Wednesday, August 26, 2009

reviews for black dog books

There is a fab little publishing house on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy that publishes terrific Australian novels and non-fiction (great Aust. history stuff in particular) and they're launching a new Young Adult range of novels. They asked me if I'd like to write reviews for them - very exciting for me! Here are the first two...

Mama’s Song, Ben Beaton

"This is a beautiful new offering from Black Dog. Poetic and lyrical, with stunning imagery and altogether quite literary, Mama’s Song is a wonderful homage to motherhood, in all its guises, including the good times and the bad. George has run away from home, run from the place she feels she doesn’t belong, where she no longer feels welcome. She arrives in a country town ready to stay with her grandmother, of whom she has very fond memories, only to find that the old lady has died and no one told her. Then George goes into labour.

‘At 4am she screamed because she wanted to live.
I cried. At 4am I cried because I didn’t know if I wanted her to.’

This powerful couplet sets the tone for the deeply poetic nature of Beaton’s story. It also encapsulates George’s desperation and sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

Benton manages to convey that while the birth of baby Hannah is a pivotal moment of the plot, it is only a jumping off point for George’s journey through the novel and beyond. The sex, birth and breastfeeding scenes are deftly handled; descriptive without being clinical or shocking, although George’s fear, pain and humiliation are clear. I am impressed that a man can write about birth and motherhood from the perspective of a seventeen year old girl – and get it right! Beaton writes George very well – sympathetically, but also honestly. She’s got her selfishness and her anger towards her mother – she’s aware of it and so are we but we don’t judge her, because Beaton won’t allow us to. We get to know enough of George to know that she is mature, in need of – and open to – guidance, and that she is full of love.

The women that come in and out of Mama’s Song all have their role to play in George’s story. Mary is an older first-time mum who takes to her much longed-for baby easily and happily, as well as providing support to George. Nasreen’s baby is born frighteningly early and her trials help George to understand that she is very, very lucky to have her healthy baby. George’s mother is a character only seen in flashback scenes and in a brief telephone conversation, we see her through George’s memory, coloured by the loss of her father from her life.

It is only in these flashbacks that the reader learns about how George came to be alone and pregnant, we hear about her time at boarding school – apparently too out of control for her mother and step-father to handle alone – about her relationship with her father and the way she treated her mother once he left them. Perhaps it is the reflection on her past in the days following the birth of her daughter that will enable George’s acceptance and love for her own mother.

Beaton’s is a great new voice on the young adult book scene. Mama’s Song is a stunning debut novel."

After, Sue Lawson
In the wake of a traumatic incident, CJ has moved to a large property in the country to live with his grandparents. He is out of his comfort zone and surrounded by sheep - and they insist on calling him Callum.. Not only this, but Nan doesn't seem very pleased to have him there at all. The food he eats is strange and the school he will attend is small and unfamiliar. There, Callum finds that his classmate Jack Frewen, the star player in the Winter Creek football team, has been his grandfather’s right-hand man until now. Obviously jealous of the prodigal grandson, Frewen shows Callum a very different side of himself.

Lawson tells the story of Callum’s past trauma in alternate third-person narrative chapters that wind through the main story. Though they are slightly jarring at first, arising from the transition from first to third person, they work well and the reader comes to understands that Callum and CJ are two different boys, made different by the event that unfolds – the event that doesn’t occur until the very end of the book. This is an effective method of getting across the idea that Callum has been drastically changes by this experience, feels alienated from his old self. Lawson achieves great suspense and the reader looks forward to leaning more about CJ/Callum’s past before coming to Winter Creek – including why his mother seems to have nothing to do with her parents – but neither of the parallel stories drag, nor want for more attention.

Callum meets another classmate who, like him, is on the outer. Luke Bennett has an acquired brain injury and spends his recess alone. But Luke was once known as Benny, who was popular and talented. Callum befriends him, reluctantly at first, but fervently later. Callum knows what it is like to have people treat you differently after a tragedy and he connects with Luke. It is with Luke that Callum takes his first steps to reconnecting with football.

This is a terrific read for teenagers in lower secondary. It is issues based but offers something more; Lawson has created funny, likeable (and some not-so likeable) characters and some very moving scenes in this book about football, friendship, second chances and family.

After is the latest novel from Sue Lawson, author of Allie McGregor’s True Colours and Finding Darcy."

...I am just starting out on this reviewing lark. It's fun, but trickier than I thought. I spend a lot of time making notes while reading the books, then write disjointed sentences and thoughts down on scrap paper. It takes longer to get it coherent than I'd like. Perhaps with some practice it'll get easier.

as for coffee...

i bought an italian cafetiere that you put on the hot plate and it makes a delicious coffee from freshly ground beans right in the comfort of your own house. the coffee it produces is very strong, full-bodied and quite delicious. however, i can't remember the brand of beans i used. i'm excited. come around and i'll make you a cup.


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