Jazzy Reviews

11. Jul, 2018

"Hey," she says as I open the door. She looks really fed up. She isn't smiling and her eyes aren't as sparkly as usual. She's probably regretting that she offered to help me. She probably has a million other, better things she'd rather be doing. Like her homework. She'd probably rather be doing her homework than talking to me about what it means to be a refugee.

THE GIST

14-year-old Stevie is having it rough. Her dad has passed away, leaving her mum severely depressed so she is unable to work. Stevie has a passion for her dad's music and that is what gets her by in tough times.

Hafiz is a football-loving refugee from Syria. After his friend is hurt in a terrifying accident, Hafiz's parents had to send him away. He has been mistreated on the boat journey and arrives, scarred, in the UK.

Can these teens from two different worlds solve their problems together?

THE JUDGEMENT

This novel is named after a famous 70's song by Fleetwood Mac. This great title fits the storyline of the book; Stevie is going through so much and she needs to forget her past and look towards the future. She is named after one of the women in the band.

Each chapter within Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow varies between the characters' points of view. I have always enjoyed this layout because there are two sides to every story and I like getting inside people's heads.

This narrative is about a charmingly unlikely friendship; each character is being continuously tormented by an inner struggle and they help each other through it. The bond between Hafiz and Stevie is unique. It began as forced and awkward, but it grew. However, though they are close, they do not have a romantic relationship which is a relief in some ways; they could fight, break up and never talk to each other again.

I developed empathy for both of the main characters. Stevie struggles at school and at home, so I felt sad for her. I can relate to Stevie in a handful of ways. I have a passion for music just like her. It can help us through times when we are feeling down. Her talent comes in handy because later in the story, she has to busk for money. Stevie is poor because after her father's death, her mother became miserable which had obvious consequences.

Hafiz is picked on at school because he is a Syrian refugee. When playing soccer, he is rudely ignored and taunted by David Price, one of his team-mates. In fact, when it is obvious that Hafiz is in line for the perfect goal, David ignores him and tries to shoot, himself. Later, Price uses cruel stereotypes about Syrians and Hafiz responds by pushing him over. Hafiz's social situation is dire.

Stevie owns a book that her dad created when she started buying Justin Bieber. It is called, 'Stevie's Little Book of Big Song Wisdom' and it is very special to her. I like how the author has created a Spotify playlist with all of the songs featured in Stevie's collection. She holds it very close to her heart because it is one of the only things her father left behind.

This is an extremely emotional and confronting book and to understand and enjoy it, children need to feel for the characters. It also has mention of a teenage problem involving puberty, insults about rapists and terrorists, plus talk of relationships. Therefore, I recommend Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow to kids aged 12+.

This is a thoughtful and utterly beautiful story of friendship that is literally begging for a sequel (or even better, a prequel). I give Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow five bookbolts out of five.

Publisher: Walker Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1-4063-8780-3

29. Apr, 2018

Today I step out of my comfort zone and read something completely different to my fantasy-adventure genre.

Can we fix this? Can we stay the friends we’ve always been? Can we patch the rips we’ve made in each other so the ragged seams stop showing? Or worse: Is there something terrible she’s not telling me?

THE GIST

Riya and Abby are inseparable friends. They part when Riya moves from California to Germany. During that time, Abby's parents divorce and she is left unsure of herself and upset. The next year, Riya invites her to fly to Europe and tour the main cities and towns, together. However, they seem more distant than ever and there now are hidden secrets between them...

THE JUDGEMENT

Kim Culbertson has skilfully created an enchanting journey of teenage growth and friendship. Her style is not overly wordy, yet she gives the perfect representation of a certain place, person or mood. Each chapter is written from the point of view of two friends, Abby and Riya. I always enjoy narratives written in this format because I like to get inside the characters' minds.

The book's title, The Wonder of Us is very central to the story. Abby has a fascination with the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the author has used this in a clever way; there are seven parts of the book and they are all related to Abby's obsession.

I love the construction of the characters - they are flawed and have realistic personalities. Both Riya and Abby make mistakes. For instance, Abby reveals that she cut a Skype chat short by lying that gravy was poured on the laptop. The truth was, Abby did not want to spend her family celebration with her previous best friend. Meanwhile, Riya has many crushes on boys. She is always distracted and doesn't think situations through properly. Abby can never talk to Riya, who has her head in the clouds. Riya also doesn't tell Abby about graduating high school early to go to a theatre school in London.

My favourite character is Neel as he has such a curious temperament. He is Riya's cousin and a change of plans leaves the girls in his care. Neel has a horrible girlfriend and when they break up, romance almost immediately blooms between Abby and him. On the one hand Neel is nearly too chilled, but on the other he can be really strict which is quite a drag for Abby and Riya.

There are many 'ups and downs' in this story. Abby constantly refers to her 'rough year' when her parents divorced; there are slight signs of depression in her though she tries to hide it. Abby wishes adults sympathised with her and that she had confided in her Dad about the past year, at the opportunity given. Riya learns things don't always go to plan.

The Wonder of Us has more than one moral. Dishonesty brings consequences to both girls. We are also reminded of the value of friendship and how no matter the distance, people can still maintain their relationship.

This book is appropriate for kids in the sense that there is no violence or bad language. However, Riya and Abby go through some difficult times and don't always act like perfect role models. They also kiss and flirt with boys and this is described in detail. Because of this, I recommend this book to children aged 11+.

I think this is an interesting novel. It has all of the elements of a good narrative drama - wonderfully-developed characters, romance, friendship and personal growth. Therefore, I give The Wonder of Us four-and-a-half bookbolts out of five.

Publisher: Walker Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1-4063-7717-0

26. Feb, 2018

I'm buckling under the weight of a million questions. Did she walk along here? Did the people in the shops and on the street see her? Speak to her on her last day here? Am I walking right past someone who might have seen her get on the bus back to David, leaving Boquete? Or someone who actually knows what happened to her? I try to scratch that one out of my head, but it sticks fast.

The Gist

Mackenzie is torn apart after her mother goes missing. She sneaks from Sydney with her father in the middle of the night to find her mum in Panama. Now Mackenzie's life seems even wilder. They uncover secrets about her mother's past, but what really happened to her and where is she now?

The Judgement

This is a heavy book. The impact that Mackenzie's mother's disappearance has on her family is understandably large. Directly before she finds that her mother is missing, Mackenzie is happy because she is getting a special award at school. However, she sees her dad and her nans' faces are 'grey like a rainy day' and then discovers her mother has been missing for nine days. Mackenzie realises the severity of the situation and completely forgets about her certificate. Missing touches on the depression suffered by Mackenzie's father - he goes completely out of his mind and does crazy things such as leaving Mackenzie to look after herself. She struggles considerably and is upset when he is down in the dumps or away. Mackenzie's grandmother is her lifeline and she always wishes that she was there to help her.

I share common ground with Mackenzie. We have both recently started high school and love art. Yet I can only guess what it would be like to be in her shoes; I think I would be struck down with a mixture of emotions. I would not know what to feel - grief for if the worst had happened or hope if Mum was still alive. It would be a terrible situation and Sue Whiting has described it conscientiously.

Language differences are encountered in Panama. They speak Spanish there, which is tough for Mackenzie. She meets a boy named Carlo who acts as her personal translator, but before that she is completely stuck.

Missing has been deliberately written out of sequence, jumping between the 'now' and the 'then'. The start of each chapter lists the location and how long Mackenzie's mother has been gone. The order is originally confusing, but makes more sense later on.

It is hard to decide what age suggestion to give Missing. The recommendation on the back cover is for readers aged ten and up which I admit sways my judgement. I will try to be as honest as possible when I recommend it would best suit kids aged 11+. Readers need to be more mature so they can be empathetic with what Mackenzie and her family are going through.

This book is beautifully written and describes emotions flawlessly. Therefore, I give Missing four bookbolts out of five.

Publisher: Walker Books Australia Pty Ltd
ISBN: 978-1-760650-03-2

8. Feb, 2018

People recoil from me as I navigate the hallway. Not the freshmen so much - they don't know jack about social dynamics. But all the upperclassmen avoid me. I can distinctly hear the word "cursed" being whispered. The Descendants either know how I was made fun of with that word at my old school, which means they're really putting effort into making my life difficult, or it's a coincidence, which is creepy in its own way. I honestly don't know which scenario is worse.

THE GIST

Samantha Mather is a sassy loner who moves to the infamous town of Salem. Her father was admitted to hospital in a coma not long before and her relationship with her stepmother Vivian is at its worst. Then she meets Jaxon, who is kind and VERY cute. She also discovers a spirit within her home, Elijah. He is also super handsome, despite being from centuries ago. But problems arise at her new high school and they involve a strange group of teens named the Descendants. Their ancestors were convicted and hung at the Salem Witch Trials back in 1692-93 and they are after revenge. Sam is to be their new victim.

THE JUDGEMENT

When I started this book, I had hardly any knowledge of the Salem Witch Trials and wasn't really interested; however just a few pages in, I was hungry to learn more. The author, Adriana Mather is actually descended from Cotton Mather, who is considered to be the instigator of the shameful Trials. There are flashbacks and visions throughout the story. Sam, the main character, appears as Cotton.

I really enjoyed How to Hang a Witch. This is a dark story but it is balanced with romance. It is violent, descriptive and probably more a YA book than 'tween. Firstly, it has swearing. In basically every chapter, there is bad cursing. This is a sign that it is not for young children. Secondly, there is love. Jaxon flirts with Sam and they kiss (or nearly kiss) multiple times. Sam also kisses Elijah, a ghost. Thirdly, this entire book is about a sinister chapter in Salem's history.

Though this isn't set back in the time of the Salem Witch Trials, it is the modern-day version. Sam has a vision of a friend being hung. A classmate is killed and there are grisly details of people dying; obviously, this book is not for the faint-hearted.

To be honest, I was sometimes confused by the deep plot. I even considered restarting the book! It has a brilliant and unexpected twist at the end.

How to Hang a Witch is an amazing story. It is even on The New York Times bestseller list, which is definitely something to be proud of. I recommend this book to kids aged 12+ and give it five bookbolts out of five.

Publisher: Walker Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1-4063-7879-5

Read my Q&A with Adriana Mather HERE

5. Jan, 2018

I could tell I was being stared at without even looking up. I knew that people were nudging each other, watching me out of the corners of their eyes. I thought I was used to those kinds of stares by now, but I guess I wasn't.

There was one table of girls that I knew were whispering about me because they were talking behind their hands. Their eyes and whispers kept bouncing over to me.

Middle school can be hard.

THE GIST

August Pullman (aka Auggie) is a ten-year-old boy who looks different to other children. He was home-schooled for all of his elementary years. Auggie's bright. When his mum realises she isn't smart enough to continue teaching him, she sends him to school in North River Heights, despite the very real risk of bullies.

Imagine having to face the world when it seems like the world won't face you. Auggie is in that exact situation. He is bullied, especially by a kid named Julian who taunts Auggie about his appearance, joking he was in a fire. Julian meanly refers to Darth Sidious from Star Wars who is a character whose face melts off. This makes Auggie extremely upset.

Later, Auggie is inwardly hurt when he eavesdrops and discovers his only friend, Jack Will is talking about him in a cruel way. It turns out Jack was ordered to befriend him. He announces he would commit suicide if he looked like Auggie. Our hero is shattered and skips school. On his return, he is furious at his 'friend'.

THE JUDGEMENT

I was really touched by Wonder. It would be hard to be Auggie - he has gone through so much. By the end of the story, I was holding back tears. Remember to have a box of tissues beside you at all times.

One of the things I love most about this book is the way it is set out in parts. Those parts are written by six different characters. They all have varied perspectives on events.

The most fun part to read was Justin's chapters; they were written without proper punctuation because he isn't exactly an English phenomenon. For example:
the first time i meet Olivia's little brother, i have to admit i'm totally taken by surprise.

My favourite character is Via, Auggie's sister. She has a unique view on the world - especially the way people see Auggie. Via is really inspiring and if I got to choose one person to play in the movie, it would be her.

The book includes images of scenes from the film adaption, as well as heaps of cool stuff at the back like awesome interviews with the cast and crew. I learnt a lot. For example, did you know that the deformity that Auggie has is actually real? It is called Treacher Collins syndrome.

I think the message of Wonder is that no matter what you look like, your true colours always shine through. It doesn't matter what some delinquents think of you - it only matters what the people you hold close to your heart think. This book is also about bravery, which Auggie shows at a disastrous school camp.

I recommend Wonder to children aged 9+ because of depressing scenes and I think it takes some maturity to empathise with the characters.

I can't wait to see the movie. I just hope it is as amazing as the novel. I give Wonder four-and-a-half bookbolts out of five.

Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 978-0-141-37824-4