Staff picks – July 2018

July 2018


The Nowhere Child by Christian White – AFFRIM, Aussie adult fiction $32.99

Debut Aussie novel The Nowhere Child wrapped me in its grip right from the start and never let go. The premise begins with Aussie photographer Kim Leamy getting a visit from a strange American talking about an abducted girl named Sammy Went from 19 years earlier that he thinks is her. His stake in the case? He is Sammy’s brother Stuart. She remembers nothing but is intrigued by Stuart’s description of decay theory and his DNA results proving they are related. Conversations with her half sister Amy and stepdad Dean raise further suspicions and eventually lead her to embark on her own road trip back to the States to find out the truth.
Author Christian White’s decision to structure as Then and Now chapter sequences really added to the effective plot layering and the suspense. White vividly creates a variety of settings that place you smack in the middle of the sleepy town of Manson and its reactions to this unusual missing child case. But his real strength lays in his depiction of true to life characters, their fractured relationships with others and the realistic dialogue interplay. From town players like cop Ellis or Sammy’s older sister Emma, we see the disappearance and search for Sammy play out in the past, and then how it has impacted those in the town of Manson in the current day as Kim / Sammy meets people from her past she cannot remember. And thankfully things don’t always run smoothly, or people all embracing of her return.
The theme and experience of guilt is ever present for so many with their own secrets – adding diversions but captivating interest for the many involved. Sammy’s dad Jack, struggling with his repressed homosexual feelings, copes differently to his wife Molly who has been converted to the religious group / cult The Light Within who dabble with snake worship and fanatical views. This cult aspect really added a refreshing take on the thriller / child disappearance plotline. We also observe neighbouring white trash family, the Eckles, including brothers Travis and recently prison released Patrick, and later more of TLW group and Becky Creech – daughter and sister of the two pastors over time, who has her own riveting backstory.
And just when you think the pieces are all starting to come together there is a killer final fast paced 40 pages that left me exclaiming out loud A LOT at various revelations. This impressively finishes the novel to a really satisfying conclusion and makes Christian White a new Aussie voice to watch for thriller impact novels. Highly recommended – but if you have a snake phobia then read with the lights on!!


Cicada by Shaun Tan, Lothian, PICTURE BOOK $26.99

After a temporary departure from the norm in The Singing Bones, one of Australia’s most celebrated and treasured artists and authors is back with Cicada.
Shaun Tan masterfully delivers with this brief but socially impacting tale of a cicada who doesn’t receive the recognition and thanks he so rightly deserves for his 17 years of tireless work.
The niche audience for this picture book is definitely accountants and office workers of large corporations (it would make a wonderful birthday or retirement gift for people in these occupations too!), but that doesn’t mean this minimalist social commentary and tale of realisation, transformation and discovery can’t be enjoyed by anyone else, young or old. Cicada‘s message is clear and can be easily understood by anyone.
Tan knows how to use the bare minimum words to build a world and character and tell his story, using the right amount of words which pair perfectly to his simplistic yet beautifully stylistic oil paintings while being as descriptive. Cicada is a wonderful addition to the Shaun Tan back list and to your own picture book collection like it is to mine. Good for ages 5+.


Hive by AJ Betts – Pan Macmillan, Young adult fiction, $16.99

A.J Betts, author of Zac & Mia has written another book that I have been privileged enough to get an advance copy of. Hive is the first novel of a two book series.
Hayley tends to her bees and follows the rules in the only world she has ever known. Until she witnesses the impossible: a drip from the ceiling. Set in a dystopian world, ruled under the presence of God, each group in the Hive adheres to certain rules. Sin leads to dire consequences. There are things in life the citizens can’t explain, why do they sing lullabies about babies in trees when it’s against the rules?The hive consists of many different people, grouped into sectors – engineers, gardeners, teachers, beekeepers like Hayley.
What starts as a drip however leads to a lie, a death, a boy, a beast, and too many awful questions. A drip means that Hayley is going mad, a fate worse than death. Those who go mad see colours and people, hear sounds that no one ever has before. This is considered very serious, with the victims being sent for treatment. Those who return are either in an infantile state of mind, or die shortly after. What will happen to Hayley as everything starts to unravel? Will she find out something about another system, another way of life? I don’t want to give too much away so pick up a copy in store to find out! For fans of divergent and the Maze Runner, this series is sure to be a hit. Betts is a talented writer who keeps us engaged with an easy to read narrative. This book is full of curious twist and turns, the perfect novel for YA readers who want something a little different and mysterious.


Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton – Harper Collins, Aussie adult fiction, $32.99RRP

I was introduced to this book through the social media hype surrounding it, I saw it on my Facebook feed and decided to look further into this book, as I read more about it I knew I had to read it; especially when a few brave reviewers deemed Boy Swallows Universe as “better than Jasper Jones”. So, as you can imagine, I came into this book with a lot of expectation.
I loved this book, it is so authentically Australian in its descriptions of life, I was honestly astounded when Eli described Parmesan cheese as “the green Kraft one in the container that smells like August’s vomit”, because that’s exactly how I remember it!
Boy Swallows Universe is set in 1984, heroin-torn Darra (a small rural town in Queensland). The main character is (initially) 13-year-old Eli. Eli’s mother is an ex-heroin-addict, who is now dealing the stuff with her long-term boyfriend, Lyle. Eli’s babysitter is a convicted killer, his brother is a mute that speaks through writing in the sky with his finger, and his father is an alcoholic. That is only the beginning of it.
Eli and August (his mute brother) are special, they are special in a way that keeps you guessing, I still wonder what made them special, but they are undoubtedly peculiar. Their relationship is that of close brothers, but they seem to understand each other in ways I never have seen; for example, Eli always knows what August is saying without saying it. This peculiarity continues with August, his ability to almost predict the future and the weird comments he makes that you know you want to remember for later in the book.
These boys are amazing to read about, I love their quirks, enthusiasm and the fact that they live both in the real world of gangs, drug-lords and death; while at the same time they are impossibly optimistic: almost as if they thought they were invincible.
I cannot rate this book more highly; it’s different and quirky but a read that I found difficult to put down. It is no wonder that this book is getting the praise and media coverage, it is definitely one to look out for.
And “better than Jasper Jones”? I certainly enjoyed it just as much, if not possibly more. A big call to make, but Boy Swallows Universe is definitely an Australian fiction that needs to be read and experienced.

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