Murder Mile by Lynda La Plante

murder mile.jpgTitle: Murder Mile

Author: Lynda La Plante

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 15th August, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price:  $32.99

Synopsis: Four brutal murders, a city living in fear, a killer on the streets…Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison returns in the 4th book in the bestselling Tennison series, from the doyenne of crime fiction.

February, 1979, ‘The Winter of Discontent’. Economic chaos has led to widespread strikes across Britain.

Jane Tennison, now a Detective Sergeant, has been posted to Peckham CID, one of London’s toughest areas. As the rubbish on the streets begins to pile up, so does the murder count: two bodies in as many days.

There are no suspects and the manner of death is different in each case. The only link between the two victims is the location of the bodies, found within a short distance of each other near Rye Lane in Peckham. Three days later another murder occurs in the same area. Press headlines scream that a serial killer is loose on ‘Murder Mile’ and that police incompetence is hampering the investigation.

Jane is under immense pressure to catch the killer before they strike again. Working long hours with little sleep, what she uncovers leaves her doubting her own mind.

~*~

As the winter of 1979 inches along, WDS Jane Tennison is working with the Peckham CID when bodies start showing up along Rye Lane, and with a serial killer on the loose, the press soon christen it “Murder Mile”. As the bodies pile up, Jane and her team search for connections between them, and in the seventies, prevailing attitudes against women in the force and ideas about how people should conduct themselves, and the various disagreements that crop up when friends are brought into suspicion, tensions arise as Jane tries to keep an open mind and not let prior relationships and connections get in the way of justice. As the plot moves along, suspects fall in and out of favour, some fizzle away into nothing, some disappear and others are let loose – yet one suspect looms large on Jane’s list – the only one connected to each victim, a dentist who is good friends with someone Jane works with, yet Jane doesn’t seem keen to let him off the hook.

As the case progresses, tensions rise amongst the cops and detectives, the complexities of the case become clearer , and soon, all attention turns to one viable suspect as Jane convinces the team leaders to look into them – making for an intriguing and fast-paced, and surprising finale as conflicts of the law and privilege, class and gender intersect to bring to life a story and characters that are vibrant and deep, exploring policing in an era when, as Jane observes, its still very much a male-dominated job, yet at the same time, showing the varying array and approaches to people and attitudes of the late seventies, and how these were dealt with.

The fourth in the Jane Tennison series, these stories see Jane starting out in her career, facing prejudice from some older detectives, and pressures to conform to what her family expects of her, and what society sees as right – despite the changes in society at the time as well. Caught between these changes and traditions that some characters seem to hold onto, Jane manages to find her way in the world, and her own path, and is open-minded and determined – she has to be, to get the bosses at work to listen to her.

Even though I had not read the previous three books in the series, it was easy to understand what was happening, and engage with the characters and story. It had an interesting plot, complex and intriguing yet not overwhelmingly so, and allowed room for character growth and change. It is a series I would recommend to mystery fans and is one that is in the middle ground of easy and complex- easy enough to knock out in a few reading sessions, yet the complex enough to be engaging and not be rushed, which is what makes reading it quickly possible. It can be savoured too, though I found I read it quickly because I wanted to know what happened.

An enjoyable read for new and old fans.

Booktopia

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

bronte mettlestone.jpgTitle: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: November, 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 512

Price: $22.99

Synopsis: An enchanting and whimsical spell-filled fantasy novel from Jaclyn Moriarty, the award-winning author of Feeling Sorry for Celia and A Corner of White, suitable for readers who loved A Most Magical Girl.

I was ten years old when my parents were killed by pirates. This did not bother me as much as you might think – I hardly knew my parents.

Bronte Mettlestone’s parents ran away to have adventures when she was a baby, leaving her to be raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler. She’s had a perfectly pleasant childhood of afternoon teas and riding lessons – and no adventures, thank you very much.

But Bronte’s parents have left extremely detailed (and bossy) instructions for Bronte in their will. The instructions must be followed to the letter, or disaster will befall Bronte’s home. She is to travel the kingdoms and empires, perfectly alone, delivering special gifts to her ten other aunts. There is a farmer aunt who owns an orange orchard and a veterinarian aunt who specialises in dragon care, a pair of aunts who captain a cruise ship together and a former rockstar aunt who is now the reigning monarch of a small kingdom.

Now, armed with only her parents’ instructions, a chest full of strange gifts and her own strong will, Bronte must journey forth to face dragons, Chief Detectives and pirates – and the gathering suspicion that there might be something more to her extremely inconvenient quest than meets the eye…

From the award-winning Jaclyn Moriarty comes a fantastic tale of high intrigue, grand adventure and an abundance of aunts.

Awards:Longlisted Book of Year, Younger Readers – Australian Book Industry Awards 2018 AU; Longlisted CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers 2018 AU; Shortlisted Readings Children’s Book Prize 2018 AU; Longlisted Indie Book Awards – Children’s Fiction 2018 AU; Shortlisted Best Children’s Novel, Aurealis Awards 2017 AU

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseTen-year-old Bronte Mettlestone has been raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler, ever since her parents, Lida and Patrick, left her on her Aunt’s doorstep to go off on adventurers and hunt down pirates. The book opens with Bronte recounting the day she found out her parents had died, that they had been killed by pirates, but having been raised by her Aunt Isabelle, it does not affect her as it might other children. Following the news of their deaths, their will is read out and she is sent on a series of quests and adventures to visit all her aunts across the Kingdoms and Empires to deliver a series of gifts to them. Aunt Isabelle tries to get her out of it and go with her, but the border has been adorned by Faery cross-stitch- binding Bronte to the quest and rules set forth by her parents – and so, she must go alone.

Each gift it seems, as Bronte delivers them, is special or relevant to that aunt – and as she travels, her mind is constantly going over what will happen if she breaks the rules of the Faery cross-stitch, which will result in Gainsleigh, her home town, being destroyed. It is a journey of utmost importance, and is filled with aunts, and new friends, cousins she has never met or seldom met, as she stumbles – accidentally and against her wishes – into trouble and unforeseen scenarios, Bronte’s colourful, magical and humour filled world comes to life with the array of aunts, whose vastly different approaches to Bronte’s visits are all different, and some are far more interesting than others – her visit to the cruise ship with Aunt Maya and Aunt Lisbeth – one of her longest visits – is interesting and filled with danger, whereas her visit with Aunt Nancy is one Bronte finds rather dull and limiting, a visit where she fears the magic of the Faery cross stitch might come undone if she allows Aunt Nancy to keep her from her parents instructions.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is a book of beauty, from the lovely cover, to the adorable illustrations, to the magical words that fly off the page on the back of a flying unicorn and envelop the reader in the story – so much so, that whilst reading one day, I didn’t even realise how much I had read and that I was only a few chapters from the end of the story. So I’m not surprised that it has had several award nominations, long-listings and short-listings – these accolades are very well deserved, and this bridges a gap between early readers who have the confidence to read and those about to embark on Harry Potter, Narnia and other books, but is also a book that anyone can enjoy and lose themselves in as I invariably did the one day.

I loved Bronte’s character – she wasn’t a stereotype or archetype, she was a little girl, who had fears, and flaws, and who managed to find ways out of sticky situations, in a world she had not had much contact with, and yet, seemed to fit into really well. Determined to make sure she abides by the wishes and rules set forth for her in her parents will, yet still individual, and creative, able to see solutions to problems, and not the typical fairy-tale girl, Bronte is exactly the kind of character who we need these days – brave, and confident, active and able to think for herself, yet also able to accept help when she needs it. Whether it’s negotiating with water sprites to get an aunt out of jail, inadvertently causing an avalanche, or exploring a ship with a boy named Billy and a girl named Taylor, Bronte is the childhood hero for girls that my generation needed, that this generation needs, and in fact, that every girl, and woman, no matter her age or identity, will hopefully enjoy, and have a laugh with, worry and hope with her, and share in everything she feels and does.

I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, and I hope Bronte makes another appearance as she is a rather enjoyable character, and I would like to see more of her. Aimed at what I hope will be a varied audience, it was the title and cover that attracted me to this book, and it’s fabulous first line is an excellent hook for the story – bring on book two!

After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

after the lights go out.jpgTitle: After the Lights Go Out

Author: Lili Wilkinson

Genre: Young Adult,

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th July, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: What happens when the lights go off after what might truly be an end-of-the-world event? How do you stay alive? Who do you trust? How much do you have to sacrifice?

‘After the Lights Go Out is a terrifying yet hope-filled story of disaster, deceit, love, sacrifice and survival.’ – Fleur Ferris

Seventeen-year-old Pru Palmer lives with her twin sisters, Grace and Blythe, and their father, Rick, on the outskirts of an isolated mining community. The Palmers are doomsday preppers. They have a bunker filled with non-perishable food and a year’s worth of water.

One day while Rick is at the mine, the power goes out. At the Palmers’ house, and in the town. All communication is cut. No one knows why.

It doesn’t take long for everything to unravel. In town, supplies run out and people get desperate. The sisters decide to keep their bunker a secret. The world is different; the rules are different. Survival is everything, and family comes first.

‘A gripping portrait of catastrophe at the edge of the world, love in extremis, and the lengths that survival can drive us to.’ – Justine Larbalestie

~*~

Prudence Palmer has lived in an isolated country town called Jubilee with her sisters – twins – Grace and Blythe, and their father Rick for three years. In these three years, they haven’t attended school, have barely interacted with friends, and have pretty much kept to themselves because their father is a prepper, who believes that the world will end, and they have a bunker filled with food and water for a year. They also have bags ready to go should they need to “bug out” as their father calls it. When the power goes out at the mine when Rick is there one day for a conference, and mass tragedy hits the town of Jubilee. In the small mining town of Jubilee, though, the tragedy unites the community, and the young boy whose mother has come to lead a conference, Mateo, who is quite fond of the word unacceptable throughout the book, befriends Prudence, and they form a bond that makes Prudence question what her father has drummed into her the past three years as he has cut them off from everything and everyone almost, pushing the idea that family should come first in a disaster, that worrying about the community is a waste of time and resources. With Rick missing for the majority of the novel and the several months it takes place over, Prudence and her sisters find themselves caught in a conundrum: do they keep their secret or share it with the town?

Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, things unravel, and the girls are drawn into the community after a few weeks alone, apart from going in to help each day, where they face more tragedy, and yet at the same time, Prudence finds that perhaps banding together and sharing resources is not such a bad thing – as each person has something different to offer – maybe they can find a way to get out of Jubilee and somewhere safer? As they go about their lives, the absence of Rick flutters away until the climax where Prudence is caught in a decision – loyalty to family or loyalty to the town?

The book is filled with diverse and amazing characters, from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, in a tiny town where yes, there are conflicts, but the quick realisation that working together will be the best thing – that community will help, and in the end, this rings true. They all band together for the memorial, for birth, for death and everything in between. Written with great care as well, the diverse cast is real, they’re family and they’re there for each other – including Mateo and his mother, Clarita, who are cut off from Mateo’s other mother in Melbourne – but who still soldier through to help Jubilee. Each character is integral to the plot and the way it unfolds and concludes, ensuring an ending that is uplifting and hopeful in the face of a tragedy that very nearly ended a town.

The premise of this #LoveOzYA novel is very different and unique, when put next to other ones, and that is what attracted me to it in the first place – the idea that the bonds of family, friendship and love of all kinds can be tested in a variety of ways, proving the strength of community in dire times – when everyone bands together to help each other, and does their best to set aside their differences. Whilst there is a touch of romance, it is not the be all and end all of the novel, and the way it was written, guts and all, flaws flailing about, and the general atmosphere of having such a relationship in the circumstances Prudence and Mateo found themselves in was refreshing – Lili doesn’t shy away from the realities of bodies or needing to wash, the lack of hygiene that the characters face for months on end – it is raw and real. This is what I enjoyed about it the most – they were free to be themselves, though they did have concerns about certain things, and they were free to make mistakes.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs were all characters. Nobody was perfect – not even Prudence’s dad planned for having three teenage daughters in his bunker, it would seem. So the girls have to use a bit ingenuity to come up with solutions to problems, that in turn they get to use to help the town. For much of the book, there is a hope that things will turn out, until the return of one resident sets in motion a series of quick events that force people to make last minute decisions, and that leads to a conclusion that in some ways, I had not expected, but that i had also hoped for – and leaving it open ended felt right, allowing the reader to imagine what happened next.

Booktopia

The Relic of the Blue Dragon (Children of the Dragon #1) by Rebecca Lim

relic of the blue dragon.jpgTitle: The Relic of the Blue Dragon (Children of the Dragon #1)

Author: Rebecca Lim

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 192

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:When Harley Spark accidentally releases Qing, one of five dragon sisters, from the ancient vase she’s been trapped in for centuries, he is soon on a dangerous international mission with Qing to find and free her four sisters.

Harley gave a little shiver as he peered at the mysterious girl’s message. She’d written: DRAGON KING RETURNS 

Harley Spark is just an ordinary thirteen-year-old kid who lives with his mum, Delia.

Rumour has it that his dad, Ray, is an international crime figure with a talent for nicking old, valuable things.

So when Harley finds an antique Chinese vase on the footpath, something compels him to stuff it under his school jumper and run for home. Little does he know he’s about to reignite a centuries-old war between two ancient, supernatural families…

Featuring magic, mystery and martial arts, The Relic of the Blue Dragon is the first book in the action-packed Children of the Dragon series.

~*~

Thirteen-year-old Harley Quinn lives with his Mum, Delia in Australia, and his father, Ray, a supposed removalist, lives abroad, and is constantly in and out of his life. If the rumours are true, then Harley’s dad is an international underworld crime figure – whose talents include stealing antiques and smuggling them into different places – a rumour that has rumbled around since a police raid on their house when Harley was five.

One day, Harley stumbles across an antique Chinese vase on the footpath that has been seemingly abandoned, he feels the need to pick it up and take it home – yet he has no idea that doing so will bring a centuries old war back to life and invoke two ancient and supernatural families – the children of dragons.

Harley’s vase releases the first of five daughters of a dragon trapped in a vase – Qing. With his mother, Delia, they piece together where Qing is from, and who she is, and Delia is able to use some Chinese she knows to communicate – bringing together two cultures and nations, centuries apart yet occupying the same space and time in the novel – they form an understanding based on what each other knows and what they find out together as they run from people who wish to harm Qing and Ray, and anyone involved with them. So Ray and his assistant whisk Qing and Harley off to China, to track down the people trying to destroy them, and Qing’s sisters. Despite warnings from people trying to stop them, they proceed with their mission – and head off on a private jet, into a world of mystery, intrigue and magic that will continue through the series.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThis #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseVoices offering for #LoveOzYA and middle grade readers is quite simply put, a most immersive and mesmerising story. I was quickly caught up in Harley’s life, and the peppering of Chinese language, tradition, and culture ensures an authenticity that encapsulates the characters wonderfully – and sparks an interest in the culture, mythologies, and the history of China – imagined for Qing’s story, and real. Qing is definitely a favourite character – she’s clever, and capable as well as fun and surprising. We were only introduced to her and Harley in this novel, but already, they are characters that I want to revisit and journey with, to see if they achieve the goal that they have set out to achieve and defeat the threat against Qing and her sisters.I don’t know what Harley and Qing will find, but together, I hope they will be able to solve the mystery and end the war – this introduction is exquisitely written, and also, is a very quick read – so quick, that I didn’t realise how fast I was reading it and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Reading books about people and cultures outside of one’s own experience is enriching and makes things much more interesting, as you can learn new things, and discover new worlds. The war to come in this series looks to be exciting and diverse, as well as interesting, where I hope I will have the opportunity to learn more – or at least have a doorway opened to learn more about China and its history, culture and the significance of dragons through this novel, which is filled with diversity and that special flicker of magic that will capture the imaginations of many readers of this book.

A great read!

Booktopia

Bookshop Girl by Chloe Coles

bookshop girl.jpgTitle: Bookshop Girl

Author: Chloe Coles

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Bonnier/Hot Key/Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:A hilarious tale of female friendship, bookshops and fighting for a cause – perfect for fans of Holly Bourne and Louise Rennison.

Bennett’s Bookshop has always been a haven for sixteen-year-old Paige Turner. It’s a place where she can escape from her sleepy hometown, hang out with her best friend, Holly. and also earn some money.

But, like so many bookshops, Bennett’s has become a ‘casualty of the high street’ – it’s strapped for cash and going to be torn down. Paige is determined to save it but mobilising a small town like Greysworth is no mean feat.

Time is ticking – but that’s not the only problem Paige has. How is she going to fend off the attractions of beautiful fellow artist, Blaine? And, more importantly, will his anarchist ways make or break her bookshop campaign?

~*~

Paige Turner – her real name, not a pseudonym – is sixteen, and works in her town’s local bookshop, Bennett’s. She’s saving up to go away to university, but the impending closure of Bennett’s threatens to ensure she never gets out of Greysworth. Paige and her friend, Holly, and the rest of the staff plan an intervention – protests, a petition – they undertake a month-long campaign to #SaveBennetts, getting local businesses and authors on board, and garnering support from the local community, starting with neighbouring stores and the art school. Here she meets Jamie, and a fellow artist, Blaine, who works at the local stationery store, and is a bit or an anarchist – she wants his support but at what cost?

Bookshop Girl is exactly my kind of book and Paige is a character that is easy to identify with. She’s not perfect and perky all the time – her flaws show through realistically, and they are acknowledged, as is her family reality and what they are going through. Having a character like Paige, more interested in books and studying rather than looks or a boy is a refreshing sight in Young Adult literature – in fact, it is a refreshing thing to see in literature for any age group and demographic. This is a book about standing up for what you love and doing whatever you can to keep it – be it books, family, whatever your cause is – the activism to save the beloved bookshop is what drives the plot in this book.

Seeing a character like Paige – driven by a passion other than wanting a boyfriend – though she does develop a crush, her bookshop, art, family and best friend Holly are much more important to her – is like a breath of fresh air, ad reminds readers that it is okay that they’re not perfect, that they can be the way they want to be, and that being awkward as a teenager or young adult is okay – you don’t have to be perfect. Embarrassing things happen to Paige – and they are relatable events, from dropping personal items out of a bag, to art class and school, and family – Paige is the kind of character girls need to read about for the very reason that she is so genuine and could be any one of us.

The love of books and bookshops in this debut novel from Chloe Coles is lovely and shows that not everyone needs technology to be happy – it is useful, yes, as is shown in Bookshop Girl, pushing the campaign and ensuring the bookstore remains open – but it does not replace the fabulous feeling of a bookstore and the books to be found within the shelves, and the adventures and friends to find.

A funny, heartfelt book about activism, protests and standing up – first and foremost – for what you love and believe in, and friendship in a world so often dominated by the need to be perfect in everything.

Booktopia

Review and Give Away: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

scrublands.jpgTitle: Scrublands
Author: Chris Hammer
Genre: Crime/Mystery
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 25th July 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 496
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: Set in a fictional Riverina town at the height of a devastating drought, Scrublands is one of the most powerful, compelling and original crime novels to be written in Australia.
In an isolated country town brought to its knees by endless drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself.

A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don’t fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can’t ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest’s deadly rampage.

Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking new development rocks the town, which becomes the biggest story in Australia. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is now the one in the spotlight. His reasons for investigating the shooting have suddenly become very personal.

Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to discover a truth that becomes darker and more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town’s secrets stay buried.

A compulsive thriller that will haunt you long after you have turned the final page.

~*~

MPB_4595_small.jpgMartin Scarsden is travelling towards a Riverina town a year after a tragic event took the lives of several townsfolk at the hands of the priest, to write a piece on the anniversary of the events. He arrives in a town with a ghost-like aura, where many businesses are shut, or failing, and where everyone has their own version of events that doesn’t quite line up with the official record that Martin has to work with, and he finds that he needs to probe further, and dig into the rumours spun by previous articles – which leads into conflicting account after conflicting account, and further conflicts with characters as he asks the wrong questions, writes a story that goes to print too quickly and brings a media storm to the town, resulting in more deaths and the discovery of more evidence and hints that the crimes committed a year ago were not as cut and dry as the first seemed – questions of motives and suspects, and whether they were linked in anyway come up throughout the novel. Through all this, Martin is quite taken with young Mandalay Blonde, whose involvement and knowledge of the people involved must be peeled away slowly, throughout the novel as the secrets of the town and its residents are uncovered in a media frenzy that seems never ending.

As the novel ambles towards a conclusion where many threads of what was once thought of as a singular, lone crime splinters off into four, and implicates crimes from the past in the concluding chapters, wrapping up the mysteries that Martin encounters and that the town has been hiding – each person with the secrets hiding them for various reasons. Occasionally, the novel touches on Martin’s past as a correspondent in war zones, and how his fellow journalists feel this has impacted him – he has been given a chance to show them he can write still.

The portrayal of the media is interesting – showing that a push to publish from an editor can force the hand of a journalist, but also, the anger at a journalist for reporting what he has been told, or in other ways not told, and how interviews can be warped for the gain of others. It shows that what is first reported or known isn’t necessarily the truth – and that sometimes it can take a while and a lot of digging to get to that truth. The conflict between the media, law and townsfolk was well written, and had notes of intrigue that kept the story going even when i thought things were wrapping up – there was always one more thing that needed to be taken care of.

It is a very long novel – though it didn’t take me forever to get through. The premise is interesting, with a very well written execution and delivery. The compelling mystery that isn’t quite what it seems presented a good opportunity to explore human nature and what people will do to keep suspicion off of themselves, and protect themselves – and in some cases, hurting others in the process. It interrogates the nature of small towns, and crime within these towns, and the impact that tragedies can have on a town and on individuals. Crime can affect anyone, anywhere, as this novel shows, and it also shows that the past will eventually catch up – for better or worse, and betray the flaws and cracks in humanity, where cover ups and secrets start to fall apart at the seams to reveal the truth. At times meandering and ambling in some scenes that felt slower than the rest of the novel, it is still a compelling story, that will capture the imagination of those who enjoy these kinds of mysteries and want to enter a world of secrets, betrayal and murder. It is one I enjoyed, though, and recommend to crime fiction fans and fans of Australian literature – there is an audience out there for it.

 

Giveaway

Allen and Unwin have kindly said they have three copies of this novel to give away via my blog. To be in the running for this giveaway, please comment on this blog post within one week of it going live, and answer within 25 words or less the following question:

Why do you think small country towns in Australian crime fiction have higher levels of crime?

The giveaway will run for a week, from today until the 1st of August, and is open to Australian residents. Remember to put your entry in via the comments section to be in the running, and send me a message via the contact me form to let me know how I can contact you if you win. Prizes will be mailed out by Allen and Unwin.

Booktopia

We see The Stars by Kate van Hooft

we see the stars.jpgTitle: We see The Stars

Author: Kate van Hooft

Genre: Literary Fiction, Crime, Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 27th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:A haunting and deeply moving novel with a brilliant voice in the tradition of The Eye of the Sheep and Jasper Jones.

‘Mysterious, compelling and almost unbearably tender.’ Danielle Wood, award-winning author of The Alphabet of Light and Dark

‘Is that the Big Dipper?’ Mum asked. Her eyes were bright from the light in them, and they shone in the darkness more than any of the stars in the sky. 

Simon is an eleven-year-old boy who lives in a world of silence, lists and numbers. He hasn’t spoken for years and he doesn’t know why.

Everyone at school thinks he’s weird and his only friends in the world are his brother Davey and Superman, who’s always there when he needs him.

One day Simon shares his Vita-Weats with Cassie, the scary girl from his class, and a friendship starts to form. And the new teacher Ms Hilcombe takes an interest in him, and suddenly he has another friend as well.

When Ms Hilcombe goes missing, only Simon knows where she is. But he has made a promise to never tell, and promises can never be broken. So now Simon is the only one who can save her.

A haunting and deeply moving novel with a brilliant voice in the tradition of The Eye of the Sheep and Jasper Jones.

~*~

Simon lives in a world of silence – it has been years since he has spoken, and the reason why is a mystery to the reader, though it is hinted at throughout. Even his family don’t say outright what it is, nor do they mention what caused it – they comment on it from time to time, and his Dad and brother, Davey, are always ready to help with his puffer when his asthma gets bad. But at school, Simon is alone, and has no friends. Until his new teacher, Ms Hilcombe takes an interest in him, and does her best to understand him and work with him, and then Cassie, the girl everyone is scared of, with her mangled hand, becomes his friend. Simon also has Superman, who acts as an alter ego and gives him strength when he needs it.

AWW-2018-badge-roseSet in the 1970s, not long after the end of the Vietnam War, We See the Stars is a mystery about family and those who care for us, and about ourselves. Simon never articulates why he doesn’t talk, nor does anyone else – they hint at it being like his mother, who is referred to and seen in flashbacks, but his reason for silence and isolation is never made clear. But this makes the mystery interesting, trying to work out all the possible reasons for his silence – some of which, in the 1970s, which is when I think the book was set, were not understood in the same way they are today. So perhaps this is why the reason for his silence isn’t defined.

Simon lives with his dad, his brother, Davey and his grandmother. His grandfather is in hospital, and the door to his mother’s room is always closed, and throughout the novel, there is the mystery of where is mother is and why she is so silent – Simon hopes that she can hear his Morse code taps through the door, and waits for her to respond.

Also, as the story is filtered through Simon’s perspective, it is as though we don’t need him to define it for us, it’s his thing and he doesn’t appear to want to talk about it – not in the same way he counts colours, or makes lists of good and bad things, manages his asthma and feels the angry that comes and goes, and the honey dripping inside of him. He describes his feelings as tastes and sensations of food but within his own body – making him an interesting character. His struggling sense of self and feelings are impacted when Ms Hilcombe goes missing, and he loses one of the only adults who really understands him – Dad tries, but it is really Ms Hilcombe Simon connects with.

His friendship with Cassie, and eventually with Jeremy, is perhaps one of the most unique and genuine friendships. They know they are different, and Cassie knows communication is hard for him – and when a new teacher tries to force him to speak, it is Cassie who stands up for him, who defends her friend and in everything she does, wants to protect him from the wrath of her mother, and does all she can to understand him – as does Jeremy as the story moves along and Simon begins to speak – with Cassie, with Ms Hilcombe, and his father and brother, and at least once with his Grandmother.

Simon is an intriguing character. I’m not sure how I would define him as a narrator – maybe somewhat unreliable because we’re seeing the world through his eyes and the consequences of things that happen through his eyes, memories and imagined scenarios. The memories hint at Simon knowing where Ms Hilcombe is – it is her disappearance that forms the main mystery. Unlike other mysteries, some things are hinted at, and not explicitly defined – indicating that anything could have happened, that anyone could be responsible.

The story is moving and the ending answered a couple of questions, in a rather odd way for a first person narrative, but given the character perspective of Simon, it made sense, and fitted in with the novel. Perhaps the ending allows for the reader to imagine what happened themselves, and how it happened – a similar style of ending to Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf. An intriguing novel where things aren’t always clear or what they seem from a new Australian voice.

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