Violence 101

Image result for violence 101"I read this one a month or two ago at the encouragement of one of my NCEA students, and I can totally see how it would appeal to a teenage boy! It follows a 14 year old called Hamish, whose life of crime has led him to a juvenile detention centre, where he quickly establishes himself as king pin.  Unlike most books about troubled teens, Hamish doesn’t have any underlying trauma that has led to his offending – unlike the other kids at the centre – and basically he’s just too clever for his own good (and fancies himself as too badass).  Ultimately he is able to face up to his past behaviour and start to reflect on how he can turn his life around, but not before putting everyone around him through hell first!


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I’ve listed this as ‘dystopian future’, but the fact is it’s not really that dystopian or futuristic: it really just explores what might happen if Trump’s anti-Muslim policies are allowed to reach their full potential.  The result is essentially a Nazi style round up of innocent Muslims from their homes, in order to keep them in internment camps – the long term goal is not specified, but we are clearly meant to take our knowledge of history into the story with us…  Seventeen year old Layla is one of the unlucky ones, taken shortly before her eighteenth birthday to a camp in the desert.   She manages to forge a connection with a guard who is part of the resistance, and he helps her stay connected with the outside world, essentially becoming the voice and face of the rebellion.  The book doesn’t have an especially high kill off rate, but it’s effective in the way it carefully doles out violence.  The message is as clear as it is chilling: if we don’t act now to stop this sort of facism from rising once again, it might soon be too late.

We Come Apart

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Wow, talk about a compelling and engrossing read! I polished off this book in about a day, partially because it’s written in verse and thus has a lower word count, but also because it’s just so good.   It’s written as (non-rhyming) poetry from the point of view of the two main characters, Jess and Nicu.  While this sounds like it could be annoying, the poetry doesn’t follow any poetic format, so it’s not awkward to read – it’s more like the lines themselves have simply been arranged to add visual interest.  The two character’s stories are beautifully told: Jess lives with a horrifyingly violent step father, while Nicu is only in England for a short time while his parents save enough money to buy him a wife back in Romania.  His time in England feels interminable to start with, because of the relentless bullying and racism he faces. However, once he and Jess forge a friendship things change, and he begins to dread ever having to leave. The chapters are very short and the two authors don’t waste a single word, leaving me actually breathless by the final page! An excellent, heart breaking read.

Ship Breaker

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I’m feeling a bit blergh about my boy book quest, partially because so many of the recommended books are dystopian fiction and it’s not my favourite genre. I did quite enjoy this one though, and for the most part its fast paced and really well thought out. The writing is beautiful and the character’s are well-drawn.  It centres on a kid called Nailer, who works in the dark hollows of abandoned ships to pick out precious metals and other materials, for resale to the new version of these boats, ‘clippers’.  After a “city killer” storm, a clipper washes ashore and onboard Nailer and his best friend Pima find a young woman who is barely clinging to life. They choose to save her instead of chopping off her fingers for the gold she’s wearing, and things take a scary turn from there. Nailer’s own father is a drug addict and alcoholic, who has no hesitation in taking his own son prisoner if he has to, to claim the money that comes from the find.   The story follows Nailer’s escape with the girl, Nita, into a scary and unknown world, on the slim hope that she might be able to find her people and they can both be saved.  I suspect some of the boys I teach might be quite into it, so this is definitely a book I’m going to field test before I write it off!

On The Come Up

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Angie Thomas is such a treasure and I have a feeling quite a few of my new students will love this book. It really comes from the heart and there are so many issues young people can relate to. The downside? I did think – like The Hate U Give – it was longer that it needed to be, and took ages to kinda get to its point.  It’s apparently a semi-autobiographical story, in which the main character, Bri, seeks fame and fortune as a rapper.  She lives in the same general neighbourhood as Starr from THUG, Garden Heights, and there are a lot of references to Khalil’s murder within the story.  But Bri has been grieving the loss of her own father to gun violence, and trying to recover from temporarily losing her mother to drug addiction in the years that followed. While mum is now home, the family are still desperately poor and always struggle to make ends meet.  Bri thinks becoming a rapper like her father might be the solution to the family’s problems. The question she has to ask herself, though, is at what cost?

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

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Ummm…. this book was super weird. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s just that I don’t think I’d give it to any of my students for fear they simply wouldn’t get it. Each chapter opens with a short blurb about the “real action”, as it were, in a town that seems to be regularly overrun by vampires, zombies, aliens, etc.  But the only people ever involved in those events are the “indie kids”, which I guess is just a bit of a mockery of most vampire stories. So the blurbs at the start of each chapter cover the weird invasion by immortals that’s happening in the town, and the actual chapters of the book focus on the rest of the kids who, as the title says, just live there.  But these characters are also unusual – one is an actual demi-god worshipped by cats – and there are many battles with mental illness and vicious parents.  I didn’t struggle to get through the book, but I did at times wonder if there was a point to any of it…


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Talk about an unnerving read! This rather horrific novel is about a dystopian world in which abortion is no longer legal – following a “heartland war” spurred by the issue – but parents can make a choice when children are between 13 and 18, to have them “unwound”. This process means the child is not technically dead: their body parts are all separated and almost 100% of them are reused on other people needing donations.  Horrific.  But so well told… It follows two teens due to be unwound who escape, taking a sacrificial lamb called Lev with them.  As the book unfolds we come to understand how the decision was made to use this procedure, what it involves, and the real long term impacts.  Trust me when I say you won’t be able to put it down, and then you won’t be able to forget it!