Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth

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Title: Running On The Roof Of The World

Author: Jess Butterworth

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Hachette/Orion Children’s Books

Published: 13th June 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 280

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: Join 12-year-old Tash and her best friend Sam in a story of adventure, survival and hope, set in the vivid Himalayan landscape of Tibet and India. Filled with friendship, love and courage, this young girl’s thrilling journey to save her parents is an ideal read for children aged 9-12.

There are two words that are banned in Tibet. Two words that can get you locked in prison without a second thought. I watch the soldiers tramping away and call the words after them. ‘Dalai Lama.’

Tash has to follow many rules to survive in Tibet, a country occupied by Chinese soldiers. But when a man sets himself on fire in protest and soldiers seize Tash’s parents, she and her best friend Sam must break the rules. They are determined to escape Tibet – and seek the help of the Dalai Lama himself in India.

And so, with a backpack of Tash’s father’s mysterious papers and two trusty yaks by their side, their extraordinary journey across the mountains begins.

~*~

Set in modern day Tibet, still under the harsh regime occupation of Communist China, Tash (Tashi-la) and Sam (Samdup) are on their way home from school when they witness the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk protesting the ongoing Chinese occupation that began 1949. In quick succession, their lives are turned upside down as Tash’s parents are taken away by the Wujing, forcing Tash and Sam to run from their village, beginning a trek across the Himalayas with their yaks, Bones and Eve, in search of the Dalai Lama and safety in India. Together, the two friends keep the secret backpack safe, and hide from the soldiers who patrol the borders to make sure nobody escapes. Sam and Tash’s friendship is tested, as they go in search of the Dalai Lama and deliver a message for the secret resistance that Tash’s father is part of. Together, they are as strong as the yaks that accompany them. If they separate, not only their friendship will falter.

Running on the Roof of the World is a story about friendship, and about freedom. It shows the difficulties faced by those in oppressed nations, and what people are willing to do – risk their safety, and their lives – to bring atrocities to the world’s attention – but at an easy to understand level for children and teenagers, who are curious but maybe not ready for in depth or more complex discussion. It is aso a good introduction to Tibet and the Chinese occupation, and the Dalai Lama, and what the process of running from oppression can be like. Through the Tibetan characters, Jess Butterworth illustrates that not everyone can be trusted, and sometimes, those who you think are the least trust-worthy, can become your allies and help you at the end of your journey.

Tackling a complex issue in a simple way, Running on the Roof of the World gives a human face to refugees where it is much needed, and does so in an area of the world we don’t often hear much about in the news. The characters show that you do not have to accept the hand that you have been dealt, and there is always a way to forge a new path, and celebrates a friendship between a young boy and girl, which is refreshing to see, as well as seeing characters from another culture and nation in literature for children and is a step towards diversity in all fiction.

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Billy Sing by Ouyang Yu

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Title: Billy Sing: A Novel

Author: Ouyang Yu

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st April 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 144

Price: $27.95

Synopsis: William ‘Billy’ Sing was born in 1886 to an English mother and Chinese father. He and his two sisters were brought up in Clermont and Proserpine, in rural Queensland. He was one of the first to enlist in 1914 and at Gallipoli became famous for his shooting prowess.

In his new novel, Billy Sing, Ouyang Yu embodies Sing’s voice in a magically descriptive prose that captures both the Australian landscape and vernacular. In writing about Sing’s triumphant yet conflicted life, and the horrors of war, Yu captures with imaginative power what it might mean to be both an outsider and a hero in one’s own country. The telling is poetic and realist, the author’s understanding of being a Chinese-Australian sensitively informs the narrative.

The result is a short novel of great beauty that impacts way beyond its size. A novel that is searing yet fresh, delicate yet brutal, a masterful habitation of another life. Billy Sing is arguably one of Ouyang’s finest works to date.

~*~

Billy Sing tells the story of one of the first Australians to sign up for the First World War in 1914. In the days before the army policies of not admitting non-whites to the AIF, Billy Sing’s story is brought to life, illuminating the rush of war alongside racial tensions and assumptions of a society where to many, skin colour was more important, though this importance seemed to melt away in the trenches of Gallipoli, where Billy Sing became known as the Murderer or the Assassin due to his skill as a sniper. This novel tells his story – of his family, his own feelings and his war time experiences and the years that follow in a first person narrative that allows the reader to enter Billy’s thoughts and feelings.

The son of a Chinese Father and English Mother, Billy spent his life trying to balance his Chinese heritage, and the beliefs of his father, with the English heritage and beliefs of his mother, as well as an Australian upbringing, and a feeling of home not really being China, but not really being England – whereas his war bride wife longs to remain in her home in Scotland, pushing Billy to forget that his home is truly Australia in a way. He questions his Chinese-Australian identity, which is where the similar heritage of the author comes in, informing the experiences with care and in a way that illuminates what it means to straddle two very different cultures in a country that whilst these days, is rather diverse, in the early twentieth century, was not as welcoming of the diversity we see today.

Ouyang Yu’s experience as a Chinese-Australian informs Billy’s story and gave him an authentic voice, especially to a figure in Australian history that I did not learn about during my history studies, despite the contributions he made to the fight at Gallipoli and during the First World War. It is an eye-opening book, revealing how some soldiers weren’t viewed as valuable at times during the war and after based on something like race, and highlighting the differences between what it was like in the trenches – where Billy’s mates didn’t seem to care he had Chinese heritage, only that he had their backs compared to later treatment post war and how that impacted on Billy as a person, how he saw himself and the way he devalued his contribution later in the narrative.

Written without chapter breaks, it is a fairly quick read, but no less powerful than something twice its length. Perhaps a good read for students studying the First World War in history to compare with some of the other tales and legends of figures during that time.

Ariadnis by Josh Martin

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Title: Ariadnis

Author: Josh Martin

Genre: YA/Fantasy

Publisher: Quercus Children’s Books/Hachette

Published: 14th February, 2017

Format: paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The first in a breathtaking and unique series, packed with magic, prophecy, and a thrilling competition. The stakes of Ariadnis have never been higher.

Back then I thought that if it weren’t for that cliff, our cities would be one and there would be no need for all this fierceness toward each other. But then I learned about pride and tradition and prophecy, and those things are harder than rock.

Joomia and Aula are Chosen. They will never be normal. They can never be free.

On the last island on Erthe, Chosen Ones are destined to enter Ariadnis on the day they turn eighteen. There, they must undertake a mysterious and deadly challenge. For Joomia and Aula, this means competing against each other, to end the war that has seethed between their cities for nine generations.

As the day draws nearer, all thoughts are on the trial ahead. There’s no space for friendship. No time for love. However much the girls might crave them.

But how you prepare for a task you know nothing certain about? Nothing, except that you must win, at whatever cost, or lose everything.

~*~

Ariadnis is set in a fantasy future, where our world is referred to as The Old World, and belief systems that draw from ancient Greek mythology and society, including clothing and names, and the city names: Metis and Athenas. For nine generations, Athenas and Metis have sent two Chosen Ones to enter Ariadnis for a mysterious, and deadly challenge, where only one can survive. In Ariadnis, it is Aula and Joomia who will enter Ariadnis for this task, and prepare from the day they turn seventeen for the impending event. Accompanied by their companions who have been helping them prepare, Aula and Joomia will eventually come together for their challenge, whilst tragic events unfold in their homes, and the ones they thought they could trust start to show their true colours, and leading to Aula and Joomia finding a way to work through it, and adhere to the challenge set before them.

The world of Ariadnis, the last island on a fantastical Erthe with its characters inspired by Ancient Greece and Ancient Greek mythology, where ancient beliefs have come full circle and returned to replace what Aula and Joomia know as the Old World beliefs is an intriguing novel and beginning to a series. Josh Martin uses a first person point of view for each character, marking each change with their name. For this series, it works, as the reader needs to be able to see the world through the eyes of Aula and Joomia, first on their own, and then when they come together in the final sections of the book.

Having studied Ancient Greece and its mythology, the little nods to this culture were done very well, and integrated nicely into the plot, along with magic and the hints that our world is known as The Old World in the history of Erthe. Josh Martin also created two female characters who had their own strengths, and were capable, but also had flaws that they could recognise and had to work through. Each character had a distinct personality and appearance, where diversity had a place – on the last island on Erthe, it is possible that integration of various races and cultures has taken place, and this is what makes this work smoothly.

Deciding on a favourite character was hard – as both Aula and Joomia had things that could be liked and disliked about them, though their connection towards the end was powerful and well written, and it is nice to see a friendship forming as the main relationship in a novel aimed at the Young Adult market.

I’m looking forward to the next novel in the series to find out what how the challenge concluded, hopefully through the eyes of Aula and Joomia again.

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