Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Published: 14th February 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. It begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

With a story like this it’s going to be a tough read and it was, sweet at times but filled with sadness too. Initially I thought Wonder was about a teenager, not too old but maybe 13 or 14. When I realised he was only ten, that he was only a child it was such a shock, I hate thinking of little kids being mean to each other because you know it’s not always their own opinions they’re repeating. It was easier to think of them as 14 but I had to constantly remind myself these kids are only in primary school.

It was mainly my own interpretations of their age because Palacio captures the voice of the child narrators wonderfully and it really reads like kids of ten or eleven are telling you the story, giving their sides of the experience. Each voice stands out and through actions and dialogue their personalities come to the surface.

Auggie himself is a complete sweetie. He is smart and kind and he has adapted brilliantly to his circumstances and how he interacts and deals with people. This is very much a story where everyone else needs to learn to accept Auggie, not one where he needs to learn to be ok with himself. Auggie knows who he is and what he is capable of and having his little shining light through everyone else’s cruelty and unkindness makes you proud of him.

I liked that Palacio really brought home the point that Auggie is a normal kid, no disability or special needs, he was just a kid that looked different on the outside from something out of his control.  The fact that he has had to deal with this his whole life makes him acutely aware of the remarks, the side glances and the staring people do to him and yet he remains a good natured person. He is an adorable kid that powers through and is ok in himself and while obviously he is a bit hurt what others say, it doesn’t bother him too much.

The different points of view are an excellent choice as it allows you to see other people’s perspectives of events and offers up more not only to their character, but it enriches the entire story. We get to hear from classmates at school but also people close to Auggie. I loved Auggie’s whole family, they are so much fun. His dad, mum, and sister are delightful and it’s fascinating to see and hear how they have managed to work their lives into remarkable normalcy around Auggie.

I found that I came to admire these characters. For their love and support, but also for their strength and determination to prove that there was nothing wrong. That yes, Auggie looked different but he was still a kid. He had feelings, he wanted friends, and he wanted to feel accepted like anyone else. Palacio has told a heart-warming story filled with love but also exploring how everyone is different and that kindness can come from anywhere.

You can purchase Wonder via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (#2) by Mackenzi Lee

Published: 2nd October 2018 (print)/2nd October 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 450/11 hrs and 16 mins
Narrator: Moira Quirk
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolises is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.

Naturally after finished Gentleman’s Guide I had to pick up book two to see what our favourite sister Felicity was getting up to. Admittedly with a slow start it took me a while to get into the story but once I did it was engaging and full of wonderful surprises. It had so much to live up to compared to Gentleman’s Guide and while it isn’t quite the same story, it is its own story and Felicity needed her own story too. There was a lot more humour in Gentleman’s but I think that comes from Monty, he steals the show in every scene in this book too which is completely on form.

The story takes place a year after the events of the previous book and seeing how they have all fared after those events is delightful. Felicity is the main character this time around with new characters and a new adventure ahead we understand a lot more of her character than what we got to see before.

One thing I missed was that I didn’t see the sarcastic Felicity that I loved from the first book in this. Having said that her interactions with Monty and Percy were as fantastic as before; the three of them together radiate family and sibling relationships. On her own though, Lee shows off a lot more of her insecurities and her determination, which isn’t to say it wasn’t there before, but now we have her own perspective to give us more insight than a few off the hand remarks about the annoyances of her brother and his melodramatics.

Felicity recaps much of the previous book but not in an unnatural way, more like reminders to herself of all she has achieved and what she is capable of. These moments of unfairness where she talks about injustices can come across as repetitive but I chose to look at it as ongoing pep talks Felicity gives herself when faced with challenges or defeat.

Quirk does a wonderful job as narrator for the audio and the inflections and voices for each character suited them so I was never once removed from the story. With each voice it brought out the characters and it was amazing to see how the assigned voice to the characters reflected their personalities.

There’s a lot of adventure and drama as well as great character exploration and growth. While it may not have been as hilarious, there is still humour and a fierceness I enjoyed a lot. Lee doesn’t try and replicate the events or style of the first book, but it still fits in perfectly as a sequel and gives an adventure just as daring and dangerous.

One of the best parts of this is the female camaraderie and the friendships. There’s unity and ferociousness and seeing these women plan to take on the world and the patriarchy and the inequalities of their time is fantastic. It was excellent to see these women band together and fight for the lives that they want and deserve and Lee never makes it preachy, though so much of it can easily be applied today.

There’re some harrowing moments and the realities of exploring Englishman and Europeans on the world ring true but there is a wonderful representation of other cultures and great diversity in characters as well. This is definitely a fabulous adventure to go on and a story that was full of surprises.

You can purchase The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Published: 30th August 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Chronicle Books
Illustrator: Brendan Wenzel
Pages: 44
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . .

In this celebration of observation, curiosity, and imagination, Brendan Wenzel shows us the many views of one cat, and how perspective shapes what we see. When you see a cat, what do you see?

I was pleasantly surprised by this story. The narrative is simple as it describes the cat walking through the world and telling readers who saw the cat, not much more than that. The cleverness is in the illustrations because they show not only that the creatures saw the cat, but what the cat looked like to them when they saw it.

Wenzel’s drawings show how the cat changes depending on the perspective of whoever is looking be it worm, bee, or child. It is incredibly clever and while the story is simple and basic, the illustrations add another level. In an unspoken way it teaches kids that animals see differently to us, and perspective changes depending on the eyes, the vantage point, and the intent.

This is a different type of story as there isn’t so much a story than an exploration of perspective. It’s a good teaching tool about how animals see the world and the journeys of a cat.

You can purchase They All Saw A Cat via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

There’s an Alien in Your Book by Tom Fletcher

Published: 16th May 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Puffin
Illustrator: Greg Abbott
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott have created a new interactive adventure, this time featuring an adorable alien who has crash-landed in YOUR book!

You’ll have to help Alien back up into space, because aliens don’t belong on Earth . . . do they?

What I love about Fletcher’s books is how interactive they are. They require you to blow on pages, turn the book upside down, or pretend to draw on the pages. This time an alien has crashed into our book and we have to help him get home.

I love how the narration openly speaks to the reader and asks them to participate. It makes the alien into a real creature who is tampering and having consequences in and on the book itself. The text moves and changes as the narrative instructs so if you don’t follow along you may find it hard to read if you haven’t turned the book upside down, and it certainly is a lot more fun if it feels like your actions have an effect on the alien.

Abbott’s illustrations are a stand out once again. The adorableness of his creations are one reason why I love these books. While Fletcher’s words and instructions are entertaining, there is an extra level added by seeing the character react to these actions.

The story teaches kids about being helpful and also that everyone deserves to belong no matter what they look like. Being unique and different is not a bad thing and I love that Fletcher doesn’t leave it vague, he makes a point and then changes his mind to make the message clear.

If you loved having fun with Fletcher’s dragon and his monster then you will certainly love this story as well, especially since there is a nice surprise cross over.

You can purchase There’s An Alien in Your Book via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Growing Up Queer in Australia edited by Benjamin Law

Published: 6th August 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Black Inc
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Compiled by celebrated author and journalist Benjamin Law, Growing Up Queer in Australia assembles voices from across the spectrum of LGBTIQA+ identity. Spanning diverse places, eras, genders, ethnicities and experiences, these are the stories of growing up queer in Australia.

For better or worse, sooner or later, life conspires to reveal you to yourself, and this is growing up.

With contributions from David Marr, Fiona Wright, Nayuka Gorrie, Steve Dow, Holly Throsby, Sally Rugg, Tony Ayres, Nic Holas, Rebecca Shaw, Kerryn Phelps and many more.

Growing Up Queer is filled with voices of all aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community with stories about gay relationships, being intersex, having first loves, lost loves, and those who were important to the lives of all these authors, demonstrating the crucial roles some of them had to play in them finding who they are. The introduction is a good place to start because it includes the content warnings and apologies if the content upsets anyone. The stories are filled with discrimination, family rejection, suicide mention and violence. It is important to warn readers but these are crucial moments because these are stories about growing up queer in Australia, these are real stories and real experiences and knowing that these are hardships that these authors have had to deal with is part of the understanding.

There are stories that show the complex relationships with parents around cultural boundaries, about religion, as well as the struggles and the wins about coming out to family and friends. It isn’t only recent coming out stories either, many previous decades are covered from the 70s to the 90s and 2000s. There is even a story from the 50s that covers hiding your true self until an older age. I wasn’t keeping a real record about when each story was set, nor do all the stories really identify when they take place, but it felt like there were a lot more from the last thirty years than earlier. Not that the last thirty years isn’t a large amount of time for society to change it’s opinions, but I would have loved to hear more stories about the earlier years a well.

There were a lot of stories connected to the marriage equality survey and how the results affected people and their families. Some stories were wonderful, while others were a little heartbreaking. The authors talk about the impact it had on their relationships, their feeling of inclusion, not to mention their anger that it was being debated at all and how it changed how they saw some of their friends and family. Obviously this was a huge change to people’s lives and it was interesting to see their opinions and perspectives.

The “growing up” aspect of the title I was expecting their childhood or young adult experience, and many stories explore that time with recollections from moments in time that were important or crucial to them understanding or embracing . But there were also stories of being older, in their twenties, or an older adult. One author wrote that the growing up part of their queer life was when they were more comfortable in their queerness, not necessarily when they were young which I thought was an interesting approach.

I found myself writing down some brilliant insights and quotes that I think encapsulate what it means to be queer, what society thinks they should be and say, and how those critical and offensive towards them feel they are privileged to say and do. These essays are written by people who are masters with words and I found it helps explain just how different their experiences are from other people and how they are also not the alien figures people think they are. These are just some of my favourites:

“Try as they might, our subversive bodies will always tell us the truth…What censorship is really designed to achieve is the sort of silence that turns what our bodies tell us into shame. This calls for more than censorship of books and films. It also needs the censorship of learning.” – David Marr

“If you can’t be yourself in your own way then god help you when you die with a wallet full of fake IDs.” – Tim Sinclair

“All identities, queer or not, are fictional stories. The important of queer storytellers is not in how they prove their truth, but in how they prove it is necessary to tell our stories in a way that makes us comfortable.” – Oliver Reeson

The anthology is made of essays, but some were more essay like, some were memoirs that told of a certain moment, and some felt like wonderful fictional stories they were so beautifully told. I found myself getting quite caught up in some of these tales, drawn in by their way with words and their fascinating lives about being part of the LGBTQIA+ community and the experiences they had had. While there were stories of trauma and trouble, there isn’t a huge focus on it. Many contributors wrote about how amazing it is nowadays that sexuality is spoken about more openly than ever before, but it’s acknowledged that fear is still there.

I was expecting more stories that talked about the struggles of discrimination, especially in the earlier decades about fighting to decriminalise homosexuality or other discrimination. I completely understand though that hiding who you were was the best defence you could ever have and embracing your queerness by celebrating the good moments is better than focusing on the bad. Initially I thought these types of stories needed to be included because the history is important and acknowledging the past is important even if it hurts. But it is also important to tell stories of happiness and hope, and there are mentions of the violence some people experienced, it isn’t focused on a lot but it isn’t omitted either.

This is a wonderful collection that could help people understand who they are, and it is a wonderful way to understand he lives of others, the struggles they have faced and makes you realise that as wonderful as things have become, there is still a way to go.

You can purchase Growing Up Queer via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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