Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts
The novel, Zac and Mia, follows the journey of two teenager cancer patients as they struggle with the challenges both in and out of a cancer ward. Written from both children’s’ perspective it is an engaging, unbelievably realistic read with such raw, genuine protagonists. Zac is calm and kind while Mia is perpetually angry and feisty, in the outside world they would never be friends. But in hospital there are different rules – especially when everyone else there is your grandparent’s age. Set in and out of the hospital Zac and Mia is a powerful (not too depressing) novel, perfect for fans of John Green’s the Fault in Our Stars. The base of the novel is friendship- often tentative, ignored and depended upon. Unlike in many novels things don't ‘magically’ fall into place at every turn, both of the characters are humanely flawed and this makes their friendship both believable and enthralling.
The novel isn’t really about cancer. Cancer is how they meet and the battle they face but it isn’t the focus or the point of it. Zac and Mia is about friendship, love, struggle and finding ones strength in others. Beautifully written, it is easily one of the best books that I have read this year.
For ages 12+ (but enjoyable for all)
A beautifully written book full of evocative characters and intergenerational stories. This is the tale of an American journalist who returns to her homelands to discover the past. Set amongst Lebanon and Armenia, Anoush Pakradounian finds two sides of the truth in the war-ruined countries of her ancestors. The story builds across time and brings Anoush into the present day. Her views on war, truth, death and ultimately, her family, are tried in each memory of the past. If the beauty of this literature does not win you over, the wonderful story will.
The Humans by Matt Haig
Having just solved the unsolvable mathematical riddle - a solution that will profoundly effect the human race and technology forever - Professor Andrew Martin suddenly stops being Professor Andrew Martin, physically he's unchanged, but he is now repulsed by the sight and smell of other humans, doesn't understand the point of clothes and is on a mission to destroy any evidence of his discovery.
Has he gone mad, or is this an intervention by an advanced alien race who believe humanity is not mature enough for the technological advances to come?
We follow the journey of the new Andrew Martin, as he becomes sidetracked from his mission, and explores the wonders of cheap peanut butter, wine, sex, love, and how they're intensified by finality and our mortality.
This is a clever, funny and touching novel about what it is to be human. Recommended.
The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits
Julia Severn, is a gifted student at an elite school for psychics, so gifted that her mentor Madame Ackerman launches a psychic attack on her, causing a slow deterioration of her body and mind.
Upon fleeing the school to recover, Julia's talents are called upon to find a missing person, and throughout the course of this time as an astral detective, she meets, amongst others, The Vanishers (a service helping people disappear and assume new identities), a controversial (and likely homicidal) cult video artist, and learns that everything she thought she knew about her absent mother may be false.
Honestly, summing up the narrative of this story briefly is near impossible, it has many twists and turns, and at times there is a thick cloud of confusion around what is happening, which is reflective of Julia's mental state throughout the novel. I didn't find this discouraging however, as Julavits uses such unique and inventive prose, and with it explores themes of female competitiveness, self harm (both mental and physical) and grief.
If you like your fiction weird and gritty, then I highly recommend this intelligent and very different novel.
THE BURGESS BOYS by Elizabeth Strout
This is another great tale from Elizabeth Strout. Family problems bring the force of the family together to help the Burgess boys’ sister whose only son, a socially sidelined child, commits the crime of throwing a pig’s head into the entrance of a mosque. The fearless and highly successful lawyer Jim, also the eldest child of the family takes control while the large hearted and generous natured Bob supports him and Susan, his sister in his own quiet and comforting manner. Susan struggles with her own life and the difficulty of dealing as a single parent with her son. The pressure of the case and of living closely after many years of separated adult lives leads to the airing of family grievances and issues. Cracks appear, history is revealed and the truth becomes unbelievable.
Well worth reading.
Ugly by Robert Hoge
I don't want to tell you all what to do but I love this book so much that if you are holding it proceed to the counter and part with your cash immediately.
When Robert was born in suburban Brisbane in the early 70's his parents were uncertain if they would take him home. He was born with a facial tumour that severely distorted his facial features and malformed legs. In and out of hospital his entire young life Robert decided against any further surgeries at the age of 13.
He knew he would always be different and he accepted he would always be judged. More important than the way he looked is his fine intellect, huge heart, wicked sense of humour and loving family.
A fine storyteller, this book deserves a wide audience.
Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson
The story begins in the Australian summer of 1971, Mr Wigg is still grieving the loss of his wife a few years earlier and tending to her rose garden while he maintains his orchard on what's left of the family farm after part of it was sold to pay his daughter the share she demanded that has caused an estrangement.
Mr Wigg follows the same routines he has for years, he preserves his own jam in an already well stocked pantry, cooks his own meals and without fail nurtures his fruit trees even though his body may be telling him its time to slow down. He resists his sons desire for him to move closer to the city as the farm keeps his soul strong when the body is continually reminding him that he is no longer a young man.
This book celebrates a simple but beautiful life and Mr Wigg and his joy in the everyday minutiae reminds us of the little things that should be cherished.
We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo
‘We Need New Names’ is the fictional debut novel from NoViolet Bulawayo, expanding on her Caine Prize winning short story ‘Hitting Budapest’. It begins following the plight of ten year old Darling, who lives in a shanty-town called ‘Paradise’ in Zimbabwe amidst an environment of violent political unrest. With no school to go to and left to their own devices, Darling and her friends spend their days playing games and stealing guavas to satiate their ever present hunger.
The dream of escaping their impoverished living conditions for foreign lands comes true for Darling who is sent to live with her aunt in the United States in Detroit, Michigan. The country of abundance, however, turns out to be vastly different to what she imagined it would be. Experiencing displacement in the new land and struggling to fit in in unfamiliar territory, Darling finds herself longing for familiarities from home.
Bulwayo’s unique style of writing is refreshing, exhibiting a rawness and vibrancy through rhythmic language in the descriptions of grave situations and events told from a child’s perspective. A highly original and excellent debut.
The Round House - Louise Erdich
The story of ‘The Round House’ takes place within a Native American Ojibwe community in North Dakota. Following the assault and attempted murder of his mother, thirteen year old Joseph sees the normality of his family life shaken apart.
Complications of conviction arise as a result of the crime having been committed on the grounds of the titular building, the ceremonial Round House, which sits within a complex patchwork of land divided into tribal, federal and state territories.
The failure of the justice system sees Joseph and his friends go in search for the perpetrator seeking retribution and justice for the horrific crime. Through comradery and friendship, the surrounding community and extended family come together to heal seemingly irreparable wounds.
Featuring characters from her previous novels, ‘The Round House’ is a memorable read and a most deserving winner of the US National Book award.
College student Devin Jones has come to work at Joyland for the summer, a carnival style theme park, one of the last of it's kind, with rigged skill games, rickety Ferris wheels and creepy ghost trains.
This is essentially a coming of age story, but as you might expect from Stephen King, it's also a ghost story and murder mystery. The story is narrated by Jones in the current day, a writer recalling times past, but I couldn't help feeling like it was King himself nostalgically recalling his youth sweating it out in a giant dog costume and coping with his first broken heart.
I enjoyed this story much like I enjoy cotton candy, it's sweet and very enjoyable, and while it won't change your life, sometimes these quick simple pleasures are just what's needed.