Review #3: Sensitive by Allayne L. Webster Published by University of Queensland Press
“Stories transcend time and space, continents and hearts.”
You’re right, Allayne, they do, and few authors make that journey as well as you.
Allayne Webster has written novels that take us into the heart of a homeless boy in Paris or the fears of a young child in Bosnia but with Sensitive she takes us across a divide even greater than that of poverty or war: the chasm that separates the abled from the disabled.
Samantha, or SJ as she insists on being called, is thirteen, new to town and determined to reinvent herself. She’s self-conscious, impatient with her mother, sarcastic, loving and one of the most accurate portrayals of a teenage girl I have read. In the course of the book she moves to a new town, attempts to reinvent herself, makes friends, has a reciprocated—if complicated—crush on a cute boy and realises that her mother—annoying though she is—does love her.
She also spends months on an exclusion diet, suffers an uncontrollable weight gain and nearly dies—twice—from allergies and chronic eczema. The details od SJ’s condition are woven into the story naturally, always told from the young girl’s perspective so that facts like the effect of steroids, the difficulties of not itching, the dangers of septicaemia all enter our consciousness something we have lived, not just learnt. We may not really know what SJ faces but when we finish this book, but we are starting to get an idea.
Yet it was Webster’s inclusion of the non-medical problems that made the biggest impact on me. I live with a completely different type of disability, but I too have had the experience of not being able to do anything without planning it first. SJ’s complaint that she can’t buy a dress for herself but must think of what parts of her eczema it will cover is an explanation of one of the hardest parts of being disabled. SJ is trapped by her eczema and in the daily effort of SJ’s ordinary life Webster shows us how privileged we are when we are ‘normal.’
Another part of the story that resonated with me was the strangers asking SJ if she’s tried this cream or that food, of the constant attempts to fix the problem. It would have been easy to find a cure but Webster’s story doesn’t take the Hollywood way out. Instead of a magic cure, SJ finds a voice. A voice that, like her creator, she will use to tell us the truth.
This a beautiful book about a difficult problem. For those living with a disability it offers understanding, to those who are ‘normal’ it offers illumination, and to all of us it delivers a story to touch your heart.
Review #2: Twin Spinby Adam Cece. Published by Scholastic Australia 2019.
I loved Cece’s Wesley Booth Super Sleuth, so I approached Twin Spin with every expectation of enjoyment.
I wasn’t disappointed. Twin Spin has everything a middle grade reader could want. Fun and completely different sisters, a ditsy best friend, a famous teen rap band, the right amount of romance and adults whose evil ways are redeemed by the teen heroes.
And twins. Identical twins must be one of the staples of middle grade imagination and as a girl who spent most of her pre-teen years with an imaginary twin, I was pleased to see the trope handled with panache.
The first protagonist Anna opens the story with a heartfelt complaint about her twin sister Steff “stealing her identity”. In keeping with her obsession with organisation she tells us precisely how this crime was committed before the story takes us to Steff’s OMG moment as she meets her favourite rap band in her sister’s identity as a teen TV reporter.
Enter a ditsy fan, an aggressive band manager, the cute rap artist Hamish and an accident that has “Anna” receive a black eye on camera and the story is off and running. Now the twins have to stay swapped for a week, Steph has to rescue her sisters TV career (and save the band who may be breaking up) while Anna, who never does anything without a plan, has to perform as the lead artist in a rap contest.
No-one could call the plot realistic but that’s one of the reasons I loved it. In a world where more and more preteens are succumbing to anxiety and depression Twin Spin is a breath of candy scented air, a taste of the joyous fun of childhood. And amidst the rap stars and happy endings the twins learn some valuable lessons. Anna learns to trust herself and let go, Steff learns there are times when planning can help and that she can’t always do what she wants without consequences. It’s a message we all need to hear enclosed is a rollicking story that anyone can enjoy.
This is a great read for tweens and when you’re racing around this December don’t forget to add Twin Spin to your Christmas shopping list.
Mark here, Catch's husband. We're pretty excited about Catch's new book launching this Friday. So I'm sharing my favourite scene from 'Pig', check it out below. And follow the link to come to the launch. :D
Also, we are finally allowed into the library for our ‘training session’. This turns out to be a long lecture about respect for students using the library, computers, teachers, library staff, lone students who’ve made it to Year 12 with some of their brain cells intact – they might be worthy of respect – blah, blah, blah. After waiting a judicious amount of time – fifteen seconds – to see if this is going to be useful, I pull out an old copy of Fahrenheit 451. I hate being talked down to. ‘You. You at the back, stop that.’ I turn the page. After all Silver Dragon could be referring to Botox Girl, who’s touching up her mascara, or the six other people texting. ‘You with the book. Put that down.’ But, of course, she’s not. I lower the book. ‘Why?’ She seems to have a problem with my perfectly reasonable question. Some spluttering before she comes out with, ‘Because I’m talking to you.’ ‘I heard you.’ I say, refraining – with great effort – from pointing out how much she’s been repeating herself. ‘Libraries are for reading, not talking, that’s what you said. So, I’m reading.’ ‘Don’t be smart with me, young man.’ ‘Would you prefer I was stupid?’ I ask. Her face goes an interesting purple colour. Jayden jabs me in the ribs. ‘Shut up, Morgan.’ ‘Fine.’ I put the book down. ‘Sitting here, preparing not to read in the library, ma’am.’ ‘You’re an idiot,’ Jayden tells me when we’re finally let loose on the shelves. ‘Why’d you rile her up like that?’ ‘She’s a moron,’ I say, ‘and I’m sick of people telling me not to be smart.’ ‘You could do with being a lot smarter,’ he says. ‘Yeah,’ I reply. ‘Well, I could do without some people jabbing me in the ribs.’ He’s about to reply but Silver Dragon’s voice booms down the aisle. ‘Quiet down there.’ Jayden gives me a disgusted look and walks off. I hope he calms down – it’s a novel experience having even a part-time friend. I wander over to the sci-fi section. Pitiful. In fact, the whole library’s pathetic. ‘Better than nothing,’ I mutter, picking a couple of books. ‘And nothing in here’s likely to be in high demand owing to the preliterate nature of most of my society.’ ‘What’s that, Pig?’ What’s Stormin doing in the reading area? Shouldn’t he be killing something on a computer? ‘What’re you saying, Pig?’ He’s behind me and I can feel my shoulders shrinking. ‘Just some sociological observation, Stormin,’ I say. ‘Wouldn’t expect you to understand.’ Surely he can’t beat me up in here. His arm comes across my throat and I’m gasping for breath. I’d forgotten how much I hate his strangling routines. ‘No talking in the library, Pig. That’s what the librarian said.’ He slams me against the shelves and I let out an involuntary cry. ‘Squeal softly, Pig. You don’t want to disturb the other readers.’ ‘What other readers?’ I manage, though I’m still cringing and wondering where the hell the librarian is. ‘What’s this sociological’ – remarkable memory illiterate idiots can have – ‘shit you talking about? Is it in here?’ He snatches at the book and I flinch back. My reading matter, a cheap and abused paperback, rips in two. Shit. ‘Oh no, Pig, you broke it.’ ‘What’s going on here?’ Now the librarian chooses to make her appearance. Her eyes fix on the clumps of paper in my hands. ‘What have you done to that book?’ ‘Nothing, I—’ ‘He ripped it.’ Stormin’s voice cuts across my futile attempts at explanation. ‘Got no respect for libraries. Have you, Pig?’ ‘It’s true.’ Steff saunters up to the librarian, her face swollen with malice. Chris walks behind her and the gathering students melt like snowflakes in hell. Wish I could do the same. ‘I saw it all,’ Steff continues while Chris smiles his support. ‘Morgan was complaining about the library. He said the books were good for nothing but toilet paper. Michael tried to stop him, but Morgan never listens to anyone.’ ‘He’s got a bad attitude, Pig has,’ Stormin agrees. I open my mouth to protest that’s it’s hardly a bad attitude to want to read books in a library, and that I can read, unlike Stormin, the moronic gorilla, whose only use for a book would be to wipe his fat arse, but Silver Dragon has already started to talk. Inevitable diatribe with yours truly cast as the villain of the piece. I am now banned ‘until further notice’ – which judging by the Dragon’s face will be some time next millennium. Both Steff and Stormin look pleased.
I wanted to plead with her, to say it wasn’t my fault and you couldn’t ban me from the library – I was the only one there who wanted to read. But what would be the point? Steff has always hated me, and she wasn’t going to give up the chance to land me in it. No one was going to contradict her – not with Chris standing there – and the librarian already despised me. Glared sullenly instead and pointed out it wasn’t much of a library.
Stormin leaves me alone for the rest of the day. Bringing me down to his level – mindless thug who shouldn’t be allowed near any literature more taxing than Run, Spot, Run – has put him in a sufficiently good mood that he feels no need to hit me. Still trying to decide if it’s worth it. Who am I kidding? I’m not that proud.
Review #1: HIDE by S.J. Morgan. Published by Midnight Sun 2019.
Alec is hitchhiking to Alice, when the car he’s in turns off the road. Now he’s trapped, the heat pounding against the windscreen, the car charging down a track on the way to nowhere when the driver offers him the only explanation he’s going to get. ‘Zip it,’ he said. ‘I picked you up for one reason and one reason only. And it weren’t for your company.’ At that point I was hooked. S. J. Morgan’s Hide flips between a bikie share-house in Cardiff and the Australian outback as it tells the story of how Alec ended up on that deserted highway. On the way we meet Minto and his biker mates; Alec’s ex-navy Dad; his Mum still mourning the loss of her daughter and Alec’s girlfriend Daniella. I loved Daniella’s strength and humanity but it’s Minto’s girl Sindy who really steals the show. Morgan presents the fourteen-year-old bikie chick with no trace of sentimentality and yet Sindy is oddly appealing and I found it easy to see why Alec and his family wanted to help her. From the moment Sindy enters the story, standing naked outside Minto’s door, with matted hair and a body odour problem the stage is set for disaster. Alec’s parents offer help and the twists and turns of the plot begin. Hide offers the reader a thrilling and complex story grounded in the details of real life. It’s scary, touching and always engaging. Just make sure you have a night to spare, this is not a book you will want to put down.
I admire writers who are prolific, I really do. People who can sit down and type 1000 words in an hour. Who don’t go back and obsessively edit what they have just written, who make a plan and stick to it. I admire them the way the way I do gardeners, or people who home school their children. With a kind of hopeless respect and admiration that says I love what you do but I could never do it myself. I really tried this year. My writing group had the idea of all doing NaNoWriMo together. We meet on the 31st of October and shared our story plans. A couple of us admitted it wasn’t going to happen but most of us committed to at least attempt the crazy goal of 50,000 words in thirty days. I even had a plan for the fact I needed to spend the month on publicity. I’d split my words, half on a novel, half on blog articles. Now, we’re 14 days in. Emails have been coming in, 20,000 words here (at day 12), 16,000 there and I have two measly blog posts and I haven’t even started the novel part. It must be admitted I am a NaNoWriMo failure. Still, I have written two reviews and started a third. I don’t write fast, but I can read a book in a couple of hours and writers can always use reviews. Afterall someone has to tell the world about the masterpieces you’re creating. So, instead of trying to write 50,000 words in a month I’m committing to writing 50 reviews. (In a year not a month.) Wish me luck. Links to the first reviews below!
Check out my article in the Guardian. It's fantastic that they wanted to discuss bullying (and my book!). Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of publishing Otherwise Known as Pig is how it opens conversations about the problem of bullying.