A Semi Definitive List Of Worst Nightmares

Contains sensitivities such as mental illness, addiction and suicide

A Semi Definitive List Of Worst Nightmares
Written by Krystal Sutherland
Contemporary, Mental Illness, Romance
272 Pages
Published August 28th 2017
Thank you to Penguin Random House Australia
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Ever since Esther Solar's grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther's father is agoraphobic and hasn't left the basement in six years, her twin brother can t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.

The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them.

Esther doesn't know what her great fear is yet, nor does she want to, a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, and crowds are all off limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi definitive list of worst nightmares.

Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll up she'd been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them. In an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn't counted on. Love.
Esther Solar is predestined to be cursed. Her brother is afraid of what dwells within the shadows, her father confined to the basement by anxiety while her mother squanders their meagre possessions to finance her addiction. Grandfather Reginald Solar was a young man during the Vietnam war when he encountered Jack Horowitz, a young soldier recruited to become the reaper and now their lives will subsequently succumb to their fears.

Esther is an eccentric, luminous young woman and an entrepreneur, selling baked delicacies to the teaching and student faculty to finance her escape from the small, podunk town. It's inevitable that Esther too will be consumed by fear. Until Jonah. Jonah Smallwood is a charlatan, an opportunistic young man who has retracted to the nondescript town where he now lives with his alcoholic father and sister. After discovering Esther's list of Worst Nightmares, Jonah challenges Esther to confront her anxiety.

I really enjoyed the adventure of Esther's challenges and the encouragement Jonah provided within their tentative friendship and the acceptance of Esther's family. The familial relationships were interesting. Esther often referred to her mother as an enchanting presence in their lives but now neglects her children, frequently selling their meagre possessions to finance her addiction. Her father is a former veterinarian and now agoraphobic, living within the basement of the family home where his wife and children no longer visit. Esther has a wonderful relationship with brother Eugene, a lovely young man incapacitated by the darkness and monsters who dwell within the shadows. Consumed by her own journey, Esther often neglected Eugene's distress. Although Esther is anxious, I admired her bravery but sensed she distanced herself from her family's predicaments, often appearing to be ignorant.  

I enjoyed the overall narrative but found issues with the portrayal of suicide and dialect chosen for characters. In particular, Esther.
Ugh. Sink the scalpel a little deeper next time, oh wise and annoying one.

Although it was remarked as banter, it's incredibly insensitive and may perturb readers who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. It changed my perception of Esther and her familial relationships. I was concerned that Esther herself was unable to acknowledge she was unwell, her perception of the addiction and mental illness of her family members manifesting as a curse rather than their distress and disorder.

The diverse character representation was wonderful. Jonah is black, friend Hephzibah is a selective mute of Israeli heritage, her father is a stroke survivor and her grandfather has been diagnosed with dementia. Characters also experiencing addiction and family violence. Although a #LoveOzYA read, the narration takes place within a nondescript American town. 

A Semi Definitive List Of Worst Nightmares is an entertaining and charismatic read but not without nuisance. 

Beautiful Mess

Beautiful Mess
Written by Claire Christian
Contemporary, Mental Illness, #LoveOzYA
304 Pages
Published August 28th 2017
Thank you to Text Publishing
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Since Ava lost Kelly, things haven’t been going so well. Even before she gets thrown out of school for shouting at the principal, there’s the simmering rage and all the weird destructive choices. The only thing going right for Ava is her job at Magic Kebab.

Which is where she meets Gideon. Skinny, shy, anxious Gideon. A mad poet and collector of vinyl records with an aversion to social media. He lives in his head. She lives in her grief. The only people who can help them move on with their lives are each other.
Ava is barely surviving in the depths of despair after her friend takes her own life. As the moments pass Ava is inconsolable, engaging in abusive and destructive behaviour, now expelled while involved in a non committal sexual relationship with Lincoln. Seeking solace in one another. Ava is an incredible character, her despair is palpable as she navigates life after Kelly, a vivacious young woman who was diagnosed with depression and committed suicide.

Gideon is a quiet, young poet with anxiety, baring the pain of self harm. With the assistance of his councillor and medication, Gideon performs Slam poetry by sharing his experience with small audiences. Throughout the quiet, solitary moments, Gideon meticulously considers scenarios, moments of reflection while retreating to the sanctuary of his bedroom until bravery ignites.

Beautiful Mess is a wonderful reflection of complexities of adolescence. Palpable, poignant and captivating, the narration of two adolescents finding moments of solace in one another. Six months prior, Ava lost her childhood friend Kelly to depression, leaving behind a family in despair. Ava feels unsupported by her peers and teaching facility, offered counselling without compassion and understanding. Ava's father is a single parent and a wonderful support, compassionate and maternal while Ava momentarily finds comfort in a physical, although considerably toxic relationship with Lincoln. Ava's narrative also examines mental health through her own undiagnosed depression after losing Kelly and enrolling in The Alternative Program, who offer counselling and education for teens unsupported by the traditional education system.

Gideon is an extraordinary young man who upon the advice of his therapist, composes slam poetry as a instrument to express his experiences with illness. Gideon is often socially incapacitated and with the encouragement of his family, engages in acts of bravery to defy his social anxiety. A wonderfully peculiar young man, Gideon is disengaged with the online world and preferring to communicate through the artistry of writing letters in which he and Ava communicate. The concept was charming and allowed both Gideon and Ava to share their experiences while easing Gideon's transition into the tentative friendship.
Kintsukuroi they call it. They take broken pieces of porcelain and they repair the cracks with gold. Making it as it was, but new again. They believe that the cracks can make something more beautiful, more valuable.
A wonderful inclusion of diversity. The late Kelly is bisexual and Maori, Ava is of Greek heritage, Gideon's parents are in a female, same sex relationship and the discussion of depression, suicide and anxiety was magnificent and wonderfully represented. I appreciated the reiterating of the importance of prescription medication and counselling. Too often young adult literature promotes the mental well being of adolescents as an illness to be remedied by a love interest and I applauded the discussion of mental illness as a chronic condition that fluctuates upon a wellness spectrum, Gideon a quintessential example.

Claire Christian is a captivating, compassionate and remarkable debut author composing a narrative that will linger long after the final page. Exquisite Australian young adult literature.

Tower Of Dawn: A Bogan Book Review

Heads up mate, contains spoilers for other books in the series

Tower of Dawn
Throne of Glass Book Six
Written by Sarah J Maas
Fantasy, Romance
672 Pages
Published September 5th 2017
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since the glass castle shattered, since his men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken. His only shot at recovery lies with the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme in Antica, the stronghold of the southern continent's mighty empire. And with war looming over Dorian and Aelin back home, their survival might lie with Chaol and Nesryn convincing its rulers to ally with them.

But what they discover in Antica will change them both, and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined.
Chaol and random guard Nesryn rock up to Antica to ask the weird assortment of the asshole royal family to join their epic punch on, trying to win them over with trunks of tacky bling like a pair of cashed up bogans. They've got Buckley's as they're all flat out whinging who's going to be the next King. Chaol wants to see the magical Sheila they keep in a tower, hoping to get mates rates to fix his getaway sticks. Yrene is a Healer who couldn't give a shit about the new King's wingman but since she can't wait to piss off and go home, thinks fuck it and goes to work on the cranky prick. Fear not Shelia's, he's still up for a root as we're reminded until the cows come home.

Say g'day to Yrene. This little corker is still wet behind the ears but she's tough as old boots, living in a tower with other magical sheila's. Yrene thinks Chaol is a dead set mongrel by making a quid for the old King of Adarlan. While the kingdom was in all sorts, Chaol and Nesryn racked off and leaving Dorian and Chaol's former misses Aelin while Chaol pulls a sickie, legging it to find a few dipsticks to join their epic blue. No piece of piss mate.

While Nesryn pissed off to visit her family, he was flat out whinging to pay her any attention anyway and in walks Prince Sartaq. He's hot as and who can blame a sheila for having a perve. At least Yrene wasn't standing for his bullshit. Chaol's living in the royal castle like a bludger, with his own servant ready for happy endings. Fucked up royal wankers assuming he's rooting Nesryn but let's give him a half naked sheila to pull him off anyway. Thank fuck for Yrene. She cottoned on that he's not the prick she thought he was and wants to help him but Chaol thinks he'll be apples with his legs working again. Nice try son. Chaol was flogged with the King's magical lightning and is now feeling guilty for leaving his mates Dorian and Aelin and needs to stop telling furphies. He's not in good nick and needs to have a chin wag to someone.

Let me earbash you about Nesryn. This sheila is a glorified security guard for that Adarlan shithole and as exciting as watching paint dry. She's legging it because she's had a gut full of Chaol's whining and joins a royal gang of people who ride big birds. I shit you not. They'll all be cactus soon. That Duke Perrington prick is land grabbing and sending his army of demonic halfwits to mess shit up like Bogans at an Aldi sale. I was stoked the dack dropping was kept to a minimum. I don't care if characters are going at it but there's a time and place for it. Don't just whip out your old fellow.

It was a dog's breakfast in the beginning but went like the clappers once they all got their shit together. Chaol was hard done by in Empire of Storms but stoked he's got his own yarn to spin. I'm fanging for Yrene to meet Manon. Either they'll shack up or it'll be game on. Give it a burl, the second half goes off like a frog in a sock.

Gap Year In Ghost Town

Gap Year In Ghost Town
Written by Michael Prior
Fantasy, Paranormal, #LoveOzYA
336 Pages
Published August 2017
Thank you to Allen & Unwin Australia
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Let's get this straight, ghosts are everywhere. I can see them. You can't. And, see them or not, they're dangerous. This is why my family has hunted ghosts for hundreds of years to protect people like you.
The Marin family are outcasts of the ghost hunting world. They run a two man operation in inner city Melbourne. Anton has the Ghost sight, but his father does not.

Rani Cross is supremely skilled in hand to hand combat, with enhanced speed and strength thanks to her magical initiation into the Company of the Righteous.

When it comes to ghost hunting methodology, Anton and Rani don't see eye to eye, Anton likes to ease their passage to the next world, while Rani's all about the slashing. But Melbourne is under threat, with a massive spike in violent ghost manifestations, Anton and Rani must find a way to work together to keep supernatural forces at bay.

And what with all the blindingly terrifying brushes with death, Anton must decide if he really wants in on the whole ghost hunting biz anyway.
Throughout the quiet, darkened streets of Melbourne, eighteen year old Anton Marin searches for ghosts, delicately releasing their spirits from Earth by easing their passage. Anton is a delightfully charming young man who is reluctantly pursuing paranormal investigation to appease his father. The Marin spectre legacy now falls upon Anton, the Sight ability escaping his father who documents each encounter, maintaining the Marin archives from a hidden retreat in the family owned bookstore.

Rani Cross is a graduating member of the Company of The Righteous, a prosperous organisation abundant in tradition, emigrating from London with her foster parents, Company of The Righteous employees. The Company of The Righteous believes in the disposing of spirits through violent methods, disciplined soldiers instructed in weaponed combat and Rani is conflicted by Anton's gentle approach.

Gap Year In Ghost Town is magnificent. Melbourne provides an affluent Victorian landscape of ghostly apparitions, Weepers, Moaners, Lingerers and ghosts who manifest as Ragers. Anton and Rani begin to investigate the increase in spectre apparitions when they discover a slain body and a grieving widow summoning Rogue spirits.

Readers will appreciate Anton and Rani's tentative and platonic friendship, Anton and friend Rebecca and in addendum, Rebecca and Rani. Facile and charming. Anton's relationship with his father was lovely, a wonderful presence who challenged Anton. Anton's father is a fascinating character who continues to mourn his the death of his youngest child, his marriage and his sister's disappearance. 

From the city to the suburbs of Melbourne was enchanting and atmospheric. As Anton accompanied Rani throughout the city and her suburbs, I was fascinated by the history of Melbourne folklore. Readers will appreciate the diverse Australian characters and Rani, who although from Britain is of Assamese, Chinese and Malaysian heritage.

Theatrical and charismatic, Gap Year In Ghost Town is wonderfully written with humour and finesse. Simply brilliant. 

Song Of The Current

Song Of The Current
Song Of The Current Book One
Written by Sarah Tolcser
Fantasy, Adventure, Romance
384 Pages
Published July 1st 2017
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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Caroline Oresteia has always been destined for the river. Her father is a wherryman, as was her grandmother. All Caro needs is for the river god to whisper her name, and her fate is sealed. But at seventeen, Caro may be too late.

So when pirates burn ships and her father is arrested, Caro volunteers to transport a dangerous cargo in exchange for his release. Secretly, Caro hopes that by piloting her own wherry, the river god will finally speak her name.

But when the cargo becomes more than Caro expected, she finds herself caught in a web of politics and lies. With much more than her father’s life at stake, Caro must choose between the future she knows, and the one she never could have imagined.

This immersive fantasy debut set along the waterways of a magical world will entrance fans of Sabaa Tahir and Victoria Aveyard. Sarah Tolcser weaves an epic story of danger and destiny with enchanting world building and captivating characters.
The River God speaks in the language of small things, whispers throughout the everglades to protect those who navigate her waters, favoured by the river and her guidance. Seventeen year old Caroline Oresteia is a privateer on board the Cormorant, her father a humbled Wherryman, now incarcerated. His livelihood threatened by unlawful, concealed merchandise. In order to exonerate her father, Caroline must navigate the treacherous Black Dog territory, evading apprehension.

Caroline Oresteia is a fascinating and tenacious young woman, biracial and an impassioned privateer upon the hallowed Cormorant. Upon returning to Hespera's Watch, marauders have pillaged and ravaged the Wherry harbour and the Kynthessa authorities have apprehended her father. Capable and resolute, Caroline agrees to deliver the consignment on her first adventure commanding the Cormorant with Fee, a Frogman and adept privateer.

Shenanigans are afoot my friends.

I enjoyed the reluctant companionship between Caroline and Tarquin, the courier for the Akhaian Consul. Tarquin is a genteel aristocrat contrast to Caroline who appears to be prudent although sincere. An important aspect of the conversation discusses consent, Caroline adamant consent should be obtained, echoed throughout the narration. A wonderful precedent for teen readers.

Atmospheric and lyrically captivating, Sarah Tolcser has created a wonderfully ambient world.
When the reeds along the banks whisper that a squall is rushing across the marshland, we listen. When the tide flows up from the sea, flooding the river with muddy brown water, we know enough to watch.

The god in the river speaks to us in the language of small things.
The decisive and enterprising women of Song Of The Current are celebrated. Captain Brixton, a gay privateer and commander challenging gender equality. Fee, Caroline's second in command, perceptive and ardent. Caroline's mother, a ruthless merchant and cousin Kenté who is a tremendous support to Caroline, moralistic and principled. Prosperous and flourishing women celebrated for their achievements.

Spectacularly lyrical, Song of The Current is a celebration of women, their strength and fortitude. Debut author Sarah Tolcser is remarkable. Avast ye swashbucklers and hornswagglers! Song Of The Current is an enchantin' and beautifully lyrical narration o' wonder.

#LoveOzYA Author Talks: Cath, Simmone and Fiona

#LoveOzYA authors Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood have released an empowering, influential collaboration Take Three Girls, a fictional insight into toxic online environments, fighting the patriarchy and girls supporting one another. Remarkable ladies of Australian young adult fiction. Thanks for joining me ladies, with thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia.

Take Three Girls
Published by Pan Macmillan Australia
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Check out my review Here
Kate, a quiet boarder, making some risky choices to pursue the experimental music she loves.

Clem, shrugging off her old swim team persona, exploring her first sexual relationship, and trying to keep her annoying twin, Iris, at arm’s length.

Ady, grappling with a chaotic family, and wondering who her real friends are, she’s not the confident Alister she appears to be.

When St Hilda’s establishes a Year 10 Wellness Program in response to the era of cyberbullying, the three girls are thrown together and an unlikely friendship is sparked. One thing they have in common, each is targeted by PSST, a site devoted to gossip and slander that must have a source within St Hilda’s. Who can you trust when rumour is the new truth?
The Wellness initiative was a wonderful concept and an initiative that should be incorporated into the school curriculum. Can I ask what the inspiration behind the program was and how it could be expanded upon as a community outreach program for teens?

Cath Crowley

I think, and I’m not a hundred percent sure I’m remembering properly, that it came about after discussions about how a school might tackle a problem like this one. Also, we love the idea that these ‘worksheets’ could be used in a classroom situation, to encourage talk about some of the issues raised in the book. I love the idea that teens might feel empowered by the book (if not the Wellness sheets) to start feminist groups, to talk about online culture, and to feel as if they’re not alone.

Simmone Howell

For the last year I’ve been doing some writing work around young people’s mental health issues as well as running creative writing and journaling workshops. I’m interested in how YA fiction can have therapeutic benefits for young people, and this was a fun way into exploring that.

Fiona Wood

The Wellness program was also a way in which we could represent the fact of schools and parents knowing that something needs to be done, but not quite sure what that might be. In this case there is some resistance to the Wellness program, but the girls all end up benefiting from the way it makes them rethink things such as friendship and identity. We would love to see the Wellness sheets being used as a prompt for school classroom discussions. Many schools do formally engage with the idea of student wellbeing, and the more of that, the better.

The three protagonists were all wonderfully unique individuals, their narratives blended seamlessly. Did you see yourself within the adolescent characters and draw from your own experiences?

Cath Crowley

I definitely see a little of myself in Kate. I grew up in the country. I was a bit of a dreamer. (Although I didn’t play the cello, I did write.) I was certainly quiet.

Simmone Howell

Yes, I was a pretty messy, avaricious, angry teenager - I didn’t always know where I fit in. I don’t have a twin, but I do have siblings and I always wished to be sent away to boarding school (alas it never happened).

Fiona Wood

Like Ady, I had a parent with addiction problems which had huge repercussions on my self-confidence and the face I thought I needed to show in public. I also poured quite a bit of creativity into messing around with clothes.

Another aspect I found relevant to teens and adults, was the toxic nature of online communities. The Private School Secrets Tracker website was incredibly confronting and was reminiscent of the online trolling outspoken women on Twitter are subjected to consistently. Is that something you were mindful of during the writing process and did you visit online communities as research?

Cath Crowley

We wanted the references to online material to be confronting – because women (young and old) are subjected to these kinds of comments all the time. I did some research. I hadn’t realised just how ugly the online world can be. So I did dip in to write my comments.

Simmone Howell

Yes. I read comments. In a way it wasn’t hard to write that stuff, It was like thinking in worst-case mode. You don’t have to go very far to find hate-speak online. I also watched great stuff: videos and TED talks, women like Clementine Ford and Anita Sarkeesian, (like the girls in the school’s Feminist Collective.)

Fiona Wood

This sort of commentary is, unfortunately, like surround sound, online. We were also influenced by a deluge of media reporting of abuses of girls and young women at schools, universities, colleges and in the workplace.

The strong female friendships were a tremendous support beyond the Wellness classes and I really enjoyed how their friendship also encouraged one another and promoted confidence and self esteem. How do you feel these friendships influenced the girls and their fight against the toxicity of their peers?

Simmone Howell

I think because the characters were able to be honest with each other, they could then channel that ‘good fight’ energy - they had each other’s backs.

Fiona Wood

Yes, we definitely wanted to show that the three characters gained strength from each other, and, as Simmone says, the key to that is that they are able to be honest.

I appreciated that although the narration takes place within the boarding school, the families of the girls are still very much an important part of their lives. Why do you feel it's important to include parents and grandparents within young adult novels?

Simmone Howell

I personally feel that whatever the story is will dictate whether or not there is parent / grandparent presence. If they are relevant to the character, if we, the reader needs to know about them, then we can, but I don’t think it’s a prerequisite.

Fiona Wood

I like to include family details – for Ady, it’s mainly her sister, Clare – because it adds further complexity to the character. For me, the decision about whether or not to create other family characters is purely about how those characters will support the main character and the story.

The essence of Take Three Girls is about empowerment of females pushing back against the patriarchy of a male dominated society. If you could revist your teen self, what important knowledge would you like to pass on?

Cath Crowley

I’d tell my teenage self that she has something important to say. I’d tell her she has just as much right to be heard as everyone else.

Simmone Howell

I’d tell her that everything she does has a knock-on effect, that she doesn’t HAVE to do what everyone else is doing, and I’d give her a big hug and tell her she’s ok as is.

Fiona Wood

Don’t be so fearful - stick your neck out.

Meet the authors

Cath Crowley
Connect with Cath via
Her website
Fiona Wood
Connect with Fiona via
Her website
Simmone Howell
Connect with Simmone via
Her Website

Thanks to Cath, Fiona, Simmone and the wonderful Pan Macmillan

The Bone Sparrow

The Bone Sparrow
Written by Zana Fraillon
Middle Grade, Australia, Realistic Fiction
234 Pages
Published June 28th 2016
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention centre after his mother fled the violence of a distant homeland, life behind the fences is all he has ever known. But as he grows, his imagination gets bigger too, until it is bursting at the limits of his world. The night sea brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories.

The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie, a scruffy, impatient girl who appears from the other side of the wires, and brings a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it, she relies on Subhi to unravel her own family's love songs and tragedies.

Subhi and Jimmie might both find a way to freedom, as their tales unfold. But not until each of them has been braver than ever before.
Eight year old Subhi survives behind within the wire compound of the detention centre, overcrowded bodies neglected under the parched Australian sun. Subhi is one child of thousands of men, women and children escaping their homeland and applying for asylum in Australia. Born within the compound, his family surviving the harrowing journey from Burma where his father is under political incarceration. Persecuted and malnourished, families are placed within the compound and abandoned by the Australian government, segregated from their family members while abused and tormented by confinement.

Subhi is a remarkable young man, Intelligent and compassionate. The narrative is incredibly confronting, the lack of empathy towards those who seek asylum, the impoverished conditions and atrocious deficiency of humanity. Subhi imagines a freedom for his ailing mother and sister Queeny, a resilient young woman who has become Subhi's guardian. 

Nine year old Jimmie lives within the remote community, occupied by exploring since her mother passed away. While her father is a single parent living below the poverty threshold, all that remains of Jimmie's late mother is her treasured book of stories and her Bone Sparrow necklace. An insufficient education and inadequate parenting, Jimmie is illiterate and continues to grieve for her mother's stories.

Although Subhi is a fictional character, he represents the thousands of children and families denied refuge and placed within detention centres and incarcerated, his narrative instigating important conversations about human rights and the Australian refugee legislation. The conditions within the refugee compound are appalling. Inadequate basic necessities, dehumanised and often brutalised by government employed wardens. Their meagre possessions confiscated upon arrival. Mental and physical health deteriorate as families are segregated. Their voices left unheard.
Jimmie looks at me and nods. 'I know,' she says. 'I hear you.'
The Bone Sparrow is a conscientious and impassioned narrative of the abhorrent treatment and conditions asylum seekers face in Australia. Captivating and confronting.

How you can make a difference

Author Zana Fraillon is raising funds for #authorsforasylum on behalf of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre supporting the #letthemstay campaign. Bid or donate now. Follow the ASRC or Zana Fraillon for more information. Online auction ends at 11:00pm AEST on September 7th 2017.
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