Long Lost Review: After the First Death by Robert Cormier

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 3 December 1998Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Puffin
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  ★  ★  ★ – 5 Stars

On the outskirts of a small American town, a bus-load of young children is being held hostage. The hijackers are a cold and ruthless group, opposed to the secret government agency Inner Delta.

At the centre of the battle are three teenagers. Miro is the terrorist with no past and no emotions. Kate is the bus driver, caught up in the nightmare, and Ben is the General’s son who must act as a go-between. 

Death may be the only escape.

I found this book in our school library when I was 13 or 14 years old so it would have been 2002 or 2003. I was amazed that this kind of thing could be written in a book. I loved the characters and their story and how they got there. Cormier brought them to life so easily, you understood who they were with only a few words.

I also loved how Cormier didn’t shy away from anything but at the same wrote without being too detailed about what was going on. It was a perfect balance of a sensitive topic alongside very restrained graphic content. I don’t know whether my views have changed after all these years, I may have to reread it and see if it was as simple as all that but it would be a welcome read.

I remember recommending this book to everyone at the time and it was something that stuck with me for years afterwards. There are key scenes which have never left me and it is an amazing story about courage and fear and things you can’t change no matter what. There were no apologies of what was being written and it was realistic but also suitably held back for the intended audience.

What was interesting too was the points of view offered. Not often do we see the inner workings of those who terrorise and have control in these nasty situations, even more so to get their backstories of how and why they do the horrible things they do, but Cormier does, and he does it well. You don’t get sympathetic exactly but it does open your mind. You also get the perspective of those in those situations, as well as those seemingly powerless on the outside. It was a fascinating triangle of seeing the same event from different viewpoints.

It is not for everyone, as I said very touchy topic matter and it isn’t the most innocent story around the children involved, but it still a fantastic read and one that stays with you.

The Vanishing Stair (#2) by Maureen Johnson

Published: 22nd January 2019 (print)/22th January 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Audio
Pages: 384/9 hrs and 13 mins
Narrator: Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult / Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalising riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unravelled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life. 

Johnson has done an amazing job with this sequel because it brings all the mystery of the first book and as the clues and evidence unravel it also raises new questions which I totally wasn’t expecting. We may find out the answers to some of the questions in Truly Devious, but the answers to the questions raised in The Vanishing Stair are as equally intriguing and in a way a whole lot more dangerous. The characters we fell in love with in Truly Devious are back, the events of the previous story still there but with a small jump in time. We get to see how the school and students have coped after the events of book one and how Stevie is managing as well.

One of the best things of this story is how Johnson has treated her characters. I love how each person at Ellingham have their uniqueness explored in a respectful and honest way. Stevie’s passion for true crime, as well as her own anxiety and self-care techniques are part of her day to day, and Nate’s introvert nature is accepted, jested about sometimes between friends but is never seen as a problem. The reasons that these students have been accepted into Ellingham is openly welcomed and celebrated and Johnson constantly reminds us that these are gifted kids who have a passion and a talent beyond the norm that they need to be free to explore and develop.

There is drama and mystery, all the things a good crime story should have. Johnson doesn’t hold back from the realities of this kind of story but she also tries not to be too gruesome or detailed. There is a good balance between what Stevie is capable of finding out due to her position, but has all the fun or sneaking out and maybe being in places you should go. The 21st century issue of technology with mysteries is used to the story’s advantage and using these modern conveniences doesn’t essentially make anything easier but it helps when Stevie is confined to a school in the mountains and has no actual job or resources to use beyond her immediate surroundings and her desire to find answers.

Rudd is once again a great narrator. Her voice captures Stevie’s uncertainties and her passion, you can see these characters come to life in your mind and all the teenage awkwardness, uncomfortableness and enthusiasm is all expressed perfectly. Her pace is wonderful and her tone keeps you engaged throughout.

This is a series you must read in order so if you haven’t already, you should check out Truly Devious. There is a third book coming soon so if you become enraptured in this series like I have, you won’t have to wait long.

You can purchase The Vanishing Stair via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

#LoveOzYa Book Bingo Wrap Up

Image result for loveozya logo

Image result for loveozya logo

I was incredibly excited when I learnt about this bingo because while I am already doing many challenges and bingos this year, I couldn’t ignore one so specifically up my alley. From the best intentions to dive into this on 1 Oct, I actually didn’t get going until two weeks in which to me makes my achievement even greater.

As I was struggling in that last week to make up a bingo and find the books that would fill the categories I needed but were of a reasonable length that I could actually finish them in time, the temptation to include the same book for multiple categories was high but I felt it wasn’t in the true spirit of bingo. I also cursed all the YA books I’d read during the year which I couldn’t include since they were read outside of October. Thankfully I managed to get there in the end and even had a couple of choices for lines at one point.

I’ve included a list of the books I read below, some I have already reviewed, some I will be hopefully reviewing in the coming weeks . I really hope the #LoveOzYA team do this again soon or make it a regular thing because I had a lot of fun and not only did I get books of my TBR list finally, I read some truly amazing Aussie YA in the process. I am now planning on finishing the card because I think it is a great way to diversify my reading and there’re a great many more books I would like to read that fill in some of these squares.

 

Fantasy: Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

High School: You Must be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

LGBTQIA: Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin

Contemporary: My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg

Historical: Emmie and the Tudor King by Natalie Murray

Sci Fi: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman

Start of a Series: Foundling by D. M. Cornish

Stand Alone: Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

Own Voices: When the Ground is Hard by Malla Nunn

You Must Be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Published: 5th March 2019 (print)/5th March 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin/Penguin
Pages: 288/5 hrs and 21 mins
Narrator: Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Layla’s mind goes a million miles a minute, so does her mouth – unfortunately her better judgement can take a while to catch up! Although she believes she was justified for doing what she did, a suspension certainly isn’t the way she would have wished to begin her time at her fancy new high school. Despite the setback, Layla’s determined to show everyone that she does deserve her scholarship and sets her sights on winning a big invention competition. But where to begin?

Looking outside and in, Layla will need to come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be if she has any chance of succeeding.

I have mixed thoughts about this book. I enjoyed parts of it, and how it didn’t become an Issue book, but at the same time I think it didn’t do enough to flesh out the issues it does raise. In essence it is a good story, there is a balance between Layla being the Minority Spokesperson but there is also a universal story about finding your place in the new school and being the awkward age of being a teenager.

Layla has dreams and she makes sacrifices to achieve those dreams. I like that there is a protagonist who isn’t shy and meek, or a full on fighter, she is loud and cheerful, which she is completely ok with, and she has goals.  She screams self-confidence and her Sudanese and Muslim traditions are part of her day and not huge plot points in the narrative, it’s a background part.

There are themes of ethnicity, belonging, family, and bullying which are all dealt with reasonably well. One thing doesn’t stand out as the main point of the book, they are all woven together like they are in life, coming and going and being ever present in the background. I did love that Layla doesn’t have to stop being a teenager to become a fighter against the bullying or an advocate for her heritage, she could just enjoy her life.

It pays to remember this is the narration of a thirteen year old girl and those around her are year eight students which is a great eye opener to the next generation because while some parts were reminding me of my own year eight experience, the language and the technology is a new experience. There are also great male/female friendships. I was worried at the start based on how Abdel-Magied introduced them, but it was great to see that girls and boys could be friends without it being an issue.

Unfortunately Abdel-Magied’s writing is not entirely seamless, there is some repetition and the language can be clunky. I didn’t mind the teen slang, it may date but that was fine. It was more that I think it needed another edit, needed to be refined a bit more. This is evident listening to the audiobook. Even though Abdel-Magied reads it herself, and she does a decent job, it makes you even more aware of the writing as it can be jarring at times and highlights the flaws.

It skirts along big issues but doesn’t focus on them any further. Initially a good idea, and while I am glad Layla and the book doesn’t become focused on those issues, by the end I think it needed a bit more depth and maybe more length. In a strange way it felt like the start of a series, that all the issues half introduced in this story would be addressed in the next book. There were a lot of issues half raised and I kept expecting certain things to have more of an impact.

One thing that irked me is I honestly can’t see how this can be classed as an LGBT book like I’ve seen when it happens in the last few pages of the book and has no effect on the plot whatsoever. It could be edited out and it would mean nothing. For all the parts that work, there are just as much that doesn’t. It’s a book that borders on two sets of audiences, kids and teenagers. Layla is 13 and I think anybody over that age won’t get as much out of it as those who are younger. There’s some great messages in there that suit the younger age bracket that can escape being brushed over with minimal depth.

You can purchase You Must Be Layla via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

 

Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin

Published: 1st May 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Black Dog Books
Pages: 224
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult/Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Meet Nevo: girl, boy, he, she, him, her, they, them, daughter, son, teacher, student, friend, gay, bi, lesbian, trans, homo, Jew, dyke, masculine, feminine, androgynous, queer. Nevo was not born in the wrong body. Nevo just wants everyone to catch up with all that Nevo is. Personal, political and passionate, Finding Nevo is an autobiography about gender and everything that comes with it.

This has been on my TBR list for ever and I am glad I got to pick it up because I read it in one sitting. I was taken on a fascinating and insightful journey and I am glad Nevo told their story because I think the reflection, the uncertainty, the changes and the messages in the book are something that everyone should read. Some experiences are universal but some are beautifully unique and allow us a brief, edited, yet honest glance at the lives of others.

I did not expect to be crying like a baby at the end of it but that is where I found myself. Even though I have not gone on the exact same journey as Nevo I still felt and related to a lot of what they had experienced and those final pages (no spoilers), but they hit hard and they hit deep which I was well unprepared for.

Nevo’s story isn’t here to be a guide or instruction manual; it is an emotional and thoughtful reflection on their life and at the time being only twenty years old it is a life where a lot has happened. No doubt their experiences have helped make this book one that provides great insight about what finding yourself means, and that you are constantly evolving and changing as you grow and have new experiences.

I don’t think you can read Nevo’s story and see their journey as a definitive one size fits all example of the non-binary queer, Nevo themselves acknowledges they have taken an unexpected path and had many labels attributed to them and identified with. I love that their approach boils down to ‘I am just me’. I think everyone needs to read this and realise that everyone has a different journey and that is ok, and still being uncertain about yourself and what you want is ok too.

I can certainly understand how some of the people in Nevo’s life may feel but not only is it none of their business, but I think you also see their love for Nevo and how their journey is also one everyone around them has gone on too which leave marks. People are only human but I’m glad Nevo has good people around them and as they continue to grow and change however they see fit, that there is a support network.

There is a lot of power in Nevo’s voice as it covers a range of controversial and important topics like religion, gender labels and discrimination, transitioning, the safe-schools program, family, misogyny, not to mention anxiety and mental health. Over their twenty years Nevo has lived a life and now in this autobiography we get to understand the pain, struggles, and passion that makes Nevo’s voice such a powerful one today.

You can purchase Finding Nevo via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

DymocksAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

 

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