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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The 2013 Text Prize Shortlist Announced!

Last week, after reading over 350 manuscripts, Text Publishing announced the four finalists for the 2013 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing.
Waer by Meg Caddy
An intricate fantasy novel set in an imagined land of waerwolves, thieves and magic. Twenty-one-year-old Perth student and childcare worker Meg Caddy has been working on the novel since she was fourteen, and is following in the footsteps of her author father, David Caddy, who has published several books with Fremantle Press.

Lost Vegas by Jo Hegerty
A funny, heartwarming story for younger readers about a bullied boy and his second-hand, far-from-ideal dog, Vegas. Jo Hegerty is a Brisbane-based journalist, editor and blogger.

Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller

Elizabeth and her imaginary friend Zenobia suddenly find themselves living in the haunted home of Elizabeth’s distant father, Witheringe House. Brisbane-based Jessica Miller has written a fantastically imagined story for eight- to twelve-year-olds about all the different ways we can be haunted.

Flood Damage by Diana Sweeney
A timely novel for older readers, Flood Damage explores a young woman’s struggle to regain control of her life after a devastating flood claims the lives of her parents and sister. Diana Sweeney has published a number of papers in academic journals, but Flood Damage is her first novel.

The winner will be announced on 29 May. 

The Text Prize is awarded annually to the best manuscript written by an Australian or New Zealander for young adults.
Both published and unpublished writers of all ages are eligible to enter with works of fiction or non-fiction. Judged by a panel of editors from Text Publishing, the winner will receive a publishing contract with Text and a $10,000 advance against royalties.

The previous winners are:
2012: Zac and Mia - AJ Betts (to be published August 2013)
2011: Fire in the Sea - Myke Bartlett
2010: The Bridge - Jane Higgins
2009: This Is Shyness - Leanne Hall
2008: The Billionaire’s Curse - Richard Newsome

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Girl Defective by Simmone Howell

Title: Girl Defective
Author: Simmone Howell

Release Date: 1st March 2013

My Rating: 5/5

We, the Martin family, were like inverse superheroes, marked by our defects. Dad was addicted to beer and bootlegs. Gully had "social difficulties" that manifested in his wearing a pig snout mask 24-7. I was surface clean but underneath a weird hormonal stew was simmering...

It's summer in St Kilda. Fifteen-year-old Sky is looking forward to great records and nefarious activities with Nancy, her older, wilder friend. Her brother – Super Agent Gully – is on a mission to unmask the degenerate who bricked the shop window. Bill the Patriarch seems content to drink while the shop slides into bankruptcy. A poster of a mysterious girl and her connection to Luke, the tragi-hot new employee sends Sky on an exploration into the dark heart of the suburb. Love is strange. Family Rules. In between there are teenage messes, rock star spawn, violent fangirls, creepy old guys and accidents waiting to happen. If the world truly is going to hell in a hand-basket then at least the soundtrack is kicking. Sky Martin is Girl Defective: funny, real and dark at the edges.

In A Nutshell:
Mysteries and music in Melbourne. Enough said.

My Review:
I think the mark of a good book is one where you keep thinking about it long after you have finished it. I read this ages ago and I still find my mind wandering back to it.

I really loved Girl Defective. In the interests of full disclosure, I didn’t think I would. I didn’t enjoy Everything Beautiful which everyone else seemed to, and so I didn’t have high hopes for Girl Defective. But, I liked the premise so I thought I would give it a go and I’m so glad I did. It just proves that you can’t judge an author on one book alone. Some stories will speak to you, some won’t. Girl Defective was un-put-down-able.

Sky Martin lives with her wannabe detective younger brother Gully and their record obsessed Dad above his beloved record store. Their mother, who went through a ‘bird faze’ naming them Seagull and Skylark, walked out on them three years ago to ‘find herself’. She now lives in Japan and works on her creative outlets, which currently involves performance art while covered in tampons.

At 15, Sky is a bit of a loner. She’s lost in the world, searching for her place and her own identity. She spends her days either at school in the computer lab vandalising her mother’s website, at the record store, watching over Gully who has taken to wearing a pig-snout mask and pretending to be a secret agent, and arguing with her dad who refuses to move with the times in order to save the store. Her only friend is 19-year-old Nancy who is a bit wild and carefree, somewhat unreliable and the complete opposite of Sky. But she makes Sky feel alive and Sky holds onto their unlikely friendship like a lifeline.

“Sometimes I thought if it wasn’t for music I wouldn’t be able to cry or laugh or feel giddy or wild.” 

Set over the course of six weeks, the lives of the Martin family takes a little detour down the seedier streets of St Kilda as Gully tries to investigate who threw a brick through their shop window, Nancy becomes obsessed with rock star Otis, and Sky’s dad, Bill, hires new-comer Luke to help out at the store. While Sky is originally grumpy about Luke employment, she can’t help but be intrigued by him, watching him over the top of her Record Collector magazine. Luke is quiet and sad and we learn very early on that he is in town to try and piece together the last months of his sister’s life, a life that seems remarkably similar to Nancy’s.

With Luke searching for answers about Mia’s death, Sky becomes fascinated by the life that Mia appears to have led and does a little investigating of her own while pondering her feelings for both Nancy and Luke. Her character evolves through the story and by the end of it I was so proud and happy for her with the way things eventuated, with the risks she takes and the realisations she comes to.

I loved both Gully and Bill. Gully is eccentric and quirky and I love him to bits. I think it is implied he has Asperger’s but I’m not knowledgeable enough about the condition to say for sure. Bill’s dedication to records and his refusal to stock CDs or sell online, let alone stock anything released after 1995, is endearing, even if he is running his business into the ground.

Last but not least, I love mysteries and novels that incorporate music. The Martin family are music snobs but we love them anyway. I really enjoyed the music references, even if I only knew half the bands mentioned, but I could still appreciate the love and dedication they had towards their favourites.

“I like watching people’s faces when they listen to music. I like how it’s private. Even at a gig if you’re all hearing the same thing, you’re really all hearing something different.”

Thank you to Macmillan for this review copy. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Title: Just One Day
Author: Gayle Forman

Release Date: 8th January 2013

My Rating: 5/5

When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

In A Nutshell:
I loved Just One Day. A lot can happen in one day. It can change your life and it does just that for eighteen-year-old Allyson. It was absolutely amazing to see the transformation she goes through over the course of a year, following her one day. How Allyson deals with depression, love, loss, friendships, family, college and parental expectations is nothing short of a pleasure to read.

My Review:
The basis of Just One Day is the idea that anything can happen in one day. While I started the book thinking it was about how you can fall in love in a day, I now believe that is just an undercurrent and that more so, in a day, your whole life can be set on a different course.

After a random, whirlwind meeting and adventure with Dutch amateur theatre actor Willem, eighteen-year-old Allyson is devastated by the way their day in Paris turns out. Returning to the US in a depressed funk, Allyson can’t seem to get her life back on track; her best friend Melanie can’t understand why she can’t just get over it, her uninformed parents can’t understand the changes in her personality, and her new college roommates don’t know what to think of her. It’s always difficult for people to understand what someone is going through unless they have experienced something similar as they can’t comprehend the need for closure. But for Allyson, it’s far more than some smooth guy using and ditching her. While she was with him, she got a taste of who the real Allyson is; the Allyson she hasn’t allowed herself to discover in order to keep everyone around her happy. Now that she has ‘met’ her, she can’t just go back to the life her parents’ mapped-out for her.

I loved Just One Day. It was absolutely amazing to see the transformation that Allyson goes through and how she deals with depression, love, loss, friendships, family, college and expectations. Now don’t get me wrong, I was intrigued by Willem’s character and wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, even though my ‘spidey-sense’ was telling me he was a player, just as Allyson’s self-doubt made her think he couldn’t actually like her. But like Allyson, I pushed it away, choosing to focus on the positive signs rather than the negative ones. And hey, their time in the artist squat was hot as. But their story went in a different direction. No matter how short their time together was, and no matter how it ended, Allyson made a profound connection in that time, whether with Willem or herself, it doesn’t matter, because the pain is real and the loss is felt.

Back in the US, Allyson wallows in a self-pitying depression. She feels empty as though something, or someone, is missing from her life. The realisation comes slowly, that it is not just the beautiful boy she is mourning, but her identity. To rediscover the person she was in Paris means Allyson has to change the way her life is now. She knows she will be disappointing her parents but if the medical school route they planned for her means forgoing her own happiness, then what is the point of living if only to be miserable the entire time?

As she slowly begins to rediscover herself, she branches out: taking chances, changing the course her life has been put on and, much to her bewilderment, makes some unlikely new friends. Her search for the answers about what really happened with Willem leads her to a Shakespeare class, a café job, French lessons, and then once again, Europe, where the new Allyson takes challenges in her stride.

The people Allyson meets along her journey are so completely endearing. Her Shakespeare study buddy Dee, the enthusiastic and genuine bartender Modou, her fellow travellers, and the zesty but somewhat wounded Wren, who was probably my favourite supporting character of them all. And I really liked the way Forman portrayed the friendship between Allyson and her childhood friend Melanie. It’s good to recognise that people change and that through no fault of either party, they grow apart. They can be going through different things in their lives and while some friendships will last, others will just naturally fizzle out. But with relinquishing old friendships also comes new and amazing ones and Allyson’s happiness and enthusiasm coincides with these.

I’d like to do a quick shout-out to some of the locations featured in the book. Excluding Mexico and Florida, it is set in Boston, Paris, London and Amsterdam, and since I have been to all of them, I know that Forman really captured the essence of the cities. I think that any reader, either well-travelled or not, can absolutely connect with the feelings and anticipations that Allyson has while travelling to each place. Her travels brought back my memories of visiting these cities for the first time, and then the jolt of familiarity I had upon returning and recognising places, just as Allyson has when she returns to Paris.

It will be very interesting to see how our assumptions of Willem play out in Just One Year, as Forman presents us with Willem’s story starting from the fateful morning in Paris when everything goes wrong. At the ending of Just One Day, I am not the biggest fan of Willem’s, whereas I am so proud of Allyson and all that she experienced and challenged herself with in the year following her meeting with Willem. I am a massive fan of Where She Went, Adam’s story and the male point of view from Forman’s amazing If I Stay/Where She Went companion novels so I’m interested to see how I take to reading the year from Willem’s point of view.

Massive amounts of love and respect for this book. Love your work Gayle!
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