Thursday, 22 March 2018

Review: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I'm going to start this review with a confession. When I was thirteen, almost fourteen, I got ditched by a girl that I had been friendly with for some time. I was rather hurt about this and got my revenge in a rather strange (and mean) way. Her favourite book was A Wrinkle in Time. Now, at that time, this book was out of print in Australia, and ordering books online wasn't really a thing, so the only copy that my (former) friend had access to was at the local public library. I took great delight in borrow the single copy and keeping it for as long as I could without incurring a fine, or sometimes, I'd find it on the library shelves and go and hide it somewhere else in the library. Over the course of a few months I put it with the dog books, in the knitting section among the small range of VHS tapes and well ... you get the idea, until I eventually got bored with it and moved on. The only problem with this nasty little scheme of mine (apart from the fact that it prevented everyone else from reading the book too,) was that I never actually bothered to read it. In fact, I hadn't even thought about this book in years, until I learned that Disney had made it into a film and I discovered a movie-tie in edition for sale at QBD. (And no, I was not tempted to buy all the copies.) Anyway, I decided to buy a copy and discover for myself what the big deal was about this book.

And, well, it was okay. Cool. I probably would have got a lot more out of it when I was younger, but such is life. Anyway, the story revolves around Meg, an intelligent young women. Meg's parents are scientists, and her younger brothers are well liked around town. Meg and her youngest brother, Charles Wallace--an apparent child genius--are often considered stupid by those around them. Charles Wallace did not talk at all until he was about four and now only speaks to people that he likes. Meg on the other hand, takes little interest in school, is easily distracted, is often defiant and has trouble getting along with others her own age. Anyway, Meg's father has been missing for about a year, which is the subject of a lot of gossip for the local townspeople. Anyway, it turns out that Mr Murray been stuck on another planet. Three mysterious women give the family news of him before sending Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin--an older boy who also feels as though he doesn't quite fit in--on a quest through a wrinkle in time to rescue Mr Murray. And it is Meg, the least gifted of the three, who might just be able to save them all ...

Undoubtably, this would be an exciting read for kids or for anyone who feels as though they don't quite fit in--what isn't said is quite interesting, as is my guesses about what the author may or may not have known about Autism and ADHD in 1962 and whether her writing was intended to be accurate portrayals of kids with these symptoms. (Charles Wallace is almost certainly somewhere on the spectrum, Meg may or may not be, but she also shows signs of ADHD.) It also raises the question--is it even fair for a reviewer to label the characters when the author does not do so? It also demonstrates the isolation that some kids who are smart, but who do not do well at school, feel in their everyday lives. 


Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Review: The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton

Beloved Australian author Tim Winton's latest novel is a timely mediation on toxic masculinity that packs a powerful--though occasionally depressing--punch. Jaxie Clackton is a teenage boy whose life is altered forever when he discovers the body of his abusive father crushed beneath the family car. Believing that he'll be accused of murder, Jaxie packs his things and decides to find refuge with the one person who understands him. To reach her means a long trek through the saltlands--harsh, dangerous country--and it's a journey that yields surprising results when he encounters an isolated hut and an eccentric Irish priest who believes that Jaxie is an instrument of God ...

This was a novel that was in beautiful and disgusting in equal parts. Winton has a knack of getting inside the minds of his young male protagonists and sharing that journey with the reader. Jaxie's life has been shaped by the worst kind of masculine influences, as has the lives of other key characters though in a different ways. Fintan is an entertaining character and the one who might just be able to help Jaxie find the peace that he is so longing for. Or if nothing else, he demonstrates such patience with Jaxie that it certainly has an impact on the young man, particularly at the novel's brutal climax. 

The novel is written in a style that is just as brutal as the landscape it describes and it works all the better for that.


This novel was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Monday, 19 March 2018

Review: Dawn and the Dream Boy (BSC TV Series Episode 7)

I suspect that I've never seen this particular episode of the BSC TV series before, as I could not remember a thing about it, whereas with some of the others, I could remember a thing or two, whether it be a pie in the face of a mean girl, or a slogan that was yelled out several times during the episode (count on Court.) Or maybe this episode is just less memorable for me, because it moves away from the core themes of the series, babysitting and responsibility, and moves a little closer to romance, a theme that was often included but was never a core part of the BSC books. 

Anyway, in this episode, Dawn becomes a bit infatuated with Jamie Anderson, a boy from their grade who plays on the school soccer team. Only trouble is, she has never even spoken to him. Never mind. It turns out that he and Mary Anne have English together.  In a further stroke of luck, Mary Anne has been tasked with collecting Jackie Rodowski from soccer lessons which are being taught by none other than Jamie Anderson. She puts in a good word for Dawn, introduces the pair and then ... a mix up when Jamie phones Dawn and Mary Anne's house. Believing that he is talking to Mary Anne, Jamie asks Dawn out, who promptly says yes. The day of the big date (well, actually, they're going to an afternoon soccer match,) arrives, Jamie knocks on the door expecting Mary Anne, and of course Dawn comes out. The mix up is soon released, leaving Jamie a little red faced, Mary Anne uncomfortable and Dawn downright furious. The stepsisters fight, leaving the other Babysitters to try and patch things up before the pair ruin the upcoming Sweethearts dance. Anyway, after the pair nearly ruin the decorations, a truce is called and Jamie proves to be quite the gentleman at the dance, treating Dawn with kindness and he asks her to dance ...

This one was a lighter and fluffier episode, though it did leave me scratching my head a bit as to why anyone would organise a sweethearts dance for a bunch of kids aged between 11 and 13. It's certainly a world away from the Flintstones themed school disco that I went to at age twelve at my primary school. I was also surprised, but touched, that Jamie treated Dawn nicely--again it's a world away from any of the popular, sporty boys I knew at that age. 

But then again, maybe that kind of thing is interesting to the target audience.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Friday Funnies: Sabrina the Teenage Witch Reboot

Seen this cover before somewhere? It's the first instalment of the Sabrina reboot from 2014. Like all good comic books there is a bit of parody in there as well ... and this one takes on none other than...

... Flowers in the Attic! It's cheeky and very clever considering that both Sabrina and FITA resonate with a similar target readership, along with the fact that Sabrina and Cathy Dollonganger are not only about the same age, but similar in appearance. I love it! 

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Review: Real Friends by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

This middle grade graphic novel certainly packs a punch for realism. And that's no surprise, considering that it is an autobiographical account of author Shannon Hale's experiences at Elementary School in the 1980s. All young Shannon really wants is a friend. She finds one in Adrienne, but as they get older, Adrienne wants to expand her social circle, which leads her to becoming friends with Jen, the most popular girl in their grade and the leader of 'the group.' From here on the author recounts her experiences with the group--their rules and complexities--and Shannon's experiences as a kid who wants to hang on to her friendship with Adrienne but who doesn't want to be a part of the group. Suddenly, every day at school is like torture, where Shannon doesn't know if the other girls will talk to her or not, if she'll be teased or not and what lies ahead. Meanwhile, life at home isn't great either. The middle kid in a family of five, Shannon often finds herself facing the wrath of Wendy, her abusive older sister, and her parents seem to be closing their eyes to the whole situation. Can life get any harder? Maybe being put in a class away from the group might just be the best thing that ever happened to Shannon ...

This may be a short book, but it really packs a punch. Female friendships, especially during the primary school years (or elementary school in the United States,) can be quite complex, and often confusing for introverted kids like Shannon, who are really only interested in having one or two close friends, rather than a large group of friends. They're not always interested in complex rules or doing things just to stay friends with the other girls, which can often lead to them being lower on the food chain, and they can become victimised, particularly by other kids who want to find themselves higher on the social chain. (In this book the mean girl isn't the leader of the group, but another girl, Jenny, who wants to consolidate her position as the leader of the other girls.) I found that it was quite true of my own experiences in primary school--in year five there was a particularly toxic situation where it seemed like every few weeks the core group would kick one of its members and then start bullying her. I was kicked out three times and bullied. Sometimes I'd befriend the kids who were bullied and, sometimes, and I'm ashamed of this, but I think it's also important to own it, I would take part in the bullying. I remember inventing a particularly nasty nickname for one of the other girls which stuck all the way through primary school. Anyway, I think this would be a great book to pass on to kids, and a great starting point to talk about the complexities of friendships. I think there is a lot of value in the way that Shannon resolves her problems--by learning from the behaviour of some of the nicer kids in a higher grade and seeing how they treat others. The novel also touches on mental illness. Shannon demonstrates some signs of OCD and anxiety that go largely ignored by her family, and it becomes obvious that Wendy has her own set of complex problems that are unaddressed, in part because there was not so much awareness of behavioural disorders and their signs during the 1980s, when the book is set.

I also loved LeUyen Pham's illustrations, which added a whole layer of imagination to the novel, often accurately depicting Shannon's feelings. 

A compelling and realistic read. Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Review: The World According to Bob by James Bowen

Picking up from A Street Cat Named Bob, The World According to Bob tells us a bit more about the lives of Bob, a particularly intelligent cat and his companion, busker, The Big Issue seller and recovered addict, James Bowen. Their friendship is a remarkable story, as is the way that James has and continues to turn his life around, despite the numerous challenges that he faces such as ill health, people making false allegations about him to the police and various bureaucratic matters that he has to put up with as a seller of the The Big Issue. 

James owns up to his past and takes responsibility for it, which is a big part of what makes this memoir so interesting. Well, second biggest part. Obviously his friendship with Bob is the most biggest part of this book. I was also interested in reading the parts about how the first Bob book was written and published--the author had no idea how his life was going to change, or how many readers would want to hear his story.

This is a fairly quick, but an enjoyable and ultimately uplifting read. 

Recommended--especially to anyone who loves cats.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Review: Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Sydney in 1932 is the setting for this paranormal story featuring two young women who are very different, but for one quirk. Both can see ghosts. Kelpie is a kid living on the streets of Sydney. The ghosts help (or sometimes hinder,) her survival. Meanwhile Dymphna is the girlfriend of a gangster who has long learned to ignore the ghosts. The pair bond over the corpse of gangster Jimmy Palmer, and Dymphna declares herself Kelpie's new protector. But things in Sydney are changing and neither Kelpie nor Dymphna is safe ...

Told over the course of a day, Razorhurst is a mostly entertaining read. I say mostly as it had some faults that hindered the storytelling--in many ways it feels overlong and a little claustrophobic. The depiction of Sydney, and of the era, feels quite authentic. In some ways, the book felt a bit like a Sydney version of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, bigger, showier, bolder and with a bit more gore.


This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018