Book Club Pick: June 2019

Ten-things-i-hate-about-me

Title: Ten things I hate about me

Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: Australia

Publisher: Pan by Pan Macmillan

First Published: 2006

Pages: 278 pages

Publisher Description:

There are a lot of things Jamie hates about her life: her dark hair, her dad’s Stone Age Charter of Curfew Rights, her real name – Jamilah Towfeek.

For the past three years Jamie has hidden her Lebanese background from everyone at school. It’s only with her email friend John that she can really be herself. But now life is getting more complicated. The most popular boy in school is interested in her, but there’s no way he would be if he knew the truth. Then there’s Timothy, the school loner, who for some reason Jamie just can’t stop thinking about. As for John, he seems to have a pretty big secret of his own…

To top it all off, Jamie’s school formal is coming up. The only way she’ll be allowed to attend is by revealing her true identity. But who is she…Jamie or Jamilah?

Review:

The novel follows sixteen-year-old Australian-Lebanese-Muslim high school student Jamilah Towfeek living in the western suburbs of Sydney. Jamiliah for the past three years has hidden her Lebanese-Muslim identity from her high school peers by dying her hair blonde, wearing blue contact lenses, and going by the name Jamie.

Unfortunately at her school bullying and ethnic discrimination exists. So it is understandable why Jamilah is hiding her identity.

At home Jamilah feels oppressed by her overly protective father’s strict rules. He is the breadwinner and disciplinarian after her mother’s passing. Jamilah is frustrated by her older brother Bilal’s freedom, he doesn’t have the same rules and can go out to parties and date because he is a boy. She is also embarrassed by sister Shereen’s Muslim activism.

Jamilah hasn’t completely denied her Lebanese-Muslim heritage she enjoys attending madrasa, an Arabic school, where she plays the drums in a band.

There are also three boys in Jamilah’s life.

At school Jamie attracts the attention of Peter, one of the most popular boys in school, but also one of the school bullies.

Jamie is also partnered on class assignment with Timothy, a loner in school who is comfortable in his own skin and isn’t bothered by what his classmates think of him.

Then there is John, a boy who she communicates with via email (her email is Ten_Things_I_hate_About_Me@hotmail.com). John is the only person she can be herself with because they have never met.

As one will expect the novel explores Jamilah’s struggles to accept her true identity.

In 2017 I attended All Day YA at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, where Randa Abdel-Fattah was on a panel about diversity in YA Fiction. 

Links:

Randa Abdel-Fattah Official Website

Randa Abdel-Fattah on Twitter

Randa Abdel-Fattah on Facebook

 

Source: I purchased this book second hand.

Book Club Pick: May 2019

we-were-liars-lockhart

Title: We Were Liars

Author: E. Lockhart

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Delacorte Press

First Published: 2014

Pages: 227 pages

Publisher Description:

A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends – the Liars –
whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

Review:

The novel is narrated by Cadence Sinclair Eastman, the eldest grandchild of wealthy patriarch Harris Sinclair, who owns a private island Beechwood, near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

The Sinclair family spends their summers on the island. Harris has three daughters Carrie, Penny and Bess.

Carrie has two children – Jonathan (Johnny) and Will. Johnny is three weeks younger than Cadence and is the second eldest grandchild.

Harris’ youngest daughter Bess has four children Mirren, Liberty, Bonnie, and Taft.

There is also Gatwick ‘Gat’ Matthew Patil, who is the nephew of Carrie’s partner Ed, an outsider to the family, who joins them every summer.

Cadence, Johnny, Mirren and Gat are known as ‘The Liars’

There is a Sinclair family tree provided at the front of the book, and also a map of Beechwood Island.

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At age 15 Cadence has a romance with Gat. At the end of the summer she has an accident, but she cannot remember the details of what happened. What happened in the summer of her 15th year as Cadence refers to it is the mystery of the novel.

It is two summers later when Cadence returns to the island with migraines and on medication. In a fractured and disjointed narrative Cadence attempts to reconstruct what happened – unreliable narrator anyone?

The novel is also interspersed with many ‘Once upon a time’ fairy tales. In an interview with The Guardian Lockhart said she used fairy tales ‘to have Cadence tell truths about her family that she felt were unspeakable any other way. Lockhart added that ‘fairy tales get told and retold because they tap into truths about human beings.’

 

Links:

E. Lockhart Official Website

E. Lockhart on Twitter

E. Lockhart on Instagram

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

My book club pick for last month was Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. A film adaptation directed by Stella Meghie was released in 2017.

The film focuses on seventeen-year-old Madeline ‘Maddy’ Whittier (Amandla Stenberg, ‘Hunger Games’, ‘The Hate U Give’), who is being treated for rare disease called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SKID).

Maddy lives her life inside a sterile environment never leaving her house – hence why SKID is often referred to as ‘bubble disease’. Her only company is her doctor mother Pauline (Anika Noni Rose, ‘Dreamgirls’), her day nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera) and the occasional visit from Carla’s daughter Rosa (Danube Hermosillo).

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Amandla Stenberg (Maddy)

 

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Carla (Ana de la Reguera)

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Pauline (Anika Noni Rose) and Maddy (Amandla Stenberg)

Maddy’s attention is caught when Olly (Nick Robinson,‘Love, Simon’, ‘Jurassic World‘), a cute floppy haired, all dressed in black, skater boy who moves next door with his father, mother and sister.

The boy-next-door Olly befriends Maddy and the two first begin communicating from their bedroom windows and later online, and eventually with the help of Carla are able to meet in person – behind her mother’s back.

The text, email and instant message chat conversations from the book are played out onscreen in imagined life size versions of the architectural models that Maddy creates. This was a clever technique of allowing the audience to see the two characters interacting.

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Olly (Nick Robinson)

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One of Maddy’s architectural models

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Maddy and Olly

Stenberg and Robinson have good chemistry onscreen together, and it is positive to see an interracial relationship presented on onscreen just as it is. The character of Maddy is biracial in the book (African-American and 3rd generation Japanese-American) this mixed heritage representation is unfortunately lost in the film.

Overall the film keeps to the spirit of the novel, and fans of the novel will hopefully be satisfied. But as a film it does fall short.

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Book Club Pick: April 2019

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Title: 1914: Riding into war

Author: Susan Brocker

Series: Kiwis at war series, book 1

Country: New Zealand

Publisher: Scholastic New Zealand

First Published: 2014

Pages: 215

Publisher Description:

Billy may have been fresh off the farm, but he was a good rider and an even better shot. When the world went to war in 1914, Kiwis rushed to enlist. For Billy and his best mate, Jack, joining the Mounted Rifles Regiment held the promise of adventure – little did they know that half the battle would lie in keeping their horses alive aboard the troopship as the journeyed halfway around the world.

Review:

Seventeen-year-old Billy Bowman, nicknamed Billy the Kid because of his youthful looks, is excited to enlist when war is declared in August 1914 and leave his farm job in small town New Zealand for an exciting adventure.

Billy lies about his age and he and his friend Jack Thompson and their two horses Tui and Spirit join the Mountain Rifles Regiment.

The story follows Billy and Jack’s training at Awapuni, their trip by sea to Egypt, and more training before they are sent to fight at Gallipoli without their horses.

The horses are also important characters and the boys’ relationships with their horses are an integral part of the story. Sadly we often overlook the number of horses that were killed in war.

Brocker is passionate about horses. She lives on a small farm with horses and many pets. She has written several books about horses, including Brave Bess and the ANZAC Horses, a true story of Bess, one of only four horses to return from war.

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The book also features a map of the ‘Journey of the NZ Expeditionary Force, October-December 1914’; timeline, glossary and bibliography for readers to learn more.

This was the first in a five book series ‘Kiwis at War’ released to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. The series was scheduled to be release one a year to coincide with the 100 years commemorations (2014 – 2018).

Characters will appear across several books to connect the stories. Although each book in the series can be read as a standalone novel.

I have read the next three books in the series – 1915: Wounds of War by Diana Menefy, 1916: Dig for Victory by David Hair, and 1917: Machines of War by Brian Falkner. I’m still waiting to read 1918: Broken Poppies by Des Hunt.

Brocker portrays the reality of war realistically without the novel being too graphic in its depiction of the horrors of war.

Links:

Susan Brocker Official Website

Susan Brocker on Facebook

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Book Club Pick: March 2019

everythingeverything

Title: Everything, everything

Author: Nicola Yoon

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

First Published: 2015

Pages: 310

Publisher Description:

Live life is a bubble?
Or risk everything for live?

Maddy is allergic to the world.
She hasn’t left her house in seventeen years.

Olly is the boy next door.
He’s determined to find a way to reach her.

Everything, Everything is about the crazy risks we take for love.

Review:

The novel follows Madeline ‘Maddy’ Whittier, a biracial teenager (African-American and 3rd generation Japanese-American) who is being treated for rare disease called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SKID).

Maddy lives her life inside a sterile environment never leaving her house – hence why SKID is often referred to as ‘bubble disease’. Her only company is her doctor mother, her day nurse Carla, and the occasional tutor.

Shortly after her 18th birthday she watches from her window as the Bright family move in next door – mom, dad, son, and daughter. Maddy is drawn to the son: ‘tall, lean, and wearing all black: black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers and black knit cap that covers his hair completely’. He practices parkour, is mysterious, and her bedroom looks directly into his.

The boy-next-door Olly befriends Maddy and the two first begin communicating by mime from their bedroom windows and later online, and eventually with the help of Carla are able to meet in person – behind her mother’s back.

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Maddy and Ollie communicate via email

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and instant messaging

Maddy knows that her and Olly will never be able to have a normal relationship, and the novel explores this dilemma.

The book features numerous illustrations throughout by Nicola’s husband David (his debut novel Frankly in Love is due out September 2019).

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Illustration by David Yoon

In 2007 a film adaptation was released with Amandla Stenberg as Maddy and Nick Robinson as Olly

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Links:

Nicola Yoon Official Website

Nicola Yoon on Facebook

Nicola Yoon on Twitter

Nicola Yoon on Instagram

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Book Club Pick: February 2019

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Title: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Author: John Green and David Levithan

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

First Published: 2010

Pages: 310

Publisher Description:

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

Review:

The novel is told from the perspective of two Illinois teenagers that share the same name – Will Grayson.

The odd numbered chapters are narrated by heterosexual Chicago high school teenager Will Grayson. He is the only male heterosexual-identifying member of his school’s Gay Straight Alliance. He is living in the shadow (literally) of his best friend Tiny Cooper, an ironic name considering his size and personality. Tiny is larger-than-life, flamboyant, openly gay and much to Will’s distain writing an autobiographical musical, which features a character loosely (obviously) based on Will.

The even number chapters are told from the perspective of Will Grayson, an angry and depressed closeted gay teenager from Naperville, Illinois. He is taking medication for his depression. The only light in his life is Issac, a boy he chats with online.

John Green wrote all the odd-numbered chapters (capitalised Will Grayson), while David Levithan wrote all the even-numbered chapters (lowercase will grayson). Green’s chapters are written with correct punctuation, while Levithan’s chapters use lowercase letters and the language is more vulgar. This is a simple way of clearly distinguishing the two characters.

While the characters stories start off separately they each become interwoven when the two Will Graysons meet in a porn store.

The novel was the first LGBT-themed novel on the New York Times children’s best seller list.

Links:

John Green Official Website

John Green on Facebook

John Green on Twitter

John Green on Instagram

Vlogbrothers YouTube Channel (with brother Hank Green)

 

David Levithan Official Website

David Levithan on Facebook

David Levithan on Twitter

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

My book club pick for August 2018 was Wendelin Van Draanen’s 2001 novel Flipped. As it was the long weekend I had the chance to sit down and rewatch the film version. I had seen the film back in 2011, so it was interesting to revisit it after reading the book.

The film adaption of Flipped was released in 2010. It was directed by Rob Reiner (The Princess Bride, When Harry Meet Sally, A Few Good MenMisery). Reiner also co-wrote the script with Andrew Scheinman.

The film opens in the summer of 1957 when seven-year-old Bryce Loski (Ryan Ketzner) and his family moving in across the street from Juli Baker (Morgan Lily, also young Raven in X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past).

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Young Bryce (Ryan Ketzner) and Young Juli (Morgan Lily)

Juli knows that Bryce will be her first kiss, but Bryce isn’t so sure and does his best to avoid Juli.

Madeline Carroll and Callan McAuliffe play Juli and Bryce as the film moves to 1961 and follows them through their sixth to eighth grades.

Juli and Bryce views of each other begin to change. Bryce begins to look at Juli in a different way and realises she is not what he initially thought. Unfortunately for Bryce Juli’s view is also changing – she is beginning to realise that Bryce is not the boy she thought he was.

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Juli (Madeline Caroll)

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Bryce (Callan McAuliffe)

As I mentioned Reiner changed Van Draanen’s contemporary setting to the early 1960s, a few years later than his earlier adolescent themed work Stand by Me, which was set in 1959. It possible that Reiner chose to change the time period as that was when he grew up. The nostalgic feel of small town America in the 1960s suits the story.

One of the key features of the novel is its he-said-she-said narrative with Bryce and Julie alternating chapters each giving their perspective. I pointed out in my review of the book that this can be risky for an author to do because it can slow down the pace of the novel with characters retelling the same points of plot. Van Draanen did a good job at offering two different perspectives in an entertaining and often amusing way.

Reiner kept with dual perspective with Carroll and McAuliffe each providing voice over for their characters perspectives. This received some criticism from critics that argued the scenes weren’t different enough to justify showing the same scenes from opposing points of view. I would have to agree with this assessment.

The adult cast was made up of a group of experienced actors. Penelope Ann Miller and Aidan Quinn as Juli’s parents, Rebecca De Mornay and Anthony Edwards as Bryce’s parents. The late John Mahoney portrayed Bryce’s grandfather and Kevin Weisman plays Juli’s intellectually disabled uncle.

Flipped doesn’t have the same magic as Reiner’s classic film Stand by Me, but it is still a sweet movie and is faithful to the spirit of the book.

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