Suburban Outworkers: Laurinda

LaurindaLaurinda by Alice Pung

Laurinda is an exclusive school for girls and it is dominated by three perfect specimens who go by the name of the Cabinet. Lucy Lam wins an inaugural academic scholarship. She is the daugter of immigrants anad lives in a working class suburb. Much to her surprise she becomes privy to the Cabinet’s secrets.

First Impressions: This is very readable and I regretted starting it late in the evening. Although it is a book for young adults there is much appeal to adults in the author’s mature writing style. It also means she is not patronising her target audience.

Highlights: I enjoyed the descriptions of Lucy’s suburb and home life. It’s like looking in a secret door to a part of Australia not everyone sees. The Laurinda mother ‘adopting’ Lucy as a sort of exotic Eliza Doolittle was a little uncomfortable at times but it never became too much; it no doubt shadows some common assumptions. Overall Laurinda is a really good story and it doesn’t feel like a YA novel, particularly as it isn’t marred by dramatic romance! This means the story stays true to the characters as I can’t imagine Lucy’s parents agreeing to her dating! The way the students interact with their teachers is unpleasant yet accurate.

If I was an editor: I would wonder at Lucy being offered a scholarship based only on an exam with no preliminary interview. I doubt the offer would come via a letter as surely there’d be a phone call for something so prestigious to the school? Also, Lucy not turning up to weekend sport would surely be taken more seriously as she is a scholarship student. However, I am sure most people would not be alarmed by these points and to elaborate on all of this would no doubt hinder the flow of the story!

Overall: The current generation’s Alibrandi.

Laurinda: 5 stars


Retro Read #1: People Might Hear You

 People Might Hear You by Robin Klein


I became obsessed with this novel when I first discovered it as a young teen and was shocked to see it was no longer in publication! At the risk of ruining some nostalgia from childhood I sought out a second hand copy to see if it lived up to my memories now that I am an adult.

After her guardian aunt marries the forbidding Mr Tyrell, twelve-year-old Frances is introduced to the mysterious temple and its strange fanatical beliefs. Mr Tyrell makes it impossible for his family to have contact with the outside world and Frances’ new stepsisters keep imploring her to remain quiet at all times otherwise ‘people might hear you’.

First Impressions: Although I have always remembered the ending, I was amazed at how much of the story I remember. I’m not just talking general plot either but many specific incidents and descriptions such as mandatory clothing and schooling. The only part I did not recall for some reason was the brief romantic storyline. From the first page I was also amazed at how old fashioned the writing sounded and how challenging some of the vocabulary is compared to most of the current YA selections I come across. Did I really not notice this as a teenager? Then again, it is 30 years old.

Highlights: I may be biased, but there are no lowlights in this novel! The isolated and odd lifestyle forced upon Frances and her imprisonment in Mr Tyrell’s house remain as absorbing as I remember. Robin Klein is also brilliant at capturing Frances’ childish innocence when faced with the different restrictions and rules placed on her life. If the internet existed when I first read this novel I’m sure I would have spent much time online reading news stories about The Family, the cult that inspired this book. I just thought it all came from Klein’s imagination!

If I was an editor: I would insist that this book be republished and stocked in all school libraries! I hate the idea of other children missing out on this fascinating novel. Obviously the cover art needs a rethink…

Overall: I can see how this story completely captivated me twenty years ago. Despite downsizing to be a Kindle-only reader I will be holding on to my tattered old copy in case in the future all copies disappear through natural attrition and I no longer have the option to read it again.

People Might Hear You: 5 stars


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Love in a Small Town: Dare You To

Dare You toDare You To by Katie McGarry

I loved Pushing the Limits, the first book in this trilogy, and was eagerly waiting for Dare You To to be published.

This novel focuses on Beth. Due to an altercation with her mum and mum’s boyfriend, she is whisked away by her formerly estranged uncle, a retired pro-baseballer. He is able to provide Beth with a second chance at a successful life but Beth is reluctant to take the opportunity and acts out in a variety of ways.

Ryan Stone is an all-American teenage boy. Good looking and popular, he is likely to go straight to pro-Baseball after graduating high school. However, life is not perfect for Ryan. His father puts ridiculous pressure on him, controlling the progress of his baseball career with guilt and fear. His parents do not talk to each other and his brother has been banished from the family.

Ryan’s friends dare him to take Beth out on a date. This is how the two meet and it is clear they need each other. If only Beth could learn to trust and share her burdens!

It is impossible not to compare this novel with the first book in the series Pushing the Limits which exceeded all my expectations. Dare You To was an enjoyable read but Beth and Ryan did not have the same magnetism as Noah and Echo. In fact, when Noah and Echo made brief appearances in Dare You To the electricity between the two was amazing and they were by far the most captivating characters on the page.

I think Dare You To could potentially appeal to more readers than the heart breaking story of Noah and Echo. The inclusion of baseball could make the novel appeal more to males. This story is also more of a typical romance as not every character is broken. Ryan is your typical fairy tale prince and high school hero. He is accessible and doesn’t hide under a confronting exterior like Noah. The setting is also less urban and more quaint small town (think Jodi Picoult meets John Grisham) which will always hold charm for a lot of readers.

I think Dare You To is an excellent YA novel. It just misses the some of the crossover qualities for adults that Pushing the Limits has in abundance.

Dare You To: 4 Stars.

Thank you to Harlequin UK for a copy of the title to review.

You can find my review of Pushing the Limits here.


Pushing the Limits

Product DetailsPushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

I took a chance on this novel when it was on special earlier this year. Boy, am I glad I did as the story really blew me away.

The chapters alternate between Echo and Noah, two senior high school students. The opening chapter begins with Echo, her father and pregnant stepmother in the clinical psychologist’s office at school. This heavy scene sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Both Echo and Noah are suffering. Echo has recently returned to school after a long absence and spends the days instinctively hiding her heavily scarred arms. Noah, the delinquent of the story, doesn’t take school seriously. He lives in the basement of his disinterested foster parents’ house and works at a fast food restaurant to keep some respectability in order to maintain visitation with his two younger brothers. As you would imagine, Echo and Noah are drawn together through a mutual understanding of loss and confusion.

This is a sad read but the author avoids turning it into train crash drama. Instead, throughout all the misery, Katie McGarry has created a believable plot and real electricity between Echo and Noah. I think I fell in love with Noah a bit too! I love Echo’s name; she is named for the mountain nymph in Greek mythology who acted as a diversion and then lost her voice. Both of these attributes are seen in Echo’s character and subtle references to the Greek myths are included in Noah’s chapters.

The only weakness in the story is perhaps there was just one misunderstanding between Echo and Noah too many. However, this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book and I would have immediately started the next book in the series had it been published!

Pushing the Limits: 5 stars

Product DetailsDare You To by Katie McGarry. Due to be published on 7 June 2013. The cover doesn’t really speak to me but I can overlook it as I am so keen to read the second book in this series.