*Note for Read Diverse 2017 – Does My Head Look Big in This and Night Swimming are by authors of colour.
There are a couple of Australian YA books I’ve read since the beginning of the year which I really enjoyed, but haven’t yet gushed about and recommended properly. So, today’s post is a round-up of these!
Frankie by Shivaun Plozza
Frankie Vega is angry. Just ask the guy whose nose she broke. Or the cop investigating the burglary she witnessed, or her cheating ex-boyfriend or her aunt who’s tired of giving second chances…
When a kid shows up claiming to be Frankie’s half brother, it opens the door to a past she doesn’t want to remember. And when that kid goes missing, the only person willing to help is a boy with stupidly blue eyes … and secrets of his own. Frankie’s search for the truth might change her life, or cost her everything.
My highlights from Frankie:
- Frankie had such an incredible, compelling voice. In the best way, she reminded me of the protag Gilly from The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson – fierce and apparently indifferent to those around her but with depths and vulnerabilities that really twist your heart when they come to the surface.
- The setting was so detailed and really came alive throughout the story, which I loved! (Especially since it’s in Melbourne, Australia)
- The mystery about Xavier, and the uncertainties about Frankie’s future, really kept me reading as the story progressed, and the supporting characters (especially Frankie’s aunt) were all fantastic
- The emotions at the end of the story were so powerfully written, and overall I feel there was a good balance between tying up the storyline and leaving things open-ended
Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full-time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else.
Can she handle the taunts of “towel head,” the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school? Brilliantly funny and poignant, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s debut novel will strike a chord in all teenage readers, no matter what their beliefs.
I’m still having trouble summarising what an incredible book this was – and this is something that’s really rare for me! Here are some of my highlights from the book:
- Amal is seriously one of the most hilarious teen characters I have ever come across – her voice was incredibly real and had me laughing out loud (which, again, is REALLY RARE for me when reading!). It was also inspiring to see her strength in spite of all the prejudice she faced. Also, the audiobook narrator is fantastic – if you like audiobooks and can access it, I definitely recommend it.
- It’s so refreshing to see how honestly it recognised and made counter-arguments against casual racism/prejudice. Naturally this focused on Islamophobia, but was not limited to it.
- Leading on from the above two points, there are several more poignantly relevant societal issues that the book addresses, but it shows it through Amal’s family relationships, her strengths, and her hilarious voice – so it always felt naturally included. Internalised racism, assimilation, family expectations, close-mindedness in relation to tradition and the misuse of Islam, modesty, and empathy – all of these were raised and woven brilliantly into the narrative.
- Amal’s friendships were lovely! Female friendships really come to the forefront in this book and each character is fleshed out. Leila’s storyline was heartbreaking but tackled so well and beautifully moving; I also loved the relationship between Amal and her next-door neighbour. The cultural diversity amongst the range of characters was almost bizarre to read, in the best way possible – I’ve never ever read a book which just feels like Australia the same way as this one does – it’s never tokenistic, but informed the identities of the characters in a beautiful way.
- The not-really-romance and issues within her relationship with Adam were addressed well. I’d never found him that compelling as a character but was cheering at how well Amal stuck to who she was, and to her beliefs.
- Seriously just. read. this.
Night Swimming by Steph Bowe
Steph Bowe is back. Night Swimming is a love story with a twist, and a whole lot of heart.
Imagine being the only two seventeen-year-olds in a small town. That’s life for Kirby Arrow—named after the most dissenting judge in Australia’s history—and her best friend Clancy Lee, would-be musical star.
Clancy wants nothing more than to leave town and head for the big smoke, but Kirby is worried: her family has a history of leaving. She hasn’t heard from her father since he left when she was a baby. Shouldn’t she stay to help her mother with the goat’s-milk soap-making business, look after her grandfather who suffers from dementia, be an apprentice carpenter to old Mr Pool? And how could she leave her pet goat, Stanley, her dog Maude, and her cat Marianne?
But two things happen that change everything for Kirby. She finds an article in the newspaper about her father, and Iris arrives in town. Iris is beautiful, wears crazy clothes, plays the mandolin, and seems perfect, really, thinks Kirby. Clancy has his heart set on winning over Iris. Trouble is Kirby is also falling in love with Iris…
Night Swimming by Steph Bowe releases on April 3rd! Here are some of my highlights from the book:
- The story centres on a same-sex romance, which was so great to read. The depiction of how Kirby felt towards and admired Iris from the start was so well-written and Iris was such a sweet and lovable character. The scenes they had together as they slowly got to know each other more were enjoyable and moving.
- There are also multicultural supporting characters (Iris is biracial, Kirby’s best friend Clancy is Chinese-Australian, another character, Nick, is Greek) and excellent mental illness rep.
- I loved Kirby and Clancy’s friendship, which was both positive and complex. The scene at the end when they finally confront each other and properly open up about their fears and worries was so satisfying to read.
- The family relationships in this book were really touching. The issues with Kirby’s father were addressed so thoughtfully and holistically, in a way that felt incredibly real. The characterisation of her grandfather Cyril, and the effect of his dementia on her and her mother, was also really strong – and it’s not something we see often in YA contemporary.
- Finally, the humour and characteristic quirky fun in Steph Bowe’s books were also fantastic here.
Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall
Kate and Harriet are best friends, growing up together on an isolated Australian cape in the 1880s. As daughters of the lighthouse keepers, the two girls share everything, until a fisherman, McPhail, arrives in their small community. When Kate witnesses the desire that flares between him and Harriet, she is torn by her feelings of envy and longing. But one moment in McPhail’s hut will change the course of their lives forever.
Inspired by a true story, Skylarking is a stunning debut novel about friendship, love and loss, one that questions what it is to remember and how tempting it can be to forget.
Skylarking was the first historical fiction book I’d read in a while, despite it being my favourite genre; and it was a great one to get me back into it. It’s more of a crossover book in terms of age group – I haven’t seen it marketed as YA, but it centres on young characters and their experience of growing up.
My highlights from the book:
- The writing was so incredible – I always admire writers who can describe what seems ordinary in an immersive, intriguing way
- Kate was a fantastic character – I love how spirited she was, and this was especially clear in her longing for adventure. Additionally, I loved the coming-of-age themes that the story emphasised.
- The SETTING. The isolated Australian cape of a lighthouse. So breathtaking to read about, and all throughout the book I could see, hear, and feel everything so clearly.
- The historical period was also used very well – the narrative was accessible but prompted me to reflect on issues specific to the period, and those which remain relevant to us now.
- At first I was hesitant about the climax (which is based off a real incident), and unsure about how well it worked with the build-up to it. But in the scenes that followed, I loved how strongly the emotions came across, and it prompted me to reflect on the story in a different way. Ultimately, it was very moving and thought-provoking
Have you read, or do you plan on reading, any of these books? What are your thoughts?
And a quick note to everyone: I’ve got a lot of assessments + general busy-ness coming up, so I won’t be on Twitter or blog-hopping much for the next 2-3 weeks. I’ll be sure to respond to any comments here though, and will definitely be back after that.