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Thursday, 27 June 2013

Review: Wonder

Author: R J Palacio

Release date: This paperback edition 3rd January 2013
Genre: Contemporary, Coming-of-age story
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Corgi
ISBN: 978-0552565974

Wonder is a contemporary coming-of-age story. It’s heart-warming, it’s sad but above all, it’s a story which can teach us something about life.

August was born with a facial deformity. He’s been home educated until one day his mum suggests that he should join the Middle School nearby. She thinks it is time for him to go to school because he needs to find his way in the outside world. August thinks of himself as just an ordinary boy but when other people –adults and children alike- react like he is a freak, he feels alone and I guess misunderstood.

What I really liked about Auggie is that he never really felt sorry for himself. He wanted to be ordinary and he wanted to treated like every other student but he never pitied himself. He was a lively boy with a love of Star Wars and a keen mind. Though at first the idea of going to school is terrifying for him, his dad refers to it as a lamb to the slaughter, once he starts school he discovers that he loves learning – he does well in all his subjects.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints. We read his sister’s thoughts and her boyfriends, August’s friends Summer and Jack and then we return to August. 

This story is so so easy to read. I read it in just a few hours as the voice pulled me straight in. It’s not a story with a huge amount of action. It’s more about people and how they interact with one another. If there is a single weakness in this book, it’s that the character don’t really sound that different from each other . They don’t have the difference in voice and dialogue which is done so well in books like Party by Tom Leveen. Having said that, I would still wholeheartedly recommend it. Because really it’s a book about how we are not all that different from each other. It isn’t what we look like that’s important but what we do – to be kind, to care for others, to take risks in life and to belong – these are the things that make us different and if we do them, then we stand out and are special.

Wonder is a life affirming read but also a book which will make you walk in another person’s shoes. It will make you think and want to be “kinder than is necessary” and that can only be a good thing. A really fantastic read that left me with a lump in my throat.

Source: Borrowed from the school library

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Review: The Rithmatist

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Release date: 23rd May 2013
Genre: Gearpunk Fantasy
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Orion Books
ISBN: 978-1444009538


The Rithmatist is imaginative fantasy novel set in a clockwork-powered world. Think gears, cogs and tick, tick, ticking.

Joel attends the prestigious Armedius school as a scholarship student. His mother is a cleaner at the school and his father was once their chief chalkmaker but he passed away in a terrible accident. Joel wants nothing more than to be a Rithmatist. The exclusive group undertake their special training at the school. But Joel is just an ordinary boy. He doesn’t have the Rithmatic power which the Master grants to a chosen few. Instead he spends his time studying Rithmatics from books and sneaking into the lectures of the Rithmatics Professor Fitch.

When Rithmatic students begin to disappear under suspicious cirmustances, Joel suspects the new teacher Nalizar. He arrived from the frontline in Nebrask where he was regarded as a hero. But Joel doesn’t trust him. Why would he leave the battle ground fighting wild chalking creatures to come and teach at a private school?

This book is startlingly original. I have never read a fantasy book like this. The magic is imbibed in the chalk drawings created by the Rithmatists. These drawings are so hard to describe and one of the main challenges in this book was to put across this complicated idea in a format that readers can understand. It achieves this through two ways. The first is the use of diagrams to convey the different Rithmatic lines and how they can be used in offense and defense. Think trigonometry and geometry – circles, angles and lines. Then there is the drip feeding of back story to explain how Rithmatics works, its history and discovery.

This book will definitely appeal to readers who love mathematical problems. I also see a huge potential for trading card duels using the different Rithmatic strategies. Of course, it would work well on the big screen. So there’s movie potential too. You wouldn’t think chalk drawings could be scary but when they are 2D rabid chalklings who you will eat the skin off your body, then they are terrifying.

It did take me a while to get into this book. Joel really needed a sidekick a bit sooner as there was a lack of humour to lift the story in the first 100 pages. My single other problem is that for the reader it is a bit dissatisfying that the main character can’t partake of the magic. Thus it lacks that wish-fulfilment quality that you expect in this type of novel. I think the author may have something up his sleeve to get around this problem in future books so I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes next.

It really is an imaginative tour-de-force!

Source: Bought from Foyles

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Review: Things I Can't Forget

Author: Miranda Kenneally

Release date: 1st April 2013
Genre: Contemporary YA / Romance
Target audience: 13+
US Publisher: Sourcebooks
ISBN: 9781402271908


Things I Can’t Forget is a contemporary story set in a Southern American state – I think it was Tennessee. The story takes place over the course of one summer. It’s a story of faith: in God, in yourself to make the right choices, and in love.

Kate is a strong believer in God. She has always gone to church with her parents and worked hard to follow the teachings she learned there. But when her friend Emily becomes pregnant and then decides to have a termination, Kate finds herself torn. She supports her friend but she cannot forgive her for ending the baby’s life. This summer Kate has her first proper job. She’s going to be a Camp Counsellor at Cumberland Creek. But when she arrives, she’s withdrawn and broken. Her friendship with Emily is at breaking point and she can’t reveal the secret that burdens her. This summer she will question everything, discover things about herself she never knew and find that love is the greatest gift you can ever receive.

I found this book so easy to read and a really honest portrayal of teen life. I think the fact that the author chose to tell the story from Kate’s viewpoint was a brave choice. Some people may have asked: why are you telling Kate’s story? Shouldn’t you be telling Emily’s story? The real story here is the girl having to choose whether or not to have a termination. But they’d be wrong. Kate’s story is an important one to tell. I think young people do begin to question life, deeper meanings, their family faith and search for their own understanding of the world. I think an event like that happening to a close friend would challenge you emotionally and physically. It would undoubtedly challenge your beliefs. It was fantastic to see a YA novel explore faith and beliefs. It’s not something you come across often and I for one found this so interesting as well as enjoyable. All great books make you walk in someone else’s shoes and this book did just that.

I did not find this book at all preachy. Kate does cling to her beliefs and judge other people who don’t follow them. But that’s an important part of her journey. The author was right to explore it in this way. Kate’s journey isn’t easy. It involves a lot of soul searching and heartache. But there is humour and joy in this novel – the friends Kate makes at camp uplift some of the darker personal moments.

Things I Can’t Forget is meaningful, romantic and emotive. A recommended read for anyone who wants a summer romance with a twist or who wants to read a novel where personal faith is at the heart.

Source: Personal copy bought at Peters Booksellers