions in the Northern Territory where the pub is the centre of life and a host of weird characters coast around. Damien’s mom is terrific with great values and a big heart. Damien loves her to bits and is very protective of her.
Damien’s father is a different kettle of fish. He is a biker with the number 88 as his monika. He rides a Harley and has just come back into Damien’s life after a separation caused by physical abuse of Damien’s mother.
Damien hates him but has to adjust because his mother says his father has a good heart and it was the booze that caused the problem. She has a drink problem too
But 88 wants to give it a good shot and seems to be doing the right thing. Damien is not so sure and his art work throughout the novel reflects his anxieties.
For Damien his life is centered at school and issues like bullying are big here. The teachers and Principal are mostly terrific but there is the issue of sexual abuse to contend with. Brilliantly written and easy to read. I was intrigued from start to finish. It starts and finishes with superb art work. Boys will love it and it has a positive ending.
This is a most witty and perceptive novel that exposes the generation gap between father and son and the world of cultural cringe, the advertising game.
Dom is between school and the rest of his life as he sees it. His immediate friends see things differently but Dom wants to make good decisions and has forgotten about having fun.
The cause of all this angst in his eyes, is his father, Justin Screech who changed his name to Justin Wild when he was eighteen. Justin is 37, a high flier in the Advertising game, keeps fit, dresses young, likes modern music and looks years younger than he is. He believes the world revolves around advertising and that it reflects culture and the way people want to be. The women are impressed and Dom is miffed big time.
While working in his father’s office he encounters a meeting between Justin and a marketing manager who wants to make his toothpaste a best seller. Dom brags about how easy that would be and accepts the challenge to present an idea that is young fresh and will make people buy toothpaste.
Well things are not that simple. But what will he come up with?
Leonie Thorpe tells it brilliantly with a wit that will have you smiling with admiration. She takes the world of TV advertising apart with witty scenarios that appear at the start of many chapters. I particularly liked the advert for a cure for parasitic tape worms.
A very appealing novel for teenagers and young adults. Great ending, it will make you smile.
The Monster Billy Dean by David Almond. Pub. Penguin Group, Puffin Books, 2011.
This is undoubtedly the most original book of the year but for many it will be beyond their interests and too difficult to get into. Not for me though I have enjoyed every one of David Almond’s books no matter how dark and sinister they appear to be.
Billy Dean was born the day terrorists with car bombs and suicide bombers blew the guts out of the town of Blinkbonny. Thirteen years later the town is still in ruins and into this world comes Billy Dean after being locked away from everybody for the whole of his life.
Billy Dean is the product of a great crime. His young mother was seduced by a priest and is brought up by his mother secluded from the world. His father Wilfred is an out and out religious lunatic and his influence on Billy when he visits is deeply disturbing. The absent father is a frequent theme in David Almond’s novels.
When the father leaves for ever, Billy is released into a world that views him as an angel, as a mystic, as a faith healer as a messiah. Billy doesn’t know any better and understands nothing of what is going on. I will leave it to you to decipher the ending and the role that Billy assumes. It is a mystery and in parts disturbing.
To add to the mystery the novel is written in a geordie accent in words that are written as they sound, phonics, I think it is called. Perhaps it is the way language is going, I like it better than text language. It takes a bit of getting used to but you do. You couldn’t get the Geordie accent across any other way.
Definitely senior secondary. For me it was compelling reading.
Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman. Pub. Doubleday, 2010.
Dante and Adam are brothers in their late teens. Adam sees the glass as half full and Dante as half empty but both are sure about their futures, at least at the beginning of this powerful and emotive novel from the great Malorie Blackman.
The brothers have been brought up by their father after the early death of their mother through cancer. He is a terrific father but like many men lacks that emotional side to his character. This will change in this novel.
On the morning that his exam results will usher Dante into the university of his choice, there is a knock on the door and an ex girlfriend, Melanie, whom he hadn’t seen for 18 months, enters carrying a baby girl called Emma. She tells Dante it is his baby then disappears leaving Dante to be a father to Emma.
At first he is hostile to the idea, does a DNA test but with the help of his father he learns to care for Emma. By the time the DNA test comes back Dante and Emma have bonded. What will the test say?
Adam knows he is gay. He is confident and out there with hopes of becoming an actor. He starts a relationship that is secretive and then decides to call the whole thing off. On Dante’s 18th birthday after Dante has been a devoted father to Emma and Adam a doting uncle, the brothers go out for a night on the town and everything changes.
It is stunning stuff and high drama. You will have to read it to find out more. It will be worth it.
High school students will enjoy this it brings up many issues about sexuality and relationships, but do boys cry? Some do.
The Crocodile Nest5 by Des Hunt. Pub.HarperCollins, 2010.
Set in both the Coromandel and in North Queensland Australia it involves hunting pigs with a gun and with two dogs and a knife. Tough stuff. It also involves searching for a protected species, the crocodile, and a tough crocodile who has been around for a while called “Crazy Hazel”. A lovely name for a crocodile.
Luke stays with his mother on the Coromandel as she starts a new job. He starts to work for a city woman called Beth who is setting up house near Luke and wants to learn how to set up and work a computer. Luke is a wizz kid with a computer and helps to set Beth up with everything including Internet banking. Then $20,000 goes missing from Beth’s account. Who did it and how?
Luke also meets a hunter called Kev who tells him he looks the spitting image of a man he once knew. Luke puts this to his mother and discovers the father he thought was dead is very much alive and resident in Australia.
Luke Googles information about his father and contacts him. An exe file is sent with a virus attached, and this is linked to the missing $20,000. But who is to blame? Luke crosses the ditch and becomes embroiled in an adventure involving Crazy Hazel as well as getting to know his father.
Great adventure for Intermediate and junior secondary school students. Get in and read this great New Zealand writer. Great cover too!
Letters to Leonardo by Dee White. Pub.Walker Books, 2009.
Matt knows he is different from his father because when it is his 15th birthday he wants to do art lessons and his father gives him a book on motorbikes. “What do you want art lessons for?” Matt is upset.
Then he gets an even bigger shock. It is a card from his motherstating “I promised I wouldn’t do this but your are 15 now-old enough to make your way in the world-old enough to know your mother”. Matt is blown away and takes his anger out on his father.
He decides he wants to find his mother even though his father gives him information about his mother that is disturbing. “She will only give you grief”. But Matt persists, what will the future bring?
Read it and find out.
The reference to Leonardo is an art one and a school assignment. Matt has to write letters to Leonardo comparing their different lives. In doing so he gets right into Leonardo’s life as an artist, and his work.
Worth a read this book for secondary school students. Similar in theme to Paul Jennings The Nest.
Best part of this story is the father. Makes mistakes but sorts it all and is understanding.