February 9

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

I am assuming any reader of this blog will be familiar with Abdel-Fattah’s first book Does My Head Look Big In This? And like me, I am hoping you were thrilled to see this second offering. However, I have to be disciplined in my reading. If I just read books by favourite authors, I could fill my days, but not my responsibilities. So this book waited nearly a year to come to the top of my reading list.

And it was worth the wait. This time Abdel-Fattah is a little more distant from her narrator. Yes it is still a Lebanese Muslim living and going to school in a mainstream Australian school. But this narrator is intent on hiding her heritage. The hair is dyed blonde, she never asks friends home, and so far she has successfully separated her family from her school friends. But eventually, everyone has to decide who they really are, and adolescence is that time.

Once again Abdel-Fattah has struck gold with this funny book with the serious twist. I love the Charter of Curfew Rights. And the whole family thing. I grew up in a Bible Belt Christian family, with just as many regulations, so I can truly empathise with Jamie. I salute her courage, and her sense of humour. Well Done!!

February 9

Barefoot Kids by Steve Hawke

In my job I often select books to purchase or read based on the publisher. And Fremantle Arts Centre Press has been a leading publisher of books for children and young adults for many years. Just look at my comments about Destroying Avalon or Mama’s Trippin’But this time, somebody made a mistake.

Barefoot Kids is set in Northern Western Australia. The Jirroo kids (all related) decide to form a band, they were really looking for fun and entertainment. However, a developer has decided that their favourite beach is going to be a new resort, and suddenly life becomes serious. Their music needs to express what they feel about the land and what is happening to it. Add a mystery about stolen diamonds and hidden graves, and WWII secrets, and the barefoot kids find themselves in over their heads.

At that level, it sounds fun. A bit of adventure mixed with mystery and a strong environmental theme. My objection is the lack of subtlety. A favourite beach can remain just that, does it also have to be an Aboriginal sacred site? The missing diamonds are a strong distraction, but did the author have to blatantly shove the broken pendant clues in our face right from the start (including the cover art.)

This is Steve Hawke’s first book for children, and it really is for children. I can’t imagine anyone over 12 giving this book any credibility. In fact I wonder if any editor would have wasted his time if Steve didn’t have a very famous father named Bob.

February 9

The Transformation of Minna Hargreaves by Fleur Beale

I have loved Fleur Beale’s writing since I first read her book I am not Esther. She creates such a wonderful voice for her characters, male and female. She also successfully works a very realistic plot and setting.

Minna Hargreaves is happy. She is 14, has great friends and even a tolerable older brother and has just found a gorgeous boyfriend. Mum and Dad provide the lifestyle she likes, and life couldn’t be better. That is until her father decides the family is going to participate in a reality TV program. The producers idea is to take a modern family to a lonely island and leave them for a year. Food, and other supplies are provided, but it seems everything else is not.

What follows would make any producer’s dream come true. Mum is horribly travel sick on the flight to the island, well… maybe… travel sick. But when she is still unable to eat weeks later, it is revealed she is pregnant. And Dad is not the father. And then the older brother, who is fond of his recreational chemicals, is found with his little plantation. And then there is Minna’s new love. She gets just enough news during a visit from her friends that shows that he is not sitting at home missing her.

Gradually Minna discovers a strength and a committment to family that she never realised was there, and with it finds she can focus on what is truly important in life.

Well Done Fleur. And when is the next book out?

February 9

To the Boy in Berlin by Elizabeth Honey & Heike Brandt

I will admit that it has been a while since I read this book, but I remember it as delightful, funny but with a gentle edge.

But to start the story in the middle. Boy in Berlin is a sequel to the Ballad of Cauldron Bay. While on holidays there Henni was fascinated by the family that had built the holiday house, so she left a letter to Leo Schmidt, the builder who lived during World War 1. Imagine her surprise when, six months later, Henni gets a letter from Leo Schmidt who lives in Germany. How, when and all that background stuff is gradually revealed as the story is told.

Henni and Leo together decide to try and solve the mystery of what happened to the Schmidt family back then, and set up a north-south email correspondence. This book is a collection of that correspondence about the Schmidt family, Leo’s friend Mustafa and his problems as well as Henni’s friends, family and everything elso. (Henni does not keep secrets.)

Those readers who are familiar with Elizabeth Honey’s work will greatly enjoy this book. Unfortunately I am not a fan, finding her writing too juvenile for lower secondary. However this book is different because alternate chapters are written by Heike Brandt. Heike treats her readers with some respect for their intelligence and taps into that fierce sense of injustice that many early adolescents have. The story of Mustafa is designed to make the reader angry, and it works.

A most enjoyable read.

February 2

The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman

The Witch’s Trinity is a very unusual and interesting book. Deceptively simple to read, it very clearly portrays the life of an average family in the early 1500s.

Setting: a small village in Germany, 1507. The village has suffered several years of famine, and a friar arrives determined to identify the source of the wickedness causing God’s wrath. He is armed with a new book The Malleus Malleficarum. This book will help him find the witch who is leading the whole village to the devil. Gude is an old woman. Her husband died many years ago, and although her son loves her, her daughter-in-law considers that she is a waste of food for the starving family. Gude’s mind is no longer as sharp as it once was, and she is easily confused by her constantly changing circumstances.

Soon after the friar arrives, the men of the village decide to go on an extended hunting trip, trying to find food for their families. The friar soon identifies the village herbalist, a close friend of Gude, as the witch, and after applying the tests indicated in his book, she is burnt at the stake. But the famine continues, and the friar begins to look elsewhere…

What gives this book so much power is that the story is told from the point of view of Gude, and Gude doubts herself. She has dreamed of eating her fill, was it reality? She is horrified that her daughter-in-law gathered the wood for the fire, but is she upset because her closest friend was killed, or because she is evil herself? In a society where spirits and devils were considered to be part of an unseen reality, the lines between good and evil become grey, and this book portrays that shadowland very effectively.

If you have an interest in medieval society, or if you have read heaps about the Salem witch trials, or even if you read the The Last Witchfinder a book I recommended highly about 18 months ago, I would strongly recommend that you get your hands on this.