Young Adult Fiction

The greatest hurts you can endure or inflict on another are often in connection with siblings. The expectation of intimacy and potential for damage is obviously amplified when dealing with twins. As the father of two-year-old twin boys, I read this book with some trepidation.

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Lina is part witch, part royalty. Her existence is scorned by both the king and the powerful wizards that all but rule the bitter lands of the North. The story of her heady romance and tragic fate is the centrepiece for Alison Croggon’s latest fiction, a Gothic fantasy inspired by Wuthering Heights.

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James Roy’s cover blurb suggests that ‘everyone has a story’. The awkward thing is that some are better than others. In his new book, young characters are linked by stories and poems that criss-cross an unnamed city. It acts as a companion piece to Roy’s successful Town (2007), which contained thirteen tales from regional New South Wales. In City, stories are told in first, second, and third person, in diverse settings ranging from sleazy nightclub strips to gleaming office blocks. It’s ambitious, but ends unevenly, with several stories unlikely to appeal to teenage readers.

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The world’s last known Tasmanian tiger died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. Surviving film footage of the marsupial is brief. No sound recordings exist of a thylacine’s bark or cough. Its extinction is one of Australia’s most lamentable tales. Nowra’s sad, dark novel imagines how these carnivores could care for two children lost in the wilderness.

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Creepy & Maud by Dianne Touchell

by
October 2012, no. 345

From the first sentence of Creepy & Maud, we know we are entering a volatile world. ‘My dad has trained our dog, Dobie Squires, to bite my mum,’ Creepy tells us. What follows is a vivid peek into suburban isolation and unease. Almost every character has an addiction or psychological disturbance, from alcoholism and untameable aggression to dyslexia and obsessive compulsions. This society is one where children prefer ‘being smacked to being touched’, intimacy is avoided, and voyeurism and exhibitionism emerge as the only ways to connect.

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Friday Brown is Vikki Wakefield’s second Young Adult novel, following All I Ever Wanted (2011), and although the protagonists of both are essentially facing the same dilemma – how to escape what they consider to be their own unshakeable destinies – I found this one far more rewarding.

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Dystopian fiction has surged in popularity in recent years, with books like The Hunger Games (2008) among the many Young Adult titles being devoured by younger and adult readers alike. There is a danger that the sudden influx of a genre in the marketplace, and the eagerness of authors to get their books into the hands of keen readers, will lead to a drop in the quality of writing, or to more predictable plot lines. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf sets itself apart. It is a bitingly clever dystopia, highly imaginative. Where other books fall flat, this one stands out as a startling contemporary example of the dystopian genre.

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Adolescent girls aged sixteen to seventeen are at the centre of these three Young Adult novels: girls whose heightened emotional states prompt supernatural events. Broken families, disconnection from parents, obsession, music, art, and death impel the protagonists to seek solace and healing in the metaphysical. For Shirley Marr (Black Dog Books, $18.95 pb, 272 pp, 9781742031903), it is the Chinese understanding of the ‘preloved’ and their resonance in the present that engenders the attractive ghost Logan. For Kirsty Eagar (Penguin, $19.95 pb, 314 pp, 9780143206552) it is the creative impulse, the painter’s obsession with ‘seeing’ beyond the surface of things, that evokes the dark landscape in which Abbie struggles for meaning. For Rosanne Hawke (University of Queensland Press, $19.95 pb, 252 pp, 9780702238826), it is profound grief following the death of the protagonist’s brother.

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The Shiny Guys, quite a departure from Doug MacLeod’s usually quite light-hearted work, is nonetheless a real success. This foray into the world of mental illness and treatment calls to mind, and even refers directly to, complex works such as The Castle and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A book about fear, uncertainty, and suffering, it is rich in complexities but perfectly told for its young adult audience.

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A midnight birth on a Friday is the first suggestion that Barnaby Brocket is not an ordinary arrival. Seconds later, baby Barnaby slips through the doctor’s hands and floats towards the ceiling. For his parents, Eleanor and Alistair, life until this point has been satisfyingly normal, with ‘no time for people who were unusual or who made a show of themselves in public’. Barnaby’s airborne ways leave his family ashamed. Being different is the worst thing in the world.

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