Five Stella Middle Grade Ladies

The Stella Prize invites you to join the Stella Sparks campaign and show your support for writing by Australian women! To get involved, share your favourite book by an Australian woman that you read in the past year and use the hashtag #StellaSpark. For more information please visit their website.


Today I'm featuring five remarkable middle reads by female Australian authors.

How To Bee by Bren MacDibble

How To Bee
Written by Bren MacDibble
Published by Allen & Unwin
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★★★★★
My Review
Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. In a world where real bees are extinct, the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand. All Peony really wants is to be a bee. Life on the farm is a scrabble, but there is enough to eat and a place to sleep, and there is love. Then Peony's mother arrives to take her away from everything she has ever known, and all Peony's grit and quick thinking might not be enough to keep her safe.

How To Bee is a beautiful and fierce novel for younger readers, and the voice of Peony will stay with you long after you read the last page.
How To Bee introduces middle grade readers to the environmental impact human development, pesticides, disease and climate change have affected populations. The narrative may also be perceived as a gentle reminder of Australia's colonisation. Enchanting and atmospheric, achingly beautiful. Captivating until the final page.

The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale

The Other Side of Summer
Written by Emily Gale
Published by Random House Australia
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★★★★★
My Review
Summer is trying to recover from a tragedy, but it seems impossible when her family is falling apart around her. Having an extraordinary best friend like Mal helps a little, but Summer's secret source of happiness is a link to the past, one very special guitar.

Now her dad's plan to save them is turning Summer's life upside down again. The next thing she knows, they've moved to the other side of the world.

In Australia, Summer makes an unlikely friend, who seems to be magically connected to her guitar. Is this for real? Has a mysterious boy been sent to help Summer? Or could it be the other way around?

This sweet and spellbinding story about family, friends and believing in yourself will warm your heart.
Magical realism is quite often explored within middle grade and coming of age stories, but none more so beautiful than The Other Side of Summer. Enchanting and wonderfully written, The Other Side of Summer was simply beautiful. A charming coming of age story that bridges the gap between middle grade and young adult and a poignant and hopeful story for the young and young at heart. I loved it immensely.

The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman

The Secrets We Keep
Written by Nova Weetman
Published by UPQ
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★★★★☆
My Review
I don't know if you've ever seen a house burn, but it's not like anything else...

Clem Timmins has lost everything, her clothes, her possessions, her house and her mum. Now living in a tiny flat with her dad, Clem has to start a new school and make new friends. On her first day, Clem tells Ellie that her mum died in a house fire and immediately regrets it when Ellie latches on and confides that her own mother is dying of cancer.

When Clem receives a letter she doesn't want to read, it becomes clear she can't run from her past forever, especially when the truth appears right in front of her face.
The essence of The Secrets We Keep is rebuilding, understanding and compassion, Clem able to find forgiveness through the kindness that was extended to her. It was absolutely lovely. Nova Weetman has a remarkable style of narration, creating characters that are irrevocably flawed yet will captivate and delight readers.

The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

The Trials of Morrigan Crow
Written by Jessica Townsend
Published by Hachette Australia
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★★★★★
My Review
Morrigan Crow is cursed. Born on an unlucky day, she is blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks, and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on Eventide.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It's there that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city's most prestigious organisation, the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart. Except for Morrigan, who doesn't seem to have any special talent at all.

To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests. or she'll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.
The Trials of Morrigan Crow is a fantastical, wondrous and whimsical adventure. Eleven year old Morrigan Crow is an unfortunate child and the origin of mayhem who will come to pass on the eve of Eventide. Morrigan is a wonderful young lady, intelligent and whimsical although resignated to accept responsibility for Jackalfax's outrageous predicaments. On the even of Eventide, Jupiter North offers Morrigan salvation, accompany him to Nevermoor to compete in the Wundrous Society tournament

Whimsical and atmospheric, the epitome of fantastical and imaginative fairytales. Delightfully written and a breathtaking debut from author a Jessica Townsend.

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

The Bone Sparrow
Written by Zana Fraillon
Published by Hachette Australia
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★★★★★
My Review
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.
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.

The Bone Sparrow is a conscientious and impassioned narrative of the abhorrent treatment and conditions asylum seekers face in Australia. Captivating and confronting.

More Information

The Stella Prize is a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing, and an organisation that champions cultural change. The Stella Prize is a non for profit organisation run entirely off donations. To donate please visit their website here.

Five Stella Young Adult Ladies of 2017

The Stella Prize invites you to join the Stella Sparks campaign and show your support for writing by Australian women! To get involved, share your favourite book by an Australian woman that you read in the past year and use the hashtag #StellaSpark. For more information please visit their website.

I'm an advocate for Australian female authors, women who bring our stories ​to the world. Women and authors identifying as women who write about small towns, our cities, our relationships, injustices and our beautiful sunburnt country. Today I'm featuring five remarkable young adult reads of twenty seventeen by female Australian authors who lend us their words and welcome us home.


The Build Up Season by Megan Jacobson

The Build Up Season
Written by Megan Jacobson
Published by Penguin Teen Australia
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★★★★★
My Review
He’s back.

The monster.

It’s the middle of the night and I’m awake, because even though I’m seventeen I still haven’t outgrown the childhood monster that haunts you in the dark. I haven’t outgrown it, because when I was a child, the monster was real.

He was my father.

But the thing is, the monster was the person I was closest to in the whole world, closer than I’ve been to anyone since.

That will tell you everything you need to know about me.

And still, I wouldn’t hesitate to kill the monster.

That will tell you even more about me.

Seventeen year old Iliad Piper is named after war and angry at the world. Growing up with a violent father and abused mother, she doesn’t know how to do relationships, family or friends. A love hate friendship with Max turns into a prank war, and she nearly destroys her first true friendship with misfit Mia. Iliad takes off her armour for nobody, until she meets Jared, someone who's as complicated as she is.
The essence of The Build Up Season is new beginnings and learning to forgive, reiterating the importance of holding perpetrators of violence accountable. The narrative although confrontational, are incredibly important for adolescents. If you haven't experienced family violence, it's likely you unknowingly know someone who has. The Build Up Season is an important discussion as a community in support of those family violence has touched.

Ballad For A Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield

Ballad For A Mad Girl
Written by Vikki Wakefield
Published by Text Publishing
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★★★★★
My Review
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?
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.

Because of You by Pip Harry

Because Of You
Written by Pip Harry
Published by UQP
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★★★★★
My Review
Meet Tiny and Nola. Two very different girls with two very different stories who are just trying to find a place to belong. A powerful and compelling novel about friendship, love and acceptance.

Tiny is an eighteen year old girl living on the streets in Sydney, running from her small town past. She finds short term accommodation at Hope Lane, a shelter for the homeless where she meets Nola, a high school student on volunteer placement.

Both girls share their love of words through the Hope Lane writing group. Can they share their secrets, too?
Throughout the narrative, Pip Harry illustrates the callous installation of defence architecture, metal spikes used as a deterrent to erase homelessness from public exposure. While our governments allocate funding to frivolous enterprises, councils prohibit homeless communities sleeping within the city centre, denying those seeking safety in public places. Pip Harry is remarkable. Because Of You is the immaculate and captivating narrative of the Hope Lane community, a homeless initiative that encourages our most vulnerable community members to communicate through creativity. Inspirational and influential.

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada

This Mortal Coil
Written by Emily Suvada
Published by Penguin Teen Australia
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★★★★★
My Review
When a lone soldier, Cole, arrives with news of Lachlan Agatta's death, all hope seems lost for Catarina. Her father was the world's leading geneticist, and humanity's best hope of beating a devastating virus.

Then, hidden beneath Cole's genehacked enhancements she finds a message of hope.

Lachlan created a vaccine.
Only she can find and decrypt it, if she can unravel the clues he left for her. The closer she gets, the more she finds herself at risk from Cartaxus, a shadowy organization with a stranglehold on the world's genetic tech. But it's too late to turn back.

There are three billion lives at stake, two people who can save them, and one final secret that Cat must unlock. A secret that will change everything.
The essence of This Mortal Coil is genetic manipulation and biotechnology, developed by Lachlan Agatta and administered to infants as nanotechnology. It allows programmers to create applications that download directly into the body, collaborating with our human genetics. This Mortal Coil is an intelligent, captivating and atmospheric science fiction dystopian. Absolutely phenomenal.

Beautiful Mess by Claire Christian

Beautiful Mess
Written by Claire Christian
Published by Text Publishing
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★★★★★
My Review
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.
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.

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. 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.

More Information

The Stella Prize is a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing, and an organisation that champions cultural change. The Stella Prize is a non for profit organisation run entirely off donations. To donate please visit their website here.

Rain Fall

Rain Fall
Written by Ella West
Contemporary, Mystery, Romance, #LoveNZYA
218 Pages
Published January 2nd 2018
Thank you to Allen and Unwin Australia
Recommended Retail $16.99
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★★★☆
I'm not running late like I usually am. Maybe that's why I look in the river, maybe that's why I stop when I see it. A dark coloured raincoat, the arms spread wide, floating, hood first down the river.

And then it starts to rain.

Fifteen year old Annie needs to get to her basketball match, but the police have cordoned off her road. Is her neighbour, who she grew up with, still alive? What has he done to have the police after him?

A murder investigation brings new people to Annie's wild West Coast town, including a dark-haired boy riding the most amazing horse she has ever seen. But Annie is wary of strangers, especially as her world is beginning to crumble around her. In setting out to discover the truth Annie uncovers secrets that could rip the small community apart.
In the rural pastures New Zealand, the rain continues to dampen the town. Up on the sodden hill, fifteen year old Annie lives with her parents, her mother a teacher and her father employed by the local coal manufacturing industry, transporting carriages of goal along the New Zealand coastline. The atmospheric radiance of the rural New Zealand is enchanting, the soft pastoral landscape a contrast to the dry, arid southern Australian environment and a wonderful aspect of Rain Fall.

Annie is a demure young woman, she appreciates the isolation of the small town community, content to wander the flourishing landscape upon her chestnut gelding. Jack Robertson is a professional rodeo competitor temporarily relocating with his father, a metropolitan detective investigating a homicide. Upon meeting, Annie and Jack covertly rendezvous at the beach each day and although Annie believes Jack is in a relationship, is romantically involved with the seventeen year old. Their companionship will appeal to early adolescent and mature, middle grade readers but unfortunately, the homicidal mystery surrounding Annie's neighbour is unnecessary and to the detriment of character development.

The town of Westport relies upon the coal industry to create employment and with the introduction of clean, renewable energy, retrenchment seems inevitable for the hundreds of families across the region. Including Annie's father. Environmental impact is an issue rarely broached in young adult literature but an incredibly important narrative. Although personally I believe governments should invest in clean, renewable energy sources, I understand the devastating socioeconomic ramifications on families employed by the industry.

Small town chronicles in themselves are wonderful narratives. The characters, the atmosphere and adolescents discovering their environment. Unfortunately the narrative to Rain Fall although enjoyable, is overambitious. Never underestimate the quiet, small town story.

The Belles

The Belles
The Belles Book One
Written by Dhonielle Clayton
Fantasy, Dystopian, Diverse
Expected Publication February 13th 2018
Thank you to Hachette Australia and Netgalley
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★★★★★
Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born grey, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favourite, the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognised as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie, that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide, save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles, or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.
Sixteen year old Camellia Beauregard is a Belle, a young woman disciplined in the artistry of beautification. On debut, Camellia and the Belles of Maison Rouge De La Beauté will perform for the cosmopolites of Orléans in the Beauté Carnaval, the Favourite chosen as the Royal Belle while her fellow sisters, blessed by the Goddess of Beauty, will be appointed to Tea Houses around the Kingdom.

In Orléans, citizens are are depleted of colour, their monochrome appearance dependant on each generation of Belles to beautify the wealthy and privileged citizens by bringing forth the Acana. Camellia is a grandiose young woman, her beauty and Belle stature are celebrated throughout the kingdom. From a tender age, Camellia has been cautioned to the significance of her responsibility, become the favourite. Competing for the converted position are her five fellow Belles, Edelweiss, Padma, Valeria, Hana and Camellia's childhood companion Ambrosia. 

While Camellia with her mischievous temperament enjoyed the spoils of her gilded cage at Maison Rouge De La Beauté, Ambrosia demanded perfection. Ambrosia is a character of contrasts, a tender girl with a gentle disposition but beneath the surface is insidiously competitive. I admired the carefree, nonchalant boldness of Edelweiss, unafraid and unconcerned about the Belle position. As the narrative progresses, Edelweiss' insolence towards authority takes on a greater importance. Fiercely loyal and rebellious, I cherished her character.

The Belles must adhere to stringent guidelines. Only those with wealth and privilege are worthy of embellishment and in no circumstances should a Belle associate with men beyond a professional compacity or engage in consensual relationships. Charismatic Auguste Fabry is the son of the Minister of the Seas and although aware of the forbidden nature to engage with Auguste, Camellia is captivated by his confidence and insistence. The kingdom of Orléans is flushed with colour and glamour, the splendour the royal family of Orléans is eclipsed by the despair for their eldest daughter. Heir to the throne Princess Charlotte, who remains unconscious while the abhorrent Princess Sophia presides over extravagant parties. Sophia is a vindictive young woman, consumed by jealousy and hostility.

Beneath the imaginative extravagance is a narrative that explores cultural and racial identity, confidence, esteem and perception, challenging the confines of affluence and privilege. The Belles is exquisitely lyrical and atmospherically enchanting. Impeccable reading.

The Secrets We Keep

The Secrets We Keep
The Secrets We Keep Book One
Written by Nova Weetman
Contemporary, Early Teen, Mental Health, #LoveOzYA
Published March 2016
Thank you to UPQ
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★★★★☆
I don't know if you've ever seen a house burn, but it's not like anything else...

Clem Timmins has lost everything, her clothes, her possessions, her house and her mum. Now living in a tiny flat with her dad, Clem has to start a new school and make new friends. On her first day, Clem tells Ellie that her mum died in a house fire and immediately regrets it when Ellie latches on and confides that her own mother is dying of cancer. When Clem receives a letter she doesn't want to read, it becomes clear she can't run from her past forever, especially when the truth appears right in front of her face.
The devastating inferno consumed their home, the charred remains a reminder of what eleven year old Clem Timmonds has lost. Her home, her possessions and irreplaceably, her mother. Now living in a small one bedroom flat, Clem's father sleeps on the couch and provides for his daughter with the meagre, second hand possessions donated and bought. While her horticulturist father plans to return to work, Clem can no longer attend her former school with her best friend Bridge and enrols at her new school, anxious at the thought of making new friends when popular Ellie is asked to show Clem her new surrounds.

Clem is adamant she won't talk about her mum but finds herself sharing her story with Ellie, about the fire and her mum who is no longer around. Ellie understands, her mother has cancer and the two new friends connect through their shared grief.

Clem is a wonderful young lady, intelligent and aware, a beautifully gentle girl who is summoning her bravery after the devastation of losing her home. The parental relationship with her father is loving and gentle, he only wants to provide for his daughter and ensure she is happy and safe, going without to make the transition easier. Although he becomes frustrated with Clem's refusal to listen, he's patient and understanding of the emotional toll this has placed on his only child.

I enjoyed Clem's friendship with her new neighbour Maggie, a lovingly quirky woman who also understands feelings of isolation and that tea and cake can also open the lines of communication. Maggie also provides Clem with a sense of responsibility by asking Clem to tend to her fish while she's away. Maggie's flat becomes a safe haven for Clem, who is encouraged to use the space as a means to escape for quiet reflection.

Starting a new school during the school year is often a nervous time for most children, Clem is fearful of not being able to make friends and longs for her best friend Bridge and the warmth of her Chinese Australian family. Clem meets Ellie and friend Tam. While Tam doesn't hide her disdain, Ellie and Clem become friends through their shared grief and love of track athletics. Ellie is a lovely character enduring tragic circumstances. Her mother has cancer and she gravitated towards Clem needing a sense of camaraderie and understanding but inadvertently, leaves Tam behind.

The essence of The Secrets We Keep is rebuilding, understanding and compassion, Clem able to find forgiveness through the kindness that was extended to her. It was absolutely lovely. Nova Weetman has a remarkable style of narration, creating characters that are irrevocably flawed yet will captivate and delight readers.

The Build Up Season

The Build Up Season
Written by Megan Jacobson
Contemporary, Social Issues, Realistic Fiction, #LoveOzYA
272 Pages
Published July 31st 2017
Thank you to Penguin Teen Australia
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★★★★★
He’s back.

The monster.

It’s the middle of the night and I’m awake, because even though I’m seventeen I still haven’t outgrown the childhood monster that haunts you in the dark. I haven’t outgrown it, because when I was a child, the monster was real.

He was my father.

But the thing is, the monster was the person I was closest to in the whole world, closer than I’ve been to anyone since.

That will tell you everything you need to know about me.

And still, I wouldn’t hesitate to kill the monster.

That will tell you even more about me.

Seventeen year old Iliad Piper is named after war and angry at the world. Growing up with a violent father and abused mother, she doesn’t know how to do relationships, family or friends. A love hate friendship with Max turns into a prank war, and she nearly destroys her first true friendship with misfit Mia. Iliad takes off her armour for nobody, until she meets Jared, someone who's as complicated as she is.
Spousal and family violence is predominant throughout our communities. Aggressors are habitually husbands and fathers, wives and children persecuted by noxious, patriarchal male dominance exasperated by alcohol or substance abuse.

The Build Up Season narrative accompanies seventeen year old Iliad Piper on her journey, a tormented and indignant young woman. Although Iliad was educated at boarding school after her mother and father separated, she now lives in Darwin with her surly grandmother and mother, a new age healer specialising in spiritual wellness. Iliad's narrative is one that resonates profoundly, confrontational and resembling my own childhood experiences.

Iliad is a family violence survivor. Family violence and abuse is a confronting narrative, Iliad is a young woman who harbours animosity towards her mother for raising her in a violent environment, her mother a woman who endured years of physical and emotional spousal abuse. Her husband is possessive, manipulating Iliad to degrade her mother with contempt. 

Iliad's fear is palpable, the unease of her father pursuing them to Darwin where her mother is a small business owner specialising in spiritual health. The trepidation of leaving everything behind to begin a new life is daunting and while Iliad and her mother were fortunate to have the financial assistance of Iliad's grandmother, funding Iliad's private school education, many women escaping violence are placed in shared housing for family violence survivors, a haven for women and children who otherwise were not afforded the same assistance. 

Jared is a character of contrasts. He appears to be a charismatic young man but underneath he's manipulative and noxious. He's easily angered, jealous and possessive of Iliad. It was reminiscent of the relationship between her parents and although often Iliad felt nervous of Jared's behaviour similar  to many victims of violence, believed she was responsible for Jared's actions. 

Throughout the narration, Iliad has a long running rivalry with Max. I adored Max. He's an intelligent and aspirational Indigenous young man of Bininj and Anmatyerre heritage from the Northern Territory. Max faces his own adversity and as the two call a truce, develop a wonderfully caring friendship. Iliad's friendship with Max was a positive experience, his family welcomed Iliad into their home with Max a testament to his loving and close knit family.

The essence of The Build Up Season is new beginnings and learning to forgive, reiterating the importance of holding perpetrators of violence accountable. The narrative although confrontational, are incredibly important for adolescents. If you haven't experienced family violence, it's likely you  unknowingly know someone who has. The Build Up Season is the book I wish I'd had as a teen, an important discussion as a community in support of those family violence has touched.

For more information on help available to victims of domestic and family violence

1800 Respect is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Social Services to provide support for people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, sexual assault, domestic or family violence, their friends and family, workers and professionals supporting someone experiencing, or at risk of experiencing sexual assault, domestic or family violence. This is a confidential service available twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

Lifeline Australia is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to twenty four hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.

Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free, private and confidential twenty four hours, seven days a week phone and online counselling service for young people aged five to twenty five.

The Hounded

The Hounded
Written by Simon Butters
Contemporary, Mental Health, #LoveOzYA
288 Pages
Published June 2016
Thank you to Wakefield Press
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★★★☆
On his fifteenth birthday, Monty is at rock bottom. Ignored by his parents, bullied at school, and with a brain that’s prone to going walkabout, he’s all by himself.

Until he meets the black dog for the first time.

It’s just like any other dog, except that only Monty can see it. And it talks. And Monty’s not sure whether it’s a friend, or a foe.

The black dog gets him talking to pretty, popular Eliza Robertson for the first time. It takes him to places he’s never been.

Eventually it will take Monty, and the people around him, to the very edge.
Fifteen year old Montgomery Ferguson is inconspicuous, isolated and estranged from his peers. His father is a quiet, pragmatic man, his mother is preoccupied with a theoretical intruder, unresponsive and negligent. Monty is malnourished, his emancipated, skeletal body disciplined to survive without nutrients, his dishevelled appearance obscuring basic hygiene. His only friend an online German young man using a translator to communicate and a black canine apparition.

The Black Dog is a solemn metaphor representing mental health, depression and suicide. Throughout the narration, the Black Dog manifests as a presence only apparent to Monty, communicating with one another as the Black Dog attempts to manipulate his fragility. Eliza is a callous young woman and although revered by her peers, is isolated through the weight of expectation. Although characters of contrast, Eliza and Monty begin to seek comfort in one another, an understanding and fictitious companionship. Monty is enchanted by Eliza and it soon becomes apparent that he is dependant on the cruel and indifferent young woman as the Black Dog encourages Monty to pursue her.

Monty is an intelligent and fascinating character, although quite unlikable. The relationship with his parents is constrained and the Black Dog metaphor excuses his cruel behaviour towards his mother who is mentally unwell. Monty is malnourished with an undiagnosed eating disorder, restricting his intake as a mechanism of control. Experiencing a dissociative disorder, Monty often disconnects with his environment, unable to communicate while his body continues to moves unconsciously. Environmental, psychological, and hereditary influences seemingly have contributed to his mental health and I was disappointed that parents and the teaching facility were unable to recognise that Monty was in distress. 

The Hounded is a captivating and courageous understanding of mental illness, the narrative confrontational as fifteen year old Montgomery, limited by opportunity, is a consequence of his environment. 
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