This is a love story.
It's the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets.
It's the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea.
Now, she's back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal and looking for the future in the books people love, and the words they leave behind.
I loved this book. I’m not surprised it’s won two major awards and been shortlisted for more – it contains some beautiful poetic language without sounding pretentious and has relatable characters who are fleshed out into complicated but kind teenagers. I found the love triangle a bit clichéd (like, OPEN YOUR EYES, HENRY) and guessed from the start what was happening with the letters to Henry’s sister George, but I still enjoyed reading about them. I love the Letter Library and the reality of a secondhand bookstore being this beautiful romantic place that also can’t pay the bills. I especially love how the bookworm characters refer to such a wide range of books – the classics, sure, but also popular modern genre authors and some other Aussie YA (nice job sneaking in some recommendations there, Ms Crowley). It was paced slower than I usually like, but I really enjoyed the gentler pace in this. There was a lot of sadness mingled with beauty so it felt more aching than crushing, and left plenty of hope for good things too.
It’d be an excellent choice to teach, both in terms of themes (grief, relationships, family, identity, bullying) and language, and is mild enough to be unlikely to be a problem for parents or more conservative schools.
Six five-year-olds go missing without a trace.
Eleven years later, five come back - with no memory of where they've been. Or who took them. Or why.
Scarlett is one of the five. She comes home to a mother she barely recognises, and doesn't really know who she's supposed to be. But she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett too, but neither of them remembers the sixth victim, Max.
He's still missing.
And now everyone wants answers.
This is very much a three-star book for me - it was okay, didn’t feel like a waste of time reading it or anything, but I’m unlikely to go out of my way to recommend it to others. I thought it had a really promising premise, and that mystery did keep me going to the end, by which point I had developed a sense of a concern about the characters. Different elements that became part of the story later (such as a book that Lucas finds) also sparked my interest and made the mystery feel closer to being solved. But the ending really fell flat for me and it seemed like the various questions were so well developed and interesting that they deserved better answers. Authors talk about plotters (who plan out each chapter before starting a draft) and pantsers (from “fly by the seat of your pants”, meaning to start with an idea and let it develop as you go). I couldn’t say for sure, of course, but if I were to speculate I’d say this writer is a pantser – one with a great imagination, but after such a great build, there seemed nowhere left to go and everything just kind of… finished. I also found the love triangle clumsily done and I don’t think it added anything of value to the story. It seemed to just be there for the sake of it, and I hate unnecessary romantic subplots. So anyway, I’m not going to say DON’T read it, but I wouldn’t say GO NOW and buy a copy, either.
Also, it kind of goes without saying from the above, but for any teachers reading along, this’d be one for the library, not the bookroom.
When Max receives a mysterious invite from the untraceable, epic prank-pulling Chaos Club, he has to ask: why him? After all, he's Mr. 2.5 GPA, Mr. No Social Life. He's Just Max. And his favorite heist movies have taught him this situation calls for Rule #4: Be suspicious. But it's also his one shot to leave Just Max in the dust...
Yeah, not so much. Max and four fellow students-who also received invites-are standing on the newly defaced water tower when campus security "catches" them. Definitely a setup. And this time, Max has had enough. It's time for Rule #7: Always get payback.
Let the prank war begin.
Not bad. Just not super exciting either. I don’t really know what to say about this one, as it’s pretty much exactly as it sounds – a standard high school story about a group of kids who pull pranks (you know the kind, posting photos online of the school mascot in compromising positions, filling lockers with dough) and the friendships that form as a result of it. I don't know why I expected it to be something more, I was after humour (because it's hard to find much of it in the YA section, sadly! I wish I was better at writing humour) and re-discovered how much I prefer wit and satire to dirty jokes and slapstick. Don't Get Caught is a light read and will be enjoyable for most, without trying to impart any kind of deep philosophical message (although there’s a bit of a “lesson” about finding a sense of self, confidence, “writing your name in the wet cement of the universe” to it). Plenty of sexual innuendo and laughing at others’ misfortune, which definitely has an audience, I’m just not really it. It celebrates the misfits and underdogs and doesn’t paint teachers in a very good light (honestly, the “cool” teacher is a pretty rubbish adult role model and says absolutely nothing helpful about a nasty slut-shaming showdown between two girls IN THE MIDDLE OF HIS CLASS, whereas pretty much the only other teacher you can get any sense of is an over the top authoritarian who the kids all understandably want to take down). That’s fine though, teachers are not the target audience! I did have some issues with how girls were represented and where the line is between “fun” and “actually a real problem for the victims of your prank”. One to get for a teen boy’s birthday maybe, or to keep in the school library.