I always seem to read more books around the end of the year, but I’m shocking at reviewing them. With the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge just around the corner, I really need to get better at that! Over the last week and a bit, I’ve finished nine books, so I’m going to try to churn out a whole lot of reviews to have a clean slate for the new year!
(All book links go to Goodreads)
This is a collection of short stories for Young Adults, which are meant to be set in the city and act as a companion book to the collection Town. Although it was named city, it felt more like ‘inner city suburb’ rather than the centre of a busy city. There were the traditional ‘gritty’ stories about drug dealers and getting caught up in crime, but nothing really happens to those characters – or if it does, it happens after the story has finished. There’s some connections between the stories, but I read it in short bursts, so I may have missed some of them. Another ‘linking mechanism’ throughout the book was a graffiti artist who wrote haikus around the city. I think this was supposed to come across as poetic, but the adult in me just saw it as a destructive action – there are many other ways to communicate without doing something illegal.
There was some lovely patches of writing, but I never cared about the characters, mostly because I spent so little time with each of them. The book as a whole felt like an exercise in writing, rather than a cohesive book. It was mildly enjoyable, but never held my attention for very long.
This is the third in the children’s Parvana series, or the fourth if you include the companion book. I really enjoyed the first one, about a girl in Afghanistan forced to pretend she was a boy after her father was taken away. I read it to my class, so I was excited about reading another book to find out what happened to her. Sadly, I was left a little disappointed – but I’m not sure if it was because of the choices the author made, or because I wanted it to turn out differently.
The book is written in a different way, with flashbacks throughout the book, before we come back to a ‘current day’ where Parvana is being held by the US Military. I like this, as I feel it acknowledges the growth in readers who have read the previous books about Parvana. Parvana’s life looked like it was getting a little better for a while, then it just got worse and worse, with Parvana losing precious people and being in extreme danger. Then she was taken by the US Military.
This grates on me a little. Although there was no excuse for the actions of some soldiers during the war, it almost feels like the US is being used as an easy target. A few soldiers are written as sympathetic, especially after Parvana assists an injured soldier, but it is clear that they are the ‘enemy’, even more than the remnants of the Taliban which are the cause of most of the disasters which befall Parvana. It also refuses to acknowledge that there is a coalition of countries involved in the war in Afghanistan.
I also got extremely agitated when Parvana and her mother stubbornly stuck by the school they had set up, even when it was clear they were in danger. This is more of a privilege thing, though. If things got that dangerous for us in Australia, hopefully we’d have people to turn for. For Parvana and her mother, there was no where to turn and really, no where to run to. Sticking with the school was pretty much their only choice.
So, I’m up and down on this book. I feel the ending is a little neat, but it was nice returning to such a great character. It wasn’t the way I wanted Parvana’s story to end up, but I could see the issues which Deborah Ellis was trying to raise. It was worth reading, but probably not worth a reread, or even being put to the top of the pile unless you really loved the previous books.
Mike Lupica is the bee’s knees if you’re looking for great children’s books about sports. Even though he writes about baseball and basketball and American Football, sports which are not terribly popular or played in Australia, he makes you care terribly about his characters – leading to a wonderful story for both sports fans and those not completely sold on sport.
The Underdogs is no exception, and it took all of a chapter for me to be totally engrossed in the world of Will and his rag tag football team. Will lives in a town where fortunes have definitely made a downwards turn, especially since the shoe factory closed. There’s no money for his Under 12 football team, and even when Will manages to convince another shoe company to sponsor them, there’s barely enough players to get on the field. But with the help of his father, who puts aside an old football injury to coach the team, and Hannah, the new girl in town who just happens to have a great kicking foot, he starts to rally a team and the town.
This isn’t great literature, but it’s an awful lot of fun to read. Like other Lupica books, there is more to the story than just sport – this one focuses on relationships between fathers and sons, as well as a little exploration into girls playing a ‘boys’ sport. You kind of know how the story will end from the very beginning, but you find yourself excited anyway. If you have a sports fan who isn’t particularly sold on reading, try and find a Mike Lupica book or two and see if you can turn them!
Have you ever been disappointed by the sequel to a book?
What is your favourite sport book?