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BOOK LOVE: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Late on a hot summer night in the tail end of 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress.

Jasper takes him through town and to his secret glade in the bush, and it’s here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper’s horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion as he locks horns with his tempestuous mother; falls nervously in love and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu. 
And in vainly attempting to restore the parts that have been shaken loose, Charlie learns to discern the truth from the myth, and why white lies creep like a curse. In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.

I read Jasper Jones last year, and it instantly became one of my all-time favourite books. It has everything. The central dilemma is brilliant and the characters spring immediately to life – Jeffrey Lu and his family’s stoic endurance of terrible (superbly understated) prejudice have remained incredibly vivid to me twelve months down the line. Furthermore, the dialogue and description are so incisive that I want to take one page at a time and try to break down exactly how Silvey does it. His writing runs like water – racing and eddying and bubbling and dancing, while Silvey masterfully manipulates its flow and charts its course. If you haven’t read Jasper Jones, and you only have time to read one book for the rest of the year, I strongly suggest that you make it this one.

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An evening with Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer

It’s safe to say I am a HUGE Jodi Picoult fan. Her writing style appears effortless, but that is the trick of a master: to move a plot at entertaining speed while still capturing those compelling intricacies found in small moments. What’s more, her subject choices are always gritty and compelling, and her characters complex and real. So it was a real thrill to be in the audience last night when Jodi and her daughter Samantha visited Perth to talk about their new book.

Between the Lines was conceived by Samantha, who had the idea of a fairytale character with a life beyond the book’s pages, and a lonesome teenage girl who wishes this prince was real. Both Jodi and Samantha read excerpts from the book, and talked about what a great time they had writing it together – spending eight hours a day working on it line by line, speaking the story out loud to one another, and aiming for a certain number of pages a session.

In the Q&A afterwards, Jodi named Second Glance as the favourite of her books (because she had a great time researching it, and felt she nailed its complexity). Samantha spoke of her disconcertion as she watched readers devour their book in a few days, after she and Jodi had spent three years working on it. (I remember a similar feeling when Come Back to Me came out – I couldn’t believe people could move on so fast when I’d been absorbed in the story for such a long time!) And Jodi gave her verdict on writer’s block as a writer having too much time on their hands. Just write, she urged. You can edit a bad page but you can’t edit a blank page.

I love this photo! It looks like I just ran in with a cheesy grin while Jodi and Samantha were having their picture taken.

Afterwards it was well worth waiting in the very long line to get my battered old copy of My Sister’s Keeper signed by Jodi, and my brand-new copy of Between the Lines signed by Samantha. Most of all, it was a real buzz to be able to say to Jodi directly, in the few brief moments I was in front of her, that she has been a true inspiration to me. Reading a Picoult book always re-energises me, and makes me aim higher in my own work.

NB: The first book I read by Jodi Picoult was, like many others, My Sister’s Keeper. It was fascinating to find out what she thought of the film, particularly the different ending. I found a blog link where Jodi answers a similar question, and you can read it here: http://filmvsbook.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/jodi-picoult-on-my-sisters-keeper.html

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BOOK LOVE: The Hunger Games trilogy

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

This mega-selling trilogy is down as YA fiction (as is Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, another of my Book Loves), but I definitely want to read more if this is where YA is at these days. I refrained from this series for a while as I thought the premise sounded pretty macabre. And it is, but after a few recommendations from trusted reader friends, I shook off my reservations and I’m glad I did. From the first chapter, I was completely absorbed in Katniss Everdeen’s journey. I’ve obviously got a thing for dystopian fiction – I love their vivid re-imagined worlds, the fast-paced action, and the exploration of control and subversion. I’m obviously not alone. Why do these stories appeal to so many people, and teenagers in particular? Perhaps it is because there is obvious and terrible injustice in the real world as to how powerful people control and manipulate others, and in these books there is an opportunity of redress by an everyday, ordinary person. The story of Katniss Everdeen might belong to a fantastical world, but I found one of its strongest themes was that there is hope to be found even in the most powerless, grotesque and overwhelming situations.

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BOOK LOVE: Am I Black Enough for You? by Anita Heiss

In Am I Black Enough for You, Anita Heiss directly tackles the belittling idea that there is only one identity to be found within a specific cultural or ethnic background. With her trademark humour and razor-sharp insight, Anita gracefully explores her identity as an Aboriginal woman, and the intersecting lines of sameness and difference to the people around her. Through her own story, Anita raises numerous questions great and small as to how we all respond to this idea of ‘otherness’, and makes a succession of hard-hitting, challenging points about the narrow-minded assumptions still embedded in western society, which affect everything from the way that history is taught in schools to assuming Anita has a natural affinity for camping (and I think it’s safe to say she doesn’t!).

Anita also talks about the well-known court case where she and eight other applicants took on Andrew Bolt, who had written an article in the Herald Sun suggesting these women had used their Aboriginality to gain professional advantage. The case was won, but that was not the end of it for Anita. When Am I Black Enough for You? came out in April, I was on lockdown trying to finish my novel, but I didn’t miss what happened next. Anita was attacked on various online sites, with racist and derogatory comments, some of which I had the misfortune to read. What struck me most was the suggestion that with this victory, Anita had somehow denied the notion of free speech, when nothing could be further from the truth. In the promotion of free speech as a universal ideal, there is now, ironically, a platform for slander and misrepresentation on a staggering scale. I’m so glad that Anita and her fellow applicants didn’t allow these assertions to go unchallenged, and that they stood up for who they are and everything they have achieved. The Australian book industry wouldn’t be the same without Anita doing all she can to close gaps of communication and understanding, and telling stories to make us think and make us smile.

Anita writes across a number of genres. To find out more visit http://www.anitaheiss.com/. You can also watch Anita on YouTube talking about Am I Black Enough for you.

 

Another great review for Beneath the Shadows

There’s nothing like reading a wonderful review that really encapsulates your book. So I loved this piece by Oline Cogdill in the Sun-Suntinel, the paper for South Florida in the US: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/entertainment/stage/fl-book-beneath-the-shadows-07112-20120627,0,5785262.story