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.

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A Monster Calls

 

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

“It’s seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting – he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd – whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself – Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.”

Speaking of Patrick Ness, this is a brilliantly poetic and visual narrative that’s both moving and inspiring. I was drawn to the illustrations of this book, more than anything else, but the story (or should I say stories) told through it are fascinating and beautiful. It is a powerful story about a boy whose mother is very sick. It’s about grief. It’s about loss. It’s about courage. It’s about guilt. It’s about facing monsters. It’s short, sad and profound.

Loved it, although it broke my heart. Recommended for any high school reader. 4 stars.

 

Jasper Jones: A Novel

Jasper Jones - Craig Silvey

“Late on a hot summer night at the tail-end of 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleepout. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the mining town of Corrigan. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlies steals into the night by his side, terrified but desperate to impress. Jasper takes him through town to his secret glade in the bush, and it’s here that charlie bears witness to Jasper’s horrible discovery…In the simmering summer where everything changes, he locks horns with his tempestuous mother, falls nervously in love, and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu…”

Taken off the ‘to read’ list, this was a recommendation from a student. I’d seen it around and had noticed the stacking list of awards attributed to it since it’s publication in 2009. I finished it today and I am thrilled with the genius of this book. Intertwined with inspiring intertextuality, the present-tense narrative is page-turning. The characters are rich, outlined by brilliantly crafted dialogue portraying both stark humour and rash cruelty. It’s a beautifully crafted, quintessentially Australian story with all the sadness and redemption of an excellent novel. Jasper Jones is a fast-paced, coming of age story set against the very real issues of fear, courage, truth, racism and prejudice. Really great read.

Recommended for readers ages 16 and up. It deals with some pretty heavy themes and utilizes a lot of expletive language. I give this piece of mature teen fiction 5 stars.