2012 REVIEWS: YOUNG ADULT #3

THE AMBER AMULET
Author: Craig Silvey
Allen & Unwin RRP $16.99
Review: Monique Mulligan 

The Amber AmuletThe cover of this gem of a novella is even better when seen in person, rather than on- screen; the pulp-fiction inspired cover perfectly suits the surprising narrative it binds.  For those who know Craig via the Miles Franklin Award shortlisted novel Jasper Jones, this looks like a completely different venture in some ways, and yet the coming-of-age themes mean the two books have more in common than first is obvious.

The Masked Avenger, aka Liam McKenzie, patrols Franklin Street at night to protect his neighbours from chaos, mayhem, evil and low tyre pressure. His superhero powers (derived from harnessing the dormant energy within objects that citizens overlook, such as gemstones and minerals) are potent – they include endurance, truth, honesty, defence, anonymity, balance, reason and alertness. Teamed with his trusty sidekick, Richie the Powerbeagle, The Masked Avenger is a force to be reckoned with. But are they strong enough to overturn unhappiness?

The Masked Avenger senses that one of his neighbours, Joan, is unhappy; she confirms this when she answers his Important Questionnaire. Ensuring her happiness becomes his civic responsbility: “He has inherited her unhappiness. Overturning it has become his duty”. The only way he can think of to help her is to give her the Amber Amulet that belongs to his own mother; but when he realises how much it means to his mother, he has to figure out how to get it back. Does he sacrifice one person’s unhappiness for the sake of another?

The book is short; at just under 60 pages of text and accompanied by charming scrapbook-style colour illustrations, it’s a quick read. That doesn’t mean it’s a light and shallow read – there’s more depth in this little book than the cover, illustrations and superhero theme suggest. Instead, it’s rich with coming-of-age themes (a child looking at the world through a child’s eyes and realising there’s more to it), emotional growth, relationships and even, environmental awareness.

The Amber Amulet is a beautifully written book, with an engaging protagonist (who gives readers plenty to think about, especially in terms of how they deal with others) and a clever storyline. There is a subtlety about it that is both refreshing and thought-provoking; I love the underlying complexity shadowing the simplicity. It made me smile, it made me think, it reminded me why I love reading so much.

Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. This copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.


 COLD HANDS, WARM HEART

Author: Jill Wolfson
Walker RRP $18.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

The topical issue of organ donation is explored in a gentle and insightful way by author Jill Wolfson in Cold Hands, Warm Heart­. Aimed at the teenage market, it introduces a difficult subject that is often ignored – not only by teens – but is worthy of wider consideration.Fourteen-year-old Amanda is a competitive gymnast in perfect health. Her death from a blood clot during a gymnastics competition is unexpected and shocking; the last thing her parents want to think about is whether they want to donate her organs, and yet, it is exactly what they are asked to do. Time is of the essence – there are many sick people waiting for donor organs; the irony that life for them comes at the cost of another’s life is not lost on the potential recipients.Fifiteen-year-old Dani is at the top of the heart transplant waiting list. Born with her heart on the wrong side of her body, she’s been in and out of hospitals all of her life. All she wants is to be a normal teenager: I want that heart. I won’t be picky. I’ll take the first one that comes along. I want to be normal and go to school and cut PE classes. I want a boyfriend and trip to Paris. I want to sit in a cafe and drink coffee and argue about movies. I want to pierce my ears. I want to eat salty pretzels and fried calamari rings. I want to live to be an old lady with deep wrinkles who wears purple and half scares the neighbourhood kids. I want a new heart.

After she is given Amanda’s heart she finds herself wanting to find out more about her donor. Who was Amanda? Tyler, Amanda’s brother, is also wondering. He wants to know about the people who received Amanda’s organs. He begins a correspondence with the different donors to see how life is faring for them – it’s his way of keeping Amanda’s memory alive.

Told from multiple perspectives, this is a story that is possibly more important for awareness than for entertainment value. And yet, there are welcome flashes of humour, particularly in the form of the incorrigible Wendy (another organ recipient), keeping the book from being overly depressing and dark. The different perspectives show how organ donation affects the donor’s family and the recipients. More than that, it brings the issue to teens’ levels of thinking – how would they feel in such a situation?

Dani, with her feisty attitude, is an interesting and likable character who rarely succumbs to the “poor me” attitude. I liked this about her and I think teens will find her appealing. Sick or not, they will be able to relate to her desire to be “normal”. I also liked Milo as a character – the fact that he was in hospital awaiting a second liver transplant after abusing the first he received was sobering; his philosophical, dark outlook epitomises the behaviour of many young teens as they question the beliefs and values they’ve been brought up with and try to form some sense of who they are.

Well written and detailed, this is a book for those who something “real” but aren’t ready for it to be too hard-hitting. It’s well aimed at its market and provides an original, thoughtful storyline.

Available from good bookstores, this copy was courtesy of Walker Books Australia.

For people in Australia who want to find out more about organ donation, click here.


AWAY FOR THE WEEKEND
Author: Dyan Sheldon
Walker RRP $16.95
Review: Monique Mulligan 

What do you get when you put together a brainbox, a fashionista and two angels on a mission? An interesting weekend.

Away for the Weekend is a new release from Dyan Sheldon, a writer who has a knack for getting into the minds of teenage girls and delivering engaging reads. In this novel, she introduces high-school students Gabriela and Beth, both as different as can be and both on the way to Los Angeles for the weekend. Aspiring writer Beth is going for the Tomorrow’s Writers Today National Competition and has lectures and literature on the mind. Gabriela is a finalist in a “really major fashion competition, so she’s looking forward to fashion, fun and frivolity. What neither girl knows is that two angels have come along for the ride. And when they wake up in each other’s bodies, things don’t quite go as they planned.

Aimed at the 12+ market, this is a light and fast-paced read, helped along by the present tense. It’s a different take on the supernatural theme that is prevalent in young adults’ literature at the moment and should appeal to younger teenagers who like a good body-swap story a la Freaky Friday.

Available from good bookstores and Walker Books.  This copy was courtesy of Walker Books.


 AND BABY MAKES TWO

Author: Dyan Sheldon
Walker RRP $16.95

Review: Monique Mulligan

“By then I had made my plan. I reckoned it was time. I mean, since I already knew I was going to marry Les and have his babies I couldn’t see any reason for holding back.”

Lana Spiggs is 15 and fed up with everyone – her mother, her teachers – telling her what to do. She wants to be grown up, with her own flat, a husband and children and no one bossing her around. So when she meets Les, she knows he is The One. And when she gets pregnant without even trying, she believes the ticket to freedom is within her grasp.

Author Dyan Sheldon deals with the issue of teen pregnancy with sensitivity and without judgement, creating a heroine who is by turns funny, naive and incredibly frustrating. But while Lana has a childlike view of motherhood, Sheldon does not hold back in exploring the very real difficulties Lana faces, such as postpartum depression, a non-committal boyfriend, and tough love.

As Sheldon shows, and Lana has to realise, reality is a lot harsher when rose-coloured glasses are removed. Aimed at teenage girls, this is an entertaining but hard-hitting read that is a great debate starter. It would be good for school libraries and as a health education resource.

It’s available from good bookshops and Walker Books.  This copy was courtesy of Walker Books.