Archive | April 15, 2015













Christine Bongers

Woolshed Press/ Random House 2014

pbk, 328pp., RRP $18.99

9780857983763 (pbk)

9780857983770 (ebk)

For the three years since her mother’s death from cancer, Kat and her dad, Jimmy, have lived a very private life, keeping themselves and their business to themselves, fearing another intervention from the authorities which will split them apart again.  Each night Jimmy goes out to play gigs in Brisbane’s bars and clubs and then backs up with the early morning shift at a local bakery struggling to meet the mortgage on the house that his wife loved, but also leaving Kat home alone at just 14.  One night, Kat wakes up to find an intruder standing over her bed, his hand on her leg and it is only her blood-curdling scream and the arrival of the hated woman-next-door with a softball bat that prevents the attack going any further.

However, this event is just part of a traumatic experience for Kat as it is the catalyst for an unravelling of her life as she believes it to be with all the fervour, tunnel-vision perspective and sense of rightness that 14-year olds have.  Born from a real incident happening to the author’s daughter who was eventually able to get over her guilt and start exploring the what-ifs, this is an intriguing tale of revisit and reborn.  Kat has been shaped by her past and her interpretation of events and is trapped within it, and it is only when she is offered the choice of staying with her neighbour, whom she hates so much she will not even pass her house, or having a guard dog which she fears as a victim of a savage attack that she is forced to find an escape route from the cocoon she has spun around herself and Jimmy. It is not an easy journey and in travelling it she has to confront fears and situation that challenge her beliefs, which, while making her very vulnerable also make her stronger.   

Intruder is a story that will be adored by those on the transition between childhood and adolescence.  It has just enough suspense to keep turning the page, but not enough to terrify; its characters are diverse, realistic, memorable and recognisable and show that we all need a little bit of everyone to enrich our lives; and the plot, while very plausible, is not so close-to-home that the reader will fear being alone or turning the light off.  While I’m not a fan of one-size-fits-all, I acknowledge that this story would have great value as a small-group read, perhaps as a book club, where readers can discuss its layers, explore the what-ifs, and perhaps not only gain some insight into that typical tunnel-vision of the age group, but perhaps develop some safety strategies as well. Teaching notes are available.

Christine Bongers’ two previous titles – Dust and Henry Hoey Hobson – have both featured in the CBCA awards lists which gives an indication of the quality of her story-telling and ability to reach her target audience well. 

Please note that this is a book for senior primary/YA readers.  It has been included here because it is a CBCA shortlisted book for 2015.

The Simple Things

The Simple Things

The Simple Things









The Simple Things

Bill Condon

Allen & Unwin, 2014

pbk., 168pp., RRP $A12.99


For every Christmas and birthday of his ten years, Aunt Lola has sent Stephen $10.00 and, at his mother’s insistence, he has dutifully written to thank her.  But he has never met her and doesn’t want to – what would a ten-year-old city boy and an old spinster aunt have in common?  But as her 80th birthday approaches, Stephen’s parents take him for a holiday with her –and she is all that he is expected.  Crotchety, pedantic, set in her ways and a bit scary. How long can three weeks last?  Like many of today’s children, because of scattered families he hasn’t had much to do with the elderly and he’s a little afraid of what to expect – not made any easier by his shyness. But as the days go by, both begin to learn about each other and themselves, and the joys the simple things of life can bring. Through Stephen’s innocent questions and observations, Aunt Lola learns to let go and Stephen learns some surprising life lessons through simple things like finally catching a fish and his discovery that Aunt Lola has kept every one of those thank-you letters!

Tempered by dad-humour (a close relative to dad-dancing), this is a gentle story written with compassion and understanding from both points of view.  Aunt Lola has kept a secret for over 60 years that has tempered her view of the world, particularly trusting others like her neighbour Norm, while Stephen learns to look beyond his fears and begins to develop understanding and empathy. It is a story of hope and joy that touches on some important issues about relationships and acceptance by focusing on characters that are so ordinary and real  they bring the story to life.  They could  be someone the reader knows.

Beth Norling’s quirky line drawings at the beginning of each chapter add an extra layer to what appears to be a simple book but really is one of some complexity. It is skilfully crafted by an experienced author (Condon says there were several complete rewrites of it before he was satisfied) to help our younger readers realise that older people are just another generation, not another race.  As our parents and grandparents live longer than they ever have, our children are going to experience their ageing in a way that previous generations have not, and so anything that builds a bridge of understanding and acceptance (from both ends) has to be welcomed.

Old age is a privilege not a right, and there are many who don’t get to enjoy it, so there are many children who don’t get to experience the love and warmth that a great-grandma or great-grandpa can offer.  Having had the most loving grandparents and now being one, I know the riches grandparents give and receive.  Stephen is lucky that he learns to love Aunt Lola and that love is reciprocated.  Would that all our kids could experience such a special relationship.

This would be a perfect accompaniment to a study of family history and the continuum of life.