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.

You can purchase Pretty in Punxsutawney via the following

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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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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

Booktopia | Book Depository

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Every Heart A Doorway (#1) by Seanan McGuire

Published: 5 April  2016 (print)/5 April  2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher: Audio
Pages: 169/4 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Cynthia Hopkins
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

In a premise that reminded me of Miss Peregrine initially, the story is about a girl who arrives at a boarding school for people who have travelled through portals into different worlds – lands of Nonsense, Logic, Fairy – and returned home changed and unsatisfied. Not that that’s what their families are being told.

The story captivates you from the beginning and I was drawn into this world of pretences and misleadings about Eleanor and this boarding school and what it actually did. As the story goes on you learn more about the worlds and the school, about children who have returned from their travels through doorways and how they are coping with being thrust back into their old lives whether by accident or through no choice of their own.

I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style and the tone McGuire has used – it’s fun and talks to the reader in conversational tones, not nonsensical or anything but matter of fact and with a mix of logic and nonsense while maintaining the seriousness. It’s hard to describe exactly but I loved it immensely.

The mystery was clever and I loved how there was surprises and shocks that come almost immediately changing any theory you may have even started to develop. Each character’s personality brings something to the story and it was hard not to marvel at McGuire’s imagination at these unique characters and their own histories and experiences.

I loved each of the characters we’re introduced to. I don’t want to spoil each of their journeys because I think discovering them is half the fun but I will say there is great representation, there is celebration of the quirky, the unusual, and while kids will always be kids, seeing a place that tries to promote and encourage unusual hobbies, to keep safe those who were cast out, and to embrace the different, was delightful.

I listened to the audiobook which was an excellent decision because it really heightened that unique writing style, and by the end of the book I was enraptured and was surprised how despite being only a short novella it was the perfect length. McGuire told a wonderfully interesting story and gave us detailed and fleshed out characters, a complicated mystery as well as introducing us to this entire new fantasy reality all while keeping it at 175 pages. It’s hard not to marvel at such a feat and I am definitely excited to explore this series and see what else McGuire has in store.

You can purchase Every Heart A Doorway via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

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It Fell From the Sky by The Fan Brothers

Published: 28 September 2021 by Goodreads badge
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Illustrator: Fan Brothers
Pages: 48
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It fell from the sky on a Thursday.

None of the insects know where it came from, or what it is. Some say it’s an egg. Others, a gumdrop. But whatever it is, it fell near Spider’s house, so he’s convinced it belongs to him.

Spider builds a wondrous display so that insects from far and wide can come look at the marvel. Spider has their best interests at heart. So what if he has to charge a small fee? So what if the lines are long? So what if no one can even see the wonder anymore?

But what will Spider do after everyone stops showing up?

Immediately the illustrations grab you eye, before any hint of a story. The Fan brothers use colour well and the way it’s used to bring life to the garden is done well. The contrast of the black and white against the colour of the marble is impactful from the moment you open the book and the colour choice, or lack of colour, sets up a wonderful mood for the story. It’s not only the colours, the illustrations themselves are gorgeous. Double spreads of the garden and the insects in it. It was amazing that a place usually full of colour could still look so stunning in black and white.

From a delightful mystery I loved how it then turned into a story of greed and extortion and while there isn’t a lesson spelled out, it’s clear that the selfish among them understand their mistakes and try to make it right, all keeping within the quiet, calm nature of the story.

It is a lovely story that shows a little word beneath our feet where bugs and other insects live and the wonders of our everyday may seem to them. I loved how each insect approached the object and used their experience and interpretations to understand it. It’s amazing how a relatively simple story could be so touching.

You can purchase It Fell From the Sky via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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