Wylah the Koorie Warrior #1: Guardians – Richard Pritchard & Jordan Gould

Illustrations – Richard Pritchard & Sierra Pritchard

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Meet Wylah (pronounced Wheel-la). She is confident in her artistic ability but not so much in the skills you’d find in the average warrior. Her claim to fame to date has been winning a throwing competition (she was the only competitor because everyone else was sick that day).

Wylah is going to need to find the warrior within though because the dragon army have stolen her Tribe and their animals, and it’s up to Wylah to save them. 

‘You can do this, you can save our people, Wylah, the Koorie Warrior. Rise up, rise up within.’ 

To do this, Wylah and Po, a fellow artist, will need to find the five Guardians. 

‘Guardians are the protectors of Tribes and the lands they live on. Powerful creatures that reside inside Totems’ 

When I was growing up there were an abundance of books available with characters I could easily identify with so I can’t imagine what it must be like to not have that. The first in a new series, Wylah is the Indigenous hero that’s been missing from the shelves for too long. 

I loved that when most of the characters were introduced I learned the meaning of their name. There’s also a glossary in table form at the end of the book that tells readers both the English and Peek Whurrong words for names, their meaning and how to pronounce them. For the animal characters, their species is also included.

Without a doubt, Wylah’s name meaning has the most significance. Wylah comes from the word Wilan and means yellow-tailed black cockatoo. This is absolutely perfect because the yellow-tailed black cockatoo is author Jordan Gould’s tribal totem.

Wylah doesn’t immediately fully embrace her new role as the Koori Warrior, which made her more relatable. She has doubts about her abilities and she doesn’t magically become skilled in all of the areas she will need to be. It’s especially evident when she’s training that this isn’t going to be a success only journey. 

Despite her lack of experience, Wylah has the heart, courage and determination of a warrior, and I’m keen to watch her grow into her new role as the series progresses.

I’m interested in finding out how old Wylah is. This would have been important to me as a kid as I preferred to read about kids who were my age or older.

I liked all of the animals (even the dragons) but my favourite was Bunyip, who’s not quite as fearsome as they may like to think they are. The Guardians spoke and some other animals did as well. However, some didn’t and I’m not quite sure yet what the distinction is between those who speak and those who don’t.

I really enjoyed the illustrations. The megafauna are realistic and the people are expressive.

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The chapters where we follow Wylah were told in first person and had a boomerang picture above the chapter numbers. Those that focused on what was happening with the rest of the tribe were in third person, the pages were grey and the picture above the chapter numbers changed to an amulet. The boomerang and amulet were both appropriate design choices and the distinctions prevented me from ever having to wonder what perspective a chapter was being told from.

As I’d expect in a book that’s introducing a series, the premise was set up and I met some of the characters who will be important in future books. Some answers were provided but there are multiple plot points that will be ongoing.

I did have questions about a particular event in this book that weren’t answered. Why did Livingstone ask the people from Wylah’s Tribe where their home was when they’d just been taken from there by the dragons? Couldn’t the dragons have taken him to it?

Content warnings include death of a family member.

Thank you so much to Albert Street Books, an imprint of Allen & Unwin, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Meet Wylah: warrior, hero and friend. Her adventures have been 40,000 years in the making!

Wylah is brave, clever and strong-willed, and all her best friends are giant megafauna animals. But she isn’t a warrior. Not yet, anyway.

Then comes the day when her family is stolen by the dragon army, and her life is forever changed. She must find the courage to set out on a journey to save them. What will it take for Wylah to become a warrior, like her Grandmother before her?

Introducing an unforgettable cast of characters, Wylah the Koorie Warrior is a heart-stopping and imaginative adventure, inspired by First Nations history and grounded in culture.

A Little Bit of Respect – Claire Alexander

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

The Ploofers are back! And I’m so conflicted.

The Ploofers take their rainbow cloud on an adventure and meet some new beings, whose names I don’t currently know. While they’re visiting, one of their new acquaintances doesn’t respect Little One’s boundaries, doing things like squishing their cheeks and constantly saying how cute they are. 

This makes Little One uncomfortable and angry. I loved how expressive Little One was, their usual rainbow ploof transforming into red squiggly lines.

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I was disappointed that Toasty, who was the first to recognise the beauty of the SHOOF! and was by Little One’s side as they overcame their fear of doing a new thing, was nowhere to be seen when Little One’s boundaries were being violated. I would have gotten over this because even Toasty can’t be everywhere and given what I know of them, they would have been there supporting Little One if they’d known what was happening and the impact it was having on them.

I was so excited when I started this book. I was entirely on board for the Ploofers to tackle consent. I loved that Little One had the confidence to set boundaries for themselves and the courage to speak up when they were crossed. They had every right to expect their boundaries to be respected and it looked as though all would be well.

The one who had made Little One uncomfortable listened when Little One explained how their behaviour made them feel. They validated Little One and apologised to them. 

Then everything that was good about this book and its message was undone in the final three pages and now I have red squiggly lines above my head too. 

I’m sure this is not the message that was intended but one of my takeaways, after all of the good that preceded it, was that even if you’re brave enough to stand up for yourself and set clear boundaries with someone, your voice ultimately means nothing. They’re just as likely to give you lip service and go do it to someone else. This is not okay!

If this book had finished just a little bit sooner, when the air had been cleared and everyone was sitting down for a nice picnic, this review would have been entirely different. I wish it was.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Happy Yak, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group – Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In this follow-up to the A Little Bit Different and A Little Bit of Courage, the Ploofers are back for a heartwarming exploration of self-awareness and respect.

The Ploofers are visiting a new island and are excited to meet the residents. But when one islander singles out Little One as an adorable cutie pie, Little One isn’t happy and becomes frustrated with the way he is being treated. Will Little One learn to be assertive and stand up for himself? 

With simple, striking illustrations and a cutaway cover design that adds tactile interest, A Little Bit of Respect picks up right where A Little Bit of Courage left off. With a subtle yet powerful message about the importance of self-respect and respecting others, this book will resonate with children and adults alike.

The Packing House – G. Donald Cribbs

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

I can’t ignore these dreams. They come from somewhere. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something, but what exactly? 

Joel’s nightmares have been getting worse recently. It doesn’t help that his mother is emotionally unavailable and his father has been MIA for over half of his life. When one of Joel’s nightmares is recorded and posted online, it makes it even harder for him to cope.

Childhood sexual assault is always going to be difficult to read about. While there are more books being published where characters have experienced this, not enough are written from the point of view of male survivors. That’s what drew me to this book.

It’s hard to be objective when sexual assault and its impacts are addressed so I’ll focus here on what did and didn’t work for me personally as I read this book.

One of the strengths of this book was that it dealt with trauma that the main character didn’t always have clear memories of. Trauma encodes itself in the brain differently than non-traumatic memories and sometimes this means the memories aren’t accessible until the survivor is safe. Joel’s memories begin to resurface in the themes of his nightmares and in flashbacks. His understanding of what he’s experiencing doesn’t come all at once.

Some aspects of the story didn’t ring true to me. Once Joel talked about what happened to him, his nightmares seemed to disappear. While I hope this is the case for some survivors, this didn’t seem very realistic.

I couldn’t imagine the police, when they showed up to interview Joel at his home, finding it necessary to use their lights and siren to announce themselves. Surely a simple knock on the door would have done the trick. 

I’d also hate to think of a survivor being confronted by the police about such a sensitive topic in front of random family members or having to go with them straight away to the station in a police car to give a statement.

And why do the police say the perpetrator is “charged with” when they haven’t actually charged them yet? They hadn’t even interviewed the victim or conducted an investigation into the allegations.

With such an extended lead up to Joel remembering what happened to him, the events afterwards felt like a whirlwind. I was left with some pretty big question marks and some of those are because the book finishes so abruptly. I don’t know if a sequel is planned or not but here’s the short list of what I need to know…

Was Joel’s perpetrator responsible for what happened to the other boy we learn about from Joel’s childhood? Is there a way around the statute of limitations problem in Joel’s case as he’s only just remembered what happened to him? Does Joel get anything approximating justice from the legal system? Did the perpetrator also offend against Joel’s brother? What is Joel’s brother’s response to what happened to Joel? What possessed Joel to immediately set up candles when he learned what they meant for Amber?

There’s no indication in the blurb that religion is discussed in relation to the events in this book. Given that some readers will want to read it and others will avoid it for that reason alone, heads up: Christianity, including Bible quotes, are a part of this book.

Books in a book: Reading is one of Joel’s escapes. Throughout the book, he reads Fahrenheit 451The OutsidersThe Chocolate War and Catcher in the Rye

Content warnings include addiction (drug and gambling), bullying, domestic abuse, homelessness, homophobia, mental health (PTSD), physical abuse and sexual assault. Please be aware that the scenes describing childhood sexual assault are reasonably graphic.

Thank you to NetGalley and Cherish Editions, an imprint of Trigger Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When 16-year-old Joel Scrivener has a raging nightmare in study hall and someone records it on their phone, he awakens to a living nightmare where everyone knows his secret, one that he’s suppressed for ten years. Reeling as the whole school finds out the truth, Joel takes to the woods, leaving the bullies and his broken home behind.

However, life as a runaway isn’t easy, as Joel’s hallucinations and nightmares follow him into the wilderness. To stop them once and for all, he pieces clues together with flashes of the images that play endlessly inside his head – will he figure out the identity of the person who caused his nightmare before it’s too late?

Wolf Girl #6: Animal Train – Anh Do

Illustrations – Lachlan Creagh

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

A few days after saying goodbye to Rupert, Gwen and her pack are on their way to Tunny, where Rupert’s parents said they saw Gwen’s Mum. On their way, they stop in Harrington, where they meet the Wilsons.

Then they board a train, which has a bunch of soldiers and carriages full of animals in cages. Gwen and her pack need to do whatever they can to avoid the soldiers but they also can’t imagine leaving animals behind in captivity.

The train journey reminded me of Indiana Jones’ encounter with the snakes on his own train journey in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Neither Indy nor his father would have been thrilled about the contents of some of the cages. Also, arachnophobes, beware!

Gwen’s hair gets brushed for possibly the first time since before the series began and in the process meets some humans who aren’t trying to capture her and her pack. Thank goodness there are still some nice people in this world. 

I’ve been pretty adamant (with myself, at least) that I wasn’t going to read this book. Every book in this series includes at least one of the pack getting injured and I know that’s life, but I don’t want to read about dogs in pain and potential mortal danger. 

I relented with this book because I needed to know if an animal whose survival previously had a question mark hanging over it would come back or not. I’m thrilled to report that they are in fact alive but I’m also sad that the expectation of dogs being hurt in every book played out here as well.

Sunrise got slightly hurt saving Tiny, then later in the book they were both hit by tranquilliser darts. Tiny went from unconscious to awake in record time and neither seemed overly worse for wear but Anh, please let the pack members make it through at least one book uninjured.

Of course, there’s a cliffhanger at the end of the book, as there always is.

There’s a bonus story featuring Wolf Girl and Skydragon at the end of the book. This also ends in a cliffhanger. I still don’t know how I feel about these two series being set in the same world.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Gwen and her dogs jump on a train bound for the mountains, they are surprised to find the carriages are full of weird and wonderful animals!

With the help of new and old friends, Gwen is determined to give the wild creatures their freedom, even if it means risking her own…

Escape Room – Christopher Edge

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Find the Answer. Save the world. 

I love the idea of escape rooms, a group of people working together to find clues that will enable them to solve a series of puzzles. Ami loves solving puzzles and is excited by the challenge The Escape presents. 

Ami is joined by four other participants. There’s enthusiastic Adjoa – “Think Lara Croft meets Indiana Jones, but with a better sense of style.” There’s Ibrahaim, who notices things other miss, and Min, the smart one. Then there’s obnoxious Oscar, the one I really, really wanted to vote off the island. And Ami? She’s the all-rounder.

There’s plenty of action in this book, with a need to not only solve each individual room but the overall puzzle. I consistently felt the characters were facing impending danger. This all made for a compulsive read.

The rooms the group explores included one where “old computers come to die” and an abandoned mall. I loved trying to figure the rooms out alongside the kids. Had I been invited to play, though, I would have been eliminated very early on. 

Even if I somehow managed to survive the first room, the library (of all places) would have taken me out. While all of the connections that were needed to level up made sense, I don’t think there will be too many readers who will be able to confidently say they would have made it through the entire game.

The message, which quickly became obvious to me as Ami and her team moved through each room, was a really good one but it came across pretty heavy handed. Granted, subtle probably wouldn’t be the best approach given the gravity of the situation, but the twist that accompanied its reveal felt so jarring that it lessened the impact for me. I’m hoping the target audience will just go with it and find the message empowering.

When the kids were explaining things like the Mayan calendar and space dust, they sounded suspiciously like walking encyclopaedias. This will make sense by the end of the book.

I couldn’t figure out why Ami didn’t immediately recognise the Host’s voice. I absolutely adored the literal firewall.

I haven’t managed to find the correct alphabet to decipher the symbols on Ami’s library card. Yet.

I loved David Dean’s cover image and the illustration that accompanied the beginning of each chapter. 

“Do you still think it’s a game?” 

Content warnings include the death of an animal.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Nosy Crow for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When twelve-year-old Ami arrives at The Escape, she thinks it’s just a game – the ultimate escape room with puzzles and challenges to beat before time runs out. Meeting her teammates, Adjoa, Ibrahim, Oscar and Min, Ami learns from the Host that they have been chosen to save the world and they must work together to find the Answer. But as he locks them inside the first room, they quickly realise this is no ordinary game.

From a cavernous library of dust to an ancient Mayan tomb, a deserted shopping mall stalked by extinct animals to the command module of a spaceship heading to Mars, the perils of The Escape seem endless. Can Ami and her friends find the Answer before it’s too late?

The latest mind-blowing novel from award-winning author Christopher Edge, Escape Room is a thrilling adventure that challenges readers to think about what they’ve done to save the world today.

The Sisters Grimm #2: Night of Demons and Saints – Menna van Praag

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

You think you’re ordinary. You never suspect that you’re stronger than you seem, braver than you feel or greater than you imagine. 

It’s been three years since we last spent time with the Sisters Grimm. We catch up with them in the lead up to their 21st birthday. 

‘Tonight we’re stronger than we’ll ever be again.’ 

Goldie’s adorable younger brother, Teddy, isn’t quite as adorable anymore; he’s found some attitude since we last saw him. Goldie is still reeling from loss. Liyana is increasingly worried about her aunt, Nyasha. She’s also missing her girlfriend, Kumiko, who is away studying. Scarlet suspects Eli of keeping secrets. I can’t provide an update about Bea because that would involve spoilers.

We visit Everwhere, which remains magical and beautiful, but is not without its shadows.

This is a story of love, hope and hopelessness, of longing and loneliness, of losing others and yourself.

Goldie’s stories, co-written by Vicky van Praag, are scattered throughout the book, as they were in The Sisters Grimm. My favourite was The Good Girl

‘Not to worry, your voice has been long drowned out by the voices of others. But it’s never too late to listen to your own.’ 

I may have missed something but I found it confusing that Leo could “barely see five miles in any direction”, yet he can’t see Goldie when she’s right in front of him.

There are fewer Alastair Meikle’s illustrations in this book but they were still wonderful. 

I would definitely recommend reading this series in order. If you attempted this book without having already read The Sisters Grimm, you’d be in for some major spoilers and confusion. 

‘There’s a storm coming, child, and you’re the only one who can contain it.’ 

Content warnings include death by suicide, death of an animal, mental health, mention of abortion and miscarriage, sexual assault, suicide attempt and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bantam Press, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

And then there were three …

Three years ago, the sisters confronted their demon father in that strange other-world called Everwhere. It was a battle that ended in a devastating loss, and the scars they carry seem to have slowly pushed the sisters apart

One sister, still raw with grief, is now a near recluse but determined to use her powers to resurrect what she has lost.

Another has made the journey to learn more of her family, her culture and her roots.

And another seems to have turned her back on what she is and opted to lead a more normal life.

But now the sisters are about to be brought together once more. Because when the clock strikes midnight, when October ticks into November, when autumn wilts into winter, when All Hallows’ Eve becomes All Saints’ Day, the sisters Grimm will turn twenty-one and reach the zenith of their powers.

And on this night, at this time, in this place called Everwhere, anything is possible …

Mike Falls Up – Candy Gourlay

Illustrations – Carles Ballesteros

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

On a day where it’s too hot to do much of anything, Mike and Bowow, his dog, are sitting on a hill. Suddenly there’s an earthquake and a hole appears in the ground. After Bowow jumps into the hole, a note appears. 

Birthday.

Come now.

Just fall up. 

Mike doesn’t know whose birthday it is and he certainly doesn’t know how to fall up, but he does know he needs to find his dog. 

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What follows is a birthday party with a difference.

I thought I was the target audience for all children’s books, even though I haven’t been a kid since last century. This one just didn’t work for me, though. Confused, I asked someone else who loves kid’s books to read it for me. It didn’t work for them either. 

If a kid reading this book asked me questions about it I’d probably have to make up the answers as it wasn’t especially clear to me why different things were happening. I want to know why travelling between places makes the kids fall asleep, why Mike didn’t come across Bowow when he fell from the Chocolate Hills to London and how the kids didn’t get soot on them from travelling via a fireplace, amongst other things.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book. Unfortunately it wasn’t for me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A range of simple stories for new readers, with beautiful colour illustrations.

Mike and his dog Bowow are relaxing in the Chocolate Hills when the ground starts to tremble and the next moment a gaping hole appears. Before Mike can stop him, Bowow jumps into the hole. Then a note floats up…

Party.

Come now.

Just fall up.

There’s no time to wonder what it means – Mike jumps in and falls into the most topsy-turvy of adventures.

A joyous story celebrating the power of unexpected friendships by award-winning author Candy Gourlay, beautifully brought to life with stunning illustrations by Carles Ballesteros.

The Forevers – Chris Whitaker

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

She was seventeen years old.

She would die in one month.

Mae has grown up knowing that she and her sister, Stella, won’t live long enough to become adults. Asteroid 8050XF11, A.K.A. Selena, is on a collision course with Earth.

So, what do you do when an Extinction Level Event is imminent? Some people put their faith in God and wait for a miracle. Others place their hope in science. If disaster movies have taught us anything, it’s that scientists will consistently fail until just before the credits roll. Then they’ll come up with a solution that’ll save the world. Surely they can do this in real life, too. 

There are the leavers, people “who said their goodbyes or those that simply tired of the wait and disappeared in search of more.” Then there are those who are living like there’s no tomorrow. They figure if you’re not going to live long enough for the consequences to catch up with you, then you might as well do whatever you want.

The countdown is on. There’s one month to go until God performs a miracle, science comes through with the biggest win in the history of the world or everyone dies.

Mae and many others in West spend much of their final month attending school and working. I doubt I would be doing either if I knew the end was nigh. Mae’s also trying to learn the truth behind the recent death of Abi, her former best friend.

Impending doom doesn’t negate the usual high school drama, with popular kids, bullies and outcasts all featured. Some of these kids have significant difficulties in their lives, though, even if you ignore the whole 70 mile wide asteroid that’s going to obliterate them in the very near future thing.

I liked Mae but adored Stella, her eight year old sister, who stole every scene she was in. With such heavy content, I was especially grateful for the comic relief that came in the form of Felix. He was all about sleeping when he’s dead and becoming visible to the love of his life, despite the fact that she already has a boyfriend.

A lot of characters were introduced but I didn’t form a connection with a number of them, due to their personality or because I didn’t get to know them well enough. There’s practically an entire alphabet of content warnings at the end of my review, with so many important issues touched on. However, individual circumstances didn’t always have enough page time for them to be explored in the depth I would have liked. 

For example, for most of the book Sally is pretty much only ever referred to in terms of her weight. She’s the fat girl. She‘s almost always consuming copious amounts of food whenever we see her. She’s fat shamed. A lot. When I finally learned something else about her, I wanted an entire book dedicated to her. There’s so much complexity and emotion there, and it felt like I only just scraped the surface of who she was.

The mystery of what happened to Abi faded into the background at times as the struggles of other characters were explored. There was a resolution, though, and many characters were given the opportunity to do what they needed to in order to finish their stories on their own terms.

Sometimes it took me a while to figure out which character was in a scene with Mae, especially when they’d only be referred to as ‘he’ for several paragraphs before they were named. Some scene changes felt jarring and for a while around the middle of the book I wasn’t even sure if I was enjoying it. 

But this was a compulsive read and Mae and Stella’s relationship kept me invested. An ugly cry snuck up on me at the end and I’m still thinking about several characters. I’m definitely interested in reading more books by this author and I absolutely adored Muhammad Nafay’s cover illustration. 

We made Forever for the creeps and the weirdos, the freaks and the outlaws.

Content warnings include abortion, addiction, alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic abuse, fat shaming, homophobia, mental health, overdose, physical abuse, self harm, sexual assault, slut shaming and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Thirty days until the end of the world. What would you do?

They knew the end was coming. They saw it ten years back, when it was far enough away in space and time and meaning.
The changes were gradual, and then sudden.

For Mae and her friends, it means navigating a life where action and consequence are no longer related. Where the popular are both trophies and targets. And where petty grudges turn deadlier with each passing day. So, did Abi Manton jump off the cliff or was she pushed? Her death is just the beginning of the end.

With teachers losing control of their students and themselves, and the end rushing toward all of them, it leaves everyone facing the answer to one, simple question…

What would you do if you could get away with anything?

The Devil Makes Three – Tori Bovalino

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“I think we summoned the devil”

One of the most important things I can tell you about this book is that most of it takes place in a library. Sure, there’s a resident devil, but don’t let that put you off. This is a library with seven floors of books, including countless grimoires, and a secret passageway. I’m pretty much ready to move in.

I liked Tess’ ability to come up with creative insults and her dedication to her younger sister. I was really looking forward to seeing how her experience with ghosts, having “grown up under the watchful presence of a host of ghosts that haunted her family’s central Pennsylvania farmhouse”, was going to come into play. Unfortunately, while I definitely saw opportunities for some helpful chats with the recently deceased, this remained firmly in fun fact territory.

I also liked Eliot, who made an indelible impression on me when he requested 147 books from the library at once. My kind of bookworm. His love for his mother made me like him even more. It also didn’t hurt that he smells like pages and vanilla.

While I liked both Tess and Eliot, I never really connected with either of them. The emotion wasn’t there for me and the one scene that I was expecting would ramp it up happened off page.

There is an actual devil in this book but the Big Bad for me was Eliot’s father. He’s absolutely detestable.

I liked the story and wanted to know what was going to happen but this wasn’t the compulsive read I had expected.

Content warnings include mention of bullying, emotional abuse, physical abuse and self harm (either unintentional or for blood magic). Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with one scene.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Tess and Eliot stumble upon an ancient book hidden in a secret tunnel beneath the school library, they accidentally release a devil from his book-bound prison, and he’ll stop at nothing to stay free. He’ll manipulate all the ink in the library books to do his bidding, he’ll murder in the stacks, and he’ll bleed into every inch of Tess’s life until his freedom is permanent. Forced to work together, Tess and Eliot have to find a way to re-trap the devil before he kills everyone they know and love, including, increasingly, each other. And compared to what the devil has in store for them, school stress suddenly doesn’t seem so bad after all.

The Treatment – C.L. Taylor

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Drew’s brother, Mason, has recently been sent to the Residential Reform Academy, a therapeutic boarding school, to overcome his ‘behavioural problems’. The hope that Mason will come back a changed person becomes fear that Mason will come back a zombified changed person when a woman who says she worked at the Academy accosts Drew and hands her a note, supposedly from her brother, before running off.

Help me, Drew! We’re not being reformed, we’re being brainwashed.

Because this is a young adult novel, pretty much all of the adults are useless, evil or disinterested so if someone is going to save the day it’s going to have to be Drew. And that’s just what she decides to do.

Now Drew is also at the Academy and if she doesn’t figure out a foolproof plan soon, her brother won’t be the only one getting treated.

‘Obedience, compliance and honesty. They’re the bedrocks of society.’

This was a quick, compulsive read. There’s danger, action and a bunch of kids who have all been labelled as bad stuck in a system that’s supposed to be helping them but could actually be causing them irreparable harm.

Drew was an interesting main character. Initially a loner, she rallies when she learns her brother is in danger and even makes a friend along the way. I really liked Mouse, although I wanted to learn more about her backstory. I found Lacey and Jude so very irritating, but it probably would have been weird if I didn’t want to find a way to reach through the pages to slap them.

Some coincidences were a little over the top, like Zed just so happening to live close enough to Drew that they could meet face to face and Lacey just so happening to wind up at the Academy as well. In Drew’s very own room. What did Lacey do to get sent there anyway? Was she really so desperate to bully Drew that she followed her there? Speaking of coincidences, Drew’s dad, who’s been missing for eight years, just so happened to also be at the Academy.

Then there were the things that seemed too easy, like people being deprogrammed so quickly when they were faced with a specific fear. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert at reversing brainwashing but if any of the things I’ve read about cults are true, then it’s not a switch that can simply be turned off. It seems to be a much more intense and drawn out process than how it’s portrayed here.

The ending felt rushed and a bit too neat, and I have some unanswered questions. However, this was an enjoyable read and I am interested in reading more books by this author.

Content warnings include bullying.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Harlequin Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“You have to help me. We’re not being reformed. We’re being brainwashed.”

All sixteen year old Drew Finch wants is to be left alone. She’s not interested in spending time with her mum and stepdad and when her disruptive fifteen year old brother Mason is expelled from school for the third time and sent to a residential reform academy she’s almost relieved.

Everything changes when she’s followed home from school by the mysterious Dr Cobey, who claims to have a message from Mason. There is something sinister about the ‘treatment’ he is undergoing. The school is changing people.

Determined to help her brother, Drew must infiltrate the Academy and unearth its deepest, darkest secrets.

Before it’s too late.