Rick by Alex Gino

Published: 21st April 2020 (print)/22 April 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Press/Scholastic
Pages: 240/3 hrs and 27 mins
Narrator: Alex Gino
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

Rick’s never questioned much. He’s gone along with his best friend Jeff even when Jeff’s acted like a bully and a jerk. He’s let his father joke with him about which hot girls he might want to date even though that kind of talk always makes him uncomfortable. And he hasn’t given his own identity much thought, because everyone else around him seemed to have figured it out.

But now Rick’s gotten to middle school, and new doors are opening. One of them leads to the school’s Rainbow Spectrum club, where kids of many genders and identities congregate, including Melissa, the girl who sits in front of Rick in class and seems to have her life together. Rick wants his own life to be that … understood. Even if it means breaking some old friendships and making some new ones.

This is set in the same universe as George and takes place a couple years after the events in that book but this time we focus on a different character. Rick, who we met as a side character before, now takes centre stage and we see him a little older, a little wiser but also a little more confused.  You do not need to have read George to understand this story but it was wonderful to see what happened after the events in that book even if it isn’t the focus of the story.

It was amazing to see this story grow and develop and see Rick grow and develop along with it. Rick and Jeff’s friendship is one that kids form when they’re young: easy, they have fun together, they have a great time, but as they both start to get older their different personalities start to develop and this is where conflictions can occur.

As readers we’re meant to think Jeff is a creep straight away even if Rick doesn’t see it or completely agree, as everything about Jeff’s language and behaviour is gross and/or offensive. My limited understanding of American middle school is that these kids are in year six. They are eleven and twelve years old and they’re talking about girls in totally creepy and sexist ways. It is one way to show how Rick feels by seeing him fight emotionally against what Jeff does and says, but he doesn’t stop how Jeff keeps objectifying these girls.

Rick’s dad is also a sexist and a creep, he says inappropriate things to Rick and I liked that Rick’s response to this is that he feels like he’s “coated in a sticky layer of ick” when he hears it. He also doesn’t like that people expect him to become a ‘hormonal beast’ now he’s in middle school. Which again, is now he’s twelve. Even at my age I feel dirty hearing that phrase.  I am not blaming Gino for this at all and I love that they highlight the weird and inappropriate language people use around kids of a certain age, especially boys. I love that our main character doesn’t feel comfortable hearing this kind of talk and it’s great that Gino shows him working out who he is and makes it ok that he feels confused about his identity.

There is a great representation and exploration of the LGBTQIA+ community and it was great to see kids this age be so supportive and open about who they are, as well as so understanding of those who are still trying to figure themselves out. The kids manage to teach the adults something and the story explores great themes like acceptance, understanding, and support.

Melissa (who we’re introduced to in George) is in the story and I loved seeing her again and seeing her story after the end of George but I also loved that she doesn’t take centre stage. Rick’s story isn’t connected to Melissa’s and while she is in his story, I love how Gino hasn’t connected the two stories in such an obvious way.

There are other things Gino explores about getting to know and understand family and accepting the differences and realising there is a lot more to a person than there first appears. The relationship he has with his grandpa is sweet and it was a nice safe place for Rick to talk about his feelings and not be ridiculed or embarrassed.

This is a fairly quick read but it covers a lot of topics and explores a range of important topics not only about the LGBTQIA+ community but also about being a good person, a good friend and knowing you have the ability to make big decisions even at such a young age. I can’t wait to see what else Gino does next because based on these last two books I can only imagine it’ll be just as wonderful.

You can purchase Rick via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Beverly, Right Here (#3) by Kate DiCamillo

Published: 24th September 2019 (print)/24th September 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Candlewick Press/Listening Library
Pages: 241/4 hrs and 8 mins
Narrator: Jorjeana Marie
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Beverly put her foot down on the gas. They went faster still.
This was what Beverly wanted — what she always wanted. To get away. To get away as fast as she could. To stay away.

Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. By now, she figures, it’s not running away. It’s leaving. Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to see herself through their eyes. 

This is the third book in the Three Rancheros series but it isn’t crucial to have read them in any order, each story stands on its own. The main characters in this series all come from imperfect homes: their relatives are missing, have abandoned them, or have neglected them in some way. The central idea of going out and discovering who you are, where your place is in the world and your role within it can be found in each of these stories. This time we get to know Beverly, a girl whose friends are in different parts of the country and she is starting her own adventure. She is fourteen, on her own, and she is trying to work out who she is and what she wants to do.

Elmer and Beverly’s unorthodox friendship is a delight to read about. The runaway who doesn’t want help but still finds a way to accept it and have compassion for others is gorgeous. The way Elmer and Beverly use one another to improve each other’s lives while never quite admitting it to themselves is charming and adds humour to the story. I love the notion of found families and being surrounded by people who aren’t blood related but are family all the same. For Beverly to come to this town, stand on her own two feet and fight for herself is wonderful but DiCamillo never forgets that she is still a child who wants stability and support and is in need of love as well.

Marie does a great job at narrating. Her accents and voices for each character suit them and her voice keeps you in the timeless world of DiCamillo’s writing. Hearing the voices brings each fierce and proud statement from Beverly to life and the inflections and tones she gives to Elmer and other characters brings out their personalities and intentions really well. It is a quick listen, but with a full story packed into the short time.

Despite being set in the late 70s, the magical tone of DiCamillo’s writing makes the story feel timeless and there is a lovely southern charm that DiCamillo infuses this series with. Louisiana had it and now Beverly does too. The slow, profound stories are filled with heart and love and find your place in the wider world. You hear about their old lives but the new discovery they are on is the focus of the story. I’ve yet to read Raymie’s story that started this friendship but if it is anything like the other two I know I’m in for something special.

You can purchase Beverly, Right Here via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

 

The 117-Storey Treehouse (#9) by Andy Griffiths

Published: 23rd July 2019 (print)/23 July 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Pan Macmillan Australia /Macmillan Australia Audio
Pages: 384/1 hr and 37 mins
Narrator: Stig Wemyss
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★  – 4 Stars

Andy and Terry live in a 117-story treehouse. (It used to be a 104-story treehouse, but it just keeps growing!) It now has a pyjama-party room, a water-ski park filled with flesh-eating piranhas, an Underpants Museum, a giant-fighting-robot arena, and the Door of Doom (don’t open it or you’ll be COMPLETELY and UTTERLY DOOMED!).

For as long as Andy and Terry have been writing books together, Andy has always been the narrator and Terry has always been the illustrator. But when Terry tries to prove that he can narrate as well as draw, the story goes completely out of control and the Story Police arrive to arrest the whole treehouse team for crimes against storytelling! Andy, Terry and Jill go on the run, but how long can they evade the Story Police and stay out of Story Jail?

There are so many things to love in this new Treehouse adventure. One thing I quite enjoyed was Storytelling Gaol and the Story Police who arrest you for lazy storytelling like ending a story with “It was all a dream”. A great practice. Crimes against good and proper storytelling should be openly encouraged. But that isn’t the only fun addition to the treehouse. With 13 new storeys there are fun rooms like the Miniature Pony room, the Waiting Room, the Underpants Museum room, and many more.

The usual charm of the Treehouse series is back: the way Andy addresses the reader/listener, the reoccurring characters like Mr Big Nose and the impossible book deadlines, and Jill is there with her logic and sensible answers, but she is also there have crazy fun with the boys as well.

There is also a clear formula to these stories which surprisingly doesn’t get old. It treats each book like the first book you’ve read of Griffiths and Denton. Even going through the treehouse introduction again is fun because we get to explore the new rooms and see Denton illustrations. Even with the audiobook Wemyss makes this fun because of his fun voices so you can imagine these rooms, much like radio dramas with sound effects and different voices commenting on random aspects and features.

This time around Terry wants to try his hand at narrating because “illustrators can narrate too!” which kick starts the story and also reveals that in the Terry/Andy universe there are similar authors to our world but not quite. There’s Looney Tunes logic, a touch of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the absurdity and strangeness results in a lot of hilarity and you can’t help but laugh.

I love the meta nature of this particular adventure because I feel like Griffiths included some of his own criticisms he’s seen, if not, it is a great self-reflection on some of the plots in this series. All in good faith though and always filled with humour.

I’ve started looking forward to experiencing these books as audios because I adore Wemyss’s narration and I will sacrifice Denton’s illustrations because the story is just as entertaining. While I know Denton does amazing work, the audiobook has done the book justice and the creativity to be able to interpret those drawings into sound is quite wonderful.

You can purchase The 117-Storey Treehouse via the following

QBD | Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Angus and Robertson | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Wordery | Publisher

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Published: 2nd October 2018 (print)/2nd October 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Candlewick Press / Listening Library
Pages: 240/3 Hours 35 min
Narrator: Cassandra Morris
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

This story is told to us by Louisiana and from the start we are put right into the excitement as Lousinana and her grandmother take off on a mysterious journey in the middle of the night. I love DiCamillo’s work and this was just as beautiful as all her other stories. She has a way with making the everyday seem profound and important and she makes you realise the everyday is profound and important too.

I liked the almost magical feel of this story. The southern charm is evident and the peculiarities of Louisiana’s grandmother add a nice eccentricity to the tale but the further you get into the story it becomes so much more. The feeling of belonging, finding out who you are and where you belong in the world is an emotionally touching story. Louisiana’s innocence, the daunting nature of her situation are captivating and as DiCamillo takes her story into new friendships, tough questions, and harsh realities it draws you in further. There is a timeless feeling despite being set in modern time.

The characters are just as charming and it is hard not to be captured by their hospitality and kindness. Their love and support of Louisiana are a nice comfort while you follow her journey and try and find her footing in this strange new life her grandmother has put her in. I can understand how it may feel too perfect at times but it is also refreshing and it brings safety and security to a child’s world, a refuge with open love and acceptance without fear.

The audiobook was a wonderful expereince, Morris captured Louisiana’s voice perfectly and her narration only added to the mystical nature of the tale. There is nothing actually magical about this story, really, but DiCamillo’s stories always feel a little out of this world, some deep magic and I felt that with this story. There was an old time feel to the setting and it had the childhood innocence but resilience, knowledge and strength as well.

This is a standalone but it has connections to characters previously seen in DiCamillo’s book Raymie Nightingale. This is a story that is both heart-warming and heartbreaking but Louisiana is endearing and seeing her discover who she is and what she is capable of enduring is a beautiful comfort. A very small part of you may even tear up as you read, especially the end, and that is 100% completely acceptable.

You can purchase Louisiana’s Way Home via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Tales of Mr Walker by Jess Black

Published: 29th October 29th 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Puffin Books
Illustrator: Sara Acton
Pages: 192
Format: Hardback
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Introducing Mr Walker – a hotel dog with a nose for adventure!

On a brilliant autumn’s day, Mr Walker arrives at the grandest hotel in town. While things get off to a wobbly start, this charming labrador is determined to put his best paw forward. And it’s just as well because the most unexpected adventures await…

There are four tales included in this omnibus and it explores the adventures of Mr Walker and his life at the Park Hyatt. Black makes Mr Walker act and behave like a dog, but he also has his own thoughts and understanding about what is happening around him. The story is entirely through his perspective and it was heart-warming to see how he loves and adores the people he works with and lives with.

Having these tales be based on the real Mr Walker who has been living and working at the Park Hyatt in Melbourne since 2017 is even better. As a failed guide dog he is a wonderful ambassador and Black includes a bio at the back of the book so you can get to know the real Mr Walker.

The four tales included are filled with mystery and drama, Mr Walker gets to investigate and solve problems, help out and help people by being himself. There is real heart in the stories and having Mr Walker be at the centre of it you get to see all these stories and see people interact with a dog they may not with another human.

There are wonderful dog moments like seeing Mr Walker manoeuvre on marble floors, seeing him play in the park with his dog friends, as well as a great representation of how he uses his nose and tracking to understand the world around him and using that to find things.

Acton’s illustrations are adorable. The simple water colour drawings are scattered throughout and depict Mr Walker in many delightful and humorous ways. They are mini inclusions amongst the text and it gives off a great storybook feel.

There are many more tales of Mr Walker but having four in this first book gets you invested in his story and I’m certainly looking forward to reading about more of his adventures.

You can purchase The Tales of Mr Walker via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Audible

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