Rules For Vanishing

Rules for Vanishing
Written by Kate Alice Marshall
Mystery, Paranormal, Horror
400 Pages
Published October 1st 2019
Thank you to Walker Books Australia
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Once a year, a road appears in the forest. And at the end of it, the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons. Lucy’s game isn’t for the faint of heart. If you win, you escape with your life. But if you lose...

Sara’s sister disappeared one year ago and only Sara knows where she is. Becca went to find the ghost of Lucy Gallows and is trapped on her road. In the sleepy town of Briar Glen, Lucy’s road is nothing more than local lore. But Sara knows it’s real, and she’s going to find it. When Sara and her skeptical friends meet in the forest to search for Becca, the mysterious road unfurls before them. All they have to do is walk down it. But the path to Lucy is not of this world, and it has its own rules. Every mistake summons new horrors. Vengeful spirits and broken, angry creatures are waiting for them to slip, and no one is guaranteed safe passage. The only certainty is this: the road has a toll and it will be paid. Sara knows that if she steps onto the road, she might not come back. But Becca needs her. And Lucy is waiting.
Briar Glen is synonymous with the the name Lucy Gallows, a young woman that wandered into the forest and never returned. Her last known whereabouts was on a road to nowhere, being lead by an unknown male assailant. Throughout the years the fable may have interchanged but the instructions remain the same, find a partner, find a key, find the road.

On the eve of the anniversary of Lucy Gallow's disappearance, Sara Donoghue's adoptive sister Rebecca was lured into the fated fable, whispered conversations and a notebook left behind, evidence she planned to find fifteen year old Lucy. Sara has maintained hope that Sara is still alive, the police labelling the adolescent as a difficult young woman who disappeared with Zachary Kent, a young man she barely knew.

Although Rebecca was adopted as an infant, Sara Donoghue and sister Rebecca shared an everlasting friendship. Rebecca was the center of their universe, a group of friends who dissolved shortly after her disappearance, Sara has endured depression and isolation. Her journey to find her sister is harrowing, captivating and a breathtaking paranormal thriller that will captivate the imagination of readers until the final page.

Find a partner. Find a key. Find the road.

Atmospheric and haunting, Rules for Vanishing is told from the perspective of Sara Donoghue through a series of interviews, transcripts, eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence while Sara recollects her journey upon the once believed to be mythological road. The legend of Lucy Gallows has been idolised by the teens of Briar Glen since her disappearance, speculation that her brother killed her and left her to ruin on the forest floor the logical conclusion. What happened to Lucy has always been a mystery but those who believe in Lucy's story can hear the young woman calling for help, including Becca, according to her sister Sara. Sara refuses to accept that she ran away with her new boyfriend when Becca and Sara's best friend were clearly attracted to one another, only Anthony didn't believe in the local legend which left Becca to find someone who was willing to follow her onto the road.

Although Sara's self isolated after Becca's disappearance, her former group of mutual friends have come along for the ride. Disbelieving in the supernatural, I don't think anyone expected to have stumbled upon the road, now finding themselves in a strange and eerie purgatory between worlds, where darkness is no friend of the weary traveller and you must follow the rules to survive. Take a partner, hold their hand and under no circumstances should you leave the road. What ensues is a creepy as hell storyline that left me jumping at shadows and reading long into the night. Despite my better judgement and skyrocketing anxiety.

The travellers are a motley crew of characters, all varying degrees of unreliable so as a reader it's difficult to establish what's real and what has been created by the trauma of the situation or outright untruths. Regardless, it makes for a fascinating narrative that blends a contemporary storyline with urban legend, infused with paranormal elements and everything in between. Reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project and Small Spaces by Australian author Sarah Epstein.

My favourite element of Rules for Vanishing was the ability to surprise readers. By now we've all read enough paranormal to fill a warehouse, this is one book that needs to be celebrated for being unique and creating the mystery and intrigue to captivate even the toughest of readers, not to mention creep us the hell out.

You know what, just read it. The element of surprise is all in the discovery of the urban legend and those who seek answers. Just a word of warning to leave the light on, Lucy seems to dwell in the dark.

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill
Written by Emma Smith - Barton
Contemporary, Mental Health, Diverse
320 Pages
Thank you to Penguin Teen Australia
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★★★★★
How can I hold myself together, when everything around me is falling apart?

Neena's always been a good girl, great grades, parent approved friends and absolutely no boyfriends. But ever since her brother Akash left her, she's been slowly falling apart and uncovering a new version of herself who is altogether more dangerous.

As her wild behaviour spirals more and more out of control, Neena's grip on her sanity begins to weaken too. And when her parents announce not one but two life changing bombshells, including that they want her to have an arranged marriage, she finally reaches breaking point. But as Neena is about to discover, when your life falls apart, only love can piece you back together.
Be happy. That was the last words Akash Gill told his sister Neena before disappearing that night, asking her to sneak out to a party with him. It's been seven months since he left, seven months since Neena's mother has left the house, seven months since their lives were irrevocably changed. Neena has always been a model student and loyal friend, navigating the world with Akash at her side. Since he disappeared, Neena's life is no longer her own. She sneaks out to meet his former girlfriend Fiona, hoping to find information on why he left, drinking to numb the pain and follow Akash's path, living life according to where the winds blow. Not how their parents dictate.

Neena Gill is an interesting character, her grief is palpable as we discover the impact Akash's disappearance had on the quiet and reserved young woman. Neena increasingly isolated herself from her best friend Raheela and although as a result of her unimaginable longing, Neena meets Josh at a party through Fiona, her brother's former girlfriend and the two instantly hit it off. Neena is quite the unreliable narrator, shaking off her so called good girl status in the pursuit of information. At first. She becomes a fixture in Akash's social scene, soon realising there was more to her brother than the artist, the covert party boy, a son, a boyfriend and the spark that set the world ablaze.

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill explores the turbulent and often confronting themes of grief, alcoholism, mental illness and substance abuse, issues that were beautifully written with incredible care and consideration. It also portrays the expectations placed upon the offspring of immigrant parents and I really enjoyed the interactions between Neena and her Pakistani born parents once they found common ground.

Although the reader is introduced to Akash through brief snippets and Neena's memories of their childhood, his character is larger than life. The storyline slowly navigates around his character as the central focus and how the disappearance of a loved one leaves a gaping hole in the lives of friends and loved ones. It also explores the many facets of grief, denial, isolation, destructive behaviour, self sabotage, depression and anxiety. Neena's mother developed agoraphobia and was unable to leave the house, the couple's friends coming over each night to banquets Neena's mother would spend the day preparing, Neena's father spending long hours at work to avoid the confrontation of home while seeking solace in his local church to pray for his wayward daughter.

The romance plays a very small role throughout the narrative, which I appreciated tremendously. Neena's life is complex enough and although her relationship with Josh brought her joy, it was a bandaid for a much larger issue. Josh's character was lovely, gentle with Neena and genuinely cares for her. Her brother's former girlfriend Fiona appears to be unlikeable and not only enabled Neena's behaviour but manipulated Neena and used her to her advantage. Neena often perceived her world and the interactions with others entirely different to how they were portrayed, Fi is still questionably sketchy as she's strongly disliked by Neena's parents and her former best friend Raheela but also struggled with life without Akash.

One of my favourite aspects of The Million Pieces of Neena Gill was the writing. It was beautiful and well considered. A story of hope, healing and learning to live in the moment. A deeply moving, poignant and quietly stunning prose from an brilliant debut author in Emma Smith - Barton.

The Darkest Bloom

The Darkest Bloom
Shadowscent Book One
Written by P. M. Freestone
Fantasy, #LoveOZYA
448 Pages
Thank you to Scholastic Australia
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★★★★★
Across the Aramtesh Empire, scent is everything. Prayers only reach heaven on sacred incense, and perfumes are prized status symbols. Seventeen year old Rakel has an uncanny ability with fragrances, but her skills aren't enough to buy her dying father more time.

Ash bears the tattoos of an imperial bodyguard. When his prince, Nisai, insists on a diplomatic mission to an outer province, Ash is duty bound to join the caravan. It's a nightmare protecting Nisai on the road. But it's even harder for Ash to conceal a secret that could see him exiled or executed.

Rakel and Ash have nothing in common until smoke draws them to a field of the Empire's rarest flower. Nisai's been poisoned, flames devour the priceless blooms, and the pair have suspect clinging to them like a bad stench. Their futures depend on them working together to decipher clues, defy dangers and defeat their own demons in a race to source an antidote before the imperial army hunts them down.
Rakel Ana is an aspiring perfumer, currently selling her fragrances and scents on the black market to afford her fathers medication as the Affliction slowly claims his life. Since her mother passed away shortly after childbirth, Rakel and her father have struggled to make ends meet, moving out to the pastoral landscape outside of the city for a simpler life, growing up alongside childhood friend Barden who now is in the employ of the palace. Her father, once a decorated soldier for the Aphorain Province, survive on his meagre pension and barely scraping by. As his body is claimed by rotting flesh, Rakel has no other option but to use her skills as a Scent Maker and apply to become an apprentice perfumer of the capital, a position typically reserved for the children of the wealthy and prestigious families of the Aramtesh Empire.

Punished for insolence, Rakel is forced to serve under the prestigious Scent Keeper Sephine, a woman she blames for the death of her mother when she chose not to save her life. While Rakel worries about her ailing father, the palace becomes embroiled in a deadly scandal, the grounds have been set ablaze, Crown Prince Nisai has been poisoned and the only person who can cure the prince may have been the cause of his demise. When Rakel is found in the gardens with the Crown Prince's personal guard and an unconscious Crown Prince Nisai, she becomes a scapegoat. Together with personal guard Ash, Rakel is on the run to find a cure for the Prince and clear her name before it's too late.

The Darkest Bloom was a delightful surprise! Told in dual points of view from the perspective of Rakel and Ash, both with a vested interested in saving the life of the First Prince and heir to the Aramtesh Empire, Prince Nisai. I love narratives where strangers are thrown together for a common goal and although Rakel and Ash appear to be akin to chalk and cheese, they have more in common than first thought.

After a chance meeting on the streets of the capital, Ash was rescued by the First Prince who insisted on bringing the then young orphan to the palace in what was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Ash begun training as a Shield, a personal guard to Nisai while becoming his closest companion. Perhaps even a case of unrequited love as Ash hints at his bisexuality later in the narrative. Ash and Nisai share a secret that slowly unravels as Ash shares his story. Their secret only strengthens their bond as Nisai will do anything to protect his friend, Ash returning the sentiment in kind. Their bond was beautiful and although Nisai spends the majority of the narrative unconscious, we see how affectionate the two young men are through Ash's memories and point of view.

After Rakel is aided by a mysterious rescuer and upon fleeing the dungeons, Ash quickly tracks her down and with only a riddle from the Scent Keeper to go by, the two decide to venture to find a cure to wake the unconscious prince before time runs out. Along their journey, they must gather five ingredients from the vast corners of the empire, avoiding capture by the Rangers, captained by Nisai's half brother who is seeking justice for the poisoning of his sibling.

It was beautiful and so incredibly atmospheric. Using scent to guide readers throughout the narrative of adventure and a slow burning romance, reminiscent of the earlier Throne of Glass novels. Where The Darkest Bloom differentiates is that the narrative has a distinct feeling of sensuality. The romance is secondary to the storyline but I loved the intense attraction as Rakel and Ash learn more about one another. It ends n a cliffhanger that teases readers of what's to come in book two, I'm excited and can't wait! Captivating and beautifully written, enthralling and enchanting until the final page. 

Daughter of Lies and Ruin

See my review for A Curse of Ash and Embers here
Daughter of Lies and Ruin
The Witches of Blackbone Book Two
Written by Jo Spurrier
Paranormal, Witches, #LoveOZYA
352 Pages
Published September 24th 2019
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★★★★
If they didn't want to get turned into beasts and used to fuel a ritual, they shouldn't have attacked a witch. That's all there is to it.

There's something strange brewing in this tinder dry forest, a girl with a sword and a secret, a troupe of vicious bandits vanished without a trace, beasts that don't belong and a witch with a macabre plan.

Elodie hasn't been learning witchcraft for long, but she knows enough to be worried, and the fact that her mentor Aleida wants to pack up and leave in short order isn't helping to settle her nerves.

Elodie just hopes to get everyone out of this mess unharmed, but it's looking more unlikely with every passing hour. And when the strange witch's ire falls on her, Aleida's wrath sparks a fire that threatens to scorch the earth itself.
Elodie Blackbone is an apprentice sorceress, bygone is the young woman denied an education and labouring on her family farm, now disciplined in the artistry of witchcraft under the guidance of Aleida Blackbone. The two new companions have departed the Black Oak Cottage in Lilsfield and travelling the dusty, lonely roads when ambushed by a band of roadside bandits ransacking the wares and treasures of stagecoaches and travelling merchants.

Elodie is no longer the naive young woman summoned to the Black Oak Cottage and although she's wisened to the world of sorcery and alchemy, the young apprentice is continuously experimenting with her newfound abilities under Aleida's guidance. Elodie has the ability to inhabit the body of wildlife and birds, often soaring high about the landscape and observing their journey from the skies. Unlike Aleida, Elodie also has the ability to walk between worlds, opening a fissure and guided by an ethereal sprite.

Aleida slayed Gyssha Blackbone and the protege has now become the mentor, albeit cursed by her predecessor. Weakened by the fissure opening to the otherworld, Aleida and Elodie depart the cottage, along the journey they meet the stoic and resolute Kara, being held at the local abbey since her father disappeared. Armed with her sword, Kara has enlisted the aid of local bandits to escape and is searching for her father, an outlaw masquerading as a mercenary while throughout the arduous, backbreaking landscape, an otherworldly disturbance is gathering. Men have become monsters, manipulated by a mage taking shelter in the desolate mountains.

Kara is an interesting character, surly and unapologetically ambitious. Kara has been unwillingly taken into the care of the abbey, devising her escape to find her father as the arrival of Aleida and Elodie provides the opportunity to disappear under the cover of darkness. Although her father is an outlaw, Kara remembers her father for his kindness, a gentle father and loyal friend and after Elodie's insistence, Aleida reluctantly agrees to assist the young brusque woman. The conflict and intensity within Elodie and Aleida's tentative friendship emanates from Kara and their conflicting opinions. Elodie's humble beginnings have resurfaced as a humanitarian crusade, playing the role of saviour especially where Kara is concerned. She constantly undermines Aleida, questioning her judgement and expertise. It's frustrating but an important learning moment for Elodie, it also brought out a compassionate and gentleness from Aleida who masks her emotions.

The subtle attraction between Elodie and Kara is enchanting, although it seems to impair Elodie's judgement and her ability to make rational decisions. Given her interest in Kian in A Curse of Ash and Embers, Elodie may identify as being bisexual. Friendship and sisterhood are the central focus of the Witches of Blackbone series, independent women in an environment where women are chaperoned by men, often dominated by men and their significance determined by men. Capable women with the ability to slain grown men, those who share a quiet resilience, who encourage and endure. The sisterhood who are reclaiming their sovereignty.

Simply magical. 

Monuments

Monuments
Monument Duology Book One
Written by Will Kostakis
Fantasy, Adventure, LGBT, #loveozya
288 Pages
Published August 27th 2019
Thanks to Hachette Australia
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★★★★★
When Connor Giannopoulos discovers a Monument under his high school, he doesn't have any idea how much his life is going to change forever. It turns out that immortality and strength beyond his wildest dreams is a bit more responsibility than he bargained for.

All 16 year old Connor is trying to do is avoid his ex best friend when he stumbles upon a trapdoor to a secret chamber under his school. But when Sally Rodgers breaks into the same secret chamber looking for an ancient being, things take an unexpected turn. And Connor's life will never be the same again.

Along with the mysterious Sally and, later on, his new friend Locky, Connor discovers the Monuments, gods who have been buried for generations, who created the world and hid themselves away from humanity to keep everyone safe. But now they're exposed and vulnerable, and Connor isn't sure who, himself included, can be trusted with the knowledge and the power these gods have.
Connor Giannopoulos is boring according to his former best friend but when Connor skips class for the first time at his prestigious private school, he never expected to stumble upon a secret chamber at Charlton Grammar and if videogames have taught him anything, this is about to become the most excellent of quests and adventure is afoot. Connor just didn't count on random girl Sally Rodgers stumbling into his life, trespassing on school grounds and looking for her own adventure.

Hidden underground in four of Sydney's most prestigious and pretentious schools are the Monuments, Godly beings that resemble crumbling garden statues that have been in slumber for years and hidden underground to escape the Hounds.  Humans who have inherited the ability to sniff out the godly garden statues. New partner in crime Sally has an ulterior motive, awakening the Gods who believe they are facing a grave and terrible danger from a local Hound who just happens to be a confused pizza delivery boy who thinks the ethereal giants smell like eggs.

The Gods are beginning to raise suspicion and there aren't enough wigs in the world to allow Connor to look convincing as a teenage girl, but when he stumbles across the handsome and also very gay Locky, he begins to realise that his life will never be boring again.

Monuments is an adventurous, brilliantly entertaining and laugh out loud storyline of mischief and mythology, written by one of Australia's finest young adult authors. Connor isn't boring, he's just a stickler for rules but he's feeling pretty lonely of late after his best friend blew him off because he didn't go to a party, a party he wasn't even invited to. He'd rather stay home and watch trashy reality television with his mum. Up on the school roof while wagging class, Connor comes across an underground crypt, a bizarre girl and a far fetched prophecy, it'll be a massive up yours to the friend who didn't want him. Good riddance to the asshole.

I loved the dynamic between Connor and Sally, he's sceptical of her at first but reluctantly believes her expired library card that she is who she says she is and seeing he has nothing better to do, tags along. He's even considering interviewing her for the recently vacated best friend position she's adamant she doesn't actually want.

The awoken Monuments are a little like naive tourists, they're also not entirely sure what's happening but follow Connor and Sally around the suburbs of Sydney as they try to find the other Monuments. They're a packaged deal, you have to collect them all in the great migration known as the Movement. Although they're Gods, they're not indestructible and practically crumble to dust at the first signs of trouble brewing. Before they pass on, they choose an heir to inherit their powers. What ensues is a lighthearted and hilarious adventure throughout the suburbs of Sydney.

Upon meeting Locky when Connor and Sally sneak into a debutante ball in stolen wedding attire, the unconventional meet cute romance is super cute and super gay, in fact Connor blurting out how gay he is. Both Connor and Locky are lovable characters and their romance is endearing, you can tell it's an Australian novel by the characters being accepting of a giant garden statue God and going with the flow. It's very much a case of no worries mate, she'll be right and I loved each and every moment.

Gay, Greek and Indigenous Australian representation with themes of family, friendship and finding your way. It's perfection. I love a Will Kostakis novel, whether he's ripping your heart out or inviting you into his big Greek family, his writing is superb and one of Australia's finest authors. If you love a good dose of humour, boys kissing and a Rick Riordan style adventure, then have at it kids. It's absolutely brilliant!

This Is How We Change The Ending

This is How We Change the Ending
Written by Vikki Wakefield
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, #loveozya
320 Pages
Published September 3rd 2019
Thanks to Text Publishing
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★★★★★
I have questions I’ve never asked. Worries I’ve never shared. Thoughts that circle and collide and die screaming because they never make it outside my head. Stuff like that, if you let it go, it's a survival risk.

Sixteen year old Nate McKee is doing his best to be invisible. He’s worried about a lot of things. How his dad treats Nance and his twin half brothers, the hydro crop in his bedroom, his reckless friend, Merrick.

Nate hangs out at the local youth centre and fills his notebooks with things he can’t say. But when some of his pages are stolen, and his words are graffitied at the centre, Nate realises he has allies.

He might be able to make a difference, change his life, and claim his future. Or can he?
For sixteen year old Nathaniel McKee, survival is learning to not to draw attention to yourself, to keep your head down and avoid confrontation. Living in their ramshackle government housing apartment is suffocating, Nate is reminded each day of the mother that abandoned him for her substance addiction, leaving him with his alcoholic, abusive father who uses toxic masculinity as a shield. Now with his new partner eight years his junior, Nance struggles to care for their two young boys Jake and Otis. Otis has developmental difficulties but has responding to cues from Nate of late, angering their father even further.

Nate McKee is a pacifist, sympathetic to the environment and sustainability. Avoiding confrontation with his father, Nate escapes to Youth Works, the local youth centre where the quietude and solace allow him to gather his thoughts in a series of notebooks, composing poems and anecdotes of the things he is too afraid to say aloud. Rowley Park is a low socioeconomic suburb where only the resilient survive and for adolescents like Nate and best friend Merrick, Youth Works provides a haven for those without a safe environment at home.

This is How We Change the Ending represents our low socioeconomic communities around Australia, public schooling, government housing and often areas with above average crime rates as residents are unemployed and unable to support their families financially. Our elected governments consider them as statistics, they're often our neighbours, our friends or our own families and Nate McKee is a vulnerable young man susceptible to becoming a stereotype.

Youth Works is a government funded local initiative for the youth of Rowley Park, providing security and a sense of belonging for those feeling misunderstood, displaced or lonely. The youth counsellors are supportive and encourage adolescents to become independent and motivated, including Nate and Merrick, friends and neighbours since childhood. Merrick is spontaneous, charismatic and a steadfast friend, although underappreciated. Nate is also challenged by English teacher Mister Reid, to think laterally and creatively. He instills a sense of confidence and ambition in his students. Mister Reid and counsellor Macy are important influences for Nate and through their interactions, he's determined to become more than a statistic.

This is How We Change the Ending is harrowing, traumatic and incredibly optimistic. Vikki Wakefield captures the voice of Australia's toughest and most vulnerable families throughout our working class and low socioeconomic suburbs. Authentic, compassionate and a remarkable narrative cementing Vikki Wakefield as an exceptional Australian young adult author. Sublime reading.

The Liars

contains alcoholism, death, abuse and drug abuse
The Liars
Written by Jennifer Mathieu
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Family
336 Pages
Published 10th September 2019
Thanks to Hachette Australia
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★★★★
How can one family have so many secrets?

It's the summer of 1986. Joaquin and Elena, two teenage siblings live in a toxic environment with their alcoholic mother on an island off the Texas Gulf Coast.

Elena falls for a new boy who has just arrived from California. Joaquin must wrestle with his decision to stay on Mariposa Island to protect his sister or flee from his mother's abuse.

As both teenagers struggle to figure out who they are and want to be, they are caught in a web of family dysfunction and secrets from their mother's past.

Can fierce love save them, or will their truth tear them apart?
During the nineteen eighties, Mariposa Island is a summer playground for the wealthy and frivolous, for siblings Joaquin and Elena Finney, it's home. Under the vigilant and suspicious scrutiny of their mother, Joaquin is allowed to socialise with friends without a curfew, Elena is only given permission to leave the house accompanied by Joaquin and to work minding children for a wealthy family on the island that visits during summer each year. Her Mami warning Elena of menacing boys who will leave her in ruins. Elena is expected to tend to their small, ramshackle home while her alcoholic mother seethes about her own life, the breakdown of her marriage and her life as a pampered debutante in Havana during the rise of the Communist Party and Fidel Castro.

Caridad de la Guardia was the only child of attentive parents, wealthy socialites of Havana, cherished by her parents, treasured by her housemaid and revered by her island community. As a young woman, Caridad was removed from her home and sent to the United States under the guise of an education during the Cuban Revolution. Fostered by an American family, Caridad despised being abandoned by her parents and learning to communicate in English. Her only means of escapism was to fall in love with an American boy and create a life similar to her opulent lifestyle in Havana. Now living on the Island, Caridad seeks companionship in alcohol and reminding her children of their own father's abandonment.

Mariposa Island thrives on secrets and untruths, of tangled lives and manipulation. Told from the perspectives of Caridad as a child living in Havana and siblings Elena and Joaquin, presently residents of the island, the narrative explores family and tangled lives of deception.

Now a parent with two children on the pinnacle of adulthood, Caridad's nonlinear narrative fluctuates between carefree child and the hostile, vitriolic woman she's become. An alcoholic and an abuser. Her children are a reminder of the life she believes she was cruelly denied, her parents sending her to the United States to escape the Cuban Revolution and unbeknown to Caridad, saving her life. She's hostile towards her foster parents, an American family who care for Caridad despite her growing resentment.

Joaquin and Elena have never known their father, only the distant memory of the man their mother continuously reiterates that abandoned his young family. Elena is a sheltered young woman, suffocating under the judgemental scrutiny of her mother and a peacekeeper, simmering arguments between Joaquin and their mother while yearning for her mother's approval. Joaquin is independent and often challenges their mother, confronting her about her alcoholism and the animosity she holds for her children. Although siblings, Elena and Joaquin live parallel lives. Joaquin is employed in a local family restaurant and Elena is a casual nanny for the Callahan family each summer and her only means of escape from her mother's tyranny. Joaquin is the preferable Finney sibling and although he despises his mother, he's fond of Elena and encourages her to defend herself.

Elena begins sneaking out during her mother's drunken unconsciousness to see her boyfriend, a nineteen year old staying in town for the summer. Manipulated and exploited by an older, experienced man, Elena has become reckless and abandons her best friend. When Elena's and Caridad's lies begin to unravel, it becomes apparent that Joaquin's survival depends on escaping the island. No longer able to live with the lies and deception. He's suffocating.

I was captivated by the intensity of the narrative and their tangled deception. Elena was an unreliable narrator, her untruths had become her reality and I was swept along by her dishonesty. I believed her. Caridad's alcoholism to escape her reality is distressing, disregarding her own children while reminiscing about her life in Havana and regretting the life she's been saddled with. Lies layered upon untruths and manipulation, it was a toxic and vicious cycle that was destroying Elena's, Caridad's and Joaquin's lives.

Jennifer Mathieu is a remarkable storyteller, I was captivated by the Finney family and their entwined deception and betrayal. To put it bluntly, they're fucked, they'll fuck you up and you'll enjoy every fucking moment. 

Scars Like Wings

Contains potentially triggering mentions of the loss of a parent, fire, death and suicide
Scars Like Wings
Written by Erin Stewart
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Disability
384 Pages
Published October 1st 2019
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia
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★★★★
Everyone has scars. Some are just easier to see.

Sixteen year old Ava Gardener is heading back to school one year after a house fire left her severely disfigured. She’s used to the names, the stares, the discomfort, but there’s one name she hates most of all. Survivor. What do you call someone who didn’t mean to survive? Who sometimes wishes she hadn't?

When she meets a fellow survivor named Piper at therapy, Ava begins to feel like she’s not facing the nightmare alone. Piper helps Ava reclaim the pieces of Ava Before the Fire, a normal girl who kissed boys and sang on stage. But Piper is fighting her own battle for survival and when Ava almost loses her best friend, she must decide if the new normal she’s chasing has more to do with the girl in the glass, or the people by her side.
Ava Gardener is the sole survivor of a house fire that took the lives of her parents and cousin Sara. Ava lives with the scars that serve as a reminder of her sorrow, for the lives lost that fateful day and the life that she's been so cruelly denied. Once an outgoing and popular girl, Ava has become a recluse, completing her education through correspondence and reluctantly attending group counselling appointments for adolescents who have survived tragedy and trauma.

Enduring invasive reconstructive surgery and grafts, Ava is restricted to compression bandages to ensure her skin remains taut during the heeling process, her aunt and uncle working tirelessly to afford Ava's ongoing medical expenses. Cared for by her aunt and uncle, Sara's parents who are mourning the loss of their only child, Ava understands the financial burden she's become. Championing her recovery, Cora is enthusiastic when Ava's counsellor suggests Ava return to school, no longer challenged by her online studies and needing to gain a sense of normalcy so to appease Cora, Ava agrees to a two week trial.

Ava Gardener is a wonderful young woman who has endured devastating tragedy, losing her parents and cousin in traumatic circumstances and although heavily scarred, Ava survived. The intensity of the fire burnt over sixty percent of Ava's skin and although she's endured multiple grafting procedures, Ava's facial scarring has become a barrier in regaining her independence. Through counselling Ava befriends Piper, the two young women both survivors. Piper was involved in a car accident and now physically disabled as a result, never allowing herself to become a victim or survivor but rather a girl who is thriving. Neither Ava or Piper serve as an inspiration to others, they simply want to experience adolescence.

Ava and Piper are characters of contrast, Ava wants to remain as inconspicuous as possible, Piper is self deprecating and uses humour to make antagonisers and detractors feel uncomfortable. Ava is a kindred spirit filling the void of loneliness for Piper, Piper encourages Ava to broaden her horizons and although both Piper and Ava continue to navigate their tentative friendship, Ava's confidence begins to blossom.

Scars Like Wings is a gentle and healing narrative, to not merely survive but to endure, to exist and to live again. Diverse young adult literature is almost exclusively sexually diverse, multicultural, multigender or hearing and vision impaired and Scars Like Wings is an incredibly important narrative. Physical scarring can often be debilitating, not only effecting confidence but the discomfort and pain associated with skin trauma. Ava's experience in finding her sense of normalcy is a personal journey, she experiences isolation, undiagnosed depression, acute pain and her movements restricted due to her compression bandages. Her recovery is ongoing, with Cora massaging ointment into her skin nightly. Psychologically, Ava also experiences vivid reminders of her loss which some readers may find confronting.

Erin Stewart has authored a tender, captivating narrative and an unflinching account of the scars we carry. Some not always visible. A beautifully compassionate debut novel and essential reading. 
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