This past week, I was more than a little bit excited to receive the goodies for the very first reading challenge that I am hosting: Six Books from Another Country. The concept is that you can choose whatever country that you’d like (except the United States or Great Britain) or fudge it a bit and choose a couple of nearby countries in one geographic region. There’s still time to join the challenge, which doesn’t start until the end of February. (You can even steal my reading list.) See the Six Books in Six Weeks Challenge Page for more details on how to join: http://wonderlauren-reads.blogspot.com/p/six-books-in-six-weeks.html
I chose to do six Aussie Y.A. novels, and they all came in one big shipment…
Surrender, by Sonya Harnett, is a Printz award-winning novel about the friendship between Anwell and Finnigan, set in a small Australian town plagued by arson. After causing the death of his developmentally disabled older brother at the age of seven, Anwell has started going by the name Gabriel, after the biblical archangel. According to different reviews, both of the boys have tense family situations and psychological problems. Anwell/Gabriel in particular seems to set himself against his father, informing the local sheriff when his dad gathers a vigilante troop to combat the arsonist. The two teenagers have a largely unhealthy friendship, filled with half-truths and what some reviewers call “dark secrets,” but share a truly thoughtful love for their dog Surrender. Although some reviewers make this book sound somewhat disturbing, I’m intrigued by the (Australian) setting and the development of a friendship against the background of an arson-plagued town. It sounds very different from anything I’ve read.
I decided to check out Hartnett’s other novels, and chose two others to read for this challenge, one of them being The Ghost’s Child. The Ghost’s Child sounds extremely different from Surrender – reviews tout this novel as a combination of fantasy, fable and myth. When an elderly woman named Maddy comes home to find a strange boy in her living room, she ends up telling him the story of how she once loved and lost a wild young man named Feather. Maddy and Feather had conceived a child, but the woman miscarried and the young man left her. Grief-stricken, Maddy first tried to drown herself, but when unsuccessful, then learned to sail so that she could go after Feather. She encounters various sea creatures and witnesses a battle between a kraken and a leviathan before she eventually learns to let go of her lover. She returns home and becomes a doctor – but clearly she hasn’t let go of Feather entirely, if she is now telling the tale to the young boy. I’m not sure how I will feel about all the fantastic elements, but that is also what draws me to the idea of this story – as I said, it seems like it will be so different from Surrender that I wanted to see how the author handled each genre.
I also chose What the Birds See by Hartnett, which is about three children that disappear on the way to the local ice-cream parlor and are never seen again. Meanwhile, nine-year-old Adrian lives in a neighboring town and notices three children who move in across the street from his grandmother. He becomes friends with the eldest of the three and tries to find out whether or not she and her siblings are the missing children. This sounds interesting to me because it seems like a lot of mystery and tension without the fantastic elements – so a third genre for Hartnett. Also, I’m always up for a good mystery.
Jellico Road by Melina Marchetta also won the Printz Award, and sounds intriguing because it is about adolescents who are engaged in “teen war games” in the Australian countryside. Three factions—the Townies, the Cadets, and the Jellicoe School students—play just like they are in the midst of a real conflict, “defending territorial borders, negotiating for assets, and even taking hostages.” The story centers around Taylor, the leader of the Jellicoe students who was abandoned many years ago by her mother. She is close to her house mother Hannah, who then also disappears – leading Taylor to uncover secrets about Hannah’s past and the origins of the war games between the three groups of teenagers. When I first read Philip Pullman’s description of this kind of ongoing game in The Golden Compass, I was fascinated and wanted to hear more about Lyra’s escapades in Oxford – since the description of this novel reminded me of Pullman’s story, I knew I had to read it.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is the only book that I am re-reading for the challenge, and it is awesome awesome awesome. It is yet another Printz winner and completely deserving of the award; the novel is about a young German girl living amongst Nazis, hiding a Jewish man and stealing books during WWII. It paints a more-than-usual sympathetic picture of average German townsfolk at the time of the war, helping readers to realize that not every German was a soulless Nazi back then. The young girl is an avid reader with a hunger for books that many of us can relate to – and this is something that draws her closer to the Jewish man living in her family’s basement. The novel is beautiful and lyrical and one of my favorite books of all time.
Finally, I decided that it was time to read another novel by Zusak and chose I am the Messenger. I hadn’t realized that this too had been a Printz honor book, but I’m not surprised, since The Book Thief is so amazing. I am the Messenger is about the nineteen-year-old cabbie Ed who has a dead-end life until he stops a bank robbery. All the sudden, he begins to receive anonymous coded messages in the mail, and since he has nothing better to do, Ed begins to follow the instructions to be a certain place at a certain time. He becomes a hero of sorts without knowing who is behind the messages, and it seems like some kind of higher power (?) is out to completely change his life – and the lives of those he saves. Even though a story like that could be hokey, it also sounds really mysterious and interesting; but Zusak’s writing is so moving that I’m already on board.These all sound so amazing, I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep myself from reading these novels until the end of February…