Mallee Boys

Mallee Boys
Written by Charlie Archbold
Contemporary, Coming Of Age, #LoveOzYA
205 Pages
Published September 2017
Thank you to Wakefield Press
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★★★★★
Sometimes I feel like I'm neither one thing nor another. I live in the Mallee but I don't like the desert. I live on a farm but I get hay fever and I'm scared of goats. I like school but my best mates don't.

Sandy Douglas knows that life at fifteen is hard, but it's even harder when your mother died a year ago and nothing's gone right since. Sandy's brother Red, on the other hand, is eighteen now and working the farm. He's amped up on rage and always looking for a fight. And then there's their dad Tom. He does his best, but really, he doesn't have a clue.

As Sandy and Red deal with girls, dirt biking, footy and friendship, both boys have to work out who they want to be, without their mum around. The Mallee, where they live, may seem like the middle of nowhere, but it turns out this is going to be one hell of a year.
As the dust blows through the arid Mellee district, fifteen year old Sandy Douglas contemplates life beyond the farm. Eighteen year old Josh labours alongside their father, a widowed man providing for his family through adversity.

Deliberating his education and applying for scholarships to boarding schools in Adelaide, Sandy is an academic, an intelligent and sensitive young man burdened by the loss of his mother, his humility and sensitivity is nurtured by his father. Tom Douglas is a wonderful character and although the narrative centralises Sandy and Josh, their father is a prominent and affirming parent. Their relationship although occasionally turbulent, is tender and compassionate. A wonderful illustration of a father encouraging his children to become emotionally expressive rather than the patriarchal dominance of masculinity.

Since her passing, Josh has become destructive and argumentative, preferring the company of Ryan despite his father's disapproval. Josh is a character of contrasts. Although he appears resilient, he carries the burden of believing his mother's accident is his responsibility, manifesting as destructive behaviour. We also experience the societal expectations placed upon young men, in particular emotional expectations. Josh is argumentative and irate, resenting Sandy's achievements. Underneath his stoic facade, Josh is a young man grieving for his mother alone.

The Australian agricultural community of The Mallee is atmospheric and Charlie Archbold is an exceptional debut author. A dedication to rural communities throughout our sunburnt country. 

In The Dark Spaces

In The Dark Spaces
Written by Cally Black
Science Fiction, Aliens, #LoveOzYA
320 Pages
Published August 1st 2017
Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont
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★★★★★
The latest winner of the Ampersand Prize is a genre smashing hostage drama about fourteen year old Tamara, who's faced with an impossible choice when she falls for her kidnappers. Yet this is no ordinary kidnapping.

Tamara has been living on a star freighter in deep space, and her kidnappers are terrifying Crowpeople, the only aliens humanity has ever encountered. No one has ever survived a Crowpeople attack, until now and Tamara must use everything she has just to stay alive. But survival always comes at a price, and there’s no handbook for this hostage crisis.

As Tamara comes to know the Crowpeople's way of life, and the threats they face from humanity's exploration into deep space, she realises she has an impossible choice to make. Should she stay as the only human among the Crows, knowing she'll never see her family again or inevitably betray her new community if she wants to escape?
Tamara Situ converses in hushed whispers, treading lightly across the confined compartment on board the Starweaver Layla. A merchant vessel transporting minerals for the Starweaver Corporation. Although orphaned, Tamara is cared for by Lazella on board the vessel illegally. Tamara is a wonderfully gentle and compassionate young woman, isolated through circumstances and communicates by whispering and facial expressions. Tamara and Tamiki are unauthorised passengers hiding within the shadows as the vessel is commandeered by the Garuwa. The citizen of the Starweaver Layla have been massacred and although Tamiki is concealed and remains on board, Tamara has been captured, presumed incapable and submissive.

The Garuwa are a convoluted species populating interstellar space on conscious vessels requiring minerals to survive, resident to thousands of warrior Garuwa prepared to defend their populace. Humans are a necessary carnage as the Starweaver Corporation vessels are commandeered and pillaged. Tamara is being held captive and begins to assimilate, emulating the intricate language of whistles and forging friendships within the female species.

Living in isolation, Tamara has never experienced a sense of community beyond observing those on board the Starweaver Layla through the ventilation system. Her relationship with Lazella is maternal and tender, providing Tamara with comfort after the loss of her parents. Tamiki is a perceptive young boy, gentle and understanding the importance of quiet whispers. Throughout her narration, Tamara's distress is palpable as Tamiki remains on board the desolate vessel. I admired Tamara's intelligence and determination to survive. Her compassion allows her to recognise that although the Garuwa appear hostile, the species embrace Tamara as a member of their community. A wonderful illustration of inclusion.

In The Dark Spaces obscures the boundaries of morality, humans and Garuwa have created a hostile environment and interspecies conflict. It also explores colonisation and the mining of resources, a reference to the aggressive infringement on Indigenous land. An ingenious, introspective and remarkable young adult debut. 

Ballad For A Mad Girl

Ballad For A Mad Girl
Written by Vikki Wakefield
Contemporary, Mystery, Paranormal, #LoveOzYA
309 Pages
Published May 2017
Purchased
Published by Text Publishing
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★★★★★
Everyone knows seventeen year old Grace Foley is a bit mad. She’s a prankster and a risk taker, and she’s not afraid of anything, except losing. As part of the long running feud between two local schools in Swanston, Grace accepts a challenge to walk the pipe.

That night she experiences something she can’t explain. The funny girl isn’t laughing anymore. She’s haunted by voices and visions, but nobody believes a girl who cries wolf.

As she’s drawn deeper into a twenty year old mystery surrounding missing girl Hannah Holt, the thin veil between this world and the next begins to slip. She can no longer tell what’s real or imagined, all she knows is the ghosts of Swanston, including that of her own mother, are restless. It seems one of them has granted her an extraordinary gift at a terrible price.

Everything about her is changing, her body, her thoughts, even her actions seem to belong to a stranger. Grace is losing herself, and her friends don’t understand. Is she moving closer to the truth? Or is she heading for madness?
Grace Foley is an adventurer, creating mischief and mayhem in the rural town of Swanston while continuing to endure the loss of her mother, the causality of a pedestrian accident. Swanston is acquainted with despair when Hannah Holt disappeared over twenty years ago, a presumed casualty of local teen William Dean who was then ostracised from the Swanston community, committing suicide and plunging from the quarry. Now Swanston adolescents are descending on the abandoned quarry including seventeen year old Grace. A night of frivolity is interrupted as Grace begins to hallucinate.

At home Grace is barely surviving, her father and brother Cody continue to mourn while Grace is increasingly isolated. Best friend Kenzie has become estranged and tiring of Grace and her antics, preferring the company of boyfriend Mitchell. While her friends have matured, frustratingly Grace believes they have abandoned her, except for her delightfully freeloading friend Gummer. Her terror is palpable as Grace begins to experience an apparition, believing Hannah Holt has materialised seeing Hannah's body has never been found. Authorities believe William Dean's unrequited love for Hannah lead to the young woman's demise, fascinating and incredibly disturbing.

Grace is an unreliable narrator compensating for her anguish with exhilaration. As children, Grace created bilateral friendships with other remnant children, those who were ostracised. On the verge of becoming adults, Grace displays an incredible amount of resentment especially towards best friend Kenzie, her relationship with Mitchell and popular friend Amber. Although Grace often appears conceited and obnoxious, Kenzie had already begun to distance herself from Grace's destructive behaviour. The circumstances of Hannah Holt and William Dean are sobering for Grace as she withstands an incredible character transformation.

Ballad For A Mad Girl may become a point of contention for readers, is Grace psychologically unwell or spiritual, a contemporary novel or paranormal. Determined by the disposition of the reader. Vikki Wakefield is a formidable author, the ambiguous narrative is intriguing and captivating. Absolutely phenomenal.
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