How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
T has been shot in the street by a white man. Was he armed? Was it self-defence? Why do all the witnesses have a different version of what went down?
Very, very good. Short chapters, easy flow, hard hitting reality of living in a bad neighbourhood. Either running into or away from gangs. The desperation, poverty, hopelessness is tragic but sympathetically written.
You don’t always have a choice whether you join a gang or not. The boys of Peach Street don’t have many choices. It’s either the Stingers or the Kings. The girls don’t have much hope either.
This book should draw in reluctant boys 13+ but is a gripping read for all ages. Strong girl / women characters.
We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Once again I was fooled by the cover. It looked like a fun, dysfunctional family romp. This also happened to me with The Fields by Kevin Maher. This time it is animal testing, in The Fields it was cleric sexual abuse.
There was definitely dysfunction in the family, an older brother and sister were unaccounted for at the start of the story. I didn’t read the back cover properly or I would have realised something about the sister. Maybe I did read it and it just sounded more fun. It wasn’t fun.
Rosemary is telling her family’s story. She starts in the middle and skips around a bit. It is a gripping read, you can’t predict what is on the next page. Rosemary says she used to talk a lot, now she is pretty silent. She attends Uni but doesn’t have a group of friends or any idea what she should get a degree in, she has been attending for some time.
Her Uni is far from home but she visits her parents on holidays. She can’t talk to her parents about what happened to her siblings, but she might like to know more. She feels that she is to blame and is carrying lots of guilt.
She makes a friend, gets thrown in jail and drinks too much on a night out. Her Mum gives her the journals that she wrote when Rosemary was small. She isn’t sure she wants to read them. She puts them in her luggage which gets lost by the airline.
Rosemary’s Dad is a scientist. He does experiments on animals. There is a bit of graphic detail around how animals were used for testing, it is shocking and sad.
Near the end of the book I got concerned, how would the author tie up all the bits of the story without rushing or glossing over things. I needn’t have worried, this book has an ending that fits the story. A satisfying read.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Ari lives with his parents. They won’t talk about his older brother who is in prison anhis Dad won’t talk about his time in Vietnam. Ari would like to know more but knows not to ask. He has a lot of questions that have built up over time. This makes him angry.
One summer day he goes to the town pool. He can’t swim. A boy he’s never met before, Dante, teaches him how to swim. They become friends. He goes to Dante’s house and finds that Dante and his parents love to talk, they talk about everything. Dante tells Ari that he wants to kiss boys, not girls. This doesn’t bother Ari as long as Dante doesn’t try to kiss him.
Ari gets on well enough at school but keeps the other kids at an arms length. He gets a job at a burger place.
Dante’s Dad gets a job teaching at a Uni far away for eight months. Dante writes lots of letters, Ari sends two. Dante gets back in the summer and their friendship continues.
Dante gets a job and a boy friend. Dante and Ari’s dads become friends. Events lead to a few dramas and the boys friendship is tested.
I loved this book. Well formed characters with real and interesting life dramas. Great story for 14+ boys.
Smart by Kim Slater
Kieran is growing up in a council house. He lives with his Mum who is always at work, her boyfriend Tony and his son Ryan who are always home.
Kieran has his own teacher aid and gets on at school, art is his favorite subject. He keeps his drawings and journal hidden so Tony won’t find them. When his Mum is at work he is either quiet in his room or out somewhere. His Mum is working later at night.
He finds the body of Colin a friend and homeless man down at the river bank. The police think Colin was drunk and fell accidentally. Kieran thinks he has been murdered and uses skills learned watching CSI to investigate the case.
Kieran has a few friends, Jean knew Colin from the shelter and a new boy at school. He hasn’t seen his grandmother in a long time. His teacher aid thinks Kieran might not be safe at home.
All the while Kieran is collecting clues, staying away from Tony and trying to look after his Mum.
A well written and page turning story of dysfunctional family life, love, loyalty and a reminder that you should never underestimate someones bravery, intelligence or ability.
I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister
I Love I Hate I loved this book.
Set in the present with French sisters of Algerian Muslim descent. They choose different paths, one western and one traditional. Both paths have difficulty and hardship.
One sister gets left behind. She remembers how much she loved her sister even when she hated her. She would like another chance to protect her sister.
She must live with the consequences of both of their decisions. Her family has moved on but she can’t.
Realistically written. I have a much better understanding of current issues of muslim women living in the west. This fiction took the gloss and some of the mystery of another culture away for me.
Well written with a solid ending, a satisfying read.
Island of a Thousand Mirrors
Set in Sri Lanka during the civil war. A story of love and loss. A story of culture and difference.
In the South two families of different backgrounds living in the same house. War separates them with one family immigrating to USA. Later their paths cross again in Sri Lanka when the sisters come back to work with refuge children. A lost love is found.
In the North one family living in hardship and fear of the day their children are taken for soldiers. At 13 you are old enough to serve. The parents can’t protect their children from the army or the enemy. One daughter is damaged and then taken by the Tamil Tigers for training. The ultimate soldier becomes a martyr.
A peek inside another world. A world of tragedy and tradition, of love and prejudice. The story ends with hope and thoughts of the future in a country no longer at war with itself.
Noggin by John Corey Whaley
You are dying at 16 and you hear about cryogenics freezing your head until they have the technology to attach it to another body sometime in the future. You have been sick for ages and there is no hope. You convince your parents that it would be a good idea to freeze your head. You expect not to come back to life but if you do it would be at least 100 years in the future. You say goodbye to your family, friends and your girlfriend.
Fast forward 5 years, you wake up. It seems to you that no time has passed. Once you adjust to your new body, which is much better than your old one and not sick, you expect to pick up where you left off. But your parents got rid of your stuff, your best friend is in Uni while you have to finish high school AND your girlfriend is engaged to a really nice guy and doesn’t want to see you.
Rather than a returning hero you have a whole new set of problems. You never liked high school and now you are a celebrity, only 2 of the 100 cryogenic recoveries has worked so you are a miracle. You don’t feel like a miracle or a celebrity, you feel sad. You miss your old life.
You go back to school and make a friend. You work towards taking your old life back. Along the road you make some sacrifices, learn some surprising things and find that you can have a new life with remnants of the old and that really is a miracle.