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Saturday, October 25, 2008

LOATHING LOLA By William Kostakis

Sydney, Pan Macmillan, 2008.

I didn’t get this book for reviewing. I bought it after hearing the author speak and, having read it, decided that it was worth a review. Quite apart from the fact that he’s a male writing about a teenage girl - something unusual - he’s a teenager himself, still living at home, telling his audience about playing jokes on his sister. I believe this young writer is going to go far in the world of YA fiction.

His heroine, Courtney Marlow, is an earnest, nerdy girl who wants to save the world and thinks her chance has arrived when she scores the chance to play the lead role in a TV reality show, Real Teens, in which a camera crew will follow her around at school and home and, it seems, build her up into a star. Courtney decides this is the perfect opportunity to be a good role model for teens watching the show and raise money for charity at the same time. Unfortunately, the show’s producers have different ideas. Very different ideas – and they don’t care who they hurt in carrying them out.

And who is the “phantom texter” who is sending her text message warnings about what to expect from them– warnings she finds are all too accurate? Then again, there are plenty of other things to worry about. Her divorced father hasn’t been keeping up payments for her outrageously expensive private school – one reason she took on the show with its large advance. His dippy second wife – the Lola of the title – wants fame and fortune of her own. Just how much is she prepared to do to get it? And can Courtney count on her best friend Katie, who also wants a share of the limelight?

The novel is deliciously over-the-top, very funny, though with a serious underlying theme. It has a host of outrageous characters and situations, but in the end, what counts is friendship and family and not having to destroy your integrity for money.

If William Kostakis is writing this well now, I look forward to seeing what else he can do.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

NAOMI AND ELY’S NO-KISS LIST By Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 22008

Naomi and Ely, two university students in New York city, have known each other since early childhood. They live in the same huge apartment block. At one point, her father had a brief affair with his (lesbian) mother and then left. Since then, Naomi has had to look after her mother, who hasn’t stopped grieving.

Beautiful Naomi can have almost any boy she wants and has had boyfriends (Bruce 1 and 2). The trouble is, the only boy she wants is Ely, the one she can’t have, because he’s gay - and not only gay, but promiscuous. So the two of them, to keep their friendship intact, have created a “no-kiss list” - a list of boys neither of them will kiss. When Ely breaks the rules and starts a relationship with Naomi’s current boyfriend, Bruce 2, he risks the friendship - and Naomi has to ask herself what she really wants and what is most important to her. Likewise, Ely has to decide whether he can keep his current lifestyle going or whether there is something more important to him now.

Cohn and Levithan wrote another book together, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which was set in the course of one night and had a similar style, though the main characters were heterosexual. It was seen alternatively from the title characters’ viewpoints.

This one has more viewpoints - Naomi, Ely, both Bruces, Gabriel the gorgeous doorman and some friends from universiity. Somehow, it works and the various strands pull together. The style is whimsical, the ending is positive and on the whole it’s a readable book, but heavens, how the characters swear! As in Nick and Norah, the book is filled with four-letter words. I have worked with teenagers for most of my career and, while they do use four-letter words a lot and look at you in surprise if you suggest they are swearing, they don’t do it that much. I don’t think it’s necesssary to write it into a book in the interests of “realism” and about half the swearing would have been plenty. You really can overdo it. It is, in my opinion, well and truly overdone in this novel.

Keep this one for the older teenagers in your life.

THE CHAOS CODE By Justin Richards. London: Faber and Faber, 2007

Computers that can create monsters in the real world, using the elements of water, fire, air and earth, ancient jungle ruins, a millionaire and his daughter who are more than they seem, Atlantis! It’s all here for teens who are waiting for their next fix of Anthony Horowitz, and very entertaining it is, too.

Fifteen year old Matt returns from boarding school for the summer to find that his mother, a high-flying computer consultant, is about to head off overseas on a special job and can’t take him along. He will have to go stay with his absent-minded archaeologist father.

When Dad isn’t home and the place has been ransacked, Matt takes a hint from a cryptic note his father had sent via a neighbour and goes to stay with his aunt Jane. Jane is a PA to millionaire Julius Venture, owner of a large estate near the village where Jane and her brother Arnold, Matt’s Dad, had grown up. Matt can’t understand why his aunt has warned him against getting too friendly with Venture’s strong, intelligent daughter Robin. Soon, however, there are other things to worry about. Matt’s father has been abducted because of his knowledge of a historical treasure that’s much, much more important than gold and jewels. Matt, Robin and Venture are off to South America, plunging into an adventure that could mean the end of the world as we know it, if they fail in their quest.

Richards, best known for his Dr Who novels, has become a writer of very good thrillers with a fantasy edge and this one doesn’t disappoint. There are, it’s true, a lot of scenes in which characters stop to discuss their situation and where someone gives a long explanation of the scientific reasons for what’s happening. These don’t really slow up the story too much, but never mistake this for science fiction – it’s fantasy! When Atlantis comes into the picture, it’s always going to be fantasy. I won’t go any further, because I couldn’t, with without giving away a couple of twists I admit I didn’t quite see coming.

The novel reads like a cross between Horowitz and Indiana Jones. Great fun!

Suitable for teens from about thirteen upwards.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Anonymous Comment on Alison Croggon

I got a comment from Anonymous, not on the book I have reviewed but on Alison Croggon. Sorry. I don't do personal. If I want to do political, I'll start another blog. This is a book and SF blog, with the occasional - very occasional! - divergence. And whether I agree or disagree, I just won't publish a comment that has nothing to do with the actual post. I don't care if you hate the book I'm reviewing, even if I love it, I'll still publish your comment, as long as it's relevant. Also, I'm more likely to publish a comment, on anything, if you give me your name. I have published a few anonymous comments because they were non-controversial, but not this sort of thing. if you feel strongly about it, this particular Anonymous, start your own blog.