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How do teenage boys think? This is something I'm pondering at the moment, for my own nefarious reasons, and, as in most things, my first thought was to read about them. Or rather, to read books written from their points of view.

But when it came to compiling a list of books to read, I was very short on ideas. So I asked my lovely friends on facebook and twitter to suggest fiction with a male protagonist/narrator aged 14-16, and this, supplemented with some research of my own, is the result:

List of books with male protagonists aged 14-16 )

Thanks so much to everyone who contributed to this list! I'm off to the library now, but I'm still taking suggestions, so feel free to add yours in the comments or by contacting me on twitter.
lizabelle: (Old coat new book)
You may remember that I really loved Pip Harry's update of the traditional boarding school story, I'll Tell You Mine, which I reviewed a few months ago. At that point it was only really available in Australia, but it is now out as a Kobo ebook, meaning it's available worldwide. So if my review piqued your interest, check out the link.

If you're not ready to buy it yet, goodreads is also hosting a giveaway of the book: click here to win a copy of I'll Tell You Mine.

While I'm here, Nina D'Aleo's The Last City is currently available for free at Amazon UK, Amazon US and the Apple Store.

I don't know anything about the author, but the blurb sounds great, so I have downloaded and will report back.

Here's the blurb:

"Scorpia – the last city of Aquais – where the Ar Antarians rule, the machine-breeds serve and in between a multitude of races and species eke out an existence somewhere between the ever-blazing city lights and the endless darkness of the underside.

As a spate of murders and abductions grip the city, new recruit Silho Brabel is sent to the Oscuri Trackers, an elite military squad commanded by the notorious Copernicus Kane. But Silho has a terrible secret and must fight to hide her strange abilities and monstrous heritage."
lizabelle: (Book and sea)
If I close my eyes I can imagine crashing. I see it in slow motion, like a crash-test dummy reconstruction where I'm the dummy. The Laser swerving across the road to hit a brick wall - the one near the sports grounds at the back of Seaforth - yellow bonnet crumpling, metal screeching, indicator lights exploding and spraying orange glass. My neck whiplashes forward, the windscreen shatters and the car presses in around me like a cocoon. Tight, tight, tighter, the warmest hug in the world.

It scares me. I don't want to do it. But sometimes I think it's the only way I'll be able to turn off what's in my head.

(From chapter 2 of Raw Blue.)

Carly is living a half-life, working dead hours in a restaurant so she can surf during the day, and generally trying to get by without being noticed. Surfing is the only way she knows to be happy, because it allows her to forget the awful thing that happened to her - the thing she refuses to talk about, but which permeates every aspect of her existence.

Despite her best efforts, Carly becomes pulled into the lives of others, most notably a lonely woman in the flat above, an oddball kid and an attractive surfer with a mysterious past of his own.

The thing about hiding from your trauma is that it doesn't go anywhere. It stays in your head, taking up more and more space, becoming more and more impermeable, until inevitably you crash into it. In Raw Blue, the reader can see the crash coming from chapter one, but the narrative is so compelling, so exquisitely, quietly painful, that (to adopt a cliché) it's impossible to look away.

Because Carly's narrative, filled as it is with the minutiae of a life unlived, is hugely compelling. Her uncertainties and fears (what will happen if she does this? How will someone react if she puts a foot wrong?) are exaggerated versions of those faced by many of us as we navigate the world on a daily basis. She is smart but vulnerable and dedicated to being invulnerable, constantly prepared to forestall the next bad thing that might happen to her.

From Carly's viewpoint even her escape (surfing) is fraught with tension. Take the line-up of surfers, with its internal politics and suspicion of outsiders, women and children. The chaos of the ocean despite Coastalwatch's best efforts at prediction. Carly's attempts to stay under the radar, which are continually thwarted by the attentions, well-intentioned or not, of her fellow surfers. However hard she tries, she can't avoid bumping up against other people and her own past.

As a first novel, Raw Blue is seriously impressive - and I haven't even mentioned a lot of the things I liked about it, so I'll just list them briefly here: the setting (Sydney's Northern Beaches), the taut, compelling writing, the understated anger (so understated that you get the impression even Carly doesn't realise it's there) in the narrative voice, the way what was done to Carly is dealt with, the very lovely (and yet imperfect) Ryan, Eagar's obvious love for the ocean. This is the first of Kirsty Eagar's books that I've read, and I will be on the lookout for more.

Version I read: Catnip Books paperback won in a competition held by Shelleyrae of Book'd Out. The book is available in Australia, the UK and I believe also in the USA.
To learn more about Kirsty Eagar, check out her website.
lizabelle: (Default)
Boarding schools. They have captured my imagination ever since, aged seven, I was heartbroken to be told by my mum that I couldn't go to St Clare's because it didn't exist.

Part of me likes to think that somewhere in the Bernese Oberland the Chalet School is going strong, still churning out trilingual girls who become teachers and then marry doctors. And that on the Cornish coast, Rebecca Mason is still practising her tennis while the other girls learn to surf.

One of the reasons I initially fell in love with the Harry Potter books was because of the way JK Rowling plays with the boarding school trope. Hogwarts is basically an old-fashioned boarding school that happens to teach magic, and Rowling sticks to the academic year structure throughout the books (although oh, how I missed the school setting in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

In I'll Tell You Mine, Pip Harry brings the boarding school trope bang up to date and into the southern hemisphere. Fifteen-year-old Kate Elliot has done something terrible: so terrible that her family is shunting her off to the local boarding school so they don't have to deal with her. As you would expect, she is not happy about this, and things don't get any better when she finds herself sharing a dormitory with the in-crowd and another girl who's as much of an outcast as herself.

Kate is a goth -- which, at school, makes her a freak. Worse than this, boarding school also presents a major obstacle to socialising with her friends, fellow goth Annie and musician Nate. Obviously, Kate isn't going to take all this lying down...

I loved Kate as a character, even if sometimes I wanted to shake her. She's sad and snarky and vulnerable -- and completely believable at every turn. And as we gradually learn more about the events leading up to her banishment, we realise that no one person is to blame.

I think that might be my favourite aspect of the novel. Pip Harry writes all the characters sensitively; even the people who initially seem to lead charmed lives are flawed and they all do bad or stupid things, but as a reader I could always understand why they did them. The progression of the relationship between Kate and her mother is truly touching, and I speak as someone who had a torrid relationship with her own mother in her teens. Nothing is straightforward, and this novel reflects that perfectly.

Kate's voice comes through very strongly right from the first page -- but despite the teenage diction that peppers the pages, the writing feels very precise, as if every word has earned its place. Similarly, Kate's family history feels fully realised, but there's no superfluous information. Everything she tells us is for a reason. One of the more beautiful moments of the book -- Kate's memory of a family holiday, in which, "Liv was too young to have a go [at surfing] on her own but Dad chucked her on the front of his wide Mal and pulled her up to her feet. She was screaming with excitement when she crested down the front of the wave with Dad's hand clutching at the back of her bathers." -- is principally there for contrast. "That was a highlight." The rest of the holiday is memorable, not for its good moments, but for its failures and for what Kate learned about her parents' marriage.

To return to the boarding school setting, I loved that the school remained a character until the end. Sometimes with YA literature it feels as if the author can't wait to get the characters away from the constraints of school, but here, Pip Harry uses every aspect of boarding school life to broaden the story. And despite Kate's mixed feelings about it, I've added Norris Grammar to my mental list of "schools I would like to have known". Which is about the best compliment I can pay the book, really.

Version I read: University of Queensland Press paperback from Kinokuniya Sydney. Also available online at
Pip Harry blogs at
lizabelle: (Default)
I'm currently working my way through volume one of Lucy Maud Montgomery's journals. Most of you will know her as the author of the Anne books, some of my most beloved childhood reads.

Maud herself is a delight - full of the passion for life and stories that shine through in Anne. Here she is on 4 April 1899, talking about stories:

"I have no doubt that it is a wise ordinance of date - or Providence? - that I cannot get all the books I want or I should certainly never accomplish much. I am simply a "book drunkard"...the first new story I read in '99 was "Phroso" by Anthony Hope. I...sat up in bed until two o'clock, shivering and freezing but quite indifferent to it, and finished the book before I could sleep. It was a glorious yarn - full of life and "go". It was romance pure and simple, without any alloy of realism or philosophy. I like realistic and philosophical novels in spells,but for pure, joyous, undiluted delight give me romance. I always revelled in fairytales."

Sound familiar to anyone? :)

It's also fascinating to see how she takes her own experiences and remodels them for her stories. A description of her thoughts on hearing of the death of a would-be lover (dated 24 July 1899) could come straight from the end of Anne of the Island:

"There would be no answering smile on his pale cold lips, no tender light in the dark blue eyes whose flash used to stir my heart into stinging life. Oh,kneeling there I thought it all over - that winter in Bedeque with its passion and suffering, all its hours of happiness and sorrow. I lived again in thought every incident of my acquaintance with Herman Leard from first to last - all those mad sweet hours and those sad bitter hours."

For me, the Anne books were as much about Prince Edward Island as they were about Anne. Here is LM Montgomery letting the words flow in another entry from 1899, describing what would become Lover's Lane in the Anne books:

The old spring, deep and clear and icy cold, is on our path. The brook purls softly by and the old firs whisper over it as of yore.... )

Highly recommended!
lizabelle: (Default)
I wrote this non-spoilery review a while ago for Meet at the Gate, website of the excellent Canongate Books. I'm reposting it (finally) in case anyone still needs persuading to read this book, which is one of my all-time favourites.

The Book Thief is set in Molching, a small town in Nazi Germany that is far enough from Munich to avoid political significance, but close enough to Dachau that Jewish prisoners are occasionally marched through there. It's a town full of ordinary people who are struggling to survive a war - like the mayor's wife, who might almost seem to have given up on life...except for one small act of rebellion. Like Rosa Hubermann, who insults everyone impartially but loves warmly. Like Rudy Steiner, a boy trapped in a world he can make little sense of. Like Hans Hubermann, impoverished house-painter and accordionist, caught out by an old promise and his own sense of honour. And at their heart is Liesel: fierce, passionate, a lover of words and stealer of books.

When we first meet Liesel, she is nine and reeling from the loss of her family. Delivered to the fostering authorities, Liesel is thrown into a new life which, while poverty-stricken and plagued by Hitler's apparently arbitrary edicts, is a step up from her old one. At a funeral she steals a book, which turns out to be a handbook for gravediggers. It is the beginning of a journey in which Liesel, and eventually many other characters, find power through the written word while the world collapses around them.

Given the setting, it is perhaps appropriate that the narrator of The Book Thief is Death. Zusak isn't the first writer to make use of Death as a character, but he puts this narrative twist to excellent use here. To Death, humans are objects of curiosity, to be viewed (but not always kept) at a distance. Because Death is in turn relating Liesel's tale, it's hard to know from whom the descriptions originate, but they are always memorable: Rudy has hair the colour of lemons; Hans has eyes made of silver and kindness; Rosa is wardrobe-shaped. Words have power: they literally tap people on the shoulder, or even slap them across the face.

This is a story about death and about Death. But it is also a love letter to the human spirit: to the individual heroism that makes us human in the face of mindless mob brutality.
lizabelle: (Default)
Ah, my poor little neglected blog, how badly I've treated you! Apologies for the extended absence.

I have several very brief book reviews:

When We Were Bad - Charlotte Mendelson. The son of a feted female rabbi running off with the wife of another rabbi moments before his wedding marks the first in a series of cracks that open up in an apparently perfect family. This is close to being a perfect book. Seriously, if you have access to this one, read it. It's brilliant. Five stars

One Foot Wrong - Sofie Laguna. Hester's reclusive religious parents have their own ideas about how their daughter should be brought up. A fascinating, fresh take on a horrifying subject. Four stars.

Stuffed and Starved - Raj Patel. Clever and very well-written, as well as being packed full of information about the problem with the way today's food society operates and ideas as to what we can do about it. Patel's a great writer, and this book made me an instant fan. Five stars.

Burnt Shadows - Kamila Shamsie. An very apposite one in the current climate, this book examines cultural conflicts and their links and roots from Nagasaki to 911, wrapping around this a narrative that is moving and hopeful in the face of despair. Four and a half stars.

The Wilderness - Samantha Harvey. A beautifully written, convincing imagining of a man's descent (or flight?) into alzheimers. Four stars.

With that out of the way, I want to concentrate on two excellent young adult books I've read recently, which go together very nicely because they're both based on alternate histories. Jenny Davidson's The Explosionist is set in 1930s Edinburgh, but history diverges from our own in 1815 when Napoleon defeats Wellington's army at the Battle of Waterloo. Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, is set in a world in which Darwin's discoveries led him to DNA, and thence to the creation of new species that are used by humans very much in the way that we use machines in our world.

Both books offer fascinating insights into the twists and turns of what-ifs. More under the cut. )

This got me thinking: are there any other alternate histories that people can recommend? One I loved as a teenager is Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and sequels, but there must be loads more that I've missed out on.


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