Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley

Peta LyreTitle: Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal

Author: Anna Whateley

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 248

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: At sixteen, neurodivergent Peta Lyre is the success story of social training. That is, until she finds herself on a school ski trip – and falling in love with the new girl. Peta will need to decide which rules to keep, and which rules to break…

‘I’m Peta Lyre,’ I mumble. Look people in the eye if you can, at least when you greet them. I try, but it’s hard when she is smiling so big, and leaning in.

Peta Lyre is far from typical. The world she lives in isn’t designed for the way her mind works, but when she follows her therapist’s rules for ‘normal’ behaviour, she can almost fit in without attracting attention.

When a new girl, Sam, starts at school, Peta’s carefully structured routines start to crack. But on the school ski trip, with romance blooming and a newfound confidence, she starts to wonder if maybe she can have a normal life after all.

When things fall apart, Peta must decide whether all the old rules still matter. Does she want a life less ordinary, or should she keep her rating normal?

A moving and joyful own voices debut.

~*~

Rules help Peta navigate her life, and the social world around her. She is neurodivergent – ASD, SPD and ADHD – and these rules help her remind herself how to act around people who might not understand her neurodivergence, and the way she is, and how she might fit into society. Her friend Jeb, and Aunt Antonia have helped her with these rules and working out how to do things, and supporting her for who she is for many years. Ever since her parents gave up and quit, Peta has been living with Aunt Antonia – Ant, as she calls her, attending a local College for years eleven and twelve, and has had some success in keeping her routines and normal ratings steady.

When Sam starts school, and Peta’s careful routines that help her maintain her normal crack as they head on the school ski trip, Peta starts to find new confidence in romance, – can she have a normal life, or will her old rules matter when things fall apart?

AWW2020

This is a touching, evocative and honest own voices debut that can spark a conversation about what is normal. Is normal what society deems normal, or does everyone have their own normal that should be accepted. Or are both right? Can society have an expectation of appropriate behaviours and interactions that we learn through socialisation whilst we are able to maintain our own individual normal and individual routines at the same time? This is perhaps one of the most complicated things to unpack yet also, the simplest. For Peta, what she does is normal – her normal, Jeb’s normal, Ant’s normal. Normal in their lives – like in everyone’s lives – is what they know and experience.

Yet at the same time, there are societal ideations and expectations of what is normal, and all the characters must navigate this. To add another layer, the normal of the College Peta, Jeb and Sam attend is different again – every student is different, has a different normal and I think it is safe to say, nobody seems to fit into what society and others around them demand and expect is ‘normal’ – like Big Kat.

So what is normal? Normal is me, normal is you. Normal is Peta, and normal is the author, Anna Whateley. Normal is what we make of it, and our lives, our routines. We can change and adapt our normal as our confidence grows and as we find our place in the world as this book shows through Peta and her experiences at the snow, and how it helps her uncover and begin to talk about her feelings, what she wants to do, and how to let other people in.

Her character is authentic – and many of her experiences are based on Anna’s, which is what makes this book engaging, fresh and honest. It works on all levels.  I loved the support Peta’s friends and school gave her and I loved how she resolved things – it felt honest and fair, and made the book feel as much about friendship, family and coming of age as it did about the romance – and it was Peta’s rules and structure that helped shape how she approached things and that hopefully, gives readers an insight into what people who had ASD, SPD, ADHD and other neurodivergent conditions go through. This will differ from person to person, but hopefully this will resonate with people as well. The way Peta interacts might not be the same for everyone in her position – yet through this book, maybe readers can learn ways of helping – or how to ask what they can do to help – or just to listen and make an effort to understand.

Seeing how Peta grappled with being honest and blunt and how this wasn’t necessarily socially acceptable was an eye opener, and can open up conversations, I hope. How one person sees and understands the world is not the same as others – and throughout the novel, we see Peta trying to walk the tightrope of how to interact socially and act according to her normal. In a sense, trying to find what some might call a happy medium to please everyone, and herself.

It deals with themes of family, friendship, LGTBQIA relationships, and invisible disabilities in a way not often seen – in a positive way, where for sure, bad things happen but it is resolved and understandings are reached, and a normal way of life is forged for everyone involved. A great read for teens who want to see themselves represented and also for those who wish to understand these issues.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Ravenclaw Edition) by J.K. Rowling

ravenclaw goblet of fireTitle: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Ravenclaw Edition)
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: 23rd January 2020
Format: Hardcover, Paperback
Pages: 640
Price: Hardcover: $32.99, Paperback: $21.99
Synopsis: Let the magic of J.K. Rowling’s classic Harry Potter series take you back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This Ravenclaw House Edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire celebrates the noble character of the Hogwarts house famed for its wit, learning and wisdom. Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts is packed with more great Ravenclaw moments and characters, including the return of Moaning Myrtle, who – with typical Ravenclaw intelligence – helps Harry solve a crucial clue in the Triwizard Tournament.

Each Ravenclaw House Edition features vibrant sprayed edges and intricate bronze foiling. The Goblet of Fire blazes at the very centre of the front cover, framed by stunning iconography that draws on themes and moments from J.K. Rowling’s much-loved story. In addition to a bespoke introduction and exclusive insights into the magical paintings of Hogwarts, the book also boasts new illustrations by Kate Greenaway winner Levi Pinfold, including a spectacular portrait of master wand-maker, Ollivander. All seven books in the series will be issued in these highly collectable, beautifully crafted House Editions, designed to be treasured and read for years to come.

A must-have for anyone who has ever imagined sitting under the Sorting Hat in the Great Hall at Hogwarts waiting to hear the words, ‘Better be RAVENCLAW!’

When the Quidditch World Cup is disrupted by Voldemort’s rampaging supporters alongside the resurrection of the terrifying Dark Mark, it is obvious to Harry Potter that, far from weakening, Voldemort is getting stronger. Back at Hogwarts for his fourth year, Harry is astonished to be chosen by the Goblet of Fire to represent the school in the Triwizard Tournament. The competition is dangerous, the tasks terrifying, and true courage is no guarantee of survival – especially when the darkest forces are on the rise. It is the summer holidays and soon Harry Potter will be starting his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry is counting the days: there are new spells to be learnt, more Quidditch to be played, and Hogwarts castle to continue exploring. But Harry needs to be careful – there are unexpected dangers lurking.
~*~

The 20th anniversary editions of the Harry Potter books are being released in house colours – red for Gryffindor, yellow for Hufflepuff, blue for Ravenclaw and green for Slytherin, often with additional house information and information about characters in that house who are side characters, such as Garrick Ollivander in the Ravenclaw edition, Rubeus Hagrid in the Gryffindor edition, Cedric Diggory in the Hufflepuff edition and Voldemort in the Slytherin edition. I received a hardcover Ravenclaw edition to review from Bloomsbury, and it’s beautifully put together – the story is there, but it is the additional information that is interesting, as well as revisiting the story.

The additional information also gives insights into Moaning Myrtle and indicates that she was in Ravenclaw when she was alive. Moaning Myrtle has a key part in one area of The Goblet of Fire, and it is always fun to see characters we have met before return, like Dobby. I love reading the books because I think the movies miss out on so much and presume a lot of their viewers – that they’ve read the books, and can they fill in the gaps. Perhaps this is where knowing the books helps fill in those gaps, and why I prefer the books. I remember the time this book came out – it was the year I met my best friend, Laura, and it was Laura and her mother who got me into the books, and for that, I am grateful and that is what makes them special to me – Laura and Liz are in those pages for me.

In the Goblet of Fire, we are at the midway point of the series – where everything changes. Up until now, there have been hints at Voldemort coming back, but not quite, and now, the threats are real, and slowly, across the novel, build up to the darkest ending so far, and starts a new death count of significant characters in the series. It is a turning point for everything and hurtles our once innocent characters into a stage of their lives where they are in more danger than ever before, and nobody knows who will survive what is to come, and who won’t.

A nice addition to a collector’s series of the Harry Potter books.

 

Hey Brother by Jarrah Dundler

hey brother.jpgTitle: Hey Brother

Author: Jarrah Dundler

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A genuine and compellingly portrayed family drama of a tough kid from rural Australia.

Before leaving for war in Afghanistan, Shaun Black gives his little brother Trysten a mission of his own. Keep out of trouble.

Trysten tries, but with Mum hitting the bottle harder than ever and his dad not helping, Trysten responds the only way he knows how, with his fists – getting into a fight at school and lining up for another one with his uncle who’s come to stay.

When the family receives news that Shaun will be home for Christmas, Trysten is sure that good times are coming. But when Shaun returns, Trysten soon realises he has a whole new mission – to keep Shaun out of trouble.

Hey Brother tells the story of a tough kid from the bush whose world comes crashing down on his shoulders. But with his own blend of fury, resilience and deadpan humour, Trysten proves to be up for every challenge.

~*~

Hey Brother is set in the early 2000s, just after 9/11. Trysten Black’s brother, Shaun, has gone over to fight against the Taliban with the Australian and US armies, leaving Shaun at home to take care of their mother, whose troubles with alcohol scare, and worry them both, but also tells him to keep out of trouble – easy, right? Trysten reckons it will be – until a new girl – Jessica – starts in his year. Together with best friend Ricky, who has a crush on the girl who befriends Jessica, Jade, As the months go on, the boys get to know Jessica and Jade, and even begin to hang out together at school. On top of this, Trysten must look out for his Mum, and keep an eye on his uncle, who has come to stay while Shaun is away.

As he tries to care for his mother, and make sure he gets along with his uncle, Trevor, Trysten’s promise to stay out of trouble seems to be forgotten between this and building his relationship with Jessica – and when Shaun returns home, Trysten’s family will be tested – his father, who has lived away from the home for months, seems to have a change of heart, and his mother is improving. But there’s something about Shaun that Trysten can’t quite put his finger on, and a party, and the subsequent events during the summer holidays will bring to a head everything that has been building with Shaun and reveal secrets about the family that Trysten never knew about or saw coming, and revelations about the world and their lives show things will never be the same.

Hey Brother is a coming of age story, set in the early years of the twenty-first century, when terrorism entered our world, and how we all reacted to it – how some of our worlds didn’t change, how as a teenager, Trysten’s mind was often on school, Jessica, his friends and his family, rather than a faraway attack and war. He is the go-between messenger for his parents, and it looks at how war can affect soldiers – at the way Shaun comes home and tells a story one way, but the reality is quite different and the PTSD that he brings back with him – something Uncle Trevor notices and does his best to help with. As mental illness and alcohol abuse are explored through Trysten’s eyes, as a child narrator he comes across as mature at times, and immature at others, perhaps hinting at how fast he is having to grow up and adapt to this new, uncharted territory his family finds themselves in, coupled with hormones and the influences of friends, his and his brother’s, as well as events that trigger the climax, and how Trysten finds himself dealing with the fallout.

The genre of this book is hard to pin down – I’ve marked it as literary fiction but is it young adult, adult or does it cross those two distinctions? Possibly, but I think that will depend on the individual. It was an interesting take on a modern war and its fallout, and a modern family dealing with personal issues and secrets that come out towards the end. It is raw and emotional and shows that we are all just human and anything can affect us in different ways at any time, and nobody is immune to the fragility of the mind and the way it processes things.

In some ways I liked this book and what it did, though it is not one I plan to revisit too quickly like others. It is one that needs time and processing between reads to maintain the impact it can have. It does reveal something about Australia and our culture, attitudes to war and how we deal with things like mental health, and these are important conversations to have, and I hope Jarrah Dundler’s work is one that helps start these discussions amongst people.

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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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Lovesome by Sally Seltmann

lovesome.jpgTitle: Lovesome

Author: Sally Seltmann

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An offbeat and beguiling story of finding your own happiness.

My warm breath makes a beautiful fog in front of me. It’s times like this when I feel most alive. I feel free, and at one with the world and everything around me. It’s an invigorating version of euphoria. But I don’t want to arrive home to no one; I want someone to come home to.

It’s 1995 and 21-year-old Joni Johnson is fresh out of art school and loving her life. Working at Harland, a French restaurant, makes her happy – it’s as romantic as she is herself. Harland’s owner, Lucy, and chef, Dave, make her evenings both entertaining and complicated. By day, Joni sets up her easel in her backyard bungalow, turns on her music, and paints.

But when Joni’s best friend, Annabelle, arrives on the doorstep one night ecstatic in love, everything changes. The life Joni has built for herself seems lacklustre in comparison to Annabelle’s rising star. And when Annabelle makes a beeline for the one man who seems interested in Joni, it looks unlikely that their friendship will survive.

Tender, funny and romantic, Lovesome is a triumph.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseI received Lovesome as a surprise book – and it was one that I decided I’d give a go. Joni Johnson is twenty-one in 1995. She is an artist, painting by day, and waitressing by night, going through the motions of her life in her early twenties, following her dream but also working to support herself, while her best friend, Annabelle, is living overseas in London as a singer. When Annabelle re-enters her life, it is like a tornado has landed – a tornado where Annabelle moves from excitement and hyperactivity about her current boyfriend coming to Australia, to a tense disagreement about James, the photographer for an article on Annabelle. When Joni and James show interest in each other, Annabelle’s jealousy flares – so used to having men fall for her instantly, it seems that their once stable friendship might be falling apart.

Part romance, part literary and part coming of age, Lovesome is the kind of novel where the people you thought would fall in love, don’t, and where the falling in love happens when and where you least expect it to in the storyline. The first half to a third is Joni exploring her life and trying to work out who she is at twenty-one, having finished art school, and aiming for an art career, she finds herself working at eclectic Harland, where each room has a different theme for diners, and where the enigmatic and complicated Lucy, runs the restaurant. Each character is flawed – Joni seems to doubt herself at times, Lucy is all over the place, or so it seems until quite late in the book, where she reveals secrets to Joni she perhaps has not revealed to anyone else, and Annabelle comes across as selfish at times, interrupting Joni to talk about whatever is on her mind, leaving Dave, the head chef, as Joni’s confidant.

At first I wasn’t sure what to expect or think, but it is a coming of age story that reflects the way some young people find themselves and their passion, and the relationships that they are in and out of, platonic and romantic, family and work. It was a rather quick read, and at times quite compelling – i kept wondering which way things would turn, and how it would work out. As such, I felt it wasn’t the typical love story that it might be seen as – rather, a unique one where the love interest pops up quite late, and although it happens quickly, didn’t feel rushed at all, unlike some I have read – it felt natural, and worked well for Joni. The friendships between Joni, Annabelle, Dave and Lucy were just as strong as just as important – they showed that love can happen in a variety of ways for different people, and that it isn’t always romantic. Showing that friendship is just as important, if not more important, than a romantic relationship, as shown by Joni and Annabelle’s friendship, is a great thing to see in novels.

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