The Boy Who Steals Houses

The Boy Who Steals Houses
Written by C.G. Drews
Contemporary, Romance, Own Voices, #LoveOZYA
347 Pages
Published April 9th 2019
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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Can two broken boys find their perfect home? By turns heartbreaking and heartwarming, this is a gorgeously told, powerful story.

Sam is only fifteen but he and his autistic older brother, Avery, have been abandoned by every relative he's ever known. Now Sam's trying to build a new life for them. He survives by breaking into empty houses when their owners are away, until one day he's caught out when a family returns home. To his amazement this large, chaotic family takes him under their wing, each teenager assuming Sam is a friend of another sibling. Sam finds himself inextricably caught up in their life, and falling for the beautiful Moxie.

But Sam has a secret, and his past is about to catch up with him.
Sammy and Avery Lou are all one another has to rely upon, since their mother walked out and left her only sons in the care of their violent father. Unable to care for Avery who is autistic. Their father never seemingly cared for his sons and dumped them on his sister's doorstep to be raised by their Aunt Karen, who is unsympathetic, neglectful and often cruel. Sammy and Avery Lou ran away from home a little over a year ago and with hungry bellies and no fixed address, the dream of having their own house one day seems further and further out of reach.

The Lou Boys
Fifteen year old Sammy Lou has always been Avery's protector. Against their violent father, schoolyard bullies and those who are ignorant of Avery's needs. Avery is Autistic and requires stability in his life, which isn't something his Aunt Karen is capable of since their father abandoned the boys at his sister's house, their mother also estranged and leaving her two children in the care of their abusive father. If only people took the time to learn about Avery's needs and about the seventeen year old young man who loves to fix cars, who thinks boys are also pretty and who feels fiercely, then Sammy wouldn't need to use his fists.

Now on the run from Aunt Karen and the authorities, Sam wants nothing more than to provide Avery with the stable home he deserves, so while Avery begins work as an apprentice mechanic, often sleeping in the workshop office, Sam breaks into empty and abandoned homes while residents are on holidays, taking items of value to sell in the hopes of one day being able to afford a home of their own. Sam's only possessions of value are the hundreds of keys jangling around in his backpack, souvenirs to remind the fifteen year old what's important, family and home. Desperately clinging onto the dream of one day being worthy of both.

My heart absolutely ached for Sam and Avery. Born into a cycle of abandonment, the boys are victims of family violence, a cycle of which Sam is now trapped. He himself has turned to violence to protect Avery from bullying and ignorance due to being neglected and unheard by the adults who have failed two boys now homeless and stealing to survive. These boys aren't petty criminals, they're simply products of a traumatic environment, of neglect and impoverishment.

The De Lainey Bunch
We're first introduced to the De Lainey family by accident. Sam breaks into their home while they're on holidays but only to discover they've arrived home early. The De Lainey family with their loud booming voices, unabashed laughter and house built from unconditional love. Sam is swept up into their lives and given a plate at their table, assumed to be a friend of one of the De Lainey kids. Except he isn't.

Be prepared to fall in love.

As Sam promises himself just one more day with the De Lainey family before he leaves for his next abandoned home, he finds himself smitten with the brilliantly opinionated and girl power advocate Moxie De Lainey, a whirlwind of bright colours and sunshine. Beneath her tough, take no prisoners exterior lies a girl who just wants to be appreciated and yearns for her mother who was taken by cancer. While her father has enlisted the help of Moxie's brothers on his construction sites during the holidays, the family is barely keeping afloat with a single parent income and medical bills still owing, a painful reminder of their mother taken too soon.

Is This A Kissing Book?
The transition from friendship to tentative romance was lovely. This isn't a romance of dependency or that love will conquer all, Sam and Moxie care for one another and that genuine support and belief allows them to both to face their own issues and grow as individuals. There are no magical wands but real consequences for their actions, such as Sam's criminal history. Too often young adult books tend to gloss over such issues in favour of a happy ending, The Boy Who Steals Houses only proves that a great author can provide readers with both.

It explores societal issues such as poverty, homelessness, bullying, ableism, neglect, abuse and family violence with a careful hand, genuinely and without romanticism. The Boy Who Steals Houses also feels like a very personal and intimate story, especially with an anxiety and autism own voices inclusion. The humour and heartwarming moments were reminiscent of old school John Green, before he tore out your heart or decided to write fifty versions of the same book. The banter and laugh out loud moments are a brilliant inclusion and help unburden the heaviness of the storyline. The De Lainey family reminded me of My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick and I loved the ongoing joke of Jack always being the one overheard swearing, fighting, complaining and being mildly punished by their father while the others laughed at his misfortune. I'm a sucker for a narrative with a reoccurring theme.

Vibrant and genuine characters, a warmth and humour that's become a signature of C. G. Drews, it was utterly beautiful. Now excuse me while I pick up my shattered heart she attempted to tape back together while manically laughing. Again. 

Quiet #LoveOZYA Contemporaries

Review may contain mild spoilers
Girl Running, Boy Falling
Written by Kate Gordon
Contemporary, Suicide, #LoveOZYA
238 Pages
Published October 15th 2019
Thank you to Rhiza Edge
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Do you ever look at the sky and think that’s where we belong? Like maybe the world is the wrong way around and we’re meant to be up there, floating?

Sixteen year old Therese lives in a small town on a small island. Her Aunt Kath calls her Tiger. Her friends call her Resey. The boy she loves calls her Champ. She’s a lot of different things for a lot of different people.

Therese has always had her feet on the ground. She’s running through high school, but someone in her life is about to fall...

And when he does, her perfect world falls with him. For the first time in her life, Therese can’t stand being on the ground.

Girl Running, Boy Falling is a raw read about a girl and boy, who are beautifully flawed.
Therese Geeves isn't golden, as Nicholas Wallace would have you believe. She's grieving for the promise of a life beyond her reach. A life of musicals, of obscure eighties references and of escaping to the chicken house on her grandmothers property where adventures are created from childhood imaginations. Her mother who sought adventure and her father who fell in love with a woman with a wanderlust penchant are distant memories, Therese is raised by her beloved Aunt and grandmother, continuing to write letters to her absent parents so one day they may know their estranged daughter. Her one constant is Nicholas Wally Wallace. Popular student, athlete and baked goods connoisseur.

Therese is a wonderful young woman and incredibly authentic. She's a daughter, granddaughter, beloved niece, peer, coworker and friend and although she's not considered popular by any means, Therese is well known around the small community as Wally's best friend, the young man destined for a lucrative sports career on the mainland and Therese is apprehensive about being abandoned, her unrequited love for Wally left unanswered.

I enjoy confrontational narratives, it encourages important discussions and often difficult conversations. A suicide results in many victims, family, friends and those touched by the traumatic loss of life and Therese seemingly prefers avoidance. Her Aunt is a wonderful means of support, allowing Therese to find solace and acceptance within her friends while gently suggesting counselling when ready. Old wounds begin to reemerge as the incident reminds Therese of her own abandonment. Her spirited mother appeared to be postnatally depressed and unable to care for her only child. Her father barely a presence in her life. To compensate, Therese collects thoughts and adventures to send to her absent parents.

The narrative was wonderfully gentle, captivating and beautifully composed. Girl Running, Boy Falling is a tender coming of age narrative of living after a suicide and the multitude of ways in which we grieve. 

Can't Beat The Chemistry
Written by Kat Colmer
Contemporary, Romance, #LoveOZYA
274 Pages
Published April 20th 2019
Thank you to Rhiza Edge
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Ionic and covalent bonds are a piece of cake for MJ. But human bonds are a little harder...

There are only two things MJ wants in her final year of high school, glowing grades and to convince uber smart, chiselled jaw Jason they’d be a winning team outside the science lab as well as in.

Tutoring deadbeat drummer, Luke, isn’t part of the plan. After all, he has average intelligence, takes disorganised notes and looks like a partied out zombie at their study sessions! Not even his taut biceps will win MJ over.

But MJ learns that she could be tutored in a few life lessons too. That sometimes there’s good reason to skip chemistry tutorials. That intelligence is so much more than a grade average.

And that sometimes you can’t beat the chemistry.
Mackenzie Olsen - Wang is an aspirational young woman and attentive student, revered for her intelligence. A quality held in high esteem in the Olsen - Wang home. Aspiring to become a medical professional, MJ attends Head Start University, a program for secondary school students where she's developed a fondness for fellow scholar Jason McNeil. MJ lives her life according to schedules, distinctions and her mother's preapproved assignment topics, she's assuming, judgemental and often appears condescending and patronising. She's aware of her intellect and believes intelligence is out most attractive attributes. Socially, MJ is unable to connect with others and her factual, no nonsense approach to others is abrasive and often insulting.

Luke Bains is wonderful. Although a musician, Luke wants to become a teacher and is studying Chemistry in the hope to become employable. And failing. He's a gentle young man and despite being accused of being the stereotypical musician, Luke spends his free time caring for his sister and her local special education school as a voluntary music teacher for adolescents with Down Syndrome.

What ensues is a beautiful and tentative friendship of acceptance, challenging stereotypes and following the path less travelled. Wonderfully written, Kat Colmer is an author creating diverse and realistic characters and Can't Beat The Chemistry is a feel great read.

On The Come Up

On The Come Up
Written by Angie Thomas
Contemporary, Fiction
448 Pages
Published February 5th 2019
Thank you to Walker Books Australia
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Sixteen year old Brianna wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighbourhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it. She has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be and of the desperate realities of poor and working class black families.
On The Come Up follows the narrative of sixteen year old Brianna Jackson, the princess of Garden Heights. Brianna is the daughter of Lawless, slain at the pinnacle of his music career. Brianna creates lyrics from her experiences, the death of her father, her mother dependant on narcotics, Brianna and older brother Trey abandoned on the doorstep of their grandparents, their mother withdrawing from society to overcome her addiction and now facilitates group counselling for recovering addicts.

Tensions are high in Garden Heights since a young black man was killed by police officers, the subsequent rioting has resulted in a heavy police presence throughout the suburb, including Midtown School of the Arts where Brianna attends school. Her mother wants Brianna to concentrate on her education but for Brianna, since the tender age of only ten years old, she's wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father and rap her to a better life for her mother and brother.

Brianna is a tenacious young woman, proud of her African American heritage and culture, of who is she and where she's from. Garden Heights. Readers will remember the Garden Heights community from Angie Thomas' debut novel The Hate U Give and although the two narratives do not converge, we're reintroduced to the Disciples, the local gang and the Crowns, a rival gang on the east side and those responsible for taking the life of Lawless. Brianna and her family live below the poverty line, working is a necessity to make ends meet. We're introduced to Brianna as their gas has been shut off and her mother is struggling to pay their rent, the cupboards are all but bare and her college graduate brother has returned home and now works in a small pizzeria and yet, there's little money to afford food never mind to replace Brianna's shoes.

The hardship the Jackson family are experiencing is harrowing so when Brianna's mother Jay loses her job, she has no other option but to quit night school and seek welfare, handouts and food stamps to survive. With winter fast approaching, the chill in the air is a reminder of why so many young people of Garden Heights turn to gang life. The companionship of family and making money to survive despite the odds, including Brianna's Aunt Pooh who begun running with the Disciples shortly after her brother was murdered.

Rapping is in Brianna's blood. Affectionately known as Lil' Law, Brianna is about to make her debut at the Ring, a local club known for it's amateur rap battles and star making potential. Think Eminem's 8 Mile. Through her lyrics, Brianna tells the story of being a young black woman in a world created for white people, about the assumptions made upon black communities, stereotyping and racial profiling. She raps about real world problems facing her community, drugs, violence and being all about that life. Who you run with and who you run from. After her success in the Ring, when she's roughed up at school by security guards and thrown to the floor, something has to give. While students begin to protest against the racial profiling of black and latinx students, Brianna begins penning her breakout track, On The Come Up.

Brianna Jackson refuses to become a stereotype based on assumptions. She is determine to rap about her experiences, she's a contender not a pretender. She comes up against a sexist and opportunistic industry where young artists are taken advantage of. Their image no longer their own as they are shaped and modelled into a product for consumers, told to play their part and luring often underprivileged young adults with gifts and the promise of a easier life for their families, not necessarily better.

No doubt readers will compare On The Come Up to The Hate U Give but where Starr Carter was finding her voice in a hostile environment fulled by revolution, Brianna demands to be heard, a beacon of hope within her community and for young black women wanting to thrive in the male dominated rap industry. I enjoyed the narrative but not Brianna herself. I understand the animosity of your only parent unable to care for her children and choosing their drug dependency but Brianna showed very little respect for her mother who fought her way back from addiction for her children. Brianna calls her mother by her first name and held her at arms length. I felt an incredible amount of sadness for her mother who is an inspiring woman in her own right. Understandably the experience has hardened Brianna but I felt she often treated her mother with undeserving disrespect while holding her Aunt Pooh, a gang member and drug dealer on a pedestal.

On The Come Up is a quiet novel, challenging stereotypes and the prejudiced faced by young black men and women in particular. How young black women are spoken over, how they fight to create safe spaces for themselves and their voices. Although I didn't like Brianna, I loved what she represented. A strong, young black woman on the cusp of great things without compromising who she is and what she stands for. 
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