Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson [Intermediate fiction]

The Goldfish Boy
By Lisa Thompson
Scholastic Press, 2017
ISBN 9781338053920

Matthew has OCD issues and spends most of his life upstairs in his bedroom, looking out over the neighbours in their dead-end street. He has a number of coping mechanisms - he cleans incessantly, and scrubs his hands until they are sore and bleeding. He also counts, with a particular worry about number ten-plus-three. 

When his neighbour Mr Charles, brings his grandchildren, Casey, the eldest, and Teddy. When they see Matthew in the window of his bedroom Casey starts calling him 'goldfish boy'. One day Matthew sees Teddy in the front garden touching the roses. That's the last time anyone sees Teddy, the little boy has disappeared without a trace.

Matthew does have one ally, Melody, who knows Matthew from school, and comes knocking on the door asking for help. In spite of knowing the problems he has with going outside, Melody actually gets him out the door. They have suspicions about who might have taken Teddy and start investigating themselves.

This was a great mixture of seeing into the life of Matthew, with his many issues, and a really good mystery. The street is full of interesting, diverse characters we get to know as the novel progresses. But it's Goldfish Boy himself, who is the teller of the story, who is the star.

Friday, 28 April 2017

House Arrest by K.A. Holt [Verse novel | Intermediate fiction]

House Arrest
By K.A. Holt
Chronicle Books, 2015
ISBN 9781452134772

Timothy (12) is under house arrest after stealing a wallet and using the credit card to pay for medicine for his sick baby brother, Levi. The book is in the form of the court-ordered journal which he has to write as a condition of his house arrest, if he doesn't comply he's warned repeatedly that he'll be "sent to 'juvie' so fast it'll make your head spin". 

It's written in blank verse, which is perfect for the voice of this boy, who is not a bad boy, just desperate. There are a couple of people in authority who he sees regularly - Mrs Bainbridge, his psychologist, and James the probation officer. They both read and respond to his journal. He doesn't hesitate to tell them in very clear terms just what his life has been like. 

Timothy shares all the details of Levi's health issues, which he's suffered since he was born. Levi has a 'trach' - a tube in his neck through which he breathes. It often gets clogged, or infected, and he's often so bad that he has to go back to the hospital. And he needs medication which costs a lot.
The stress of Levi's illness has also led to his father leaving, another sad burden for Timothy.

Other important people in his life are his best friend Jose and his family, and the nurses who come to the house to help with Levi. One nurse is wonderful, but can't do more hours, so is replaced when funding is available for more assistance, but the new nurse doesn't have the caring attitude and adds to the stress of the situation.

There's not a happy ending, but the Timothy we know at the end knows more about himself, and the world he lives in, and what's important to him, and the price he's prepared to pay for that.

Definitely a heartbreaker that stays with you long after the last page is read.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee [Intermediate fiction]

Maybe a Fox
By Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee
Walker Books, 2016
ISBN 9781406372892
When you open the pages of this book you enter a small and very beautiful world. A rural Vermont winter, two sisters - Sylvie (12) and Jules (11), talk of their mother who died suddenly some years before. They have small mementos of her, and a large collection of rocks which Jules in particular is very attached to. Sylvie's obsession is running, determined to run faster and faster, though never quite explaining why. Their father has set rules about where they are allowed to go - not out of earshot of the house, and never to the slip, where the Whippoorwill River disappears under the ground. But in spite of the rules, the girls have been casting 'wish rocks' (special stones with wishes written on them) into the slip for a long time. On the first snowy day of the story, the girls are getting ready for school, but Sylvie is determined to put another rock into the slip and runs fast to do so... and never returns.

The sadness is unbearable for father and daughter who have already lost a wife/mother, and now daughter/sister. The father's manner with his daughters throughout is gentle, patient, full of sadness, but also ever-loving.

The other thread of the story follows a fox cub, a girl with two brothers. I loved learning about what their lives are like - born deep underground, sleeping close together, investigating the world above when they are old enough. The mother fox knows her daughter, Senna, is different, she is a 'kennen' - an animal with a special purpose, linked in spirit to another. When she hears Jules crying out for Sylvie, Senna is irresistibly drawn to her and together they have a mission to accomplish.

Three other characters have important roles - Sam is best friends with the two girls, with his own great wish to see a catamount. He is also younger brother to Elk, who comes home from fighting in Afghanistan, but without his life-long friend Zeke, and seems to be permanently mourning his loss, cutting him off from Sam. Zeke's mother, with her own sadness, helps with minding Jules after the disaster, a comforting motherly figure, but one who doesn't always keep a close eye on Jules. 

As Jules works through her grief she decides on a path of action, one that requires going outside of the boundaries of the restricted area her father has allowed her to be in, searching for a mysterious place. 

There is sorrow, danger, curiosity and courage too, and a spiritual element as real as any other that brings the story to a tear-inducing climax. Sadness seems to emanate from every page, but there is also the constant of the strong bonds between sisters, father-daughter, brothers, friends, fox sister and brother, fox and girl. 
Beautifully written by this award-winning duo. i'm trying to find out more about how they did this; it can't have been easy to write together, but they have created an exceptional novel I'd recommend for 10+.

I also have to give a mention to the irresistible cover, and occasional chapter heading illustrations of rocks, the work of Robert Farkas. 

Watch the beautiful book trailer:

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Lonesome When You Go Blog Tour with Saradha Koirala

Lonesome When You Go Blog Tour - Day Two
Some musical questions for Saradha Koirala

Saradha's recent YA novel, Lonesome When You Go, published by Makaro Press, is all about a teenager called Paige who plays in a band that makes it in to Rockquest, and plays in an orchestra on the side. It's a great story (which I'll review later)
and I enjoyed meeting Saradha at the Storylines Margaret Mahy Lecture and Awards Day on Sunday, where she picked up a Notable Book award for her book.

CB: Do you play bass, as your character Paige does? Did you try out the rock and classical routes?
SK: I started playing music when my dad sent me a violin for my sixth birthday. It was a half-sized violin, which was too big for tiny me, so we had to find a quarter-sized instrument to get me started on! I has lessons for many years and then when I was 14 I took up double bass. I actually got kind of good at that and passed a grade 5 practical exam. Throughout school I always played classical - in the orchestra and chamber music competitions - but in sixth form my brother asked me to play bass guitar in a rock band and... Well, it was an awesome year and the seed for Lonesome was sown! 

CB: I think you've been part of a number of bands. What were they called and how did you come up with the names? 
SK: I wish I had a better answer to this! All the bands I've played in had terrible names and I have no idea how we came up with them! Except for the high school band, which was an eleventh-hour decision as we walked around town brainstorming before our first gig.-
I'll blame the collective mood of late 90s/early 2000s for the slightly emo, faux philosophical tone to the following (incomplete) list of band names:
* Indomenio 
* Defective Chaos
* Zen Cortex
* Porn
* Tangle of Leads (actually that one's pretty good)

CB: What music did you listen to when you were writing your book? Or do you need silence to focus on your writing?
SK: I listened to a lot of the music that's discussed in the book around the time of writing, but I do prefer to write in silence. To really be able to hear Paige's voice in my head and keep that as consistent as possible, I just have to go in there and shut out all other noises.

CB: When I checked in to your Spotify playlist for Lonesome When You Go I realised that it is, of course the title of a great Bob Dylan song. I know you also write poetry and I wonder if Dylan has been an influence on your writing - in poetry and prose, as well as song writing?
SK: Dylan has definitely influenced me and I think he's a truly great poet and storyteller. I listened to him a lot in my early twenties and although no good writing from me ever came out of that time, he became a bit of a soundtrack to my inner thoughts, constant journalling and hopelessly romantic view of the world. 
I ain't no song writer, but put a guitar in my hands and I'll almost definitely belt you out a Dylan song!

CB:Any words of wisdom for teens getting involved in the music world? How to survive? How to deal with success or failure - both equally difficult I think.

SK: I see the musical world as a hugely difficult place to be successful in in the way most people would like, but I do know several people who make it work for themselves. I think like all art you need to be creating it because you absolutely love it or have a deep and desperate compulsion towards it. That way measures of success and failure are based less on external judgement and you're always striving to create, create more and create better. That's how I feel about writing, anyway. 

Stops on the blog tour still to come are:
5 April • Eirlys Hunter
6 April • Sarah Forster
7 April • Zac McCallum

You can get teaching notes for the book too, if you fancy teaching it at secondary school: