Letter from the Lighthouse

Author – Emma Carroll32721821

Age – 9+

Olive and her little brother Cliff are evacuated from London after a close call with a bomb. The same night of the bomb, her older sister Sukie went missing. There has been no sign of her and Olive is still trying to figure out what she saw. Sukie was meeting a man. This man gave her something and then held her hand. Was it a secret boyfriend?

They are sent to a small seaside town where Sukie had a penpal. But the supposed penpal doesn’t seem to know a thing about Sukie. Olive has noticed other strange things and behaviour in town and also a coded note in the lining of the coat Sukie was wearing on the night she disappeared. It was all she had left of Sukie from the rubble of the bomb.

With a mystery to solve, friendships to make and suddenly many lives at stake, Olive and Cliff are caught up in a plot of courage and determination. But where is Sukie?

Another great story from Emma Carroll with a twisting and turning plot to keep readers engaged in a young girl’s quest for answers. Along the way she builds her own courage amongst prejudice, distrust and broken hearts from a war that never seems to end.

(Historical, WWII, War, Family, Jews, Courage, Mystery, Evacuee, Siblings, Refugee)

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We Come Apart

Authors – Sarah Crossan / Brian Conaghan25310356

Age – 13+

Jess is tough, caring about nothing or no one – at least that’s what she wants people to think. She resents authority, steals and bunks off school, thinking it doesn’t matter. Jess believes her life with her abusive stepfather and punching-bag mum will never change for the better. It never does for people like her.

Nicu is from Romania. His family has moved to the UK to make enough money to ‘pay’ for a wife for him. This is a Romanian custom and he believes there is no way out of getting married young to someone he has never met. Despite constant racial abuse from fellow students and teachers alike, Nicu wants to learn English, do well and stay in the UK for a chance at a proper life. But his father rules with his fists.

Both are sent to community service for shoplifting, and this is where their story begins to entwine. At first Jess ignores the boy with the strange name. Nicu thinks Jess is pretty and ignores her initial negativity towards him. But he is kind and helpful and so different from the others on their ‘punishment’. His broken english is endearing and she begins to try and teach him how to talk properly. An uncertain friendship builds as the tension builds in both Jess’ and Nicu’s homes. Can they escape their lives?

Written in a poem format, this story is succinct, powerful and compelling. The use of language in this format shows the changes in Nicu’s speech with just the right word at just the right time. It portrays Jess’ anger, frustration and ever-so-slow softening and letting down of her walls. Their characters are full, real and heartbreaking in the briefness of poem, with their feelings, speech and thoughts seamlessly interwoven. Two award winning authors = Fantastic!

(Immigrant, Romania, Abuse, Trust, Arranged marriage, Custom, Poem, Poetry)

The Trap

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Author – Alan Gibbons

Age – 12+

With short chapters and only 186 pages, this story about an English family almost torn apart by terrorism (from the inside) will capture many who aren’t that keen on reading, or haven’t been able to find a book that grabs them.

The Trap deals with an issue that can destroy families on both sides of terrorism. Majid is training to be a doctor in the UK. His family fully support him in his education and dreams to help people, but when he begins spending more and more time with a man who talks of UK infidels, war, martyrdom and glory, they are worried for him. But Majid feels he has to make his own decisions.

This story follows those decisions and Majid’s path to war and back.

The tension rises throughout this novel, to a thrilling conclusion – or is it the end?

(War, Conflict, Crime, Family, Racism, School. MI5, Agent, Extremist, Muslim)

The Hypnotist

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Author – Laurence Anholt

Age – 13+

When Pip is bought and paid for at an orphanage, he is worried for his future. But the worn, skinny old man called Mr Zachary who ‘adopts’ him seems kind enough on the long drive back to his farm, as he explains what he wants Pip to do. Since Pip was the only boy who could read at the orphanage, he was the perfect candidate to read to Zachary’s bed-ridden wife Lillybelle.

Pip is shocked when he meets her but they soon build a positive relationship as he covers her every need and reads from his copy of Great Expectations – a gift from his mother before his parents died in a car accident.

There is another young teen at the farm. Beautiful, mute Hannah – an American Indian, who Pip thinks is the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen.

But life on Dead River Farm isn’t all sweet. The Zachary’s have a son called Erwin – an angry, Negro-hating, Vietnam vet and also a leader of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. His parents warn Pip to stay out of his way and Pip does just that, at least until the day Erwin finally catches him…..

This story is told in two viewpoints – Pip’s story (in 3rd person), and the Zachary’s neighbour Jack Morrow (in 1st person). Jack is a university professor from Ireland and an excellent hypnotist. He’s been watching the goings on next door with increasing worry. Can he help?

Let Mr Morrow hypnotise you with this story, and see how Pip, Hannah and the Zachary’s cope with the evil of the Ku Klux Klan.

Brilliantly written. Absolutely loved it. A bit ‘Mocking Bird’ a bit ‘Shawshank’ – Love, Hope, Friendship and Prejudice – a great piece of story ‘hypnotism.’

When Michael Met Mina

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Author – Randa Abdel-Fattah

Age – 12+

Michael is Aussie-born and bred and proud of his parents and their stand against ‘boat people’ invading Australia. His dad is trying to grow his organisation called Aussie Values, keen on ‘opening debate’ on how more and more refugees and asylum seekers are hitting their shores illegally.

Mina is from Afghanistan, after surviving a sea voyage from her home, her father murdered, her baby brother dying along the way. This past haunts her dreams, but she has grown up and studied hard in her new land. Her mum has remarried and Mina has received a scholarship to an expensive school. The same school Michael attends.

When Mina ends up in some of Michael’s classes, they don’t know each other’s past, but they soon get to know their present and they clash. But Mina has captured Michael’s interest like no girl before. Despite his parent’s beliefs he tries to get to know her and understand where she has come from. What he finds surprises and confuses him – are his parents right or wrong, and is it time to stop following blindly and make up his own mind about his future?

I loved the lively debate between the characters of this book. No one was definitely right or wrong – showing why it’s so hard to find solutions to this topical subject. Despite the tough subject, I found the main characters full of hope not hate. Told in both Michael and Mina’s point of view, it would be a great book to invite class discussion on both sides of this global problem.

(Immigration, Predjudice, Refugee, School, Friendship)

Coming Home to Roost

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Author – Mary-Anne Scott

Age – 15+

(Local Author – Book Launch 28 May 2016!)

Elliot is trying to get his life on track after living with a girl who his family believe was a bad influence. He has to agree with that and when he moves to Wellington to an electrician’s apprenticeship, he sees a new future. He meets a gorgeous, intelligent girl (so different from his ex, Lena), and gets on well with his boss Arnie who is well into his 70’s and having Elliot board with him.

But the stuff he left behind soon catches up with him, tipping his world upside down. Fear, guilt at hurting his family again and anger for being so stupid all but consumes him. But a near tragedy and the love of his family make him grow-up fast and deal with his decisions.

I really enjoyed this story about a typical Kiwi teenager dealing with the consequences of his actions. Saying that, it’s not preachy or moralistic in any way, just a natural progression from choices made. The characters of Elliot and Arnie are magnificent and I think this novel is even better than this kiwi author’s first teen novel. Snakes and Ladders won the Children’s Choice Award of the YA Section in the NZ Post Children’s & Teens Book Awards 2013.

(Family, Friends, Guilt, Responsibility, Growing up, Racism, Siblings, First job, Electrician)

The Cat at the Wall

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Author – Deborah Ellis

Age – 9+

A stray black cat slinks through the night on the edge of the town of Bethlehem. She’s hungry and she doesn’t like being a cat at all. She used to be a 13 year old girl called Clare living in another town called Bethlehem far away.

When Clare is chased through the night by a territorial tomcat, she escapes inside a house as two Israeli soldiers force their way in. They plan to use the house as a vantage point to watch the neighbourhood for any enemy movement.

Clare doesn’t care what they are there for, as long as they feed her. She is wily, sneaky and clever, just like she was when she was a girl. As she watches what goes on around her, including discovering a small boy hiding in the little house, she relives what she was like as a girl – in particular her year with her English Literature and History teacher, Ms Sealand. Or Ms Zero as she liked to call her.

But her conflict throughout the year with Ms Sealand helps her in the conflict she now faces with the soldiers. Can she change her ways?

This book includes a Q & A section with the author at the back of the book about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It was an easy but thought provoking read, learning about Clare in two lives.

(Growing up, Life after Death, Animals, Cat, Israel’s West Bank, Conflict, Desiderata poem)