Ghost

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This is an absolutely delicious, quick and easy read, perfect for any 10-13 year old boys who might have flirted with trouble in their time! Ghost is the nickname Castle Cranshaw chooses for himself when he accidentally makes the cut for an after school track team.  He hasn’t had the easiest life thus far, and everything seems stacked against him ever getting out of Glass Manor, the impoverished corner of town where he lives with his ‘moms’.   All that seems like it might change the day Ghost meets Coach on the track – but the question is whether he can keep himself out of the principal’s office long enough to actually compete in any races!

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My Brother’s Name is Jessica

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I just had a bumper weekend of reading books by the fire in Ohakune, and all three of them were amazing! This story is from the point of view of a 13-year old boy whose soccer-star older brother comes out to the family as transgender. In the middle of the mother’s sneaky campaign to take over as Prime Minister of England.  It’s weirdly hilarious but also devastatingly sad in parts – it reads a bit like if David Walliams rewrote Mr Stink to take on a more serious message. I just loved it and think the author absolutely nailed the family’s denial and rejection of Jason/Jennifer’s desire to transition. We all like to imagine we’d have the right response if our child brought us this type of news, but this book does give you pause to think what might happen if you got it completely wrong!  And how even the most ambitious parents might find a way to try and make it right again…

With the Fire on High

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Well I think I might officially have a new favourite author. This is the second novel by Elizabeth Acevedo, whose first book, ‘The Poet X’, was written in verse. ‘With the Fire on High’ is more conventionally written, but still has a mystical beauty to it that really touches the soul. It’s about a teen mum called Emoni who is struggling to finish high school while raising her baby daughter, Emma, with the help of her Abuela (grandmother). Emoni has a special gift though, which is that she’s a mistress of spices – everything she cooks turns into some kind of magic. The book is wonderfully woven together and the writing is just as beautiful as ‘The Poet X’. I can think of a few teen mums who won’t be able to put it down… 

Every Last Word

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Oh my God I loved this book SO much. I’ve been sneaking off to read it at every opportunity, and as a result I ended up finishing it in less than 48 hours.  My obsessive reading is somewhat appropriate though, given this stunningly put together novel centres on a teenage girl with OCD.  However, it’s not the type of OCD that’s often depicted in books and films, where people have to, for example, wash their hands over and over again.  Instead, Sam has what is called ‘Pure O’, where her obsessions take place largely in her head. She becomes fixated on certain ideas or people and simply can’t move them out of her thoughts.  This is clearly an exhausting way to live, and anyone with even mild anxiety will be able to relate to how the negative thought cycles kick off.  The story is told in a really delicate manner, and the writer doesn’t lean on cliches, nor does she over-dramatise Sam’s problems. It’s also got a really compelling romantic plot line, and definitely didn’t resolve itself in the way I was expecting!

Wed Wabbit

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Technically this is more of a young readers book (around age 10), but my husband and daughter were so amused by it that I had to check it out. It is, indeed, laugh out loud funny, not to mention very, very clever, so I think it warrants a mention here. It’s about a ten year old girl called Fidge, whose sister Minnie has a favourite toy called Wed Wabbit, pronounced as such because she’s only four and has a speech impediment (this is cause for much well-delivered hilarity later in the book).  Early on in the story Minnie is hit by a car crossing the road.  This means Fidge has to go and stay with her anxiety riddled cousin Graham, and his even more anxiety riddled parents.  The two of them somehow end up being zapped into the land of one of Minnie’s favourite story books and have to team up to escape. The whole thing is a brilliant analogy for the fight against mental illness and all the other demons plaguing the kids, but it’s done with such humour and pizzazz, it really is irresistible.

Dear Evan Hansen

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This book left me feeling depressed in more ways than one.  The subject matter – anxiety and suicide – are hardly cheerful anyway, but the main issue was that I’d been holding out to read it and I just… didn’t enjoy it. I’m not sure if I’m the problem, because I don’t cope well when a character totally messes up over and over again and simply cannot see their way out of an obviously stupid situation (see, for example, Mr Bean).  Also, reading about other people’s anxiety does sometimes make my own anxiety just that much worse! Whatever it was, I found myself skipping most of the book as I could see where it was going and knew exactly how it would end. (I was right.) The part I enjoyed most, weirdly enough, was the narrative from the point of view of Connor, the student from Evan’s class who takes his own life, thus setting off the insane chain of events in Evan’s life which are the main focus of the book.  There seemed to be more depth to that character, despite only taking up maybe one fifth of the book itself, and his back story was fascinating. Oh well, perhaps they’ll make one of those partner stories from his point of view and I can indulge myself in that!

The Diary of Anne Frank – The Graphic Adaptation

Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation

I’m sure there are a few purists out there who might feel shocked that I’m about to give this graphic adaptation of the iconic Diary of Anne Frank a rave review. But in the words of adaptor Ari Folman, “I wish to declare that we are sensitive to and aware of the liberties that we have taken, and that our goal was always foremost to honor and preserve the spirit of Anne Frank in each and every frame.”  In this, they absolutely succeed.  This is a stunning graphic representation of Anne’s innermost thoughts, one which actually allowed me to see her in a different light. For example, when Anne concludes that she’s, “made up my mind to lead a different life from others girls, and not to become an ordinary housewife later on,” there is a gorgeous depiction of her as an adult woman sitting at a desk, with various framed images on the wall behind from her time in the Annex.  As my husband pointed out, Anne lives forever frozen in our minds as a young girl; these images gave me the push I needed to actually think about who she might have become had she had the opportunity to fulfill her potential.

The pictures are stunning and the choices of what to include I think leave you satisfied that you’ve captured Anne’s story.  Towards the end, as her thoughts become more and more mature, the editors increasingly include whole passages from the diary.  Anne’s writing still succeeds in reminding us that each generation faces the same dilemmas, no matter the issues of the day.  I will leave you with this as a final thought, because Anne, in her timeless manner, manages to capture the way I feel everyday when I read the news, or hear basically anything about American or British politics:

“It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering, and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals.

Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them!”