The White Tiger

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

“Meet Balram Halwai, the ‘White Tiger’: servant, philosopher, entrepreneur, murderer…”

Balram Halwai is an Indian entrepreneur writing a very long letter to a premier in China, Mr. Wen Jiabao. Through the relation of his own story, rising from servant to businessman, Adiga’s satirical and witty narrative voice provides a fascinating insight into the underbelly of India. The narrator is brutal, smug and darkly funny and I loved the comparison between the rising economies and populations of China and India. Adiga has created a unique and pointed  look at the grim effects of a corrupt capitalist system.

Recommended for senior high school students, particularly if you need a related text for The Global Village or Navigating the Global. 3 1/2 stars.

The Little Prince

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“One day, the author reminisces, when his plane was forced down in the Sahara, a thousand miles from help, he encountered a most extraordinary small person. “If you please, ” said the stranger, “draw me a sheep.” And thus begins the remarkable history of the Little Prince.
The Little Prince lived alone on a tiny planet no larger than a house. He owned three volcanoes, two active and one extinct. He also owned a flower, unlike any flower in all the galaxy, of great beauty and of inordinate pride. It was this pride that ruined the serenity of the Little Prince’s world and started him on the interplanetary travels that brought him to Earth, where he learned, finally, from a fox, the secret of what is really important in life.”

This very small book is a rare gem. It’s fable-like narration and insightful simplicity  combine to create a timeless and enchanting story. Saint-Exupery’s writing is disarming and inviting, as soon as I read the dedication, I already knew it was going to be a winner. It is at the same time wise and philosophical as well as poetic and funny. A must-read that, in it’s own very unique and renowned way, reflects on what really matters in life.

Recommended to any reader, children and adults alike. 4 stars.

 

By The River

Spoiler Alert: This text is studied in Year 9 (CCAS)

By the River - Steven Herrick

“Life for Harry means swimming in Pearce Swamp, eating chunks of watermelon with his brother and his dad, surviving schoolyard battles, and racing through butterflies in Cowper’s Paddock. In his town there’s Linda, who brings him the sweetest-ever orange cake, and Johnny, whose lighting fists draw blood in a blur, and there’s a mystery that Harry needs to solve before he can find a way out…
By the River is about feeling the undercurrents, finding solid ground and knowing when to jump.”

I read this verse novel sitting on a big rock next to the river at Noosa; the Queensland heat and humidity made me feel like I was there, in Harry’s world, watching his story unfold. Written as a series of poems, the novel is surprisingly quick to read, the language is concise and potent. It is not a plot-driven story, but the characters and their personal journeys carry you through this beautifully written tale. It’s a compelling and raw account of what it means to grow up as well as the tremendously difficult task of dealing with loss and love. Steven Herrick is an Australian writer who has written a few great verse novels (including The Simple Gift a prescribed belonging text for the HSC), but this is my favourite.

Recommended for ages 14 and up. 4 1/2 stars.

Uglies

Uglies - Scott Westerfeld

“Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her license – for turning pretty. In Tally’s world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.
But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to be pretty. She’d rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world – and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.”

This is the first book in Scott Westerfeld’s 2005 series (4 books in total: Uglies, Pretties, Species, Extras). Don’t let the 425 pages scare you, it is a quick read – both gripping and easy to understand. It’s probably too cliche or young for upper high school, especially if you’ve read a bit of dystopian fiction in the past, but it is a thrilling introduction to the genre. If you didn’t like The Giver, give this series a try. It’s got danger, action, intrigue and of course, love. Westerfeld’s dystopian society, where everyone is ‘pretty’ provides for discussion on some important and poignant issues; self-image, true beauty, loyalty, friendship, integrity, corruption and oppression, and what it really means to ‘grow up.’

Great fast paced book for younger readers. Recommended for ages 11 – 14.    4 stars.

To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

Scout Finch and her older brother Jem, spend their days in a small, sleepy town in the American South. Their adventures, including terrorizing the mysterious occupants of the old Radley House, are set against the story of their father, Atticus, battling for the rights of a Negro man accused of rape.

I wanted to read this classic after I read Jasper Jones because it referred to Harper Lee and Atticus Finch the whole way through. It took me some pages to get used to the more classic style of language, but Lee’s writing makes the characters and their 1940’s, deep south, little town come to life. I was swept along portions of the book, carried by suspense and curiosity, while at other times I needed a bit of resilience. Written in the 1960’s, the social and political context of the story is paramount and it’s innocent narrator unveils the complexities of growing up amidst the prejudices and inconsistencies of the adult world. It is a beautiful coming of age story about family ties, loyalty, prejudice, racism, tolerance, understanding, and what it means to be a ‘man.’

Recommended for readers ages 15 and up.  I’m giving this poignant novel 4 stars (it’s a classic!).

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

 North America has been been through some kind of apocolypse and is now split into 12 districts, all of which depend on and pledge their allegience to The Capitol. Every year, this oppresive regime holds The Hunger Games and requires each district to select a boy and a girl through a lottery to participate and fight to the death. Oh yah, and the whole thing is televised for everyone to see. The trilogy is written from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen, a teenager navigating the violent political landscape of her world, not to mention all the normal teenage angst over boys and finding her true sense of identity.

This was the first teen fiction that I had read in a long time, and I’ll be honest, my expectations were not that high. The synopsis on the back of the book didn’t help much either, something about kids having to fight eachother to the death. Dark.
Or so I thought. I ended up reading the entire trilogy in less than 2 weeks. There were characters that I loved, and those that drove me nuts – a good sign. As a result, the love-triangle, teenage romance was engaging. The lovey-dovey stuff is well balanced, however, with enough action, suspense and violence to keep any guy reading.  It also has a bit of depth, making some pointed social comment through a post-apocalytpic world. 

Recommended for ages 13 and up, both guys and girls.  I loved this series, an absolute page turner, but I’m not holding my breath on the movie. 
As far as teen fiction goes:                                                     4 stars (maybe even 4 1/2).