Clive Tilsley is the owner and director of Fullers Bookshop. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in August 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Alex has spent her whole life seeing someone else—the other Alex—looking back at her from the mirror. But now things have changed. A new school, new clothes—a new Alex. However, new friends and a makeover may not be enough to keep the past away, and just as her new life is taking a huge step forward, the old one arrives to drag it right back. Alex As Well is a confronting and honest story about the reality of life as a transgendered teen and the overwhelming difficulties of reinventing yourself. Alex’s world is hard, confusing, and at times rather lonely. Alyssa Brugman has outfitted this harsh reality with a tough, imperfect protagonist who navigates this incredibly difficult time of extreme change with little finesse but a vast reserve of daring and determination. Brugman’s beautiful writing offers a startlingly accurate portrayal of teenage life and is a remarkable exploration of gender and sexuality. In typical Brugman style, Alex As Well tackles its subject matter with fearless honesty as well as with strong insight and a delightful sense of humour. Fans of Brugman’s earlier work as well as readers of authors such as John Green will devour this YA novel.
Meg Whelan works at Hill of Content bookshop in Melbourne. This review first appeared in the Summer 2012/13 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Murdered girls washed up on picture-postcard Tassie beaches. You could joke about not telling Tourism Tasmania, but sadly this novel takes some of its inspiration from real events, specifically, the murder of Italian tourist Victoria Cafasso and the disappearance of German tourist Nancy Grunwaldt in the early 1990s. Both cases remain unsolved. In her debut novel, Poppy Gee writes about an idyllic holiday spot in remote coastal Tasmania, where no more than a dozen shacks line a lagoon and secrets are hard to keep. That our protagonist Sarah Avery has returned, having left her boyfriend and her job, is cause for gossip in itself. When the bikini-clad body of a young girl is found washed up on the beach just a year after another teenage girl went missing, journalist Hall Flynn is sent to investigate, and all too quickly the close-knit community turns on itself. I have a few reservations with Gee’s writing style, as at times I found her depiction of Sarah’s unlikeability a bit overdone. The grim undercurrent to descriptions of the locals and the landscape also felt a bit laboured, though I do appreciate that Gee is providing us with a clearer view of paradise: not everyone is happy, not everyone behaves well and all beautiful seaside communities have a rubbish dump. Nonetheless, this novel has stuck in my mind, and I will be recommending it as a compelling, dark summer read for fans of thought-provoking dramas.
Catherine Schulz is an indie bookseller at Fullers Bookshop in Hobart. This review first appeared in the Summer 2012/13 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Told through the eyes of a Punjabi Sikh family and set in Singapore between the 1970s and the 1990s, this bold debut tells the intersecting stories of a family and a nation—both struggling to survive the onslaught of change. Narain’s father is sending him to America in the hope that studying engineering will cure him of the ‘sexual deviance’ which marred his army service. Fifteen-year-old Amrit seems like a typical teenager, acting up and hanging around boys, but as her life starts to spiral out of control, her rapid and devastating decline has far-reaching effects. Gurdev and his wife are raising a new generation of girls who are pushing back against the confines of their world. Focus switches deftly between chapters as characters reveal their private tragedies, and at one point it did feel as though the story would tip over into melodrama; fortunately, it did not. This is a novel with large themes including identity and multiculturalism; repression and individuality; superstition and the stigma of mental illness; shame, disappointment and regret; desire and mania; and love and grief. Ultimately about defiance, survival and self-acceptance, it is surprisingly hopeful. This is highly recommended and will appeal to readers of novels such as Monica Ali’s Brick Lane and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.
Paula Grunseit is a freelance journalist, editor and reviewer. This review first appeared in the Summer 2012/13 issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Best known for his book Raising Boys, psychologist Steve Biddulph has written a companion piece, motivated in part by his belief that since the mid-2000s there has been a marked increase in a number of issues affecting girls, including eating disorders, self-harm and depression. Raising Girls is a guidebook aimed at parents to help them lay the foundations for bringing up happy, well-adjusted daughters. Biddulph moves through the stages of girlhood, from infancy to adolescence to adulthood, outlines potential risks and offers ideas to combat ‘anti-social’ media, sexualisation, bullies and other problems girls may face. Alongside his own training, Biddulph has consulted experts and parents and incorporated the latest child-development theories in his book, which is also filled with anecdotal stories. There are bullet-point summaries to reinforce each section. Raising Girls is practical and easy to follow. There are times when the comments and advice are self-evident (for example, you are your daughter’s first role model so be careful how you act around her) but on the whole it’s a well-structured look at some of the hazards that may affect the mental and physical health of girls. This is a good present for new parents or for those already struggling with recalcitrant daughters.
Thuy On is a Melbourne-based critic, editor and manuscript assessor. This review first appeared on the Bookseller+Publisher website in October. View more pre-publication reviews here.
This broad collection of migration stories is an example of a good idea backed up by an excellent execution. Many of the contributors are known names in literary circles: Dmetri Kakmi, Alice Pung, Mark Dapin, Ouyang Yu, Chris Flynn and Hsu-Ming Teo. The 27 essays cover experiences from childhood migration to adult, from negative to positive, long-ago experiences to more recent, flights from places of hardship or comfort, and the heartbreak or relief of loosening family ties. Also diverse is the range of locations covered, from Europe, to the Americas, Asia, the Pacific, the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East. Perhaps a little more on African experiences would have been welcome. The feeling of being caught in a no-man’s land between two cultures is a consistent theme, as is failure to fit back into the culture left behind, and the grappling with language. Australian-born readers are given fascinating insights into the migrant experience, the kind of welcome this country provides, and the oddities of our language and culture. Given all the contributors are writers, the entries are eloquent and represent the more highly educated end of the spectrum of migrant experiences. Some of the essays are movingly personal, others have a more intellectual slant. I felt privileged to be privy to the memories and emotions shared on the page. I hope that its January release finds this book the attention it deserves. It will make thoughtful holiday reading. This is intelligent, relevant, absorbing writing.
Joanne Shiells is a former retail book buyer and editor. This review first appeared in the October/November issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
The Romance Diaries is a fun, fast-paced and modern read for lovers of the Clueless style of Jane Austen updates. In this first book in a new series written pseudonymously by author Sophie Masson, we are introduced to the quirky character of Ruby. Ruby’s a bit clueless herself about matters of the heart but she decides that she’s come up with the perfect plan to help her mother, sister and friends find the men of their dreams: the guys they like are either a ‘Jane Austen’ type (sweet) or a ‘Jane Eyre’ type (brooding), and what they really need to do is switch types. So Ruby starts some elaborate plotting to make it happen. This book’s language is all kinds of ‘totes aMAZing’ and ‘SM. OOTH’, which can be somewhat jarring for those not used to the teen talk (i.e. adults!), but it will be fun for those who really do communicate that way. Plenty of pop-culture references also keep it very ‘now’. Though the romantic topic is relatively mature and the characters are mostly aged 15-plus, this book will really appeal to the tween audience who are on the cusp of this stage of their lives.
Hannah Cartmel is an editor with Macmillan and co-founder of the Rag and Bone Man Press. This review first appeared on the Bookseller+Publisher website in October. View more pre-publication reviews here.
Marcus is a great warrior—a dragonslayer! At least, he is online. Gaming is the one place he feels at home since his only friend Bashir moved to India, a fact his parents just don’t understand. After Marcus’ attempt to buy himself a friend backfires disastrously, his mum and dad decide some more drastic action is needed: they enrol him in a boarding school. Bourkely Boy’s Grammar is a ‘unique school’ for ‘boys who have trouble fitting in’, in the depths of the Outback. Marcus soon discovers the truth about Bourkely: most of the students are bullies and thugs, the school itself is ramshackle and decaying, the teachers wear koala suits to class, the principal is a bearded brute with a vicious pet dingo, the library is haunted by a sabre-toothed nun, and worst of all, there are no computers! Armed with his wits, his new friends Fred and Trent, and his knowledge from The Warrior’s Guide to Everything by R J Bergin, Marcus has to survive at the school they call Bad Grammar. A funny fast-paced book, full of outlandish characters and incidents, and frequent asides from The Warrior’s Guide to Everything, this is a recommended read for young adventurers.
Heath Graham is an educator currently working at the State Library of Victoria. This review first appeared in the October/November issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.
This is not a light-hearted story about a woman’s foray into the world of illicit sex. What begins as a vibrant fairytale of love, punk and art, quickly unravels with an air of seamy doom. The unflinchingly graphic, tell-all epic about a successful Canberra porn empire is told with honesty and humour by the woman at its centre—the star of Australia’s bestselling porn film The Horny Housewife. Having spent the first eight months of her life in an orphanage before being adopted by a prominent Jewish family in Melbourne and attending MLC (school uniforms can be useful later in life), university graduate Stern became a promising glass artist but had to give up this career due to an eye condition. In Amsterdam, aged 27, she met her future husband, Paul—the extremely talented but damaged 19-year-old Dutch-Canadian cartoonist whose marketing genius would convert her into an extremely profitable sexual commodity. Ultimately a story of survival, Stern’s book describes the complexities of life as a porn star, stripper, sex worker and mother of three—it’s not pretty. On the upside, having discovered a hidden talent for cataloguing, she now has a new career as a librarian.
Paula Grunseit is a freelance journalist, editor and reviewer. This review first appeared in the October/November issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.