Wherever You Go (Around the World Supper Club) by Monique Mulligan

Title: Wherever You Go (Around the World Supper Club)

Author: Monique Mulligan

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Pilyara Press

Published: 18th September 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A life-shattering tragedy threatens to tear apart chef Amy Bennet’s marriage. Desperate to save it, she moves with her husband Matt to Blackwood, a country town where no one knows who they are.

Forced to deal with her crumbling marriage and the crippling grief that follows her wherever she goes, Amy turns to what she knows best: cooking. She opens a café showcasing regional seasonal produce, and forms the Around the World Supper Club, serving mouth-watering feasts to new friends. As her passion for food returns, she finds a place for herself in Blackwood. But when a Pandora’s Box of shame and blame is unlocked, Matt gives Amy an ultimatum that takes their marriage to the edge.

Rich with unexpected characters and extraordinary insight, Wherever You Go is a powerful and ultimately uplifting tale of heartbreaking loss, recovery, and redemption.

~*~

Amy and Matt have moved to Blackwood to escape the vicious whispers and rumours that have plagued them for the past three years. They’re hoping Blackwood will be a new start as they try to reconnect. Yet their marriage is crumbling as Amy tries to navigate her fears, her grief, and her new café, Brewed to Taste. Here, she starts to make friends: Devi, Nick, Bonnie, Irene, and Irene’s great-granddaughter, Ashlee, June, Frank and several others. They form the Around the World Supper Club, and for a while, things seem okay.

Until local gossips, Una and her daughter Sharon, unleash Pandora’s Box – and humiliate Amy, undoing all the hard work. Despite the support everyone else gives Amy, allowing her to talk about what happened when she is ready, Matt threatens to leave. Three years ago, Amy had been in a car accident in Germany, where her daughter, Pandora, died. Amy has run from the secrets and innuendo, the accusations, and finds herself facing them head on in Blackwood.

Most books revolving around a relationship are about the couple getting together, the first delightful sparks of a new romance. The ups and downs, the magic of the first kiss. Usually, these books end with a happily ever after, fading to black as readers imagine the couple together forever. Very rarely do we find out what happens after. The what happens after, and what leads to a family or friends fracturing is sometimes more interesting. A tragedy, perhaps, has created a rift.

This is the premise of Monique Mulligan’s debut novel, Wherever You Go, the first in the Around the World Supper Club series. Wherever You Go introduces the key characters, but mainly revolves around Amy and Matt settling into life in Blackwood and finding a way back to each other and their lives together. It is a touching look at friendship, family, grief and loss, and how people recover and work towards redemption, even if this redemption is insular, and something they need to do for themselves, not for society or legal reasons.

Monique has created a powerful and touching story that gives hope, makes you shed tears and sends readers on a roller coaster of emotions as they go on Amy and Matt’s journey. The book is told in three perspectives: Irene, Matt and Amy. We see the world through their eyes, experience their emotions and their reactions. It doesn’t shy away from the difficulty of depression and anxiety, or the frustrations that some people feel when faced with this. It allows for all characters to express themselves and slowly, come to terms with what is going on in a powerful, emotive and significant way that acknowledges that grief affects everyone differently.

This debut novel is beautiful in its execution, raw and powerful. It allows readers to acknowledge their own anxieties and worries, and centres female experiences, characters and autonomy whilst at the same time, allowing Irene, Bonnie and Amy to who they are within what they want in their lives and society.

The Wizards of Once: Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell

Title: The Wizards of Once: Twice Magic

Author: Cressida Cowell

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Hodder

Published: 20th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 480

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The No.1 Bestselling Series. Enter a land of wizards, warriors, mythical creatures and powerful magic in an exciting fantasy adventure from the author of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.

The No.1 Bestselling Series Enter a land of wizards, warriors, mythical creatures and powerful magic in an exciting fantasy adventure from the author of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.

Witches are creating havoc in the Wildwoods and danger lurks behind every tree trunk.

Wish is in possession of a powerful, Magic Spelling Book; Xar has a dangerous Witchstain on his hand. Together they can save the Wildwoods from the curse of the Witches but they are separated by the highest wall imaginable, and time is running out …

It was unlikely that these heroes should meet in the first place. Is it possible they are destined to meet TWICE?

~*~

Picking up several weeks after the first book, Twice Magic begins with Xar trapped in a prison for dangerous Magic people. Wish is back at the Warrior fort. As they grapple with their new situations, the Wildwoods are attacked by Witches. Xara and Wish reunite – and begin to fight the curse before time runs out – but can they convince their parents to put aside their differences?

Wish and Xar visit a dying giant as part of this journey, where all fairy tale and fantasy tropes are combined to tell a unique story and series, aimed at middle grade readers. But readers of all ages will enjoy this series. I’m working my way through this series and am halfway through at this point – with book three ready to go as soon as I can start it.

The continuation of the themes of friendship, unity and acceptance are ever present in this novel, and build on what has come before. Wish and Xar are powerful and unique characters, who promote creativity, intelligence and empathy, and the role these play in problem solving, friendship and understanding each other. The world is also exquisitely detailed, and the illustrations by Cressida add something magic and unique to the text, creating a story that is full of life and joy.

Danger lurks beneath the surface of Xar and Wish’s fun. They’re on a quest to defeat the Kingwitch, and remove the Witchstain from Xar’s hand, and they are accompanied by a band of sprites, including Squeezjoos, a raven called Caliburn and Wish’s bodyguard, Bodkin. Together, they are going to save the world!

I’m in love with this series – the good thing is, I have all four to read, so I don’t have to wait to find out what happens, but at the same time, a little sad that there are only four books to enjoy. It is an imaginative series, and I think the use of an Unknown Narrator telling the story is a powerful and creative way to draw readers in. With each book, the mystery of just who this narrator is intensifies and becomes a driving force to hook readers of all ages in, along with the magical quest Xar and Wish are on.

This series manages to have an ongoing thread as well as a separate narrative for each book, which adds to the magic and intrigue, and ensures that readers remain engaged and the plot is steadily built upon effectively. I’m looking forward to delving further into this world, which is in a way historical, if we are to believe the Unknown Narrator, that this is a world before the British Isles were known as the British Isles. Cressida also cleverly draws on folklore and pulls it into the story effectively and ensures that whilst it is still recognisable as folklore, there are also unique twists on each characteristic and the individual characters, especially Wish and Xar.

A fantastic series about acceptance for readers aged eight and over.  

Aussie Kids: Meet Matilda at the Festival by Jacqueline de Rose-Ahern, and Tania McCartney

meet matildaTitle: Aussie Kids: Meet Matilda at the Festival

Author: Jacqueline de Rose-Ahern, and Tania McCartney

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 1st September 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 64

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: Aussie Kids is an exciting new series for emerging readers 6-8 years.

From a NSW Zoo to a Victorian lighthouse, or an outback sheep farm in WA to a beach in QLD, this junior fiction series celebrates stories about children living in unique places in every state and territory in Australia.

8 characters, 8 stories, 8 authors and illustrators from all 8 states and territories!

Come on an adventure with Aussie Kids and meet Matilda from the ACT.

Hi! I’m Matilda!

Today there’s a festival at the Japanese Embassy. That’s where my friend Hansuke lives. We’ll have lots of fun. But Hansuke is going back to Japan soon. How will I be able to say goodbye?

~*~

The final book in this series takes us to Canberra, and the world of embassies and Parliament, seen through the eyes of a child. Matilda is friends with the son of the Japanese Ambassador. But Hansuke is about to move back to Japan, and Matilda must say goodbye to her friend at a special Japanese festival at the embassy. She will miss him forever, and wonders if she can say goodbye.

AWW2020Most of the other books in this series are told in first person, but this one is told in third person, and has a few days with relevant time jumps to make the passing of time and major plot points work well for kids, and the characters. Like many of the other books in the series, Meet Matilda at the Festival is filled with diverse characters, and celebrates different nationalities and cultures, and the power of friendship. It evokes the same emotions we all had as kids when we had to say goodbye to friends, and the realistic way Matilda reacts will give comfort to kids that they are not alone when they farewell friends or go through changes in their lives.

With this book, the breadth of Australia and its diversity has been represented, and hopefully, all kids will have found something they can relate to in these books, whether its location, culture, race, or the activities the characters enjoy, and the universal feelings we all have linked to friendship and family.

The beauty of these books is in the simple way they evoke emotion and setting for younger readers who are starting to learn to read or reading independently. Whilst we only see a small portion of each state or territory, it is a relevant section to the character and what the setting means to them, which fits in with the theme of the series and what it is aiming to achieve for readers.

A great addition to this series!

 

Battle of Book Week (Yours Troolie, Alice Toolie #3) by Kate and Jol Temple, illustrated by Georgia Draws A House

Battle of Book WeekTitle: Battle of Book Week (Yours Troolie, Alice Toolie #3)

Author: Kate and Jol Temple, illustrated by Georgia Draws A House

Genre: Humour, Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th August 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Alice Toolie – seriously famous Youtootuber – and her best enemy Jimmy Cook are back to fight another day in a whole new chapter of adventures from the CBCA award-winning writers of the Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers series.

Book Week is always the best week of the year! But when Alice Toolie and Jimmy Cook get involved, it’s set for disaster. From kooky costume ideas to accidental author visits, nothing is safe. It’s no wonder they’ve been fired as Library Monitors! The only way they’ll get their jobs back is by winning First Prize in the book parade. And that means working together. Can these two best frenemies leave their differences behind long enough to win the Battle of Book Week?

~*~

Alice Toolie is her school’s library monitor – but now her frenemy, Jimmy Cook, is also a library monitor, and neither seems to be happy about sharing these duties. With an author visit and Book Week approaching, the rivalry ramps up with their letters to each other in the library monitor notebook, and everything leads to something that sees them fired as library monitors – and determined to get their jobs back. What lengths will they go to so they can get their job back, and do their best to win the Book Week costume competition?

AWW2020Told in letters and notes, this is a fun and humourous read. It is the third in the series, but I found things easy to pick up, and would like to go back and read the other Alice Toolie books. Kate and Jol Temple have created a fun world, and story. With two distinct voices, it is accessible for middle grade readers of all ages and readerships and shows that sometimes the best solution is working together, and compromising, especially when things don’t go as well as you would like them to.

This Alice Toolie book is a celebration of books, in a humourous and fun way that kids will enjoy. There are many things kids will get out of this book, and I loved it – it has been years since I’ve been to a Book Week or the Scholastic Book Fair – and it felt familiar and fun, and a great joy to experience again through the eyes of these characters.

Using journal entries and letters to tell a story is something that needs to be done cleverly, and in a way that moves the story along – and Alice Toolie hits all these notes. It moves the story along and gives us enough of what has happened in between the letters to imagine what is happening. Finally, it evokes a sense of the characters – not only in the style of their handwriting, but in the way, they write and interact.     This makes the format work, as it allows the reader to get the most out of the book, and it is when these sorts of books work well in this way that I think they’re very effective and well-written.

A great book from Kate and Jol Temple.

Ella at Eden: The Secret Journal by Laura Sieveking

ella at eden 2Title: Ella at Eden: The Secret Journal
Author: Laura Sieveking
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Published: 1st May 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 192
Price: $15.99
Synopsis: Ella has settled in to life at Eden College. She loves her friends and exploring her new school. When she accidentally uncovers a hidden diary, Ella’s curiosity is sparked. As she follows the clues in the diary, Ella discovers there is more to Eden College than meets the eye. Can she work out who wrote the secret journal?

Join Ella in the second book of this fabulous new series!

~*~
As Ella settles into Eden, and makes friends, the history of the school starts to come out, and in the lead up to the Alumni Luncheon, Ella and her friends are dared by Saskia to get them in trouble. During one of these pranks, Ella finds an old diary, and as she reads it, she discovers the story of Elena, an Eden girl from 1940. But what is her link to the Alumni Luncheon?

Returning to Ella and Eden is like returning to a great group of friends who are always there for you and will always be there for you. Eden is a place you want to return to, and the characters are the same, yet they grow and change across the stories, and we’re only two books in. After reading the first book for review from Scholastic, I wanted to find out what happened next, and got this book as soon as I could, and finally managed to read it after having it on my shelf for a while.

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In these books has a mystery at its heart, as well as themes of friendship and cooperation with each other and uniting when your friend feels like they don’t matter. Told through Ella’s eyes, it is a beautiful series that is set in a familiar school setting and manages to get rid of the parents – as is common in kids’ books – but without killing them! Sending the girls off to boarding school and voila!

Ellas determined to find out who wrote the diary and what happened to the author of the diary – and the secrets intrigue her friends – who are always there for her. This book evokes a sense of self, of curiosity and showcases a love of words through Ella that so many readers will adore and come to love and identify with as they read about her adventures at Eden.

Another wonderful story from Laura Sieveking, and I look forward to the next book in the series.

Eloise and the Bucket of Stars by Janeen Brian

eloise and the bucket of starsTitle: Eloise and the Bucket of Stars

Author: Janeen Brian

Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism

Publisher: Walker Books Australia

Published: 1st June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Left in a pail at an orphanage as a baby, only something magical can save Eloise from a miserable life and give her the one she’s always dreamed of.

Orphaned as a baby, Eloise Pail yearns for a family. Instead, she lives a lonely life trapped in an orphanage and made miserable by the cruel Sister Hortense. Befriended by the village blacksmith, Eloise soon uncovers some strange secrets of yesteryear and learns that something terrible may be about to happen to the village. As troubles and dangers mount, she must learn who to trust and choose between saving the village or belonging to a family of her own. Unless something truly magical happens…

  • A powerful tale of how magic weaves its way into the real world.
  • Explores themes of belonging, what it takes to be a friend and what constitutes a family.

~*~

Eloise has spent her whole life in an orphanage run by the cruel Sister Hortense. Sisters Genevieve and Bernard, Sister Genevieve in particular, try to help Eloise, and make things a little more bearable for her. Eloise has never been adopted – trapped in a cruel place that doesn’t value her. Her only place of solace and friendship with the local blacksmith, and his horse, Dancy. Her lessons with Sister Genevieve are cut shortly after Janie Pritchard, a newly orphaned girl arrives. At first, Eloise wants nothing to do with her, but the two soon become friends, and start to unravel the mystery of the poisoned water, and the unicorn stories that Sister Genevieve has told them.

Eloise wants a family more than anything – but Sister Hortense has a secret that has prevented this from happening and will do anything to punish and break Eloise, making her watch the Littlies get adopted and leave the orphanage with new families, and punishing her when she starts to look happy. But with a curse threatening the village, and whispers about men wanting to hunt the unicorn for their own gain. What will Eloise sacrifice to save the unicorn and her village?

Eloise and the Bucket of stars is a charming, delightful and magical story – set in an orphanage during Victorian times, it shows the hardships faced by orphans, and the treatment they received in places like the orphanage Eloise lived in. It also shows how harmful beliefs can be when taken to the extreme and the lengths people like Sister Hortense will go to protect dark secrets – even from those they work with, just to make sure they’re not outed as what drives her to punish Eloise.

AWW2020At its core, this is a story about friendship, being yourself and family – and what makes a family. How does someone like Eloise find a family, and find love, when every time she finds herself in a place where she is happy, it is taken away from her. The world is shown through Eloise’s eyes – and you truly feel for her. Eloise drives this story, and it is slow and lyrical on purpose – we’re meant to feel the drudgery and frustrations of Eloise’s daily life, and her feelings of hopelessness. It is gentle yet when action is required, it happens when and where it needs to.

Family and friendship are strong themes here, where the characters let their individuality, and bonds of friendship shine through the uniformity that Sister Hortense forces upon them. Sully, the cook, is one of Eloise’s friends. Everyone can see how Sister Hortense treats Eloise – but what will make her realise she needs to stop?

This tender story is about finding family and following your heart, and never giving up on your beliefs or compromising for anyone. Staying true to yourself and your dreams is a message at the core of this novel, and it moves gently and eloquently through towards this goal. It is one of those novels that demands time be spent with it to take everything in and let it sink in properly, following Eloise on her journey – the physical journey to get water every day and her own inner journey to finding family and friendship. It is Janie who sparks this journey and what will happen in the second half of the novel, and Janeen has created a beautiful story that will be beloved by many for years to come.

I loved this book – it evoked the same sense of wonder that The Secret Garden did all those years ago, with an orphaned child discovering magic beyond what she could ever imagine in a mundane world that didn’t appreciate her at first. Orphans are common in children’s literature and dealing with them in gentle ways, and each story is of course different, and this one had a sense of magic and wonder about it that many don’t, which is what made it so special and why I really enjoyed it, and hope that younger readers do as well.

Elephant Me by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

elephant meTitle: Elephant Me
Author: Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Hachette/Orchard Books
Published: 26th May 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: $24.99
Price: 32
Synopsis: The empowering story of little elephant Num-Num, who discovers the importance of simply being YOU! From the creators of international bestseller and much-loved classic Giraffes Can’t Dance.

It’s time for the Elephant Games! One by one, the young elephants compete to impress King Elephant Mighty and earn their Elephant Name.
Nina is the strongest, so she becomes Elephant Strong.
Norcus is the loudest, so he becomes Elephant Noisy.
Little Elephant Num-Num thinks he will never discover his own special talent – until he learns that the very best thing you can be is YOU!

~*~

Elephant Num-Num has to show King Elephant Mighty a special talent to get his Elephant Name during the Elephant Games – every other elephant can, but Num-Num finds he doesn’t have a special talent – he’s just him. Driven away from the Elephants, Num-Num befriends the other animals, who see him for who he is and encourage him to be him – the best thing he can be! Discover how Num-Num encourages the other elephants to discover the best them and be who they are, not who they are expected to be.

Through a rhyming story that ebbs and flows, Giles Andreae tells the story of a young elephant searching for who he is, and in turn, teaches the other elephants to be who they are. Accompanied by delightfully fun and colourful illustrations of the elephants and the other animals by Guy Parker-Rees, the story really pops and comes to life beautifully. He brings the African bush to life, in a fun and accessible way, using colour and bright shades. The animals all being friends by the waterhole is a lovely image, and one of my favourites of the entire book. I loved that each elephant had its own personality through the words and images, and both of these elements worked together to show the beauty and individuality that we should all celebrate within ourselves.

The words and images capture what it is like to be you and not fall into line with what others expect, and what it means to face up to those who have tried to make you believe you shouldn’t fall into line. The bright images are fun, and engaging, and the rhyming, lyrical feel of the words is great for readers at all stages, whether learning to read, being read to or just looking for a fun read that teaches kids that being who they are is sometimes more important than following trends and trying to fit in for the sake of fitting in.

This would be great to be shared between parents and kids, in classes across the board, or just for people to read for themselves. It’s a fun little story with an important message, and best of all, it uses elephants to tell the story – and really, where can you go wrong with elephants in a story like this? It is truly a beautiful book and one with a lovely message that will always be treasured.

Alice-Miranda at School (10th anniversary edition) by Jacqueline Harvey

Alice Miranda 10th anniversaryTitle: Alice-Miranda at School (10th anniversary edition)

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Fiction, School Stories

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 4th February 2020

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 288

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A gorgeous hardback edition of Alice-Miranda at School to celebrate ten years since the pint-sized heroine bounced into our lives.

From bestselling author Jacqueline Harvey comes this new edition of Alice-Miranda at School.

Can one tiny girl change a very big school? Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones is waving goodbye to her weeping parents and starting her first day at boarding school. But something is wrong at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies.

The headmistress, Miss Grimm, hasn’t been seen for ten years. The prize-winning flowers are gone. And a mysterious stranger is camping in the greenhouse. Alice-Miranda must complete a series of impossible tests. Can she really beat the meanest, most spoilt girl at school in a solo sailing mission?

Could she camp in the forest all on her own for five whole days and nights? Well, of course. This is Alice-Miranda, after all.

~*~

Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith Kennington-Jones is seven and one quarter, and off to boarding school at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies – the same school her mother, aunts, grandmother and great-grandmother have all attended. Except she’s heading off earlier than her relatives did. When Alice-Miranda arrives, she notices something is wrong – the headmistress, Miss Grimm has not been seen for ten years, she has to deal with Alethea Goldsworthy and her tantrums and attitude towards everyone in the school. Soon, Alice-Miranda has warmed the hearts of everyone at the school – except Miss Grimm who demands Alice-Miranda must complete a test, a camp-out and a sporting event to prove she belongs at the school.

AWW2020I read this because I was sent the nineteenth book, Alice-Miranda in the Outback to review, and have Alice-Miranda in Scotland as well, and even though I have heard Jacqueline say they can be read in any order, I wanted to at least read the first book to get to know the main characters who appear across the series and what they do, and where they started. It is one of Jacqueline Harvey’s popular series, and preceded Clementine-Rose and Kensy and Max. It is just as delightful and takes different characters and plots throughout each series and makes them work seamlessly.

Alice-Miranda is adorable and fun – she’s smart, and everyone loves her and can do anything she sets her mind to. She doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t – and it was lovely to see a character with varied interests represented for younger readers and readers of all ages and genres. Alice-Miranda is the kind of character who is instantly comforting and someone you always want to be around. She cares about everyone and takes an interest. Her kindness is infectious on each page as she explores her new world, makes friends and brings the school back to life. She deals with Alethea gracefully, and in doing so, proves that honesty and integrity is more powerful than paying for power and respect. It shows that doing the right thing and being kind is often the best way to go and showing a bit of compassion also helps.

I’m looking forward to reading more about Alice-Miranda and her friends, and their adventures. It is a delightful series for all readers of middle grade books, and deftly brings this amazing young girl to life in a magical way. I loved reading this book, it sets up the world of Alice-Miranda and her school and friends perfectly, and with eighteen and soon to be nineteen books in the series, she’s gone on many adventures, and positioning them all in a different setting is lovely. The charm in this story shines through Alice- Miranda and her bubbly personality and the way she makes everyone around her smile and feel at ease. It is a story that shows you can do anything, and setting your mind to a task can give you confidence. Yet at the same time, you can also be scared, or worried. You can be smart, sporty – whoever you want. Be true to yourself and like Alice-Miranda, you will find the right path for you. I look forward to reading more of these books in the future.

 

Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends by Charlotte Barkla

Edies Experiments 1Title: Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends
Author: Charlotte Barkla
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Puffin Australia
Published: 4th February 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 240
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: A new school, a classroom full of potential new friends and a science kit. What could possibly go wrong?
I’m Edie and I love science. So when I started at a new school, I decided it could be one giant experiment.

Can I give you some advice? Avoid sliming your entire classroom. You could end up in trouble with your teacher, your new classmates and the principal.

Between the great slime fiasco, the apology cookie surprise and the wrinkle cream mix-up, I’ve discovered making friends isn’t an exact science!

~*~

Edie is about to start a new school – and she is uncertain about her new school and making friends. Yet she’s not sure how – until she decides to run a series of experiments to impress her new classmates and teacher – they all start well, but end in utter disaster, and start causing trouble for her at school with her teacher, her classmates and her principal. All Edie wants to do is make new friends – and her heart is in the right place, even though her execution might not be. She hopes she can fix things for everyone – but as she discovers during her experiments, there doesn’t seem to be a science or formula to making friends.

Edie’s story will be familiar to kids who have started a new school or moved somewhere new – and it explores the struggles of fitting in with new people and what is expected in the classroom, at school and with everyone. The rules of how to behave in order to fit in and make sure you’re doing the right thing are explored through Edie’s eyes as she tries to do whatever she can to make friends and get to know people.

AWW2020She has other obstacles – Annie B seems to like her, but Emily James who seems nice at first, starts to turn on Edie, and Edie misses her friend, Winnie. Edie is a delightful character, who is passionate about science and fun, and really, really wants to make friends and fit in. I loved that her parents were so supportive and talked her through things and made an effort to understand her – this showed a positive relationship that made the book even more powerful.

Even though Edie’s main love is science – kids who might have different interests will be able to relate to her, and it is also nice to see young girls represented in a variety of different ways in today’s children’s literature, especially books written by Australian authors. This is a really cool trend to be following as a blogger and reader, and the familiar spaces of school bring children into the story naturally with the setting, and then bring in different interests, diverse characters, and many other aspects that are growing and evolving in books. It is an interesting time to be reader and reviewer – across the board, as we see stories told from perspectives that ten years ago even, might not have been done. Books like this, whilst possibly aimed at girls interested in science – can be read and enjoyed by anyone because it also explores universal themes of school, fitting in, family, friends and fun, and being yourself – messages and themes that stick with us throughout our lives and that are not limited to being a kid. This is why I enjoy reading books for younger readers as well – the universal themes that we all grapple with.

A great read for all ages, all genders – anyone really, who loves a good yarn.

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.