Girl from the Sea (James Aldridge: ISBN )
PLOT: Following horrific injuries, a young English boy is sent with his younger sister to recouperate with an aunt in France. He meets a girl who likes swimming and they have moderately exciting adventures. He gets a bit better and goes home. The mother of the girl he meets has terminal cancer, so the girl comes to live with the family in England.
COMMENTS: Watching sloths sleep has about the same degree of excitement. Even the bad guys turn out to be not so awful. The plot is thin and predicable. Although much of the language is rich, dialogue is often stilted and unrealistic, even given the attempt at an exotic location.
Painted Love Letters (Catherine Bateson: ISBN )
PLOT: Young girl with artistic father moves around a lot, until father is diagnosed with terminal cancer. She gets some support from school friends, although she doesn't know them very well. Her father dies, after painting his own coffin and one for his wife - who, as yet, isn't even sick. Subplot revolves around the widowed grandmother who also gets a coffin, and who is also not (yet) sick.
COMMENTS: So what's with the cancer thing? Very little in the way of character development, and again a very predictable plot. Pretty much a 'chick book' which would have little appeal to adolescent boys.
Song of an Innocent Bystander (Ian Bone: ISBN )
PLOT: Nine-year-old girl gets caught in a hostage situation in a fast food restaurant, where the bad guy is an unbalanced disgruntled former employee. 10 years later the girl meets a boy who was also in the seige, where two people were killed.
COMMENTS: Graphic violence, psychological torment, and emotional scaring - "dirty reality" or "inappropriate content" for schools? Pretty much depends on your point of view (and your library policies). More successful than above nominations in introducing an element of mystery, with some semi-climatic moments. Quite readable, with appeal to both genders - if access is permitted. The nay-sayers looking for a book to challenge will appreciate this nomination.
Walking Naked (Alyassa Brugman: )
PLOT: At least no-one has cancer in this story, there's an excessive amount of school bullying happening here. The main protagonist nearly became the friend of the tragic anti-heroine, but folds under to peer pressure. She has regrets about this later. Like, fat lot of good that does.
COMMENTS: Brugman's previous novel, "Finding Grace" was full of positive outcomes, despite the hopelessness of the situation (in that book). The depiction of teenage angst and parental caring in this book is a fairly standard treatment, meaning it is pretty much true to Real Life.
Njunjul the Sun (Meme McDonald: ISBN 186508641X)
PLOT: Aboriginal adolescent leaves his home community and goes to Sydney to live with his uncle. Meets a non-Aboriginal lady, plays some basket ball, and gets beaten up outside a youth disco. Eventually returns to his home community with a greater appreciation of his indigenous culture.
COMMENTS: First thought was to leave this book unrated, as any high rating could have led to claims of patronisation, and a low rating to accusations of rascism. Sigh. However, the book's authors know the topic well, and the format is a little different (artistically scattered photographs in context with the text = gained points). Unfortunately, not a really gripping plot for Young Adult readers (= lost points).
The Messenger (Markus Zusak: ISBN )
PLOT: A slothful young adult is coerced by an undisclosed person or persons) into committing specific acts of both violence and kindness. All of the actions end up having positive consequences for somebody. Would love to tell you the last line, but that would really spoil the whole book for some ....
COMMENTS: Being an unashamedly avid fan of Zusak's work may well have biased the rating. However, the book flows well, dialogue is realistic, the book has unexpected developments within the plot, and the closing leaves much food for thought.