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Leonie Norrington

Girls like books about friends and relationships. Boys like books about explosions and sport. Right? Like any generalisation based solely on gender, the answers are, invariably, ‘yes’; ‘sometimes’; ‘up to a point’ and ‘of course not’. This latest grab bag of junior fiction contains its fair share of ‘girlie’ books about friendship and ‘boyish’ books about sport. Thankfully, there are also some books to cater for other sections of the spectrum, including sensitive explorations of boys’ friendships and robust girls who trek up mountains.

Meg McKinlay’s Annabel Again (Walker, $14.95 pb, 143 pp, 9781921150104) lands us squarely in girlie territory. When Livvy’s best friend moves away, her world folds. With the best of intentions, her New Age mother hatches a plan to help Livvy forget about Annabel, as quickly as possible. But one year later, Annabel returns and Livvy believes things will be just the same again. But Annabel is distant and hostile, and nothing is the same. Can their friendship be resurrected? This book covers familiar ground, but the treatment of the girls’ friendships is refreshingly angst-free. This is a quick, humorous read that highlights both the strength and delicacy of friendship, and offers some sound advice about when not to listen to your mother.

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Walking Naked by Alyssa Brugman & The Barrumbi Kids by Leonie Norrington

December 2002-January 2003, no. 247

For several years, I have bemoaned the dearth of substantial, challenging Australian novels for ‘middle years’ readers. During a recent stint working in a specialist children’s bookshop, I was frequently asked by parents of these readers – upper primary, lower secondary – for ‘books that will last longer than an afternoon’. I was hard-pressed to find many recent Australian titles that would fit the bill. Two new novels by first-time writers aiming both to entertain and challenge their audience with complex yet accessible stories, concepts and language go a small way towards filling this gap.

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