January 2

Anna Flowers by Eloise Southby-Halbish and David Lawrence

I know this review is late when all mention of the book has been removed from the publisher’s website. So probably nobody cares, and if you do, if your local library doesn’t have the book, you probably won’t get it anymore.

Anna is a popular and successful teen with lots of friends, success on the swim team and everything a girl could want, until her mother dies. Then she has to move far away from everything she knows and live with her only relatives, including her batty grandmother. OK so far this is just like any one of a hundred books written for the junior secondary market. But Anna discovers a talent, and a secret coach, and netball becomes her way into making a new life for herself.

This book is co-authored by a real live netball expert and a professional comic. The netball links are very strong, including diagrams of skills development exercises. The comedy is not so obvious, but that is OK, it really isn’t important to the story.

This book is an entertaining read, and a sure winner for all those teens who are too busy with sport to actually read a book. I just wish the publisher had done the readers the courtesy of packaging the book with them in mind. The font is far too small for modern kids that are accustomed to a computer screen. Sadly, they will open the book, flick through the pages and then return it to the shelf. This is a real shame, because the writing is strong and this special interest group will love the training ideas. Too bad that this book is ruined before it was given a chance.

April 18

Yo, Shark Bait by Vicki Simpson

New Zealand is producing some wonderful literature with a huge variety of themes and subjects. Vicki Simpson has won an award for this outstanding novel by a first time author.

Yo, Shark bait! is about exactly what the title indicates, fishing. Actually it is more a coming-of-age story, but don’t tell any reader that or they will decide the whole idea is boring. Rory is a mad keen fisherman, but one day while fishing with his father, he goes overboard and is greeted by a shark once he hits the water. Suddenly fishing isn’t quite so great. To make things worse, his school friends find out what happened and the teasing is unbearable. Just to make life a little worse, a teacher nominates Rory to run a fishing competition. But Rory can hardly stand the thought of fishing…

I found this book surprisingly good. The characters were strong and the situations believable, if at times the mystery was a little contrived.

July 2

Single Fin by Aaron Topp

Last year appears to be the year publishers got together to publish informative fiction for teenage boys. I have already reviewed Boyznbikes and this is it’s surfing equivalent. However the relationships theme is more mature so I have pegged it for upper secondary readers.

Jamie Fin is a surfer, through and through. He lives for the surf, school, family, and work simply don’t exist. His best friend just happens to be his surfing mentor and together they enjoy a lifestyle of surf, surf and beer. But all that changes when Mike is killed in a car accident. Suddenly Jamie’s grief overwhelms him and with few other friends for support, his life loses complete focus, including vowing to never surf again.

However, an uncle is working alone on a farm and needs a hand. The hard physical work is exactly what Jamie needs at the time. Gradually Jamie starts to climb out of the depression. Enter character number 3, a young cousin who has been expelled from school and the parents send him to the uncle for some toughening up. The real conflict in the story begins when the young cousin wants to learn to surf. Uncle and cousin go surfing, but for all his promises Jamie just can’t sit on the beach for the day.

Finding some biographical information from the author on the web, I discovered how true to life this story really is. The author is in his 20s, and naturally a keen surfer, although he does manage to hold down a steady job as well. But recently his surfing mentor was killed in a car accident…. Just like Wendy Orr’s Peeling the Onion written as she recovered from a injury was powerful, this book has the same powerful heartfelt resonance of truth.

There is enough surfing lingo and information to please any young male reader. Sometimes I felt I was reading a foreign language, but I have always been good at languages. The situations ring true. There is no obvious tricks just to move the story along.

I did not expect to enjoy this one, but it surprised me.

February 26

Boyznbikes by Vince Ford

This book is unashamedly for the boys. It is all about motorcycles, motorcycle racing, and motorcycle riding. If there happens to be a short story about a half sister, or a mother in trouble, the purpose of the distraction is to give Callum and his father an excuse to ride a little further or a little faster.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad read. Callum’s antics at school are truly funny as well as getting him suspended so he can go with his Dad on his annual trek. And Maddy is tough enough to hold her own place in the story. Mum’s disappearance is handled lightly enough to be plausible and not purely a transparent plot device.

But the book is all about the bikes!

November 23

The Line Formation by Pat Flynn

The Line Formation is a sports book, through and through. Young Rugby League talent Ozzie Eaton decides to spend a year overseas after year 12, but instead of backpacking through Europe like many young Australians, Ozzie decides to spend a few months as an exchange student in a Texas High School. In Texas football, American style, is a religion. When young Ozzie gets caught up in the team tryouts, and then selected, the trouble begins. To begin with, he starts using Rugby plays, followed by chatting up the quarterback’s girl. When he gets offered a football scholarship at an American university, he has to die!

I found the book interesting. I’m not a great sports fan, and there is enough explanation in the text to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of the games. But it is certainly not great literature. While surfing, I found a set of ‘teacher’s notes’ on the book. I really don’t think that it would stand up to much analysis and deconstruction. The symbolism is pretty superficial, and the characters are very two dimensional.

However, it is a good read for ages 12-16. And the sports fantatic boys might consider it, even if it is ‘thick’.