Review: How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox

How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox

How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox (9780525554295)

Biz can float through her life, realizing that she is part of a larger universe and leaving her current troubles behind. But every time, she is drawn back to her body and back to her life. She does have great people in her life, including her mother and the twins. Plus her best friend Grace. She also has her father, who died when Biz was young, but stays with her, reminding her of his love for her. But when something happens on the beach, things start to spiral out of control. Grace loses her boyfriend over it, and they both lose their larger friend group. When Grace reacts with fury, her family moves her away. Biz’s father disappears and she stops being able to go to school, almost unable to leave her bed. When she eventually does get help via therapy, Biz doesn’t tell the entire truth, figuring out how to build bits of her life back until they tumble over once again.

This is a remarkable debut novel. Set in Australia, the book explores mental illness with a tenderness that is haunting. The beauty of the world Biz’s mind creates for her is a mix of tantalizing promises and real dangers. Even as readers know that Biz is unwell, they too will be caught up in her visions, understand her desire to keep floating, to enter the sea, to find connections. The setting of Australia is just as lovingly depicted with details of the landscape, the stunning coastline and a trip into the heart of the continent.

In Biz, readers will find a very intelligent teen who is struggling as her mental illness continues to impact her life in profound ways. Biz is warm and funny, a person first and her illness second. Her sarcasm draws people to her. After she loses most of the support structure in her life, she meets new people who love her, accepting her as she is, though she continues to search for what she has lost.

Aching and heart wrenching, this teen novel is an honest and profound look at mental illness and being human. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlists

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards shortlists have been announced. The awards celebrate Australian writers. The winner will be announced in May. Here are the shortlists for the youth categories:

PATRICIA WRIGHTSON PRIZE FOR CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

The Adventures of Sir Roderick, The Not-Very Brave Crossing

The Adventures of Sir Roderick the Not-Very Brave by James O’Loghlin

Crossing by Catherine Norton

The Duck and the Darklings Figgy in the World

The Duck and the Darklings by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King

Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu

The First Voyage 21952818

The First Voyage by Allan Baillie

Rivertime by Trace Balla

 

ETHEL TURNER PRIZE FOR YOUNG ADULT’S LITERATURE

Are You Seeing Me? The Book of Days

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

Book of Days by K.A. Barker

Cracked The Cracks in the Kingdom (The Colours of Madeleine, #2)

Cracked by Clare Strahan

The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty

Razorhurst The Road to Gundagai

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

The Road to Gundagai by Jackie French

Children’s Book Council of Australia – 2015 Book of the Year Short List

The short lists for the 2015 Book of the Year have been announced by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Winners will be announced in August.

OLDER READERS

Are You Seeing Me? The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

Intruder The Minnow

Intruder by Christine Bongers

The Minnow by Diana Sweeney

Nona and Me The Protected

Nona & Me by Clare Atkins

The Protected by Claire Zorn

 

YOUNGER READERS

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain by Steven Herrick

The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Figgy in the World The Simple Things

Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu

The Simple Things by Bill Condon, illustrated by Beth Norling

Two Wolves Withering-By-Sea

Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks

Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell

 

EARLY CHILDHOOD

Go to Sleep, Jessie! A House of Her Own

Go to Sleep, Jessie! by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Freya Blackwood

A House of Her Own by Jenny Hughes, illustrated by Jonathan Bentley

 Pig the Pug

Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach by Alison Lester

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey

Scary Night 

Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes, illustrated by Stephen Michael King

Snail and Turtle Are Friends by Stephen Michael King

 

PICTURE BOOK OF THE YEAR

The Duck and the Darklings Fire

The Duck and the Darklings illustrated by Stephen Michael King, text by Glenda Millard

Fire illustrated by Bruce Whatley, text by Jackie French

My Two Blankets One Minute's Silence

My Two Blankets illustrated by Freya Blackwood, text by Irena Kobald

One Minute’s Silence illustrated by Michael Camilleri, text by David Metzenthen

21952818 The Stone Lion

Rivertime by Trace Balla

The Stone Lion illustrated by Ritva Voutila, text by Margaret Wild

 

EVE POWNALL AWARD FOR INFORMATION BOOKS

A–Z of Convicts in Van Diemen's Land Audacity: stories of heroic Australians in wartime

A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard

Audacity: Stories of Heroic Australians in Wartime by Carlie Walker, illustrated by Brett Hatherly

Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia Emu

Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia edited by Demet Divaroren and Amra Pajalic

Emu by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Graham Byrne

Mary's Australia: How Mary Mackillop Changed Australia Tea and Sugar Christmas

Mary’s Australia: How Mary Mackillop Changed Australia by Pamela Freeman

Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly, illustrated by Robert Ingpen

Review: Sand Swimmers by Narelle Oliver

sand swimmers

Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Desert Wilderness by Narelle Oliver

Set in the ferocious center of Australia, this book looks at one of the harshest climates in the world and the animals that not only survive there but thrive there. The “Dead Heart” of Australia can appear completely uninhabited at first, but this book has us look closer and see what the Aboriginal people have known for thousands of years. The huge salt lake has lizards, shrimp and frogs if you know where to look. The mulga scrublands have tangled timber but that is also shelter for spiders, ants, geckos, and birds. Down deep under the earth, there are even more animals sheltering. Even the oceans of rock and sand have animals living there. Explore an amazing ecosystem along with early explorers of Australia who failed to see the creatures hiding around them.

Oliver takes readers on an amazing journey through various regions of the center of Australia. Even the rocks and sand and plants themselves are wild and different from other parts of the world. Everything seems to combine to make the most uninhabitable ecosystem in the world, but that’s not true if you look deeper. Oliver takes readers deeper into the desert and readers will discover the beauty and life hidden in this desolate landscape.

Oliver’s illustrations combine line drawings of the creatures with smudged drawings of the early explorers. The combination of the crisp line drawings with the more smudged ones is very successful, giving readers a taste of both the animals themselves and the history.

A brilliant look at a fascinating habitat, this book goes far beyond the stereotypical kangaroos and koala bears of Australia. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee

categorical universe of candice phee

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

This Australian award winner is the story of 12-year-old Candice who is completing a school project that is supposed to be a paragraph for each letter of the alphabet that reveals something about her.  But Candice can’t keep it to one paragraph, so she begins to do chapters for each letter and the words she chooses for each letter are unexpected too.  As she writes, Candice is telling the story of her family and her pet fish.  She worries about her family falling apart, since her mother is still grieving the loss of Candice’s baby sister Sky to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Her father is working on software in his spare time to prove that he can be as successful as his brother, Rich Uncle Brian, or flying his toy plane.  Either way, both parents are self-absorbed rather than paying attention to Candice.  She also doesn’t have any friends, until an unusual boy comes to school, a boy who believes that he’s traveled to another dimension and spends his time trying to get back home by falling out of a tree.  It seems to Candice that it’s up to her to fix a lot of what’s wrong, but how can she?

Jonsberg has crafted a unique character in Candice.  She may or may not be on the autism spectrum, but it is clear that she is different from the others in her grade and that they know it.  Yet Candice functions fully, just in her own way.  She loves her family, makes connections with others, and cares deeply about what is happening around her.  She just does it in her own way, one that makes sense and that shows just how smart she is. 

The book is wonderfully funny, with situations that are almost slapstick at times and others that are cleverly worked.  The scene where Candice forces herself to get on her uncle’s boat to talk about the problems between him and her father is classic nausea humor that is done to perfection.  Yet the book has plenty of depth too, with the deep depression that her mother has fallen into and even a little romance.

Strong writing keeps this complex book from tangling into knots and a strong protagonist gives it a unique and smart voice.   A great Australian import that is ideal for middle grade readers. 

Reviewed from e-galley received from Chronicle Books and Edelweiss.

The Winds of Heaven

The Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke

An amazing book that takes a deep look at love, depression, sisterhood, and life.  Clementine and Fan were opposites in many ways, but that just drew them closer.  They were more sisters than cousins, pulled together over the summer they spent at Fan’s house in Lake Conapaira.  Clementine was dull and regular next to the wild and amazing Fan.  But Fan’s life was not good, living alone with her abusive mother now that both her father and older sister had left.  Fan longed to head to the blue hills that she could see from her room, knew that there was something special out there waiting for her.  As time went on, both young women faced decisions that would change their lives, fears that would overwhelm them, and responsibilities that weighed upon them.  This is a book about the two very different friends, who both relied on each other despite their distance from  one another and the small choices that forced them even further apart.

Clarke’s writing is incandescent in this novel.  My book bristles with bookmarks, marking passages where the writing is astounding and staggeringly lovely.  Here is one of my favorites from early in the book where Clementine is describing how different Lake Conapaira is from her home:

You could even smell the difference: a mixture of sun and dust, wild honey and the smoky tang from the old kerosene fridge on the back veranda.  And you could smell feelings, too – Clementine was sure of it: you could smell anger and hatred and disappointment and jagged little fears.  The anger smelled like iron and the disappointment smelled like mud.

Clarke moves from dense writing like this that truly brings a reader into the scene and makes it real to lighter moments, dwelling on certain thoughts for awhile.  And beautifully, those are the moments that the reader carries with them, importantly through the book, the moments that must be remembered at the end.

This is an Australian novel that is steeped in Australia.  Readers will feel the red dirt in the pages, thanks to the vivid descriptions that Clarke offers us.  The sense of place is not only strong, it is inherent to the story.  Clarke set this book in modern time but the bulk of the story takes place in the 1950s and 1960s as Clementine and Fan grow up.  The time is important here too, reflected in the story.

The two characters, Fan and Clementine, are drawn with great care.  Readers learn about how they think, how they approach the world, and the way the world has shaped them in turn.  Though both girls are very different, they struggle with similar things.  They both have moments of weakness and shame, paired with moments of strength and empowerment.  They both see the other person as the strong one, the intelligent one, the beauty.  It is what brings them together and also what drives them apart.

This is a book about our journey through life and the choices we make.  It is a powerful book, one where even though the ending does not surprise is shockingly brutal at times.  Yet with the brutality comes a beauty as well.  Highly recommended, this is a book appropriate for good readers who will enjoy the prose.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.  Make sure you have some tissues around when reading the end.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt.

Possum and Wattle

Possum and Wattle: A Big Book of Australian Words by Bronwyn Bancroft

This alphabet book takes readers on a journey through Australia.  Mixed in with words that are familiar, like ants and apple, are fascinating words like adze, bandicoot, and dingo.  The book is illustrated with the Aboriginal art of Bronwyn Bancroft, a Bundjalung artist who demonstrates her skill and knowledge of Australian through her art.  The art is filled with dots, amazing color combinations, and energy.  It is through Bancroft’s art in particular that readers really get to see frogs, fish and other mundane words with a new eye.  In the art, they become fantastical, strange and uniquely beautiful.

I appreciated the mix of the normal words with Aboriginal ones.  The combination makes the book inviting and intriguing at the same time.  I am also in awe of the art here.  It is accessible to children, beautifully rendered and so very evocative of the region.  The result is a book that truly is Australia between two covers.

Highly recommended, this book opens the world of Australia to young readers who will probably want to learn far more.  Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Stolen

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

In a Bangkok airport on her way to Vietnam with her parents, sixteen-year-old Gemma stops for a cup of coffee to take a break from arguing with them.  It was then that her life changed.  She was drugged and taken to the outback of Australia where Ty, the man who took her, had created a self-sufficient home for both of them.  Gemma fought back as best she could when the drugs wore off, tried to escape multiple times, but the outback itself kept her bound at home with Ty.  Ty is handsome, well-built, and deeply in love with Gemma, whom he has been watching for years.  Readers get to experience their strange, disturbing, but captivating relationship grow and change through the form of a letter from Gemma to Ty. 

Christopher’s book explores what freedom really is, what love means, and how relationships can morph and change despite ourselves.  In Gemma, Christopher has created a strong modern female that readers will instantly relate to.  She has domineering but distant parents, close friends, and much to miss.  But the most remarkable character Christopher created is Ty.  Ty the monster, the angel, the wronged, the wrong-doer.   He is so complex yet so simple to understand.  And readers will come to understand him, and perhaps like Gemma love him in the end.  The writing masterfully takes readers on the same course as Gemma, loving Ty despite themselves.

The third character in the novel is the setting itself.  The Australian Outback is vividly rendered from its incredible heat to the redness of the sand to the plants and animals that make their home there.  It forms the walls of Gemma’s prison, beautiful and horrible at the same time.  Christopher weaves imagery from the setting into much of her writing, further tying the book closely to the setting.  She does it with skill and subtlety.

Highly recommended, this book is one that twists underneath you, bringing you to a place you never expected to reach.  Beautifully written, this book is appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Also reviewed by Melody’s Reading Corner.