Children's and Young Adult Books

The Web by Nette Hilton & Amy Amaryllis by Sally Odgers

by
September 1992, no. 144

You often bring baggage to a book. Previous books. Gossip. The author’s photograph. The design or picture on the cover. Tabula rasa I am not. As a reviewer, I do endeavour to wipe the slate as clean as possible, but there’s always the odd smudge. In the case of Nette Hilton’s The Web, I found my hackles rising on sight. What was this! A rip-off comic strip version of E.B. White with loopy drawings à la Quentin Blake?

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This month’s survey features three bewitching novels from authors intent on transporting younger readers to other worlds. In Alison Croggon’s latest fantasy novel, The Threads of Magic (Walker Books, $19.95 pb, 380 pp), Pip and his sister El are living in a poor but snug apartment in the city of Clarel, bequeathed to them by Missus Pledge. Pip, always on the lookout for opportunities, scoops up a silver box from the sidelines during a street brawl. The opening of this box burdens Pip with an ancient and grisly relic: the shrivelled black heart of a child.

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Philip Pullman must be one of the weirdest figures to emerge from the sometimes dark woods of children’s writing. Not the least striking thing about him is that the woods can be very dark, Dante-dark, indeed. At the same time, he does not have the ballast of those two mutually despising inklings to whom he is routinely compared, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, in having the deeper comforts of anything like the Christian mythology that feeds into the Narnia books, or the way in which The Lord of the Rings summons up a universe of Gothic and Germanic ring-lore and then shows how it works with tremendous moral force and with snow-white magic against all the putative and primeval Nazism in the world.

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One of the few advantages a contemporary writer of historical fiction has derives from working in a context with laxer censorship laws. Representations of sexuality and violence once proscribed can be incorporated to better approach the social conditions of the period. With regard to narratives about Australia’s convict history ...  

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The Silent Invasion, James Bradley’s first Young Adult novel and the first in a trilogy, begins in generic post-apocalyptic fashion. Humanity crowds into restricted safe zones, hiding from an intergalactic plague that infects living matter with the mysterious Change. Adolescent protagonist Callie’s younger sister Gracie is infected; to prevent her demise at the hands of Quarantine, ...

Subhi lives with Maa and his older sister Queeny in ‘Family Three’, hoping that the ‘Night Sea’ will bring his Ba back to them. Born in detention to his Rohingya mother after she arrived illegally in Australia, his friend Eli and a kindly ‘Jacket’ make his life one of fitful pleasures amid the uncertainties of camp life. On the other side of the fence, i ...

Surely Mandy and Tim have met before. Floundering during her gap year, Mandy mostly watches daytime television and works at a sandwich shop. Tim, who is repeating Year Twelve under the guardianship of his uncle, tries to deal with teachers and assignments, and to move on from a nightmare year. Both characters are effusive about their love of music.

Mandy and ...

In 1965 a busload of students drove through a number of small Australian towns to protest the treatment of Aboriginal people. These events are the backdrop for Sue Lawson's Freedom Ride, a novel set in the fictional town of Walgaree, where racial tensions are high. Robbie, the novel's young protagonist, is generally obliging, but he is at an age where he mu ...

While Becoming Kirrali Lewis is being marketed as a Young Adult novel, this big-hearted Australian story could fruit-fully be read in many other ways. Playwright Jane Harrison's début novel about a young indigenous woman's political and personal awakening could be labelled as historical fiction, indigenous writing, or even political fiction. Maureen McCart ...

In Trinity Doyle's Pieces of Sky (Allen & Unwin, $16.99 pb, 290 pp, 9781760112486), it has been eight weeks since Lucy's older brother Cam drowned while surfing. Images of his death fill her head and prevent Lucy, a backstroke champion, from returning to the pool. She suffers a panic attack and flees from a training session, unable or unwilling to expla ...