Written by Ingrid Laguna
Contemporary, Diverse, #LoveOZMG
Published May 7th 2019
176 Pages
Thank you to Text Publishing
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Jamila has left her friends, her school and her home in Iraq, and now she has a new home. It’s safe in Australia, but Jamila is finding it hard to settle in. She misses her best friend and worries for her dad’s safety back in Iraq. It’s hard to speak and write in English all day. And Jamila has a secret she wants to keep hidden.

When she joins the choir, Jamila begins to feel happy. Singing helps take her worries away. And singing will help her find her place in her new life, a place where she can shine.

Songbird is a tender story about belonging, about the importance of friendship and asking for help, and about the parts of our lives we keep concealed.
Jamila has migrated to Australia from Baghdad Iraq, a country ravaged by conflict. In their quiet and humble Melbourne home, Jamila and her mother await the arrival of their father and husband from Baghdad, an investigative journalist taking shelter from the authorities. Feeling displaced and missing her homeland, Jamila attends school, translates English for her mother and helps care for her brother, often at the expense of attending school.

Jamila is gentle soul, her character is representative of Australia's diverse multiculturalism and the overwhelming feeling of being displaced. She wears a hijab, a traditional head covering that attracts questions from her peers and unfortunately, incidents of casual racism. Her heart aches for a real friend, someone she can talk to and share her fears about her father without judgement but attending a school that's predominately caucasian and born in Australia, she longs for her best friend Mina who she left behind in Iraq. Jamila seeks solace in the power of song, reminding her of her time in Iraq where she was affectionately known as the songbird. It's through her love of music where Jamila meets her first friend and new student Eva.

While Eva eases the ache of being in a new, unfamiliar country, Jamila still fears for her father and with no word on his arrival, fears the worst. I adored the friendship between Jamila and Eve, Eve is an Australian girl from Sydney who lives with her Aunt while her father works and befriends Jamila through their love of song. She's supportive and ensures Jamila feels comfortable and encourages her to share her experiences as a young girl in a new country. Although on a lesser scale, Eva understands Jamila's feelings of trying to fit in and with a predominant birthmark on her face, knows all too well the cruelty of other children.

Songbird is a beautiful narrative and exploration of the refugee experience through the eyes of a young girl aching to belong. In a country that preaches acceptance but rarely accepts migrants or those who are different, Jamila's mother felt this very deeply. With a small amount of English, she needed help navigating tasks like supermarket shopping and speaking to government departments, often calling the school during the day to pick Jamila up to assist her. I was so relieved for both her mother and Jamila when the Migrant Resource Centre reached out and she was able to connect to a support officer who not only understood but was also originally from Iraq. These services are so incredibly important to help refugees settle within Australia, a sector that needs more government funding to support our multicultural communities.

Songbird is absolutely lovely, a gentle narrative about acceptance, friendship and family. Achingly beautiful.

Call It What You Want

Contains mentions of abortion and suicide which may distress some readers
Call It What You Want
Written by Brigid Kemmerer
Contemporary, Friendship, Realistic Fiction
Published July 1st 2019
384 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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When his dad is caught embezzling funds from half the town, Rob goes from popular lacrosse player to social pariah. Even worse, his father’s failed suicide attempt leaves Rob and his mother responsible for his care.

Everyone thinks of Maegan as a typical overachiever, but she has a secret of her own after the pressure got to her last year. And when her sister comes home from college pregnant, keeping it from her parents might be more than she can handle.

When Rob and Maegan are paired together for a calculus project, they’re both reluctant to let anyone through the walls they’ve built. But when Maegan learns of Rob’s plan to fix the damage caused by his father, it could ruin more than their fragile new friendship.

This captivating, heartfelt novel asks the question. Is it okay to do something wrong for the right reasons?
Maegan Day is an intelligent and articulate young woman, overwhelmed by the immense expectations she places upon herself. The daughter of a police officer, Maegan understands the need for rules and regulations which is why nobody expected her to cheat on her standardised school testing causing countless students to resit their tests after being deemed invalid. Her older sister Sam is the golden child, a star lacrosse player on a scholarship, beautiful, academically gifted and an elite sportswoman. Over the years the Day siblings have shared a competitive relationship, not always seeing eye to eye but now Sam has returned home, fickle and pregnant, disappointing her parents while she's contemplating what to do about her pregnancy.

I loved their sibling relationship and seeing it morph into a genuine and caring friendship. Although Maegan has always been proud of Sam's achievements, it's not without resentment. Sam is their father's golden child and Maegan has always felt the weight of expectations which drove her to cheat. Unlike Rob, Maegan has the support of her long time best friend Rachel, pity about her boyfriend Drew who continuously makes snide comments about Maegan's mistake which Rachel never pulls him up about, allowing Drew to kick her best friend while she's down.

Rob Lachlan was popular, a champion lacrosse player and a hit with the ladies until his father, a financial adviser, mismanaged and stole funds from even the most vulnerable members of the community, leaving Rob a social pariah and accused of being a part of his father's con. He's lost his friends, the respect of his peers and now he's been saddled with the girl who cheated on the SAT exam for a school project.

High school can be so unforgiving and Rob is an example of being guilty merely by association. His father stealing investment funds from friends, family and the parents of Rob's school peers. Abandoned by his best friend Connor, who's father alerted the authorities, Rob is tormented and bullied, branded a liar and criminal. Rob's story is harrowing. He remembers the man who attended his lacrosse games, who taught him humility and to treasure each moment, he was an excellent father and a stark contrast to the criminal and villain of the wider community. Rob cannot escape. When it became too much for his father, Rob senior tried to take his own life which has left him unable to care for himself, brain damaged and immobile. Once living an opulent lifestyle, Rob's family now barely makes ends meet, his mother working long shifts to provide for their family while Rob cares for his father. 

The only aspect Maegan and Rob have in common is that they're both social pariahs but working together on their project allows them to connect with someone in a similar situation without the fear of being judged. Their tentative friendship isn't easy, Rob finds it difficult to trust after he's been abandoned by his peers but slowly he begins to explore their connection and finds solace in their quiet moments of peace and understanding. Rob also develops a friendship with Owen, a young man who's mother was also a victim of his fathers dealings. My heart ached for Owen as he sits alone each day with his school issued cheese sandwich, breaking it into pieces to fend off his growing hunger. He was still able to put aside his anger and befriend Rob, understanding that Rob isn't his father and shouldn't be treated as such. Owen deserves his own story and I hope Brigid Kemmerer revisits his character soon.

Touching on sensitive issues such as poverty, teen pregnancy, abortion and suicide, written with compassion, Call It What You Want is an honest and genuine portrayal of the pressure and complications of those adolescent years. Often you hear adults telling teens, to treasure those years in their life before adulthood as though being a teen was a simpler time. With kids forced to grow up too soon and the expectations adults place upon teens, often parents living vicariously through their teens, it's one of the hardest periods we go through. It's an aspect that Brigid Kemmerer captures so wonderfully and even if you've never cheated on an exam or heaven forbid your father has never stolen money from his investors, I think most teens will find both Rob and Maegan's journey relatable and find comfort in how fickle these years can be, especially when it comes to our peers and being judged. 

Beautifully written, edgy with authentic and flawed characters, Call It What You Want is Brigid Kemmerer's best contemporary to date. Thoroughly enjoyed it. 

All The Invisible Things

All The Invisible Things
Written by Orlagh Collins
Contemporary, LGBT, Mental Health
Published March 7th 2019
320 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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Vetty's family is moving back to London, and all she can think about is seeing Pez again. They were inseparable when they were small, roaming the city in the long summers, sharing everything. But everyone's telling her it'll be different now. After all, a boy and a girl can't really be friends without feelings getting in the way, can they?

Vetty thinks differently until Pez tells her she's not like other girls. But what does that even mean? Is it a good thing or not? Suddenly she's wondering whether she wants him to see her like the others, like the ultra glamorous March, who's worked some sort of spell on Pez, or the girls in the videos that Pez has hidden on his laptop.

How can she measure up to them? And who says that's what a girl is supposed to be like anyway?
Helvetica has never quite felt herself since her mother passed away after her cancer diagnosis and her father relocated his young family from London to Somerset, exchanging the vibrant city for a cottage retreat. Living in Somerset, the family are now returning to London to resume their lives, including seeing Peregrine once more. Helvetica and Peregrine were childhood friends, neighbours and adventurers but have since lost contact.

Since the loss of her mother, Helvetica has adapted into a mothering role for younger sister Arial, both sibling names a tribute to their mother's love of fonts. Their father now widowed, moving his young family to the country with his sister and her partner while he continued to work from their small cottage on the family property. Grieving and overwhelmed, Helvetica begun to reinvent herself to assimilate and suppress her sexuality.

Throughout the narrative, Helvetica identifies with an attraction towards males and females, realising she's bisexual and feeling a sense of ownership and belonging. It's a defining moment of her sexual identity and within young adult literature. Our adolescent years is when we are exploring our sense of identity which often includes our sexuality and experiencing Helvetica's feelings of confusion is palpable. Another aspect of Helvetica's sexuality is when she discusses her feelings with her Aunt who identifies as lesbian. When describing her attraction towards females on the eve of their same gender wedding, her Aunt assumes Helvetica is also a lesbian in which she later apologises. It would have been wonderful to have experienced her unconditional support for Helvetica during their conversation, rather than have an adult place labels upon her sexual identity. Although it's presumed to be a moment of compassion and understanding, even camaraderie could be interpreted as bisexual or pansexual erasure which some may find distressing.

Peregrine is an interesting character but incredibly abrasive and narcissistic. After Helvetica moved to Somerset, the phone calls became less frequent, messages left unanswered. A young girl grieving, navigating life without her mother and caring for a younger sibling, when returning to London and her small apartment across from the lavish home he shares with his parents, Peregrine was irritable, resentful and seemingly refusing to accept responsibility for his behaviour. Including his addiction to pornography. Peregrine describes his compulsion as an inadequacy and that he's unable to have a sexual relationship because he feels desensitised, impotent and defective. It's important to emphasise that relationships exist beyond a physical relationship, potentially insensitive to those who identify as asexual.

It was wonderful that female masturbation is explored and as a positive experience. Younger sister Arial is also approaching adolescence and is curious about her body and sexuality and with her father emotionally absent, Helvetica helps Arial to understand about body changes, her period and sexuality. It was a gentle and genuine moment between siblings. The friendship Helvetica and March share is beautiful. March is Peregrine's girlfriend, although he also treats her with an incredible amount of disdain. March confides in Helvetica about her relationship with Peregrine and it was lovely to see their friendship existing independently of Peregrine.

I thoroughly enjoyed Helvetica's journey but felt the narrative was sacrificed for Peregrine's issues that seemingly took precedence. All The Invisible Things is an entertaining and arresting contemporary novel and wonderful coming of age. 

All That Impossible Space

All That Impossible Space
Written by Anna Morgan
Contemporary, Mystery, #LoveOZYA
Published June 25th 2019
278 Pages
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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Fifteen year old Lara Laylor feels like supporting character in her own life. She's Ashley's best friend, she's Hannah's sister, she's never just Lara.

When new history teacher Mr. Grant gives her an unusual assignment, investigating the mystery of the Somerton Man. Found dead in on an Adelaide beach in 1948, a half smoked cigarette still in his mouth and the labels cut out of his clothes, the Somerton Man has intrigued people for years. Was he a spy? A criminal? Year 10 has plenty of mysteries of its own: boys, drama queen friends, and enigmatic new students. When they seem just as unsolvable as a 60 year old cold case, Lara finds herself spending more and more time on the assignment. But Mr Grant himself may be the biggest mystery of all.

Interspersed with fictionalised snapshots of the Somerton Man investigation, All That Impossible Space is a coming of age novel exploring toxic friendships and the balance of power between teacher and student, perfect for fans of Cath Crowley and Fiona Wood.
Lara Laylor has always been an afterthought, living in the shadow of her popular and enigmatic sister Hannah or best friend Ash, an aspiring Broadway actress. With Hannah travelling through Europe trying to find herself, Ash convinces Lara to join the annual Saint Margaret's College musical in conjunction with the local boys school. Lara's real passion is athletics, the freedom of running her own race in the crisp morning air and to perform in the school's production of Cinderella, she'll put her own needs aside for Ash. Again.

Ash and Lara have been friends since primary school, Ash coming to her rescue while Lara was having an asthma attack. Over the years, their friendship has bloomed but now becoming increasingly toxic. Ash is often fuelled by jealousy which results in her abrasive behaviour towards teachers, Lara and new student Kate, who has befriended Lara. Ash will often make decisions for both herself and Lara and lacking in confidence, Lara continuously looks to Ash for validation and approval.

When young history teacher David Grant begins at Saint Margaret's with his fondness for rule breaking and exchanges of ideas as equals, Lara feels she may have found a kindred spirit and throws herself into the group assignment, the mystery of the Somerton Man. The case of the Somerton Man has captivated Australia since the late forties, a deceased man found on the beach in South Australia. No identification. No possessions. A cigarette hanging out of his mouth and the labels removed from his clothing. His cause of death was undetermined and the mystery deepens as they found a small piece of paper in his pocket torn from a Persian novel, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The case still remains unsolved.

While Lara is navigating new friendships, a new crush and a demanding best friend, her new history teacher suddenly becomes his own mystery and disappears. The school refuses to provide Lara with any information. Frustrated and seeking answers, Lara begins to delve deeper into the Somerton Man mystery, believing the Somerton Man case may be why David Grant disappeared. Naturally Lara wants to know what happened to the new teacher despite those around her unable to understand the connection she felt towards David Grant. It wasn't a romantic relationship by any means but rather made Lara feel valued as an individual and not as Hannah's sister or Ash's friend. 

The writing is spectacular, blending a contemporary narrative of friendship and finding your individuality with a decades old unsolved mystery entwined. It's incredibly genuine. I think we've all known an Ash growing up and experienced the varying levels of a toxic and codependent friendship, from backhanded compliments to outright hostility. I really enjoyed Lara's budding romance Jos, both Jos and Kate were wonderful supporting characters and I appreciated that they were able to become friends and that friendship existed independently from their friendships with Lara. It was a lovely touch. The writing itself was captivating and honest, it held an authenticity that Australian authors create so incredibly, without needing to dramatise the teen experience.

I absolutely loved it and now obsessed with the Somerton Man myself. Tamám Shud.

Check out Wikipedia to learn more about the Somerton Man mystery.

Extraordinary Birds

Extraordinary Birds
Written by Sandy Stark McGinnis
Middle Grade, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Published June 3rd 2019
224 Pages
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia
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Eleven year old December knows everything about birds and everything about getting kicked out of foster homes. All she has of her biological mum is the book she left behind, The Complete Guide to Birds, Volume One and a photo with a message, in flight is where you'll find me. December knows she's truly a bird, just waiting for the day she transforms and flies away to reunite with her mum. The scar on her back must be where her wings have started to blossom, she just needs to practise and to find the right tree. She has no choice, it's the only story that makes sense.

When she's placed with Eleanor, a new foster mum who runs a taxidermy business and volunteers at a wildlife rescue, December begins to see herself and what home means in a new light. But the story she tells herself about her past is what's kept December going this long, and she doesn't know if she can let go of it. Even if changing her story might mean that she can finally find a place where she belongs.
Someday December will spread her wings and take flight, feeling the aching scar between her shoulder blades where her wings will bloom as she escapes her human life. Vaguely remembering her biological mother, December is reminded of  her abandonment by a kindergarten photograph of her mother inscribed with in flight is where you'll find me and a reference guide to birds. December endures the ache of being displaced within the foster system until she can learn to fly, searching on her journey to find an old and gnarled tree where she will launch her maiden flight.

My heart ached for young December. Abandoned by her biological mother with a photograph and reference guide, December finds solace in her feathered friends, believing one day she will transform into a bird. Placed in a foster home with Eleanor Thomas, she's just biding her time until she transforms. Eleanor is a wildlife rescuer, taxidermist and shares December's love of birds and although finding common ground, December knows the only person she can rely upon is herself.

On her journey, December has never experienced a sense of belonging, manifesting as a compulsion that she will transform and escape. December is a gentle young lady, compassionate and emphatic especially towards her feathered friends. She's intelligent and wonderfully knowledgeable about birds. December is representative of children displaced by the loss of a parent and placed within the system, weary and detached. Eleanor patiently allows December to interact with her environment, introducing her to responsibility by caring for an injured Red Tailed Hawk as December coerces Henrietta to rehabilitate and take to the skies once more.

Cheryllynn is a wonderful inclusion, charismatic and inclusive as she befriends December. As a young transgirl, Cheryllynn endures abusive behaviour which may distress readers. Her resilience and confidence is inspirational, I'm exactly who I'm supposed to be. She is instrumental in anchoring December as their tentative friendship blossomed.

Extraordinary Birds is achingly beautiful, wonderfully diverse and a remarkable debut novel.

Serious Moonlight

Serious Moonlight
Written by Jenn Bennett
Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Published June 2019
432 Pages
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia
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Raised in isolation and home schooled by her strict grandparents, the only experience Birdie has had of the outside world is through her favourite crime books. But everything changes when she takes a summer job working the night shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

There she meets Daniel Aoki, the hotel’s charismatic driver, and together they stumble upon a real life mystery. A famous reclusive writer, never before seen in public, is secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell, and in doing so, realise that the most confounding mystery of all may just be her growing feelings for Daniel.
When Birdie Lindberg lost her young mother to congenital heart disease, she wasn't prepared for the isolation of her grandparents home on Bainbridge Island, educated by her retired grandmother, a former teacher before her recent passing. With her grandfather's encouragement and support from her nonbiological Aunt and mother's best friend Mona Rivera, Birdie spreads her wings and begins work on the mainland at the historical Cascadia Hotel in downtown Seattle Washington.

Birdie Lindberg is a charismatic and inquisitive young woman, immersing herself in her late grandmother's garden and mystery novels. Birdie lives with her grandfather, sharing a wonderful relationship with the recently widowed man after the passing of her grandmother to heart disease, a heredity condition. Although undiagnosed, Birdie experiences narcolepsy and cataplexy, a condition identifiable by muscle weakness triggered by emotional responses accompanied by full conscious awareness. With her newfound independence and position at the Cascadia Hotel, dashing coworker and hotel chauffeur Daniel Aoki approaches Birdie with an intriguing mystery. Recluse crime author Raymond Darke allegedly frequents the hotel each week, Daniel proposes a tentative partnership and the two amateur detectives embark on an adventure to uncover Raymond Darke's identity.

Daniel Aoki is a wonderful young man and amateur magician. Daniel is also hearing impaired and has been diagnosed with depression. The tentative friendship is incredibly awkward and mortifying, especially for Birdie. Birdie and Daniel have met before, at the Moonlight Diner where Birdie is a frequent customer, her mother a former waitress at the establishment before her passing. Sharing a conversation and attraction, Birdie and Daniel have spontaneous and consensual sex before Birdie flees into the night. What ensues is an attempt at a totally awkward conversation between coworkers about casual sex while trying to solve one of the mysteries plaguing modern popular culture.

Sexually positive young adult books are so incredibly important. During adolescence is often when we explore our sexuality and it was wonderful to an open and honest dialogue between Birdie and Mona about using protection and sex being a positive and feel great experience and placing the emphasis on consent. Whether you choose to have sex, uninterested in a physical relationship or identify as asexual, it's important to encourage discussion and acceptance.

Japanese American biracial, Daniel lives with his extended family in a cohousing community. His grandparents are a wonderful support for both Daniel and Cherry, his mother and former performer. Many families now share their homes with multigenerational family members and it was lovely to see extended families represented. Daniel is incredibly charming and charismatic and allows Birdie to guide their relationship ensuring she's comfortable and consenting.

Jenn Bennett is a remarkable author creating charismatic and introspective characters that resonate with audiences. Atmospheric, adventurous and beautifully captivating.
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