Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington

Published: 1 May 2013 (print)/1st May 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Macmillan Australia/Naxos Audio
Pages: 336/8 hrs and 5 mins
Narrator: Matilda Reed
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Sabine isn’t like anyone else. For as long as she can remember, she’s had two lives. Every twenty-four hours she “shifts,” living each day twice. In one life, Sabine has everything: popular friends, perfect grades, expensive clothes, and the guy everyone wants. In the other, Sabine’s family struggles financially, and her friends are considered rebels. But then she meets Ethan. He’s gorgeous and challenging, and he makes her feel like she’s never felt before.

All Sabine really wants is the chance to live only one life. But when this finally becomes possible, is she willing to risk everything – including losing the one person who might actually believe her – to make it happen?

CW: self harm, drug use, overdose, physical abuse

Note: This review contains minor spoilers

This is a reread of a book I first read in 2014 and I’m surprised that I’ve gone from a 5 star rating to a 2 star review. I think at the time I was amazed at how Shirvington created this world. Her creativeness of how Sabine shifted between worlds, how the rules were changing, what it meant for her life and her decisions caught me more than the problems I can obviously see now.

I did this as an audio second time round and to be honest it was hard to get through it. I had it on the fastest speed I could still understand and I was tired of this story fairly early. Once you see the problems it is hard to see past them.

I feel like having lived for essentially 36 years instead of her single 18 she should be more mature, smarter, and sensible than she is. Sabine has managed her two families and lives well enough — she can live two lives and not get them mixed up, has never forgotten which world she was in, but having lived twice as long as anyone else she is still acting foolishly.

No wonder she is sent to an institution because she’s clearly gone to the extreme self-harm approach instead of doing normal less extreme tests. The blasé attitude she has towards it as well is concerning. She can’t see anything wrong with it, she doesn’t think it’s a big deal and in a YA book especially, to show it as “no big deal” is incredibly troubling.

The abuse of power by Ethan when he was acting as her “nurse” while she was in the hospital crosses a lot of boundaries and whether Sabine wants him or not is no issue, but Ethan crosses a line, whether it’s because he believes her story and knows she isn’t mentally unstable is beside the point. I’m sure somewhere in there there’s an ethical issue as well, and a breach of privacy but I’m not sure on that one. It’s a vague set up Shirvington has going on.

It isn’t a bad concept to be fair, as I say, I did give it five stars the first time around. The ideas are interesting, I liked the fact we have no explanation of why and really the mystery isn’t the point of the story. It is what it is and we follow the change in Sabine’s life as suddenly the rules have changed.

As you read you make your own judgements about which life Sabine should live in and which one would benefit her. Both sides have pros and cons but as the story goes on you can see how the idyllic world may not always be what it seems. On a lighter note, I was annoyed Sabine didn’t use her two lives to her advantage more often. It would have been a great way to test out the consequences and the effects a lot better too.

Where Shirvington fails is that she included these Big Issues and she treats them as if they mean nothing. Not only the detailed description and flippant self-harm, but also abuse. Minor spoiler, but you can’t go from being assaulted to kissing and sleeping with someone else. It just isn’t possible – especially given the examples we’ve seen of how the mentality of the other life comes across. How Sabine is not still reacting from the other life when she shifts is unbelievable when we’ve seen her still reacting from a lot less.

I feel bad having such a shift in rating but I think it’s a good look at how upon initial readings you can get blinded by the overall artwork and not see the cracks that make up that artwork.

You can purchase Between the Lines via the following

 BooktopiaDymocks

 Amazon Aust | Audible

Rusty by Chrissy McYoung

Published: March 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hairy Phish Publications
Illustrator: Chrissy McYoung
Pages: 56
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Rusty is a dog that is going through the foster care system. Rusty is struggling to cope with all the rules and controls in his life and as such – keeps behaving in ways which cause his carers to leave. Rusty wants to give up and disappear, until things change. Rusty meets Rose.

I had the chance to hear McYoung talk at the Write Here! Festival a few weeks ago and hearing her talk about this book was fantastic and getting to chat with her a little bit afterwards as I bought her book was a delightful experience.Rusty’s story is about fostering and McYoung uses Rusty’s story to talk about how he can’t live with his mum and dad, and the troubles he has as he moves from home to home. This is such a powerful story because McYoung doesn’t hide from harsh truths, and she doesn’t sugar coat the experience of being cared for by multiple strangers and how scary that can be.

Through Rusty’s experience we see him go to multiple homes and be looked after by lots of people. Rusty’s feelings and thoughts are told and we see how he feels confused and unsure about his situation. There’s also a wonderful exploration about how when Rusty feels scared and trapped he will lash out. As a metaphor for a struggling foster child, as well as for an actual dog, this is a powerful message. Making people understand that there are real feelings and thoughts for those in Rusty’s situation and that everything feels too big, and out of control.

Even though Rusty is portrayed as a dog, his actions fit those of a child. He attends school, wants to phone his parents, and wants to play with friends but he’s confined by strict rules he doesn’t understand.

Through amazing illustrations we see Rusty’s thoughts and confusion about why people go away and not understanding why his carers act the way they act. So much is said in them and the way McYoung conveys Rusty’s feelings are impactful. There is humour as well, McYoung adds funny scenes and moments in pictures to bring up the mood like Rusty living under the sea or in a castle guarded by a knight, but the heart of the story and the emotional impact remains true.

What makes this story wonderful is that while there isn’t a perfect ending – there is hope. And hope and imperfection is important especially for children who see their own lives reflected in Rusty’s story.

There are eight additional pages of amazing facts and helpful resources at the back of the book to explain that Rusty’s story is based on real people McYoung has worked with (with some creative licence). She provides information about the various out of home care that kids are placed into in Australia as well as the variety of guides in how to help people who experience some of the intense emotions and reactions that Rusty experiences

This is an important story about an important subject and one that is explored well through this medium. Rusty’s story is one that needs to be told not only because it educates everyone but it might help someone find comfort in a similar situation.

You can purchase Rusty via the following

Publisher

Dear Grandpa by Kate Simpson

Published: August 2019 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Allen & Unwin
Illustrator: Ronojoy Ghosh
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

A picture book about the special relationship between a boy and his grandfather, who stay close even when they are separated by distance.

Grandpa, did you know that if you rub a needle with a magnet, one end will point to the north and the other end to the south? In the south there’s an apartment building 160 metres tall. From the balcony, you can see the entire city. There are cinemas and ice cream shops … and me!

As Henry measures the distance between his new apartment and Grandpa’s wooden house under the mango tree, Grandpa works out how close they really are. A moving story that celebrates the bond between a boy and his grandfather.

This is a great story about families who live far apart but can still have meaningful and connected lives. We learn about Grandpa and Henry through their letters to one another – the content of which explores facts Henry’s learning and we learn about where he lives and what he has been doing as he recounts it to his grandpa.

Simpson shows us that Henry is loving and likes to share fun facts with his grandpa while Grandpa is supportive of his affection and adds his own fun to the letters as well. Telling these things in a letter to his grandpa is sweet and it shows the fun whimsical relationship the pair have.

Ghosh’s illustrations are a beautiful addition. The letters between Grandpa and Henry take centre stage but around them Ghosh has created stunning illustrations about their content with everything from a picture of Henry’s new neighbourhood to a beautiful two page spread of blue whales and Grandpa floating through the milky way. What I love about these illustrations is Ghosh alternates between Henry’s life and the real world and Grandpa’s exaggerations.

The symmetry between the start and end of the narrative is clever and I loved how it created a nice frame not only story wise, but by creating similar emotions that we experienced at the start but which have evolved as we’ve read the story.

This is a beautiful story about missing family but still being able to connect with them and share your lives with them. The relationship comes across the page as you go back and forth between the pair, Simpson capturing the light but deep connection between grandfather and grandson remarkably well. There is a lot said in these pages and even through the most innocent and whimsical interactions it tells so much.

You can purchase Dear Grandpa via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

AWW Update Jan – Mar

While I have read a lot so far this year (she says when she’s actually three books behind schedule), it seems almost none have been Australian. With the first quarter of the year gone I need to step up my game because I will be very behind soon on my projected goal of reading 40 and reviewing 35 books for this year’s AWW.The fact I have only read one book is abysmal and even the fact I reviewed four they were all read in previous years so it’s not a good start.

I have so many physical books I want to read but I am still on the audiobook path so my options are sparse unless they are picture books I stumble across. I have a few novellas I’ve been wanting to read so I might ease my way back into physical books and see how I go. I am a lot better than last year at reading physical books so I am going to take the slow and steady approach, a lot of it this time round is the time to sit and read too so it will be a delicate balancing act.

All is not lost though, I have read or reviewed some books by Aussie women so that’s something at least. I am now hoping to use the shock that I’ve read so few spur me on for the next three months and get my numbers up — in the meantime I’ll be glad it’s not zero.

 

AWW21 BOOKS Jan-Mar

Theodore the Unsure by Pip Smith – Review

Darkest Place by Jaye Ford – Review

Meet Me at the Intersection ed. Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina – Review

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil – Review

The Fire Wombat by Jackie French

AWW21 TOTAL

Read: 1/40

Reviewed: 4/30

 

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

Published: 1 September 2014 (print)/ 9 May 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hardie Grant Egmont /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 295/7 hrs and 55 mins
Narrator: Roshelle Fong
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery, and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends.

The only problem is she’s overlooked a few teeny details:

Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared.
And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails.
And even her latest comic-book creation is misbehaving.

Also, the world might be ending – which is proving to be awkward.

As Doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba’s life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it’s the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems. 

I loved this book so much and yet writing this review has been so hard because I never feel like I am doing my complete love and adoration of this story the justice it deserves.

The story takes place during that timeless period over Christmas and New Year where you don’t know what day it is and there’s a strangeness in the air. Alba and all the characters are wonderful and I love how Keil has developed them and expressed them on the page. They felt so real, so alive, and the complexity of their emotions and their lives comes through even with the smallest of interactions.

There are so many little things I adored about this book: the atmosphere of the small town and the impending Doomsday, the exploration of friendships and growing up and making choices. There is no love triangle which was fantastic and there is a wonderful exploration about friendships and how old friends as kids don’t always mean friendships as adults. Keil demonstrates that sometimes these relationships can end up better, but at the same time you can also outgrow one another.

Alba not wanting to leave her small town is a nice change from the desperate need characters have to get out of their small town and never return. The sense of belonging and the attachment she has to her town is sweet and I loved that she enjoyed her home and the people in it. She doesn’t have a hatred towards it, but the understanding that you can’t really have the life you want staying where you are is a profound theme to explore.

As a character Alba is so wonderful. Her love of baking and being an artist was so wholesome and seeing her express herself through both her passions was refreshing and comforting. She is comfortable in herself and her bubbly and chatting nature was never a bad thing. She had such a depth to her personality it was amazing to see it revealed.

While there is a plotline of Doomsday and the end of the world on New Years Eve, the weirdness takes a backseat. There is a focus instead on Alba, Sarah and her friends, their journeys and their friendships take centre stage and I loved that their connections was what the story was about, the other stuff is all secondary.

Through the whole thing I felt so content. Reading it was such an enjoyable experience and it was so great to read an Australia YA that felt Australian without having reference after reference thrown in your face to really remind you it was set in Australia.

I could listen to this book over and over. There was such a loveliness to it but also so many details to get wonderfully lost in and with a slow but never stale plot I relished this journey with all these beautiful characters.

You can purchase The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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