The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

Published: 7 April 2020Goodreads badge
Wendy Lamb Books
Pages: 224
Format: Paperback
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

After her parents’ divorce, Bea’s life became different in many ways. But she can always look back at the list she keeps in her green notebook to remember the things that will stay the same. The first and most important: Mom and Dad will always love Bea, and each other.

When Dad tells Bea that he and his boyfriend, Jesse, are getting married, Bea is thrilled. Bea loves Jesse, and when he and Dad get married, she’ll finally (finally!) have what she’s always wanted–a sister. Even though she’s never met Jesse’s daughter, Sonia, Bea is sure that they’ll be “just like sisters anywhere.”

As the wedding day approaches, Bea will learn that making a new family brings questions, surprises, and joy.

This is a great story that shows family is whoever you want it to be as well as understanding that the list of things that will not change may not always be for the better while sometimes the things that do change are not so bad. Through a lot of different events and time we see Bea’s past and present as she tells us about her friends, her family and how she is guided by the list her parents made her when they divorced.

It’s weird to say this is a wholesome story because there are bad things in here like bullying and homophobia, but Stead tells the story through the characters and each one is full of depth and complexity which feels real and human and I was surprised how deep this story felt.

Bea is a great character because she is complicated, flawed, loving, and her own person. I liked Bea’s passion and her enthusiasm and it was wonderful to see a kid being able to express themselves, even in bad ways, because it is a great example of how kids need to be taught about emotional control and everything is still a steep learning curve for them.

Stead does a great job balancing the story of Bea, her parents, as well as hinting at other family issues and things that happened in the past. The bookend story about her dad and corn is so well done and I thought I was going to be disappointed but Stead makes it work and most of the time you forget there is a reason you’re being told this story about love and family and growing up.

There are secrets, mysteries, and big changes all bundled together and while on the surface this looks like a simple story it’s packed full of so many things that show how messy life can be. Bea’s voice is so innocent and yet understanding it’s a fantastic read for any age.

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Pretty in Punxsutawney by Laurie Boyle Crompton

Published: 29 October 2019 (print)/29 Oct 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher: Blink/Blink Audio
Pages: 304/6 hrs and 51 mins
Narrator: Maddison Lawrence
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

A Groundhog Day meets Pretty in Pink mashup that tells the tale of a shy, introverted high school girl who must relive the first day of school over and over again until her first kiss can break the curse … she hopes.

Andie is the type of girl who always comes up with the perfect thing to say … after it’s too late to say it. She’s addicted to romance movies–okay, all movies–but has yet to experience her first kiss. After a move to Punxsutawney, PA, for her senior year, she gets caught in an endless loop of her first day at her new school, reliving those 24 hours again and again.

Convinced the curse will be broken when she meets her true love, Andie embarks on a mission: infiltrating the various cliques–from the jocks to the nerds to the misfits–to find the one boy who can break the spell. What she discovers along the way is that people who seem completely different can often share the very same hopes, dreams, and hang-ups. And that even a day that has been lived over and over can be filled with unexpected connections and plenty of happy endings.

I love time loops stories and seeing them executed well is always satisfying. I enjoyed the different approach Boyle Crompton has taken with this novel. The 80s teen movies, the character motivation, and the exploration of the expected high school life versus the real experience is a great change from what I’m used to in American stories.

Andie is a great character; she is flawed but hopeful, and you can tell she has a good heart despite her misgivings. There is a wonderful message of being herself instead of who anyone else wants her to be or who she thinks she should be which is encouraging and her use of the time loop was interesting and unique.

Books and movies set in the USA always focus on cliques and group teens together into stereotypes like goths, cheerleaders, footballers etc which never happens in Australian books or in real life. But what Boyle Crompton tries to do is break down the barriers and shows the characters, and the readers, that those old stereotypes – like those from the 80s movies – aren’t always the real story.

With all the references to the old films there is a sense of Andie trying to be her own main character and get the movie romance and high school experience she is after. I enjoyed the different groups she infiltrates and Boyle Crompton isn’t shy of having Andie do loop after loop as she learns her lessons.

Seeing Andie grow is wonderful, especially when that initial growth doesn’t break the spell so there’s plenty more self-improvement to come. Time loops don’t always have to have a completely morally inept character, and Andie isn’t a bad person, but her misguidedness makes her blind and selfish and it’s always great seeing characters change for the better and make those around them better in the process.

The ending is sweet and hopeful, the story full of important lessons and realisations that make it a great book for any teen. The fact Andie is starting a new school and goes in this hard and strong is an interesting approach, especially since every day could be her last day in the loop but I think Boyle Crompton’s attention is focused more on making Andie a better person, widen her understanding of the world around her and gain some perspective rather than dealing with the consequences of what happens after the loop is over. It’s a classic 80s coming of age movie in book for with its own unique charm.

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Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley

Published: 28th April 2020Goodreads badge
Allen & Unwin
Pages: 248
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

At sixteen, neurodivergent Peta Lyre is the success story of social training. That is, until she finds herself on a school ski trip – and falling in love with the new girl. Peta will need to decide which rules to keep, and which rules to break…

‘I’m Peta Lyre,’ I mumble. Look people in the eye if you can, at least when you greet them. I try, but it’s hard when she is smiling so big, and leaning in.

Peta Lyre is far from typical. The world she lives in isn’t designed for the way her mind works, but when she follows her therapist’s rules for ‘normal’ behaviour, she can almost fit in without attracting attention.

When a new girl, Sam, starts at school, Peta’s carefully structured routines start to crack. But on the school ski trip, with romance blooming and a newfound confidence, she starts to wonder if maybe she can have a normal life after all.

When things fall apart, Peta must decide whether all the old rules still matter. Does she want a life less ordinary, or should she keep her rating normal?

This is a fantastic book that gets into the mind of a neurodivergent teen and helps you understand how messy and complicated things can be and how everyday things can become incredibly complicated when you’re trying to behave like you’re “supposed” to.

Peta comes across on the page instantly and you can gauge who she is and her view on the world. Her friendships are important, she’s always trying to do the right thing and lives her life guided by the rules she has had drilled into her. Her exhaustion is evident but at the same time seeing her able to be herself and free from the rules is refreshing.

The story has a lot of sharp turns and rough edges but what I loved about that is this whole thing is being told through Peta’s eyes. She’s already told us her mind works differently so to have a story suddenly shift made sense. Logic works differently for Peta and while it can make the story take a dark or different turn it’s because situations change and life changes around Peta and she is constantly fighting to keep up. What makes sense to her won’t make sense to others but it’s always made clear just how much Peta is trying.

Whateley flips between the past and present as we see Peta’s journey and her experiences which helps us understand her and how she’s come to be where she is. I loved being inside Peta’s head because what she thinks she is doing isn’t always what others think she’s doing. Having the obvious miscommunication on the page only adds to forcing the reader to understand how the brain can interpret things differently for each person and you never know what anyone else is going through.

Seeing Peta come into her own is wonderful, finding herself and her place, as well as strengthening relationships is a great reward having seen her struggle as she recounts the issues she’s had in her past and in her present.

It’s a great achievement of Whateley to give Peta the right voice that speaks volumes about her experiences and I really hope it’s a book that provides an insight into the life of other neurodivergent people.

You can purchase Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal via the following

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Midnight, Repeated by Dani McLean

Published: 1 November 2022 (print)/20 January 2023 (audio) Goodreads badge
Set the Mood Publishing/Set the Mood Publishing Audio
Pages: 131/3 hrs 26 mins
Narrator: Alexa Elmy
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

She’s about to have the night of her life. Over and over again.

At twenty-five, Lauree Miller knows what she should want — a serious job, a serious boyfriend, the ability to cook a meal that doesn’t involve two types of cheese.  

Who cares if it isn’t the future she had in mind for herself? It’s about time she stopped pining over her best friend’s brother, Max, anyway.

New Years Eve is a time for resolutions, and as the clock ticks closer to midnight, Lauree makes a decision – next year, she’s going to let go of the past and finally grow up. 

Except when she wakes, it’s still December 31st. Then it happens again. And again. And again.

What’s a girl trapped in a time loop to do?

Will kissing the right man at midnight set her free?

I have been on a time loop kick lately and finding a time loop set outside of a teen experience was great because it allowed more adult experiences and relationships to be explored. This short story is the perfect length to time loop the same New Years Eve over and over and it was wonderful to see how Lauree can redefine who she is and what she wants with such a short story that never felt rushed.

There is definitely room to expand and give readers more history and backstory, develop the story more but at the same time a short, sharp novella about a time loop and finding the right love is satisfying as well.

McLean address common problems like being in a loop so long you never know who has been told what, or what events happened on your current day they also mix the story up so there’s a combination of repeated moments to satisfy the loop element and you can see the changes, while also including new experiences to shift the story off course into a new line.

I liked that the way Lauree changes herself is inward and she doesn’t need to right too much of the world around her. The steps she takes to improve herself are small but impactful and despite being stuck in the loop for months on end she never falls into too much despair, which, while weird, isn’t always possibly on such a tight turn around.

Getting out of her loop is rewarding for readers, but at the same time I felt it could have ended sooner. This is part of a Movie Magic series so there obviously has to be goals met, but I felt like the real ending was a step too many to break the spell. Personally it could easily have broken sooner but I think that’s easily personal preference.

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Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope by Jodie Patterson

Published: 13 April 2021Goodreads badge
Crown Books for Young Reader
Illustrator: Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
Pages: 40
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   – 4 Stars

Penelope knows that he’s a boy. (And a ninja.) The problem is getting everyone else to realize it.
In this exuberant companion to Jodie Patterson’s adult memoir,

The Bold World, Patterson shares her son Penelope’s frustrations and triumphs on his journey to share himself with the world. Penelope’s experiences show children that it always makes you stronger when you are true to yourself and who you really are.

Patterson has written a great story about a young boy called Penelope who tries to tell his family that despite looking like a girl, he feels like a boy on the inside. The story is based on the true story of Patterson’s own son and is a wonderful tale of acceptance and family.

The story is a great example of how kids use their behaviour to be seen and heard by their family when they feel invisible and Patterson captures Penelope’s frustration as well as his love for his family well.

Patterson uses great language to help describe how Penelope is feeling on the inside in a way kids can understand when they have no broader context or understanding for their own feelings and don’t know the right words. This is especially important when kids as young as Penelope are being told the story, it gives them a feeling they can understand even if the experience isn’t the same.

The story shows how different cultures see gender and even some of Penelope’s own family have a different understanding of the transgender community based on their culture which is a great example of how there is no one right way to see people.

There is full support through Penelope’s story, even with a few pushbacks it’s great to show a story where everyone is accepting and there’s no fight to present how your feel on the inside. Not every story has to be a fight, and not every story has to be fraught with conflicts.

It’s a simple straightforward story that shows how easy and accepting people can be when given the chance. Penelope knows what he wants and who he is and it’s great to still see him as a child who likes to be a ninja and go to school. Becoming who he is on the inside is only part of the story but at the same time you can see his family helping setting him up for the future.

You can purchase Born Ready via the following

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