“...It’s like being swept away to a whole new world.”
“Starworld,” she says, a corner of her mouth quirking upward.
“Starworld,” I repeat, a small smile finding its way to my face. “I like it.”
This is possibly my favourite book of all time, and I have no idea why I haven’t reviewed it yet - so here it is.
When popular and optimistic Zoe Miller becomes interested in awkward and shy Sam Jones’s unique artworks, the two girls realise that they have more in common than they may have previously thought. With both families being majorly affected by mental illness and other troubles, Zoe and Sam break social boundaries and create their own fantastical escape, named Starworld. However, when Sam finds herself developing a romantic interest in her new best friend, many questions are poised. Is it really friendship, or is it more? Does Zoe feel the same way? And importantly, will this cause Starworld to be ruined forever?
Coulthurst and Garners’ tragic tale of friendship, unrequited love and mental illness switches perspective with every chapter. This allows insight into the characters’ personal home lives and thoughts, and it directly contrasts their issues and personalities. This way, readers can connect with characters on a deeper level. Every situation was perceived in completely different ways by both Zoe and Sam, and this allows the reader to further understand them, hence building a better story.
Many commonly stigmatized topics are mentioned within this novel, and I applaud the authors for approaching them realistically and sentimentally, simultaneously. Among the things spoken of in Starworld are mental disorders including obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety, and health problems such as breast cancer. Sam is also struggling with her sexuality, and when shoved into a heteronormative society, it is difficult for her to determine her true feelings.
Disability is a main part of Starworld’s plot. Zoe’s brother Jonah suffers a severe disability, and he is even sent away from his home because of it. This majorly impacts Zoe, especially as she is in senior year, a time for studying and thinking about one’s future. With the added responsibility of caring for Jonah, Zoe feels overwhelmed, and ableism makes the entire situation even more difficult for her.
While Zoe is good at hiding her emotions, Sam is more quiet, and she hides under her dark hoodies to escape attention. Both girls hardly ever divulge private information to anybody, making their friendship even more special. With their magical escape of Starworld, they can escape their problems and launch themselves into mystical adventures with riddles and a dragon named Humphrey.
Starworld contains some extremely confronting issues, including severe mental and physical illness, disabilities, pregnancy loss and more. One needs the emotional capacity that is necessary to deal with an ending that led me almost to tears, there are also some sexual references and swearing is relatively common. For these reasons, I recommend this novel to teenagers aged 14+
I truly enjoyed this book. It explores and discusses so many themes, and I was a complete wreck by the end of the story, as the characters are so likeable and kind. I give this beautiful tale of love and loss ten bookbolts out of ten.
PUBLISHER: Candlewick Press
Rather than be searched by hand, I chose to walk through the metal detector without my cart or my tank or even the plastic nubbins in my nose. Walking through the X-ray machine marked the first time I’d taken a step without oxygen in some months, and it felt pretty amazing to walk unencumbered like that, stepping across the Rubicon, the machine’s silence acknowledging that I was, however briefly, a nonmetallicized creature.
Hazel is sixteen years old, and lives with an oxygen tank and a BiPAP machine. In other words, she has a cancer that could end her life at any given moment. She is alone and believes she will live out her days at home.
Augustus Waters is seventeen and bears only one leg due to the effects of cancer. He is addicted to metaphor and overanalyses every situation. His greatest fear is oblivion.
The two survivors meet at a support group for cancer victims and slowly fall in love with each other. Can people with severe illnesses achieve true happiness with so many obstacles in their path?
This book intrigued me from the beginning, especially with its exclusively interesting characters and well-constructed, deep thoughts. Hazel constantly finds herself wondering about death and its repercussions, especially in relation to her illness. I have these ponderings, too; I have always wondered what happens after a person’s passing.
While I can’t relate to any of the characters in this novel as they are going through such tough ordeals, I can emotionally connect to them in a strange, unexplainable way. They react to situations in the same way that I would (except they deal with some things more bravely than I ever could).
I found the reality of this book fascinating. When Hazel and Augustus fly to Amsterdam to meet author Peter Van Houten, they are expecting an all-knowing, responsible man able to answer all of their questions. What they find is a drunken, old guy with strong opinions and disrespect for most existing life forms.
John Green is a New York Times bestselling author, and after reading this book, I was inspired to try out some of his other novels – such as Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. After lockdown is over, I’ll definitely be heading straight to the school library to wolf these down like the chocolate I’ve become so close to.
I completed The Fault in Our Stars in less than two nights. By the time I had finished the novel, I was drowning in emotion and I’m now desperately begging for a sequel. Just like Hazel and Augustus’s collective interest in An Imperial Affliction, I would love to know what happens to the characters as the novel finishes after a terrible occurrence. This leaves the characters that I have come to know so well, depressed as a dimmed star. Therefore, I give this novel a well-earned 9 ½ bookbolts out of 10.
The Fault in Our Stars has some sad themes including a death of a loved one, and there is a sex scene (nothing graphic, however). This influenced my decision to recommend this book to readers aged 13+.
PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House
“Mallory tugs at the sleeves of her oversized shirt as she watches me. I try not to be obvious about snatching glimpses of her face. There’s little hint of the grinning kindergartner from her MISSING posters all those years ago. Her skin is dull and waxy now, her hair lank. She curls her shoulders defensively as though warding off some kind of threat.
But it’s her eyes that seize hold of me, crystal clear and evaluating. There are questions there, and a sea of answers too. It sparks an urge in me to shake her, demand to know how she disappeared. Did she wander off? Was she taken?
Did I really imagine him, Mallory?
Please tell me my mind isn’t that sick!”
When Tash was eight years old and temporarily staying at her aunt’s house, a child named Mallory Fisher was abducted from a carnival and Tash saw her imaginary friend Sparrow take her. No one believed Tash, not even her parents and she was sent into therapy. She was then told that she was lying and attention-seeking, as her mother was in hospital pregnant with a son. Nine years after the incident, the Fishers are back in town and Mallory is now mute because of the trauma she had suffered. Tash revisits her aunt’s house and Sparrow reappears. But is he real? Is Tash as crazy as everyone believes? And most of all… can Tash trust herself?
Small Spaces is a psychological thriller, and it is completely different to what I was expecting. Previously, I had thought that the genre was confusing and boring, as I didn’t understand how a book could be both chilling and intelligent. The events in this novel could happen in real life, too – I can’t say without spoiling, but knowing this made it even harder to read the book at night.
Tash is such a rare character, as she is a storyteller with mental health issues. This makes it hard for the reader to know whether or not to believe her. The story is therefore unique, as normally, a narrator is reliable. Honestly, I have never come across a book like this.
This novel has a few minor concepts which could disturb younger readers – a girl is snatched from a carnival, Tash’s imaginary friend looks terrifying and Tash often feels alone and misunderstood. Some terms such as “dyke” are used in an offensive way against Tash’s homosexual friend Sadie. A drug addiction is central to the storyline. Therefore, I recommend Small Spaces to readers aged 13+.
Small Spaces is like a rollercoaster, as it is riddled with twists and turns. I really enjoyed the plot twist towards the end of this novel, and the way that Tash couldn’t even trust herself is so clever. I love how the characters change and reveal things about themselves throughout the storyline. I give Small Spaces ten bookbolts out of ten.
ISBN: 978 1 921977 38 1
PUBLISHER: Walker Books Australia Pty Ltd
My body was a shameful disaster. I was too embarrassed to go outside unless I absolutely had to. No, it was worse than that. I was too embarrassed to exist. I hunched down and inwards, trying to hide every part of me. I hated how much space I took up, because I got taller too. I was huge and hulking. I felt like everywhere I went, I was being seen and noticed in a way I didn’t want to be seen and noticed. Even now, on my very best skin days, I’m uncomfortable with people looking at my face. Eye contact makes me feel exposed.
Natalie is an 18-year-old girl who has just come out of school, with recently separated parents. As the quote I used indicates, she despises her appearance and has a skin disorder. She judges herself extremely harshly, which means that when problems keep piling onto her – the divorce, her first romance and friendship troubles – she can’t deal. What good could possibly come out of this?
It Sounded Better in my Head was a pleasant surprise, from the aesthetics of the front cover to the relatability of the main character. While it wasn’t filled with action and adventure, it was still wonderful because of how well the characters were built, the differences between them and more.
This was also a completely different book choice to what I would normally read. It is a romantic comedy, and I don’t have any experience with romance, including in novels. However, as my first attempt at reading the genre, I adored the characters and the way the author subtly weaved humour throughout the storyline.
Natalie is extremely authentic, so much that she could be real; I recently even had a dream about meeting her. She has terrible skin, is extremely awkward, lies occasionally, has separated parents and is, of course, obsessed with the very prospect of romance. I really enjoyed how much she grew throughout the story, too – she goes from being shy and inexperienced in love, to a little more confident and more experienced.
My favourite character in It Sounded Better in my Head is, funnily enough, Lucy. She is such a supportive and kind friend of Natalie yet has her own problems; further into the story, Lucy says that she lied about something important (I won’t spoil). Her character is also the victim of Natalie’s jealousy, as she is prettier and better than her at almost everything.
To be honest, this was a difficult book to review. There is inappropriate content, however easy enough language used for a young person to understand. Therefore, I recommend It Sounded Better in my Head to readers aged 14+.
I loved this book. The author Nina Kenwood has done a fantastic job in building Natalie’s character in a fascinating way, so I will be looking out for more of her novels in the future. I give It Sounded Better in my Head 9 bookbolts out of 10.
PUBLISHER: The Test Publishing Company
This is probably the hardest book I have ever reviewed – and one of the most well-written.
Lex's family is already complicated enough with her parents divorcing a few years back; but when Lex’s brother Ty took his life, her entire world took a drastic turn for the worse. Lex’s mother turns to alcohol and both mourn Ty's loss miserably. Lex breaks up with her boyfriend and pretends nothing is wrong; but within, she is a complete wreck. Her mother makes her see a therapist, Dave, thinking she has done her a favour. When he stops persuading her to take antidepressants and Valium, he gives her a new task in the form of a black notebook. Can Lex learn to live in the present, or will she continue to grieve the past?
I don't normally read sad books, but as soon as I started The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand I was completely taken. I felt emotionally attached to Lex and empathised with her pain. After reading this novel, I know that if I met her character in real life, it would be difficult to find the right words to say to her.
I discovered that a friendship’s true colours are shown in a time of need. For example, Lex’s friend Beaker wants her to be upset, so that she can be the “stellar bestie” who builds her broken friend back up. I also learned that even though grief is never-ending it is important not to give up hope for the future.
Ty had previously attempted the act with painkillers. Afterwards, Lex was committed to ensuring her brother's safety; she went around the house confiscating all deadly items - razors, bullets from guns in the garage, pills and more - and locked them up in a container.
The Last Time We Say Goodbye is a story inspired by a real event: After the last chapter Cynthia reveals her brother also committed the same terrible act on himself. After reading and knowing what it must have been like for Lex, I felt great sadness for the author. Losing family to suicide would be incredibly hard, and I hope to never have to face the same pain in my own life. The dedication to Jeff takes on a new meaning.
This book has the occasional drug or sexual reference, and the central theme is emotionally draining and confronting. It takes a mature reader to empathise with what Lex is going through. Therefore, I recommend it to teenagers, aged 13+
Only the most amazing book would make me emotional and this novel certainly achieved just that. It was realistic and heartbreaking. I give The Last Time We Say Goodbye five bookbolts out of five.
PUBLISHER: HarperCollinsPublishers Australia Pty Limited