Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds.

Review: Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds. Look Both Ways

Synopsis:

Ten stories. Different children. They go to the same school at the same point in time. Other than that, what do they have in common?

They all walk home from school. More to the point they are all walking home from school on one particular afternoon when, or so they hear, a school bus falls from the sky. Children walking home from school in a crowd can appear alike, but Jason Reynolds proves how every person is unique and special by looking closely into the lives of ten main characters.

Just kids walking home. Buying sweets. Dreaming up escape routes. Kids apparently doing nothing interesting at all.

A collection of contemporary stories that celebrate the importance of everyday interactions.

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Review:

There are very few short story collections for middle-grade readers. Even fewer contain stories of everyday life relatable to a middle-grade audience. Imagine how many, given that only 5% of novels contain a non-white main character, contain stories of everyday life relatable to a diverse middle-grade audience. Practically none until now. This does children a disservice. Young readers are fascinated with everyday places. Things that adults take for granted can be new and exciting to younger readers and everybody deserves to picture themselves and their home towns as part of the ‘ordinary’.

It is lucky then that this book from stellar writer Justin Reynolds is so brilliant.

Reynolds is a master at writing characters. Two pages into the first story and I felt as if I had known the characters all my life. There was overconfident, witty TJ, the kid who can’t drop a thing. And Jasmine. Reflective but angry. Not prepared to take any nonsense. The pictures in my mind felt like memories because I was so easily able to visualise them. Except Reynolds was better than that because the rest of the story developed those characters to an even deeper level until, by the end, I understood as a reader what was behind that swagger and that reflective silence.

These are also extraordinary stories for building empathy. The second story, for example, The Low Cuts Strike Again begins by introducing a gang of kids who thieve and then use the money to make even more by selling nostalgic sweets to men in pubs. Every young reader would tell you these kids are breaking rules, and yet, by the end of the story, the reader is forced to question their ideas about right and wrong. More importantly, the story asks whether we judge people too quickly.

It is important for readers to encounter stories about working-class lives that don’t assume a stance of pity or superiority. We are surrounded by these on a daily basis, from news broadcasters playing sad music over items about the working class, to charity television features that forget to address the root causes of poverty (such as poor support and political systems) as well as addressing needs (like foodbank useage). Understanding that working lives are valid and that we need working jobs to cover monthly outgoings have never been more important and stories like the ones in Look Both Ways will go a long way towards ensuring the next generation don’t typecast working-class people.

A collection of stories about life and the wonder of everyday interactions. This is a must-have for every library and book corner.

 

Thanks to Knights Of for my copy of Look Both Ways. Opinions my own.

Round-Up · Young Middle Grade

Younger Fiction round-up – October 2019.

Younger Fiction round-up – October 2019.

Kitty series by Paula Harrison and Jenny Løvlie. 

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Kitty wishes she could be a superhero just like her Mum, but she’s not certain she is brave enough. Then she listens to the magic of a starry night and discovers that she has special powers all of her own. What’s more, the cats in Hallam City need her help. 

Kitty’s very special powers make her the hero of the feline world. Together with the cats, she prowls the rooftops, ready to rescue those in need and to return priceless treasures to their rightful owners. This new series is exceptionally charming, with the action of any good superhero story but the friendship and security of a story for very young readers. 

The illustrations are a perfect match for the story. They have a slight roundness to them, making them feel cute and friendly, but the action comes across too. The orange and black creates a world that is dark but magical. There is always something brighter to ensure it is only scary enough. 

This is shorter than a young middle-grade story or early chapter book, but longer than a picture book. This format is growing in popularity, and for good reason – it allows less confident readers to feel like they have a ‘real book’ because it is divided into chapters and builds up a plot in the same way as a shorter novel. 

 

Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic by Harriet Muncaster. 

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Isadora is back – half fairy, half vampire, and happy to play in the snow.

Isadora is disappointed and lonely after she is the only person not invited to a party, but not for long. Aunt Crystal – whose specialty is snow magic – comes to play, and soon Isadora has made a snow boy and a snow bunny and brought them to life. They are brilliant friends, but when he starts dripping, Isadora realises that snow magic can’t last forever.

Aunt Crystal makes a suggestion, but can Isadora come to the rescue?

A charming tale filled with sparkles and frost and the magic of friendship.

The Isadora Moon books are fabulous because they balance the pink and pretty with some dark and gothic. Children shouldn’t feel pressured to fall into one camp or another, and this series demonstrates that just being yourself is the best way to be.

This would make a lovely gift for a stocking or a Christmas Eve bag. It is long enough to snuggle up with and listen to over hot chocolate, but short enough to wrap up in one session.

 

Kevin’s Great Escape by Phillip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.

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Kevin the roly-poly flying pony is back for his next adventure. He’s been very happy in his new home, with his friend Max, and Max’s big sister Daisy, and a constant supply of biscuits. Especially custard creams.

There is huge excitement when Misty Twiglet announces that she is moving to Bumbleford. Everyone knows who Misty Twiglet is. She’s the famous, all-singing, all-dancing pop star who has everything she needs. A car, a manager, and a ginormous house. Misty has everything – except a roly-poly flying pony.

Kevin isn’t the only one in trouble. Misty and her manager have trapped lots of magical creatures. Luckily, Max is on the case, and he’s not afraid to utilise his big sister …

A fantastic and funny tale from the amazing duo of Reeve and McIntyre.

Just picking this book up makes life feel instantly 325% better. It contains custard creams, guinea pigs, shiny-edged pages and a beautiful flying pony. Stories by Reeve and McIntyre seem to summon up all that is good and interesting and tie them together in a brilliant narrative. The illustrations are filled with such life and energy, too, that at times it feels as if they will burst off the page.

A must for readers who love whimsy and fun.

 

Speedy Monkey by Jeanne Willis. Illustrated by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne.

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Deep in the rainforest, everything is peaceful and quiet until Speedy Monkey arrives. He is a bit different from the other animals. He is bouncy, and jumpy and loud and happy and his energy is endless. Day and night, he moves and makes noises. Eventually, the other animals get fed up of him and he leaves their company.

Then a storm comes. Suddenly Speedy’s quickness and loud voice don’t seem like such a bad thing after all.

This is a charming story about acceptance and being true to yourself. It could also be used to open conversations about neurodiversity, especially ADHD and hyperactivity generally.  Knowing that everyone is a valuable member of society and that we don’t all present in the same way is pivotal if the next generation is to change the narrative and welcome true diversity.

The illustrations beautifully capture emotion with use of colour – the sadness Speedy Monkey feels when he is all alone, and the joy when he is accepted and welcomed back by the other animals.

Another big hit from the Stripes colour illustration range.

 

A Sea Of Stories by Sylvia Bishop. Illustrated by Paddy Donnelly. 

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Grandpa’s house is filled with objects, and every one of those objects has a story. When Roo goes to stay, she thinks at first that the whole world must be stuffed inside his cottage. Every night, Grandpa tells Roo a story. A memory from his life which is attached to a possession.

There is one place which crops up in his stories more often than anywhere else – the sea cove which his elderly legs will no longer carry him down to. As Roo realises that so many of his memories are associated with this special place, she formulates a plan.

Winner of the ‘Not A Singe Eye Dry’ award. This beautiful and gentle tale had me in tears because it captures how much we love the people we have lost, and how their stories remain a part of our lives. Objects and places and even special moments like a sunset can bring memories of them flooding back inside our hearts.

The illustrations by Paddy Donnelly give a sense of the sea cove waiting around the corner to be discovered. Of waves and sunsets and breezes creeping into our memories.

A beautiful story about the importance of memories and tales.

 

Jasper & Scruff – Hunt For The Golden Bone by Nicola Colton.

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Jasper the cat likes the finer things in life. Scruff the dog prefers the simple. This doesn’t stop them from being friends, and they happily run a bookshop together.

When a rare book about the pirate cat Black Whispers appears in the shop, the pair find a treasure map and set out on an adventure. However, as the trail runs cold, the pair realise that they have been tricked by the Sophisticats – the society who only accept cats like themselves. Will anyone come to the aid of the duo who dare to like each other regardless of difference?

Jasper & Scruff is one of my favourite series for younger readers. The stories are well written and the running theme of accepting each other as we are is woven into the tales. I also love the illustrations, which look effortless (but probably take ages to perfect) and make me itch to pick up a pencil or a crayon every time I see them.

Highly recommend this series.

 

Little Penguin Rescue by Rachel Delahaye.

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Fliss travels magically on incredible adventures with animals.

A snow day lands her in the Antarctic, where she meets a colony of penguins with chicks who are ready to head North for the winter. Then a blizzard sweeps in and when it is over Fliss finds an injured mother with her chick, separated from the other birds. Fliss realises that it must be her mission to help them, but how will they ever catch up when the mother bird has an injured leg?

Luckily Fliss knows all about animals, and her respect and determination will see her through.

This series of beautifully written tales won me over from the first book. The stories show total understanding of the relationship between humans and other animals. How we can bond with our fellow creatures only if we fully respect them as intelligent beings. Fliss sets a great example to her young readers in how to treat other animals.

The third book in the series is perfect for wintertime as it takes us into a land of ice and snow.

 

Peanut Butter And Jelly by Ben Clanton.

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The fabulous friends are back for a whole new underwater adventure. And this time they have peanut butter. Lots of it.

Narwhal is certain nothing can beat waffles. Then Jelly gives him some peanut butter cookies and a whole love affair begins. Everything in Narwhal’s life is peanut butter.

Like the previous volumes in this series, this book contains three main stories, one fact-file and a side story that will have readers in stitches. This is cartooning at its best – whimsical and expressive and packed with fun and laughter. By the end of the volume, we feel as if we know the two friends like our own.

These books have been a big hit in book corners according to the educators I talk to during Twitter chats. I can see why they would appeal to a generation who speak Meme and GIF as fluently as they speak their first language. There are pages and spreads and individual boxes that could be copied into relatable and entertaining posters. The humour speaks directly to the social media generation.

Bright, bold and witty, these offer readers an alternative format to novels and stories.

 

Thanks to Egmont Publishing, Oxford University Press and Stripes Books for the titles in this feature. Opinions my own.

Short Story

Blog Tour: Nothing Is As It Was [short story anthology]

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A child is inspired into action by watching their hero. A mother is forced to choose between goats and cattle when the water runs out. From seas to wildfire, Nothing Is As It Was brings together short stories and flash fiction on the theme of environmental damage.

I love the range of stories this anthology offers. New and upcoming authors. Flash fiction and short story. Voices from around the world. Given the global nature of environmental crisis, it is good to have as wide a range of voices as possible.  

Issues explored range from overfished seas to flooding, wildfire to plastic pollution. One message which recurred across the anthology was there is only a finite amount of time in which we can make a difference, and that time is running out. The anthology doesn’t take an upbeat approach to environmentalism. Instead, it asks people to imagine different possible scenarios. By showing possible futures it invites the reader to change the present.     

One of my favourite stories was Mirror Image by Anna Orridge. Mirror Image is about the point of no return and has a really interesting structure. It is split into two sections, offering two possible realities. In the first section, a soft-play centre has been repurposed to grow plants. In the second section we follow the same family to the same soft-play area, but this time they are looting for any remaining food. The world is decimated. The familiarity of a day at a play-centre will give this story particular resonance with many readers.

Another favourite was The Goodluck Camera by Kimberley Christensen. A Westerner claims her archeology will bring good luck to an area of poverty. It explores Western attitudes towards third-world countries, and I loved the idea of a camera which could take pictures of what is buried beneath the soil.

Cli-Fi is not a genre I have read widely, but I would be interested to explore it further. There are some strong voices working in this area, and the message of this anthology got under my skin.

 

Thanks to Anne Cater for organising the blog tour, and for my ebook of Nothing Is As It Was. Opinions my own. Check out the other stops on the blog tour:

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Short Story

Guest Review: Make More Noise! short story anthology.

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Repro_MakeMoreNoise_cvr.inddIf you missed out on  #Vote100, where have you been?
1918 was the first time women in the UK had the right to vote. Although voting rights were still not equal with their male counterparts, this was a crucial step in the battle for female suffrage in the UK.
Make More Noise! is an anthology of short stories written to mark this centenary. It focuses on gender equality and the importance of political rights. 
I have teamed up with Amy from GoldenBooksGirl to read and review the book. Amy has reviewed half the stories, and my reviews will be appearing shortly on her blog. 
Huge thanks Amy for your contribution. 
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On Your Bike by Jeanne Willis- I really struggled with the narrative voice of this, and overall didn’t like it despite the super interesting concept of a woman traveling the world by bike. It felt fairly repetitive and dull, and I think it could have been so much better. 

The Tuesday Afternoon Ghost by Ella Risbridger- I loved this. It was an atmospheric, not quite ghost story about two girls who experience an unusual accident. Some moments sent a shiver down my spine, and I enjoyed the exploration of friendship) I’ve been a fan of Ella Risbridger’s columns for years, and my first experience of her fiction writing was just as wonderful. Let me tell you, if she releases a children’s or YA book, I will be ALL over that.

The Otter Path by Emma Carroll- another story I adored. This one is about saving otters and celebrating land girls, and it’s full of Emma Carroll’s trademark excellence. It’s so well written, full of heart and there was even a bit where I cried. It was interesting to learn more about land girls, and I also enjoyed the message that you shouldn’t judge people based on the way they seem alone.

The Race by Ally Kennen- this is the story of Faith, as she goes to stay with her aunt and uncle on their farm and takes part in the titular race. I liked the dynamics of the big family, especially the humour, and I thought it was a nice story. I have an Ally Kennen book on my TBR, and this has made it more of a priority!

Discuss, Decide, Do by Catherine Johnson- This is the story of Claudette, a Jewish girl facing personal problems,  who witnesses a fascist protest against Jews just after World War Two. I thought the characters, particularly Claudette and Rita, and I found it fascinating to read at the end that it had been based on true events.

Short Story

Fan-Fiction: Now We Rise Blog Tour

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Today is a very special post.

Children Of Blood And Bone is a reccent favourite. By favourite I mean I have been imploring everyone to read it. This isn’t just good, guys, it is stellar. 

I am delighted to take part in the blog tour. This is the most open and unconventional blog tour I have been invited to join, and it is a breath of fresh air. Instead of asking everyone to write a review for a scheduled date, it invites bloggers to create orignial content. As much original content as they like during the period of the blog tour. 

If you like Hogwarts Houses and Divergent factions, you will love the magi clans. Essentially these define people by how they channel their magic. Reapers see the dead, healers cure people. Tiders channel their magic into water and Winders into air. My story is about a Tider and and Winder. It takes a similar theme to Children Of Blood And Bone but imagines the troubles and strengths a Winder might have when faced with a tyrant. Along the way she meets a boy called Taki … but I won’t spoil it. 

Constructive feedback is always welcome. Hope you enjoy. 

 

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(Photograph: Paul Nettleton)

Cry Mama Khazri – Louise Nettleton

Sit quiet when the soldiers come. That’s what Mama always taught me. Sit quiet, say nothing and listen to the wind. Even so, the first time the soldiers came, Mama was impressed that I had sat quiet at the back of the cupboard, even as people screamed and shots rang out and doors were broken apart.

‘Did you not feel frightened?’ she said.

‘No Mama,’ I told her. ‘The wind sung me a lullaby.’

Nobody else heard it. There were no other winders in our village, no other children who played games with the wind. The wind played games with me and told me stories and when other children’s papers blew away, mine always sailed back into my hands.

One day I moved from the back of the cupboard and pressed my eye to the key-hole. I had always imagined the soldiers to be unnaturally big and was surprised to see that most of them were boys. At their head was General Arun, the King’s nephew. The General lead raids on the villages. Some said he wanted to weed out magi, but often there was no reason for the raids other than Arun enjoyed it. Before he killed people he let them beg for as long as possible. Let them build up hope and thank him for his mercy before he ran them through with his bayonet. When he made a kill, the general left a white blossom on the ground. Some said it marked one step closer to purifying the land, but most people in the villages thought it was a boast. It was the General’s way of saying he was leader of the hunt.

When I was fifteen Mama was killed. For weeks I spoke to nobody. I tried to tell people how I felt but my voice didn’t work. The wind spoke for me: gales tore through the village, uprooting trees and bringing roof-tiles down. The wind became my second Mama. It wrapped me in soft breezes and whispered comforts. So it might have gone on, except when I was reminded to sit tight, stay silent and do nothing when the soldiers came I could no longer nod in mute agreement. Why should the soldiers not hear about the pain they had caused? The next time the soldiers came I was ready. ‘Wind, you must not comfort me tonight,’ I said. ‘Comfort is no longer enough. If I am to sit quietly I need to know my voice has been heard.’  Wind magic is like a whisper crossed with blowing, blowing gently until your desire connects with the heart of the breeze. The wind caught my desires and the magic ignited. My back was against the cupboard wall but my mind was with the breeze.

This was different to any magic I had experienced. I was the puppet-master. The wind was obedient to my command. At my bidding it cried like a widow who had just learned of her partner’s passing. It cried like a small child whose mother had been cut down. I watched through the keyhole. The soldiers’ stumbled and misfired as they covered their ears. They had heard such cries before but had always been able to silence them with a bayonet or a sword. General Arun cursed and cried for his men to keep their positions. It made no difference. They fell back with their fingers in their ears and ran for the woods.

Give the girl a chance.

The elders talked long into the night. The village was recalled early the next morning, as the sun rose in the orange sky. A cock crowed, and I took it to be an omen. If the cock could not be silenced, nor could I.

‘Aira is of an age to test her magic,’ said the High Elder, ‘but she must visit our neighbours in Kalamon so she truly knows what the soldiers are capable of.’

I rigged a sail boat and set out along the coast. The wind was my constant companion along the journey and it sped me on my way. The journey which would have taken another person into the night took me two or three hours, and the sea remained calm although I had a great wind in my sails. When I reached the harbour at Kalamon I leapt out to drag my boat in, but a boy leapt from the jetty and took hold of the prow.

‘Thank you,’ I said, afraid my displeasure was evident in my voice. What made him think I wasn’t managing? The boy said nothing, nothing at all. His brow was furrowed as if doing the job was only an excuse to let his mind roam. He insisted he would walk me to the settlement in the olive groves.

‘There is no need,’ I said.

‘My Grandfather insists.’ He said it like it was final. Like me he had been taught to respect his elders.

Almost the whole village had been burned to the ground. Possessions were scattered everywhere – watches and photographs and wooden trinkets half-buried in the mud. The only survivors were the people who lived in the hills. Between the possessions were twenty or thirty white blossoms.

‘We will not clear it, although the soldiers say they will impose a fine if we do not get rid of this eye-sore. I replace the blossoms myself. Why should the truth rot away?’ It was the first thing he had said. His voice was deep for a boy his age, and melodic. It was clear he spoke from a place of hurt, a place of sorrow.

I remembered how little I had to say after Mama died, how I feared the damage I would cause if I tried to open my mouth. I no longer resented the boy’s help or his companionship. That night I told the wind to carry his tale. To tell it to the neighbouring villages, and the trading ports and the towns beyond the hills. Tell them that a young boy sits by the water for fear of looking at his homeland. When I searched for him the next morning, he was nowhere to be found.

I asked after him in the groves. People were so afraid they would miss the harvest that they did not look up from their work. Finally a man with cotton-white hair came over. He held out his hand and introduced himself as the boy’s grandfather.

‘Taki will not thank you for taking his story,’ he said. ‘Though I am pleased to think he opened up to you. He has not spoken a word since the night the village burned. His mother and father and sister died. Taki only survived because he was helping me with the harvest. He goes to the water every morning at dawn and does not return until sundown. Not unless …’ and here the man’s face split into a sad smile, ‘not unless I ask for his help. Taki is not a bad boy. He blames himself for what happened.’

Waves reared and crashed to shore. Taki stood amid them with nothing but a light spray hitting his legs.

‘You’re a tider?’ I said, intrigued to see magic channelled through water.

‘Haven’t you done enough damage?’ Taki came on to the sand and the sea settled back into an ordinary tide.

‘I met your grandfather,’ I said. ‘He says you’re a good boy.’

Taki’s mouth twitched. ‘He is everything I have in this world,’ said Taki. ‘I lost my whole family in that raid, and all my childhood companions. I want the General to know my feelings, but what good is crying? Crying never made a difference.’

We walked past the ruined village, thinking to call on Taki’s grandfather. The day was silent. No laughter, no dogs barking. No sounds from the grove. Not the sound of people singing or branches being trimmed. We turned a corner and saw smoke tearing through the trees. It burned my nose and throat and filled them with the smell of burning flesh. Taki broke into a run. I ran after him, but the ground blistered my feet and the smoke choked my lungs. I grabbed Taki around the waist and held him down.

‘Mother Air if you have ever loved me help us now!’ I cried. The oxygen left the flames and they died like a snuffed candle. Taki directed the river water to rain over the village. People came, coughing and retching from the smoke. Every one of them held a white blossom. A small girl approached Taki and held a flower out to him. For the first time in my life the wind was silent. No comfort whispered in my ear. When I tried to call to the wind I could not find the magic inside myself. There was nothing left but guilt and hollow anger. The image of the burned dwellings seemed to consume my thoughts.  I thought to leave that night. I was an intruder in this grief, and worse than that it was my fault the general had come. Survivors told us how General Arun had demanded to know where the magi were. Not a single person had spoken against us.

A makeshift camp was set up. All evening I cut bandages and applied salves and boiled water above a fire. I spoke to no-one. As night fell I crept from the emergency shelter towards the harbour. I threw my bag into my boat and pushed it out to sea.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ The water pushed my boat back towards the shore. Taki took hold of the mast.

‘Taki … it’s my fault …’

‘It’s your fault General Arun will not rest until every one of our kind is dead? It’s your fault the soldiers set fire to civilian homes? Girl, you found a way to defy a tyrant. That doesn’t make the tyranny your fault.’

‘But those people. They died because of me.’

‘Those are my people you’re talking about. They didn’t die for you. They didn’t die for me. They died for what is right and it is our job to avenge them.’ Taki looked at me and it was as though the sea raged in his eyes. ‘I chose not to cry because I did not want my voice to be shouted down, but there is only so long a person can remain silent Crying is for the dead of night. Crying is a heart-song for the people we love. It is not the way to defeat a person like Arun. Let us shout and let us rise. Let us use our magic to rally people to action.’

Taki was right. The general would never listen to our pain. He was not afraid of our pain. He enjoyed it. He was afraid of our numbers, of his victims getting together and using their magic to put a stop to his time in power.

‘General Arun will return,’ I said. ‘He will not rest until he has our magi heads.’

Taki took a moment before he spoke. ‘He has hunted us for too long. He has told people our deaths cleanse the land. Now we must stand against him.’ As Taki spoke I felt a breeze tickle the back of my neck. I tried to ignore my fear and guilt. Arun had killed our people. Not me. Arun was on a merciless quest to rid the land of magi and he would destroy whole villages and towns and kill every person who stood in his way. I reached deep inside for a place of anger, a place of vengeance. The wind howled around the ghost village. It howled through the burned groves. I hoped this wind would be enough when Arun returned.

The moon rose. By its light I saw Arun’s ship cutting through the waters. Arun stood at the bow, his sharp profile lit by a swinging lantern. As the ship turned I saw two white flowers in Arun’s belt. There were shouts. Men came forward, gesturing to the harbour. As the ship pulled nearer Arun aimed a harpoon gun at my chest.

‘Little magi,’ he called. ‘What use is magic against a warship? Once I have killed you, I will take every person who tried to protect you.’

In my rage I called upon all the winds of the world, winds with a hundred different names – bora and caju, khazri and norte and squamish. They came from different places, each forged by its climate, but they howled with the same rage. I used my vengeance to summon them in kinship. Desert winds stung my face while arctic winds came biting cold. My hair flew around my face as I gathered my winds together.

The waves crashed into the rocks. I met Taki’s eye and he held my gaze. Together we built our magic until a tidal wave rose from the shoreline and thundered out to sea. It curled over and charged. The clouds parted, revealing the moon. By its light I saw our wave arching over the ship. Arun’s hand faltered on the harpoon gun as sea spray lashed his face. He fell overboard. Powerful currents held him beneath the water. Taki used his magic to fill the water with white blossom. Arun drowned in a sea of his own making.

The surviving soldiers turned their lifeboats away from shore. They cried for Arun but no answer came. No command. The men who had looked so powerful as in the days when I peeked through the keyhole suddenly looked fragile. They pulled their oars against a swelling sea.

‘Others will come,’ said Taki. The sun rose, turning the sky orange. It reminded me that after every battle a new day would come.

‘We will rise,’ I said. We watched dawn rise. I vowed then never to cry for mercy to a tyrant when I could summon a hurricane.

 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Begin, End, Begin – A #LoveOzYA Anthology

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Begin, End, Begin was established as a result of the #loveOZYA community, a social media group who promote everything there is to love about Australian YA. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey and The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak are two of the best YA books I’ve ever read, but without a large range available in most British shops, it takes the internet to promote titles between countries.

It is a great anthology of short stories. Lots of the stories pick up on the pressure young people are under to achieve in a world which seems to offer little in return. I was pleased to find stories about first jobs and post-school choices – this is something I think British YA is lacking. In every other age-band it is commonly understood that young people want to read about the near future, as well as the things which reflect their current age. There are stories here about balancing school with a part time job, about university choices and how difficult it can be to move away from the life you have always known.

I would love to hear what some teenage readers think about the anthology. Did you feel it reflected your concerns?

In one sense it was nice not to recognise the author names because I read blind. I didn’t know whether an author was a debut author, a major award-winner or a midlist staple. I read the words alone. Having read these stories, I am keen to read novels bythe featured authors, and to explore the breadth of Aussie YA. Here are some short reviews of my favourite stories:birdOne Small Step by  Annie Kaufman

 The first child born on a Mars colony has been featured on social media since birth. Every step of her life has been watched, and it is no different now she is making her choice about university. Zaida’s parents want her to accept Harvard so they can share the good news with their audience on Earth, but is that what Zaida wants? There is someone back on Mars she would like to stay for.

This story shows a problem which has only faced the current generation of kids – social media parenting. Do we have a right to put our child’s life on the internet? At what age should someone decide for themselves? These are new questions, and it is good to see conversation directed at the people who matter most: the young people who have grown up in a time of social media.

The pressure to decide your future at a young age is also well portrayed. Why does everyone think Zaida should know what she wants now? Where do we get this misconception that everyone picks one path? Young people are afraid to stray from the traditional route of school-university-career, but in reality most lives don’t work that way. What happens when you hate your course? When you want to do a job unrelated to your qualifications? When you relocate for love to a place which makes your job unviable? Young people need to know that these hurdles are normal, and life is less predictable than it can seem.

 

 

I Can See The Ending by Will Kostakis

Adam can see the future. He plots it on post-it notes every time he sees something new. He knows his friend’s kitten won’t survive, and he knows he will one day divorce the girl he wants to date. Should he date her, knowing how it ends?

A story which reminds us life won’t always be smooth. Things which have taken years to build can end in a moment. Should we give up before we hurt ourselves, or enter with realistic expectations?

Adam and Nina work in a shopping-centre food court, and Adam thinks he is losing hours because he has hit 18 and must be paid a higher salary. It was nice to see the dull, disappointing reality of youth depicted alongside the romance. Life isn’t all successes and late-night parties, and it is good for young readers to know that saving money in a boring job is where lots of things start.

 

 

Oona Underground by Lili Wilkinson

Meg would follow Oona anywhere. When Oona sent a note into circulation, saying it would predict her future love, Meg stole it. She couldn’t risk Oona choosing someone else. Meg follows Oona to the Witch Queen to learn their destiny.

A lyrical story about letting other people make their own choices. This reminded me of David Almond’s A Song for Ella Grey. Both have vibes of Orpheus and Eurydice, and both are about girls who love another girl so much they would follow her to the end of the world.

 

 

Last Night At Mount Solemn Observatory by Danielle Binks

 Bowie’s brother King is about to travel the world, and Bowie wants to be part of his last night in town. She loves King, and the friends he has made even though so many people don’t bother to get to know him because he uses sign language.

The descriptions of sign language were fascinating, and I loved how the characters’ names all made expressive signs. Bowie is a great protagonist – she loves maths, and there were lots of maths in-jokes. It was lovely to see a story where interest in maths is celebrated.

 

Louise Nettleton

Huge thanks to Harper 360 for my copy. Opinions remain my own.