2012 REVIEWS: YOUNG ADULT #1

THYLA
Author: Kate Gordon
Random House RRP$17.95
Review: Monique Mulligan

Thyla (Thyla, #1)THE young adult market is overflowing with first-person female books with supernatural themes and to that end, Thyla fits right into the market and could easily be overlooked.

But this is no angel versus demon, or vampire versus werewolf tale and once I was hooked, I found this an enjoyable and well-written gothic-style read that stands out from the pack for a number of reasons.

Set in Tasmania at a girls’ boarding school, author Kate Gordon skilfully interweaves past and present through what appears to be a journal or letter from Tessa, a young girl found in the wild, to Connolly, the policewoman who found her.

It’s an engaging format that works well by drawing the reader into the story, leaving the reader wanting to know, as do the central characters, how the past is affecting the future. The location and links to Tasmania’s convict history, the apparently extinct Thylacines (Tasmanian Tiger) and the endangered Tasmanian Devil, also provide another point of interest, as well as a brief education on Tasmanian history, rather than the typical American high-school scene.

Why does Tessa have long, striping slashes across her back? What happened to Connolly’s daughter Cat? And where do Rhiannah and her friends go on their night-time bushwalks?

Read Thyla and find out. The sequel, Vulpi will be reviewed shortly.

Available from good bookstores or Random House. This book was courtesy of Random House Australia.


VULPI
Author: Kate Gordon
Random House RRP$17.95
Review: Monique Mulligan 

Vulpi (Thyla, #2)The follow up to Thyla, Kate Gordon’s Vulpi continues the story of a wild-at-heart Tasmania, an island partly populated by shapeshifters with a long history of feuding, and the humans who remain unaware of their existence.

When I first read Thyla and realised that it was more than just another first-person female book with paranormal themes, I had high hopes for the next instalment in this four-book YA series. Vulpi is told from the perspective of forever 16-year-old Cat Connolly, who is a minor, albeit important, character in Thyla. Once human, she is now a Thyla (Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger) on guard duty in the bush. Typical of many teenagers her age, Cat is confused about who she is and what she wants from life; her worldview keeps changing and she’s struggling to make sense of it. The difference is that she has had to leave behind school and the safety of home to help maintain an uneasy alliance with the Sarcos as they fight their common enemy, the Diemens.

Cat and the other Thylas become caught up in a race to stop the Diemens’ deadly attacks on young women and to prevent The Solution, which is still a mystery to them, from being carried out. But her desire to prove herself is shaken by strange dreams, sightings of another mysterious creature, and awakening feelings for the wrong person (or, shapeshifter).

By setting the book in Tasmania, with its rich convict history and as-yet pockets of untamed wilderness, Gordon creates a wonderfully gothic sense of place; the mystery surrounding the apparently extinct Thylacines translates to a great mix of intrigue and suspense. The setting moves out of the girls’ boarding school used for Thyla and into the nearby bush, but the school remains a vital link for a number of reasons.

At first I found Vulpi confusing; I had to go back to Thyla to reacquaint myself. I think I was expecting the story to carry on from Tessa’s point of view; I felt as if there was something missing. Reading further, things became clearer and I realised that the somewhat disjointed start reflected Cat’s disjointed perspective at the time. Who is she? That’s what she was asking, and what I think the reader was meant to engage with. From a logical point of view, this works; from a younger reader’s viewpoint, it could confuse too much and put some off.

Cat’s character developed well throughout the novel – by the end of the book she had emerged as a strong and likeable voice, quelling my disappointment that the book was not from Tessa’s viewpoint. Her growing feelings for Archie were understandable, but the way this played out at the end seemed a little too ‘nice’ and fairytale-ish. What I do like particularly about this series is the variety in characters – they are not all white, straight, flawless beings. A metal-head lesbian shapeshifter? You got it.

The novel started slowly (which again, could put some less patient readers off), but once it got going there was plenty of action – more so than in Thyla. It seems that Gordon has hit her stride and is growing more confident to take the scenes where they need to go, without overdoing it. It will be interesting to see how the next two books turn out – whose point of view will be they be written from this time? I think Gordon likes to keep her readers guessing.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the book and I’d recommend it to teenage readers – I think it will be a hit in the YA market. It’s different enough to stand out from the crowd.

Available from good bookstores and Random House. This book was courtesy of Random House Australia.


THE SELECTION
Author: Kiera Cass
Harper Collins
Review: Monique Mulligan 

The Selection (The Selection, #1)The back cover pre-release quote describes The Selection as “reality TV meets dystopian fairytale” – that’s pretty accurate. The quote goes on to say that it’s “charming, captivating and filled with just the right amount of swoon”. I didn’t quite feel it. But that could be because I’m too old!

The story centres around America Singer, who has reluctantly decided to enter the Selection, a lottery where girls from all castes are chosen to compete for the chance to be Prince Maxon′s wife. America just wants to marry her secret boyfriend, Aspen, but, worried that she could miss out on a chance for a better life, he pulls away; her mother is convinced that America is destined for something better, so pulls out all the stops to persuade her feisty daughter. It works.

America is shocked when she is one of 35 young women selected for the lottery and is soon caught up in a world of elaborate gowns, glittering jewels, and decadent feasts. Not to mention fierce competition between the girls, who see America as one to watch. Still reeling from her break-up with Aspen, she at first rejects Maxon’s attempts at friendship, but slowly realises there is more to him than she thought. And that’s when Aspen re-enters the scene as a member of the royal guard.

Love triangles, jealously, teen angst and competition – it’s all here, along with rebel attacks, palace politics and a futuristic setting. The Selection has been compared to the reality TV show, The Bachelor, and even the highly successful Hunger Games trilogy – man picks future wife from bevy of beauties…kids compete for something in dystopian world where people are ranked by caste… without getting into that debate too far, it was clear to me that the plot of The Selection was hardly original.

Had I read this at age 13, I may have been sucked in by the romance of being chosen by a prince for marriage. Yes, I was one of those girls who wanted to be a princess. Sadly, I wasn’t drawn in at all by this novel. The characters didn’t engage me and seemed flat. The story line didn’t captivate me and lacked depth – in the end, I gave up two-thirds through. Like I said, I’m much older than the target market and younger readers (i.e. those who want to be princesses) will probably give it the thumbs up; I’m interested to see what Miss Attitude thinks. It’s one you need to make your own mind up on.

Available from good bookstores or here. This copy was courtesy of Harper Collins Australia.


PENNIES FOR HITLER
Author: Jackie French
Harper Collins RRP $15.99
Review: Monique Mulligan Picture

Jackie French shows her versatility with her young adult novel Pennies for Hitler, ­the companion piece to her award-winning 1999 novel Hitler’s Daughter.

Pennies for Hitler explores the life of a German child during World War II. It starts in 1939, when Georg, only child of an English academic and German mother, is proud to find that his head has measured up as most ‘Aryan-shaped’ in his class. He’s young enough for Nazi propaganda to make sense to him – he hears about it day in, day out at school.

Life is good for Georg – his parents love him and he gets on well with his peers. But in an instant everything changes and life is never again the same. His father is brutally attacked when a pro-Nazi demonstration overshadows a university graduation; Georg and his mother are forced to run – away from the university and their home.

Within days, Georg is smuggled out of Germany to war-torn London, leaving his mother behind. He is met by his childless, hard-working aunt, who takes him in reluctantly because she can’t have children living in her apartment block. Instead of the expected freedom, Georg has to keep quiet, learn to speak with a British accent, and pretend he is just a visitor if anyone asks. He finds solace in the nearby library, but before long life in London is deemed too dangerous and he is evacuated to Australia. Now called George, he has to forget who he is and where he comes from in order to survive.  But how can he forget his mother? Will he ever see her again?

How difficult would it have been to be a German-born boy pretending to be British and living in Australia? Imagine the hatred and prejudice that would have been directed his way had people known his origins. It’s a situation most children would find difficult to understand these days, but French tackles it sensitively and age-appropriately; with direction, children could be drawn into a discussion of some of the deeper issues such as war, displacement, courage, adversity, hope, love, friendship, hatred and cultural thinking.

The pacing is just right – not too fast, not too slow – and while the novel benefits from thorough research, French is careful not to get bogged down in detail. What I like is the realism that underpins the story – it’s not action for action’s sake, but an engaging and realistic account of what it would have been like to live at that time. I would highly recommend this for upper primary and lower secondary students, particularly as a classroom read.

Available from good bookstores and Harper Collins. This copy was courtesy of Harper Collins Australia.