Written by Margot McGovern
Contemporary, Mental Health, #LoveOZYA
336 Pages
Thanks to Penguin Books Australia
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Kit Learmonth would rather die than grow up and leave Neverland...

When she was twelve, Kit Learmonth watched her parents drown in a storm as their boat sailed over the Tranter Sink Hole. Now seventeen, Kit doesn’t remember the incident, and she doesn’t want to. In fact, her only clear memories from before her parents’ death are of the fantastical stories of pirates and mermaids that she and her dad invented about the small island where she grew up, a place she calls Neverland.

Following Kit’s parents’ deaths, her uncle and guardian, Doc, transformed the island into a boarding school for mentally ill teenagers and sent Kit away to school on the mainland. But when Kit tries and fails to end her life, Doc brings her home to the island and places her in the care of his colleague, Dr Hannah Ward.

Resisting her treatment, Kit instead pulls her friends deeper into her world of make-believe. It’s only when Kit and her new boyfriend, Rohan, take the fantasy too far and land themselves in very real danger that her faith in Neverland is shaken, and Kit must find a way back to reality.
Found bloodied and lifeless after attempting to take her own life, Katherine Eloise Learmonth is returning to her childhood home of Neverland, a secluded private island now housing a wellness hospital for adolescents. Seven years ago in a tragic sailing accident, Kit's parents perished, Kit the only survivor found on board the small vessel bound for the mainland. Neverland is an island and former residence of the Learmonth family, Kit growing up playing upon the shore and dreaming of the mythological stories her father created for his best selling novel Kingdom By The Sea.

The island is now home to at risk teenagers, sent to the exclusive resort style wellness centre to work with renowned psychiatrists and doctors, including Kit's uncle affectionately known as Doc. Kit uses self harm to escape the numbness of her parent's death, her mind unable to remember the tragic accident rendering her an orphan and placing her in the care of her uncle. 

Kit becomes the unreliable narrator, her trauma lingering as she still accepts the responsibility for the death of her parents. She begrudgingly accepts counselling sessions but often explores emotions of guilt and neglect as the narrator of a fictional story, replacing moments of difficulty with outlandish characters such as mermaids, selkies and sirens, incorporating the Neverland mythology taken from her father's best selling book. Avoiding the confrontation of self reflection leaves Kit carrying feelings of animosity and abrasiveness towards authority.

When she begins to accept help, her breakthrough occurs but it's a long journey for Kit to travel alone. Kit's treatment included stays in isolation, counselling and medication. It also explored relationships and mental health and the downfalls of a toxic relationship as she befriends new patient Rohan. Although Neverland centres upon Kit's narrative, the reader is introduced to friends Alistair and Gypsy. Alistair is a Psychopath and although friends with Kit and Gypsy, he lacks empathy and emotional responses, making him the perfect candidate for a no strings physical relationship with Kit. Gypsy has been diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and currently in a relationship with a young and upcoming actor. Gypsy is heavily influenced by her relationship and the media, after visits from her boyfriend, her condition deteriorates. Although friends and a support for one another, they often enable one another, sneaking off grounds to drink, smoke and escape the confines of the wellness hospital. The one respite for Alistair and Kit is a sailing carnival hosted yearly on the island. 

The most striking aspect of Neverland is the blending of realism and imagination. It's written with a compassionate and considerate narrative yet realistic in the portrayal of mental wellness. One scene in particular has stayed with me, Alistair, in a rare moment of seriousness, displaying his vulnerabilities.
There's no cure for what I have. I'm not capable of change. But you, you can get better. Don't squander that because you're scared.
For Kit, that had become a sobering moment and the realisation that Rohan had become another toxic element in her life and to become well, she must journey alone. It was a sign of maturity and progress, for Kit to come to the realisation that she needed professional help. 

Although Neverland is a difficult, confrontational read, it reiterates the importance of recognising when we need help and accepting the hand that is able to guide our way. Not a cure, but feeling well with the assistance of coping mechanisms and medication. Margot McGovern has crafted a masterful and remarkable debut that destigmatises mental illness through characters that will resonate with readers. Tread softly my friends. 

2018 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for the Arts Mitch Fifield today announced the winners of the 2018 Prime Minister's Literary Awards at a ceremony at Parliament House. Winners across the six categories received one of the most prestigious literary awards in the country. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Government was proud to support Australia's outstanding authors through the Awards, now in their eleventh year.

Minister Fifield said reading has far reaching benefits, it expands our understanding and stimulates our imagination. These Awards reinforce the importance of literature and reading across all ages, this year receiving more than five hundred entries across the six prize categories, an exceptional response from our writers, poets, illustrators and historians.

From this competitive group of entries, the judges selected a diverse and deserving list of finalists and identified outstanding winners. Today we celebrate the nominees for the young adult literature award.
The Nominees

Living On Hope Street
Written by Demet Divaroren
Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Check the synopsis on Goodreads

My Lovely Frankie
Written by Judith Clarke
Historical, LGBT
Check the synopsis on Goodreads

Written by Bruce Whatley
Dystopian, Illustrated
Published by Scholastic Australia
Check the synopsis on Goodreads

The Ones that Disappeared
Written by Zana Fraillon
Contemporary, Magical Realism
Published by Hachette Australia
Check the synopsis on Goodreads

The Winner Is

This Is My Song
Written by Richard Yaxley
Historical, War
Published by Scholastic Australia
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This is my blood, This is my song.

In the 1940s, musician Rafael Ullmann is sent to a Nazi concentration camp.

In the 1970s, Annie Ullmann lives a lonely life on a Canadian prairie.

Three decades later, in Australia, Joe Hawker is uncertain about himself and his future, until he discovers a song, written by his grandfather many years ago.

This Is My Song crosses three continents and timelines, chanting the need for each of us to find our own music, to sing to those we love most.

Beautifully written, Richard Yaxley’s unforgettable story strikes a chord and plucks the heartstrings.

The Judges Comments
There have been, of course, many novels about the Holocaust, including ones for younger readers. This book explores the way the terrible events of the Holocaust affect the generations following, sometimes in ways even they don't understand. This is My Song also explores the damage that secrets can do. It is poignant, memorable and intensely moving.

Check out all the nominations and winners in their respective categories on the Department of Communications and The Arts here.

You can win a young adult book pack containing all of the young adult literature nominees, including the Prime Minster's Literary Award Winner, This Is My Song by following and retweeting on Twitter here.

Girls Of Paper And Fire

Contains themes of sexual violence, sexual assault, oppression and animal cruelty
Girls of Paper and Fire
Girls of Paper and Fire Book One
Written by Natasha Ngan
Fantasy, Diverse, LGBT
384 Pages
Thanks to Hachette Australia
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Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It's the highest honor they could hope for and the most cruel.

But this year, there's a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she's made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it's Lei they're after, the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king's interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king's consort. But Lei isn't content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable, she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she's willing to go for justice and revenge.
A Paper Girl is a prestigious title. Sanctioned by the Heavenly Father to reside within the ornate palace, sating the desire of the King as a concubine. Eight girls are removed from their villages within the outer provinces and presented to the King, families compensated by wealth and aristocratic privilege. Lei resides within the outer provinces, a remote village of Ikhara and distinguishable by her golden eyes.

Her father an accomplished herbalist within the family depository, is vigilant of his daughter. A Kingdom of societal standings, the Paper Caste are human commonalities, oppressed by the autocratic Steel Caste, a demonic human species. Seven years prior, a sentry of Steel Caste commanders inundated the small village community, igniting the pasture and farmland as they captured and massacred the Paper Caste residents. Seven years since her mother was captured. Villagers whisper of the night of devastation, the desolate pasture barren as the community prepares for an impoverished season.

Unprecedented, Lei is the ninth Paper Girl, forcibly captured to compete for favour of the King. Lei arrives at the royal province where she begrudgingly assimilates as a consort, educated by private tutors and disciplined in finesse, compliance and seduction. Residing within the palatial chateau, each Paper Girl is denied her innocence, modesty and coerced to pleasure the King by enduring sexual violence and assault. Provocation is condemned, sentenced to isolation and imprisonment.

Her endurance and fortitude are besieged as Lei scandalises the Paper Girls, challenging the King by refusing his advances. She is assaulted, her body fractured and innocence momentarily unscathed. The Paper Girls are abused, sexually assaulted and manipulated, punished for insolence. The King claims ownership of each Paper Girl, her body and independence. Girls of Paper and Fire centralises on rape culture and consent within a patriarchal society. Denied freedom and perceived as disposable vessels, aesthetically pleasing and objectified by society and the King, a sexual predator. The scenes and discussion surrounding sexual assault are confrontational, reminiscent of society within our own communities.

I don’t realise it until I speak it. And it’s different from the times I’ve said it before, or the way I’ve hoped it, as if dreaming something enough could birth it into being. I know it now with a certainty that has fitted into the lost core at the heart of me, as hard and angular as my hope was soft and shimmering. The King will not have me.

Within the Kingdom, male same sex sexual relationships are customary, Paper Girls are not permitted to engage with male courtiers, punishable by branding and ostracised by their family and community. The Paper Girls begin to measure their experiences through whispered secrets, they've been persuaded to believe that to become a Paper Girl is not only prestigious but that the female significance is dependant on their desirability. The King will discard each girl, bestowing upon his allies for political or societal advantage. This is the female capacity until whispers of a rebellion is encompassing the provinces begins to demoralise the enraged King.

The forbidden female romance was beautifully tender, allowing Lei and Wren to tentatively explore hope and optimism beyond the palatial confinement, an existence of equality and humanity where slavery and prejudice are abolished. Beginning with the oppressive rule of a tyrannical King. Their relationship enables each girl to experience vulnerabilities and sensitivities within the sanctuary created through compassion. Unfortunately the relationship was the fundamental aspect for the Paper Girl rebellion, rather than a sense of preservation.

Girls of Paper and Fire is a passionate and exceptional debut novel that will invoke discussion through a confrontational and intricate narrative. 
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