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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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'.
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
Number Thirteen watched in horror as Mug threw the poor thing as high as he could. But Mug failed to throw her over the Wall and so caught her once again in his grubby mitts. The Rat ordered him to pass the furry ball to Orlick, who was next in line. Mug growled at Orlick, who grabbed the creature and lifted her up for the big toss.
"St-st-" Number Thirteen stammered. "S-stop!" But no one heard him through the waterfall, the peals of laughter, and the rain.
In this entrancing fantasy story, Number Thirteen is a ten-year-old, one-eared fox groundling with a big heart. Groundlings are half-human and half-animal who suffer daily at the hands of villainess, Miss Carbunkle. He loves to sing even though it is strictly forbidden in the place he lives, which is Miss Carbunkle's Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures. Early on, the main character discovers he has a special talent: He can understand what mice are saying. Number Thirteen escapes the home with the assistance of his new mouse friend, Trinket. She names him, "Arthur" and he in turn is touched as he has never had a proper name. After escaping the Home, Trinket wants to find her uncle and Arthur strives to discover his old life at 17 Tintagel Road. Once they part ways, Number Thirteen is left to fend for himself in the wild. He must find his parents alone and fulfil his destiny…
The very first thing you will notice about The Wonderling is its exquisite presentation; this is a hardcover book with an attractive design. It is certain to look brilliant on your bookcase and make the perfect gift.
I had high expectations before reading this tale as I had heard it is also being developed into a movie.
Author Mira Bartók has created such an extraordinary world. I powered through the pages, loving to read something different.
Arthur and his friends have been raised not knowing the difference between right and wrong. Despite this, there are bullies. The author has added some nice quirky touches to characters, giving them accents, stutters and speech impediments. The cunning Miss Carbunkle is distinguishable by her astonishingly large flaming-orange wig.
My favourite groundling is certainly Trinket. She is so enthusiastic, encouraging and helps others out. Trinket was most likely embarrassed when Number Thirteen, aka Arthur, stumbled upon her as a wounded and vulnerable bird - a position she is not normally in.
I found it really inspiring how the author drew her own pictures. Previously, I associated such images with picture books, but the drawings made me feel closer to Mira's characters. I love drawing and writing, so perhaps I could end up doing that sort of thing one day, too!
I recommend The Wonderling to kids aged nine and over because of the reading level and perilous themes.
I think the moral to this story is that true friendship is forever. I give The Wonderling four-and-a-half bookbolts out of five.
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd
R.E. Devine has created an epic story in The Amulet of Athlone, the first book in the Jack McCool series. Be prepared for time travel, legends, an evil king and shape-shifting banshees.
Jack McCool is your normal boy next door who happens to be horrid at art but thinks he is brilliant. He has a worst enemy called Oscar, a reputation for hatching disastrous plans and is constantly bullied because of his odd surname. Everything changes when he discovers a dusty trunk in his family's attic and gets stuck inside:
"It was gradual at first. Just a slight feeling of warmth, a hint of heat as though a beam of sunlight had flitted across his wrist. Jack paid it no attention, intent as he was on trying to heave up the trunk's lid enough to stand up."
Jack is hurled back to the past when he discovers an amulet missing six gems. He finds out he must look for these to break an ancient curse. Once the stones are restored, Jack is expected to defeat the wicked High King Goll who will stop at nothing to get his way. He journeys to Earth's four corners with the help of the legendary Finn McCool, a warrior from long ago. He is also given tips from Brigid, an elderly yet feisty druid. Even though Jack is supported by his new friends, he needs to remember they have weaknesses, too. The whole world depends on Jack, so will he find the first jewel in time?
I enjoy reading books about ordinary boys or girls thrown into extraordinary situations and seeing how they react. This is the perfect example with relatable, average Jack.
When Jack journeys to the past, he finds that he misses his family, even his annoying brother. In fact Tom is so irritating, that he makes Jack rehearse girl roles for the school play. But once thrown back in time to an enchanted land with clans, folklore and magic, Jack would give anything to see Tom and his infuriating parents again. Maybe there is a lesson here to appreciate what you have. Jack is also a great role model for kids who have trouble with bullies or for that matter, psycho teachers.
One of my favourite characters in this story is Miss Medusa. She may only appear at the start, but is very interesting and, as Jack describes her, 'demonic'. I also liked a washerwoman named Beenya. I don't want to give anything away, but I WILL say that she hides a LOT.
This is a pretty non-violent tale with no language issues. Therefore, I recommend it to kids aged eight and over.
I give The Chronicles of Jack McCool: The Amulet of Athlone four bookbolts out of five.
Publisher: Bauer Media
ISBN: 978 1 74245 920 2