I picked up this book at Kinokuniya’s YA After Dark event in July, where I also had the pleasure of meeting Kate Hendrick and playing YA bookish trivia with her. The premise sounded interesting to me - Lindsay finds a runaway tween and becomes known as “the finder” and hired for her services by a guy called Elias, in search of his birth mother. But the reason Lindsay finds things/pets/people so well is that she’s always on the lookout for her twin sister, Frankie, who vanished when they were playing in the bush one day as children. This is something I found intriguing, but was also a little wary of; I don’t like my YA contemporary to get too far-fetched, and I was concerned that a miraculous happy ending for Lindsay and Frankie was coming.
Instead, the book focuses primarily on the relationship between Lindsay and Elias, which is really well done. Lindsay starts out hating Elias, who is a fashion-conscious extrovert (she’s desperate for any time she can get alone, and wears jeans and a hoodie as her daily uniform), but by the end of the book that changes. But! This is not a hate-to-love trope! That’s something I really appreciate; the characters develop and become friends and have full, interesting lives and problems, without everything being about romance.
There’s lots of mysteries in here, like what happened to Elias’s birth mother, why she gave him up, and what happened to Frankie. There’s also some beautifully written family dynamics with three very different families: Elias’ close and open relationship with his adoptive parents, Lindsay’s very large, religious family still attempting to recover from the loss of Frankie, and eleven-year-old Vogue’s lonely existence as a spoilt but perceptive only child. All in all, it wasn’t a BEST BOOK EVER type of read, but it ticked all the boxes for me and was well-written with great characters.
This is another book I picked up at Kino (and met Emily, yay!) and I wish I could gush over it because Emily is truly lovely. Plus, there are some great passages of writing in here and for the most part some well-written characters. My only real gripe with this book was the plot, or more accurately, the subplots. I saw somewhere it had been likened to Love Actually (the film) in that it’s a collection of stories about related characters, but for me, there were too many of these to work well. I had no trouble keeping track of them, it’s more that there were parts that felt rushed or unfinished. And because of the overlapping stories, there were multiple POV characters, and some of them were done much better than others. Sophie, for instance, has I think just the one POV chapter, and her storyline (about cheating in art class) could really be done away with altogether without the rest of the book suffering in any way.
That aside, there are some messages I can really get behind, and the main 4 characters were well fleshed out and believable. Milo, especially, was the kind of guy I wanted to befriend straight away. I nickname this “the book of terrible fathers” because really, are any of the dads in here good? The only decent parents are Juliet’s lesbian mothers, and maybe Wren’s, but they’re hardly mentioned aside from Mum’s art, so. There was a moment with Ben’s Mum and Dad very early on that hinted at physical abuse, but later in the book it seemed more that they were just an unhappy couple because Dad was so sexist and elitist? I don’t know what was going on there, I feel like Ben’s story could have been a book in itself if it had been delved into a little deeper. At any rate, there are a lot of crappy dads who are either spouting toxic masculinity or taking advantage of their kids! That’s not unrealistic or poorly done, just something I noticed.
Grace and Tippi are conjoined twins, teens with a younger sister, and at the beginning of the book they’re beginning their first year in day school (they had been homeschooled earlier). The story follows their difficulties with publicity, the family’s money issues, their sister’s eating disorder, the medical side of being a conjoined twin, their first friendships and crushes, and the difficult choices they have to make as they get older but continue to share a body.
When I borrowed this from the library I hadn’t realised it was a verse novel, I was just attracted to the twins on the cover. It was a quick read, enjoyable, and I was able to empathise with Grace and the complex emotions of her journey. When I began reading, as is often the case with verse novels, I felt a little distant from the characters, like I was being “told” the story rather than immersed in it, but by the end I empathised much more closely. It left me thinking, gave me some new information about conjoined twins, and presented Grace and Tippi’s trials and triumphs in a believable way.
I’ve had a lot of good recommendations of Songs that Sound Like Blood, which I’ve been meaning to read for a while, but this was on the library shelf and caught my eye. Calypso is a young Nukunu man who lives in Adelaide and works at a local health food shop, pretending to be Rastafarian and a big fan of the West Indies cricket team. When his boss learns that he is in fact Aboriginal, he asks Calypso about harvesting native plants to make health products to sell in their shop, a question that sends Calypso out of the city and to his extended family, where he learns about more than just plants.
There’s a lot in here that’s good - Calypso is a believable character and his growing connection with his family and culture shines through. Another reviewer described it as “a realistic and unsentimental view of young Aboriginal Australians” which I have to agree with, Calypso’s race is so central to who he is and what he learns, but it doesn’t read like a thinly veiled manifesto nor is there any denial of his flaws. The racism he experiences makes my blood boil, but unfortunately I don’t doubt that it’s an accurate representation of what Aboriginal people go through in Australia. There’s also a lot to think about in terms of poverty and the choices made by people like Calypso’s cousin Run, although at times the message there felt heavy-handed. I liked the love-interest, Clare, although I know nothing about cricket so a lot of that went over my head. The discussions amongst Calypso’s mob about how to use the land and their distrust of white people is interesting. Calypso also had a strong voice, but unfortunately I think this book fell down in the editing. Both big-picture (there were places where the story seemed to just jump forward or summarise things, and that broke the tone for me) and line edits - I don’t know if I just got a dodgy copy, but there were numerous places where speech marks were missing and when the book is written in first person, that gets confusing fast! I also think the pacing was off - it’s quite a slow beginning as we get to know Calypso, but the storyline with Gary that prompts his whole journey is all wrapped up very quickly and includes new information and characters being introduced very close to the end.
Still, I’m glad I read it, and ever since I finished I’ve been thinking about a native garden, bush tucker and how to respect the land around me and people it belongs to.