Watch Over Me – Nina LaCour

“I hope you aren’t afraid of ghosts”

Mila has just aged out of foster care and been offered an internship teaching children. She will live and work with her employers, Terry and Julia, on a farm in the middle of nowhere.

Everything was beautiful and nothing was perfect, and I didn’t know how I could have been chosen to be there.

Mila is searching for a place to call home and desperately wants to keep the past in the past. No one told her about the ghosts, though.

I flew through this book. Granted, it was short but I don’t remember the last time I finished a novel in under a day. For months now my attention span has been appropriately equivalent to that of a fruit fly.

People need to know where they fit in in the world.

I didn’t have to work to get into Mila’s story and it was easy to lose myself in it. I loved imagining the flowers, the fog and the walk to the beach. For a while I wondered if the farm was going to turn out to be a cult because the atmosphere was so intoxicating; my wanting it to be a safe place warred with my suspicion that it was all too good to be true.

Because this book is so short there wasn’t a lot of time spent on developing the characters. I wanted to find out more about Terry and Julia’s backgrounds and I didn’t get much of a sense of Liz and Billy’s personalities. I found most of the children fairly interchangeable, although I adored Lee and would like to formally register my interest in adopting him.

I spent much of this book thinking about the hold memories can have over us and how daunting it can be to face our fears. Although Mila feels shame about the past, she is also resilient. The wounds of the past continue to haunt her but she is still able to care deeply about people. I always love found family stories and was keen for Mila to find the acceptance and sense of belonging she’s craved for so long.

I wish I could be one of you

Content warnings include mention of abandonment, drug addiction and gaslighting.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Text Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes. Yes to a second chance in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below. But she hadn’t known about the ghosts.

Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster-care system. So when she’s offered a job and a place to live on an isolated part of the Californian coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home – a real home. The farm is a refuge, but it’s also haunted by the past. And Mila’s own memories are starting to rise to the surface.

Fighting Words – Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I could always count on Suki. Suki fixed everything.

Della has always been able to rely on Suki, her older sister. Suki has taken care of and protected Della her whole life. Now the sisters are in foster care and their mother’s boyfriend, Clifton, is in prison. Della keeps getting in trouble at school and Suki wakes up screaming each night.

I’ve learned that some things are almost impossible to talk about because they’re things no one wants to know.

I think we can sometimes underestimate the importance of young readers being able to see themselves in books. Although it’s wonderful to be able to escape into a world that only exists in your imagination, watching a character live through an experience that you can relate to is its own special type of magic.

Della and Suki’s story has the potential to reach readers who have experienced, or are still experiencing, sexual assault. I want Della’s words to reach through the page to let those readers know that they’re not alone and that there are people who will help them.

I loved Della. She’s a little spitfire but she’s also so courageous and resilient. Despite everything she’s experienced she is still loving and fiercely loyal. Her bond with Suki was beautiful, although the beauty was tinged with some sadness because Suki should never have been put in the position of caring for and protecting her younger sister.

I really hope this book finds its way to the readers it needs to. The story of these sisters is heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful. It clearly shows how important people’s responses to disclosures of sexual assault are to those who have the courage to speak up. Some of the impacts of this type of trauma are explored, as are some of the ways they can be managed.

Sometimes you’ve got a story you need to find the courage to tell.

While I was relieved that the abuser in this story was incarcerated I know that this will not be part of the story for so many survivors. The majority of perpetrators of sexual assault will never spend a day in prison. The statistics are absolutely horrifying.

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I don’t say this to discourage people from reporting what was done to them. It’s just that the majority of stories I’ve read that address sexual assault result in the conviction of the perpetrator. This is not a complaint about this book, merely a general observation.

We want the baddies to have consequences for their actions. I understand that. But when fiction only represents the outcome for the minority of victims of this crime, do we risk sending the message that being able to heal from this sexual assault is reliant upon the incarceration of the offender?

There are discussion notes at the end of the book, where the recommended reading age is said to be 14+. When I was a kid I only read books about kids who were my age or older so at 14 I wouldn’t have picked up a book where the main character was 12, but that’s probably just one of my quirks.

I can pretty much guarantee the word ‘snow’ will take on a whole new meaning once you’ve read this book.

Content warnings include addiction, bullying, foster care, sexual assault, suicide attempt (includes the method used), and verbal and emotional abuse.

Thank you to NetGalley and Text Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Della can’t work out why her adored older sister Suki screams in her sleep. Suki has always been Della’s protector, especially after their mother went to prison and her boyfriend took the sisters in. But who has been protecting Suki?

Della is in trouble at school for having a big mouth, but after she stands up to the class bully other girls rally to her cause. When Suki tries to kill herself, Della decides it’s time to tell their secrets and speak out about the terrible things that happened to Suki. Bound by love and trauma, these two sisters must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.

Based on the author’s personal experience, this gripping and essential story explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse. Written from the heart, with tenderness, compassion and humour, Fighting Words is about finding the words to talk about the most difficult things in young adults’ lives.

Came Back to Show You I Could Fly – Robin Klein

I’m not sure how you’re supposed to review a book you’ve loved since your early teens, especially when you haven’t read it for about 20 years. With such high expectations and nostalgia taking hold I was worried that Came Back To Show You I Could Fly wouldn’t stand the test of time. How happily wrong I was!

It was everything I remembered and more. Angie and Seymour, both lonely outcasts, took up residence in my heart way back in the early 1990’s when it was assigned reading for my English class. I can’t begin to imagine how many times I reread this book as a teenager, taking hope from what is quite a sad book on the surface.

Seymour is staying for several weeks over the school holidays with Thelma, a lady who clearly has no experience caring for children, but has been basically conned into protecting Seymour from his father by his drama queen mother. Seymour is a lonely, neglected, bullied 11 year old who is so well mannered and adorable that I just want to hug and then adopt him. I was only a year or two older than Seymour at the time I first experienced this book and while I saw him as a peer at the time, I now look on him as someone I desperately want to mother.

By chance Seymour winds up at Angie’s home and over the course of the novel they form a sibling/friend bond and go on adventures all over the city. Angie brings colour and excitement to Seymour’s stone grey life. Seriously, Seymour’s Mum, a stone grey pencil case is not a cool birthday present!

Angie is effervescent and possibly stole someone else’s personality because she seems to have more than one person’s quota. With the ability to talk under water and regale Seymour with humourous anecdotes from her childhood, complete with impersonations, she’s a live wire. As a young teen fresh from a several year The Baby-sitters Club obsession, Angie’s dress sense reminded me of what I loved about Claudia Kishi, in particular the quirky earrings.

Beneath Angie’s bravado she’s hiding a secret from Seymour. Angie is addicted to drugs. I was really naïve in this area as a kid, coming from a family where no one even drinks alcohol, so this book was my introduction into this previously unknown world. It really opened my eyes at the time and in retrospect I can trace my love of social issues YA books to this one. I can also see the signs through the book of what’s really happening in Angie’s world that I missed as a kid.

What I really appreciated in my reread as an adult is how honestly Angie’s addiction is portrayed, vomit and all. Besides the suspicions Seymour has that Angie’s flu isn’t actually the flu, there is a sensitive yet heartbreaking insight into how drug addiction also affects parents, siblings and friends. While this is clearly shown with Angie’s Mum and sister, I am surprised that I never noticed before that Angie’s Dad and brother are barely even mentioned.

One of the things I love about books is how they influence who you become when you let them into your soul. The awe I felt as a kid at Angie’s clothes and earrings had a huge impact on me and I have an array of weird and wonderful earrings in my collection now. Angie’s lifelong habit of naming her outfits turned into me naming my cars. My first car I actually named Angie after this character. My car, like Angie, was initially rough around the edges but with some love and time I knew it would be loyal and good because beneath the exterior it was a fighter. That car served me well for a number of years.

Nostalgia aside, Robin Klein’s book definitely stands the test of time. Her characters are damaged but loveable, and even when they’re making truly dodgy decisions you want them to prevail in life. Once again I was emotionally invested in the story and no, they’re not tears. I’ve just got something in my eyes. 😭 This remains one of my all time favourites and I could happily go straight back to page 1 and read it all over again right now.

What I Hated: I almost feel like apologising to you about the cover image of this edition. While there’s nothing wrong with this image itself (although not my taste) and it would work well for another book, it does not belong on the cover of this one. Please, in this instance do not judge a book by its cover. The Angie on this cover is bland, boring, forgettable; an imposter. Angie is anything but.

The cover of my copy (the same one our English class at school read from) is the 1991 Puffin Books edition, and this features the real Angie and the real Seymour. The cover illustration is by Vivienne Goodman and you can tell she understood these characters.

Angie is up front, with her dyed hair tousled, shoulder tattoo, painted black fingernails, a jumble of bangles and the earrings I think she purchased with Seymour in her ears along with the first few of an array of earrings working their way up underneath her hair. She’s got this look on her face that’s one part “don’t mess with me”, one part sad, and with a hint of the potential of something sarcastic and inappropriate for the situation about to make its way out of her mouth. She looks like a troubled Meg Ryan, circa When Harry Met Sally….

In the background, there’s Seymour in his jeans, grandpa shirt and daggy sandals, with this smile on his face like he can’t believe he’s in the presence of this angelic being. Right behind Seymour is an old, worn fence, obviously from the non-posh side of the alley. These are the people you’ll be meeting in this book. I hope you’ll love them like I do.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Text Publishing for the opportunity to renew my love for this classic Australian novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s the summer holidays and eleven-year-old loner, Seymour, lodged with a fussy guardian in an inner-city suburb, is bored and unhappy in his confined world.

By chance he meets Angie – beautiful, charismatic Angie. He is bewitched, and his world is opened as she takes him on unexpected holiday outings and shopping sprees.

Angie, however, is not what she seems.