Keuhnert-Ballads coverCover

A slightly psychopathic-looking rocking duck in a kids’ playground.


There’s a pretty big cast. It’s easy to get mixed up or lose track of who’s dating who until it’s mentioned again. I like how everyone is initially described. They all seem larger than life and visually dynamic.


Cass. Hands down. She’s in one of the most awful situations out of everyone, but instead of running away or lashing out at the others, she tries to look out for everyone.

Least Favourite

There were a few that might qualify. I’d probably choose Kara. Partially because this is her story so we’re stuck with her for so long, but partially because she just has no reason to be the way she is. It’s like she blames the world for giving her a raw deal when, by anyone else’s standards, she has it pretty good.


Kara hasn’t been back to Oak Park since the night she almost overdosed in the park next to the boy she loved. She’s changed a lot since then, but going back brings a surge of memories.


The story follows Kara and her friends as they make the choices that lead to the night she almost dies.


Is in keeping with the rest of the story. It’s a satisfying conclusion that brings the story full circle.


This is a book I would have appreciated when I was younger. Not that drugs or parties were ever my scene, but it was kind of hard to find out about things like drugs without trying them first-hand. Half the people said that you’d try them and die; the other half said that they were the best thing ever. There wasn’t a middle ground. I guess this book is the middle ground, though it’s kind of excessive.

I appreciate that Kuehnert explores abusive relationships, but wonder why her warnings are about the guy who listens to people’s problems, respects women and can see where he’s gone wrong in the past; rather than about the guy who carries a knife, likes to get in fights and has no respect for women. Sure, anyone can be an abuser, but one of those guys shows all the classic signs, and it’s not the one she picked.

There’s not much in this novel for me, but it’s a safe way for younger people to find out about darker parts of the world. When I was fourteen I would have gotten a lot more out of it.



When his gaze locked on mine, I mentally chanted my mantra of I can’t stay, and then I let him embrace me. His scent had always reminded me of a muskier version of the air off Lake Michigan, and as soon as it reached my nostrils, it shattered the icy indifference that I’d tried to force myself to feel about him. As I melted into his familiar arms, I could no longer deny it: I’d missed him and I’d missed home and I’d gone too long without facing all of my bad memories and old ghosts.




A playground at sunset. A fair representation of where most of the situations happen.


Between wanting to smack sense into all of them and then do it again, just to be sure it sunk in, it doesn’t bode well.


Not sure that I had one.

Least Favourite

Pick anyone, they’re all really horrible for many different reasons.


Teen in a social crisis because her friend moves away and decides to hang with the druggies.


Self harm drugs, drinking, and teens thinking their lives suck because of external reasons (not at all because of their personal choices).


The ‘don’t try this at home kids’ message come through.


Did I think this book was well written? Yes.

Do I like the topics covered in the book? No.

As a teen, I felt like life wasn’t exactly a bed of roses. But even for me back then, drugs were not the answer. We had our druggie kids at school, and the number of times I ended up with a second hand buzz from the pot smokers who were never busted for lighting up on school grounds was ridiculous. Those kids were total LOSERS. Four years after graduation, one of them shot a local police senior sergeant. This is reality folks.

A book like this would have them revelling in how awesome it is that someone finally wrote a book about them. In other words, they’d be missing the point entirely.

As a parent, I get the fear factor. Be alert for what your teens are up to. Get help quickly. Do not be an absentee in their live or else THIS could happen.

This book was set in an era where, at least in Australia, safe sex, stay in school and keep away from drugs were HUGE campaigns in schools. I have no sympathy for any of the characters.

I just do not see what MTV was hoping to achieve by publishing this book. The truth is, this is a representation of such a small number of teens. The ones who would read it would either think it’s glorifying their behaviour, or curl their lips and look away.

All choices have consequences; it’s up to you to make good choices.




A lot of the big moments in the story  happen in the park in which they all  hang out, so the cover does represent the story well.


There are a lot of characters in this story and part of the story of this book Ballads of Suburbia in which teens tell their stories of their messed up lives. The story focuses on Liam and Kara but we are really introduced to this whole community through their stories.


None. I believe this story focused more on the negative side affects of life and although some healing does happen, there are no role models.

Least Favourite

Shelly: she is the one that throws the parties… every week. A place that supplies the drinks, drugs, atmosphere that never has an adult present. A lot of things stem from Shelly’s house and what it represents.


Liam and Kara find out their parents are divorcing. Neither has any friends or other family to lean on for the emotional support and they look to others their age to fill that void. All of the characters in this story are going through emotional turmoil and don’t have a positive support system to lean on. They are all looking for a way to not actually have to live the life they are in. Being teenagers they do not feel they have any way out.


It is a mixture of different stories from teens in the Oak Park area of Chicago during the early 90’s. The stories look at the variety of a ways that these kids are searching for an escape: self harm, sex, drugs, alcohol and a feeling of friendship and community with each other.


A lot of the kid’s stories are about hitting rock bottom and forcing their parents or police to take action. This causes a lot of them to separate into their own lives, graduating and moving on from the situation they put themselves in. And some don’t make it through.


While I agree with the points that Bel made regarding the book, I had a different childhood. I was lucky enough to make some very smart decisions, but also made bad ones. I even saw some very good friends and family make some of the bad decisions. I had this book on my want to read list because, looking back, I still question some of the decisions I saw being made around my life. When it came down to it, my decision to not participate is what made me the avid reader that I am. But I have always had a bit of interest of seeing what it was like for those I know who made other decisions.

This book is not for everybody, perhaps not the best book for a book club choice, but I still feel that there is no harm done by educating ourselves on things that may happen in the world. Even though everybody may not understand or relate to these characters, they do exist. It took me a long time to get through the story because it is heavy. It is sad and it has a powerful message.

Paperback, 344 pages

Published July 21st 2009 by MTV Books (first published July 15th 2009)

ISBN 1439102821 (ISBN13: 9781439102824)


Discussion Topics

Are the kinds of self-harming habits explored in Ballads of Suburbia – things such as excessive drinking, drug use and cutting – being glorified in novels, or is it important that these issues be explored?

blume-unlikely eventOver a few short months in the early 1950s, three passenger planes crash in the town of Elizabeth. Judy Blume’s latest novel, In the Unlikely Event, is centred on this historical tragedy.

In 1987 Miri Ammerman prepares to return to her hometown, Elizabeth, New Jersey for a commemoration of the tragedy that unfolded thirty-five years earlier.

At fifteen, Miri’s world was beginning to open up for her. With 1951 almost over, 1952 will be the year she finds her first love and meets her father. It will also be the worst year of her life. A year in which her best friend becomes a stranger, her entire school lives in fear of falling planes and a year in which Miri learns that no matter how much you love people, sometimes you cannot trust them.

Judy Blume is an author that generations of teens have grown up with. With In the Unlikely Event she has written her first novel for adults in seventeen years. For any of us who grew up with Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret or Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing for company, we now have a novel to turn to as adults. Though, one could argue, not completely. While In the Unlikely Event has a more adult slant, and many adult viewpoints, the world is still primarily seen through the eyes of a teenager. There is still an innocence about the perspective in much of this story that makes a reader see the world through new, unjaded eyes.

Knowing what Unlikely Event is about creates a pervasive feeling of dread through the novel. As favourite characters board planes, reading further becomes almost stressful. Even as the characters go about their daily lives, there is a feeling of doom hanging over them. The notion that they might not all survive three planes tumbling from the sky leaks into the pages.

These catastrophic events are experienced through multiple perspectives, which works in achieving the sense of community that Blume was evidently pursuing. For me, though, there were too many voices. A few of them stood out far and above the others and I would have preferred the novel to have focussed on them. Miri, the central character, obviously takes centre stage. Through her narrative enough of a sense of community is built up. Her accounts of the toll the accidents take on her school-mates, her best friend, her family and the community at large works, because her viewpoint is so ingrained in the novel. Even when she goes to community meetings about the accidents, the atmosphere in her description is electric.

While Unlikely Event centres around the three unfortunate Newark passenger plane crashes that happened in the early 50s, there’s so much more to get swept up in in the tale. Set in another era, Unlikely Event takes us back to the days of Elizabeth Taylor hairstyles and distinctive American cars.

It also harkens back to an era that had wildly different core values. Much of Miri’s worry stems from the fact that she lives in a time when protecting children meant not telling them anything. Rather than talking the tragedies out, the adults leave the children to feed each other’s fears until they believe the crashes are anything from enemy attacks to aliens. Similarly, as an illegitimate child, Miri’s past is shrouded in mystery.

Unlikely Event could easily be a novel that descends into the chaos of the disaster that it is depicting; instead it explores the social intricacies surrounding the events. While it has themes that aren’t suitable for younger readers, older teens who enjoy contemporary YA would likely love this novel.


In the Unlikely Event – Judy Blume

Pan Macmillan (June 2, 2015)

ISBN: 9781509801657

wood-cloudwishHigh school is pretty tough terrain to navigate. For Vân Uoc Phan, the path is even rockier. Living between two worlds, both her school and home lives are delicate balancing acts. Home is the tiny housing commission flat she shares with her Vietnamese parents, while school is the prestigious Crowthorne Grammar. If she can just manage both parts of her life until she graduates, she has a chance at freedom.

It’s the beginning of year eleven and Vân Uoc has the rest of her schooling career all planned out. Keep her head down. Focus on schoolwork – especially art. Keep school and home separate at all costs. Then in English she allows herself one wildly fantastic wish.

With it her carefully constructed world begins to fall apart.

Cloudwish is Fiona Wood’s third book. While it can be read as a stand-alone, it revisits some of the characters from her second novel, Wildlife. It is more of a spin-off than a sequel, so you’re not missing anything if you start here. Cloudwish doesn’t seem to spoil any of the events from Wildlife either.

With the current political climate, this is the perfect time for a book like Cloudwish. As the child of refugees, Vân Uoc can sympathise with the plight of those seeking asylum in modern Australia. Her anxiety about the government’s treatment of asylum seekers as criminal rather than human echoes the thoughts of many Australians. Being told from Vân Uoc’s perspective, however, lends a sense of urgency and humanity to the situation.

The family politics of Cloudwish are beautifully rendered. Wood manages to portray the often overlooked disconnect between immigrant parents and first generation children. From the language barrier, where neither parent nor child knows enough of the other’s main language to have profound conversations, to the cultural differences between the generations. The most poignant notion the novel sets forth is that no matter how much love is within a family, it can be battered by fundamental cultural differences.

Probably the thing that I liked the most about Cloudwish is that it didn’t follow any conventional plot structure. There were escalations, shifts in power dynamics, misunderstandings, secrets and general parent-versus-child issues; but most of these things played out in subtle, realistic ways without the great big climax that makes everything okay. Some things weren’t resolved at all, because in life some things aren’t.

Cloudwish is a lovely addition to the Australian contemporary YA genre. It stays true to itself, relying on the strength of its characters to tell a good story.


Cloudwish – Fiona Wood

Pan Macmillan Australia (August 25, 2015)

ISBN: 9781743533123



I have the small format paperback. It’s looks very much like a page from a visual diary. Oranges red’s and vivid yellows are superimposed over print to look like an inferno. Though it seems rather abstract in the description, it really does represent the story quite well.

The title is over the top of lines of white out, and the blurb at the top of the page by Marie Lu shares my opinion of this book. The one line synopsis, “First, survive. Then tell the truth.” It’s a real hook to picking up the book.


The cast is rather large as there are the crews of two space vessels to take into account. We do however focus mainly on a much smaller group.


I cannot pick between Kady and Ezra. The interviews at the beginning of the book really clinch it for me.

Least Favourite

Aidan. I can just imagine his cold, detached, monotone voice. A whole lot of nope!


The space colony Kady and Ezra live in is attacked by a large company (attacked as in bombs and biological warfare) and in the evacuation they end up on two different space vessels.


The biological warfare starts to take hold on the ship Ezra is on and lies are being told to cover the tracks of the people in power.


It’s up to Kady and Ezra to bring the best outcome and save as many people as they can. No pressure!


I love the formatting of this book.

Presented as a dossier ready for review by a tribunal, I think it quite unique. It’s filled with interviews, third party recounts of surveillance footage, instant messages, diary entries, artworks, diagrams and emails.

Sitting at 599 pages I really thought I would struggle to get through this monster this month. I did, however, get it consumed in a day: almost one sitting.

It is totally immersive and the character voices are witty and believable.

I’m glad this is written by Aussie authors. There really is something satisfying about authors who are not American making it to the NY Times best sellers list.


Interviewer: – “We can talk about it if you like, or we can sit here and stare at the walls until our allotted hour is over.”

Interviewer:- “It’s up to you.”


~ Ezra interview.

Interviewer: – “You evacuated at that stage?”

Kady:- “You make it sound way more organised than it was.”

Interviewer:- “How was it?”

Kady:- All kittens and rainbows apart from the screaming and explosions.”

~Kady interview.




An array of oranges and yellows. Like an explosion overlaid with embers. It’s dramatic and eye-catching; and the writing on the cover suits the files format of the novel.



Ezra Mason and Kady Grant. A couple for a year, at the beginning of Illuminae, they have just broken up.



I don’t know if I have one. I really like the dynamic between AIDEN and Kady without necessarily adoring either of them on their own.


Least Favourite

Probably Ezra. He’s a perfectly functional character, if he were meant to be minor player. Considering that he’s second only to Kady, he’s kind of lacklustre.



When a corporation finds that another company has been mining one of its planet’s resources, it moves to destroy the colony. Kady and Ezra are set to be collateral damage in the battle. Luckily for them one of the United Terran Authority battle-carriers is near enough to respond to distress signals and come to the rescue. Now, badly damaged, the remnants of this once great colony must keep ahead of the remaining enemy ship as they try to reach civilisation.


Just when you think that the Kerenzan refugees are in as much danger as they could be, they get thrown even deeper. With some of the survivors suffering from the effects of previously unheard of biological weapons, the others need to make difficult decisions about how to survive to six month trek to safety.



The ending picks up pace so much more than the beginning. It’s amped up and edge-of-your-seat stuff.


The format didn’t work for me. I don’t mind different styles, but structuring this in interviews, files and break-downs of video footage killed almost all of the emotion. It’s actually an amazing story. Fresh, vivid, with enough going on to keep the pace and story tight and taut. The panic of being chased by a determined and more powerful enemy, being at risk from biological hazards and not being able to trust the usual hierarchy is obvious, but would be more palpable if the story had been interspersed with files rather than being entirely files.


Interviewer: How did you make it out?

Kady Grant: I’m a lateral thinker.

Interviewer: Meaning you used your comput-

Kady Grant: Meaning I broke open a window.




The hardcover has a see-through plastic book cover. The actual hardcover of the book is a document with red handwritten notes on it. It 100% represents the story and the bright orange colours really draw the eye to it.


There are so many characters in this story that at times I couldn’t remember who was who. The main characters are Kady and Ezra; they recently broke up and during the rescue, end up on different spaceships. A lot of the communication is done between the two.


I can’t really pick an absolute favorite out of the group but I did like Ezra over Kady. I found him to be a very caring person.

Least Favourite

I don’t have a character specifically, but the whole company of BeiTech was pretty awful.


Most of the beginning of the story is character interviews about what happened to cause the mass evacuations of the Karenza Colony, and reports of some of the survivors and the testing they were going through on their ships to put them to work in different fields. Pilot, computers..etc.


The illegal colony of Karenza is invaded and the majority of the citizens are killed; it’s a massacre. Some are able to escape to the three ships in the area, but are separated from their friends and family (if they even survived) and are given new jobs above the aircrafts, which are still trying to escape the BeiTech ships.


In the beginning of a war you expect a lot of upset, deaths, and that is what you get. There are twists, explosions, near death experiences. You name it!


This book was difficult for me. I had heard about it everywhere, and I loved the idea of how it was put together (all letters, reports, computer messages etc). But I really had a hard time getting into the story or liking the characters. I came to the conclusion (in relation to my own feelings of this book) that it is a work of art. Some of the pages, especially near the end, are very visual and artistic; they add a great experience to the reading of the story. I also enjoyed the more gruesome parts of the story; it makes the story dark and dangerous and crazy, which I love.


CitB:stay on task, grasshopper. we let the Alexander burn us out of the sky, your red hot love will be subsumed by a bigger, hotter flame

ByteMe: how do you even function in society?

CitB: it’s a struggle


Discussion Topics:

How do you feel about computers being programmed to kill innocents if those deaths could save more lives than they took?


Hardcover, 599 pages

Published October 20th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

ISBN 0553499114 (ISBN13: 9780553499117)

laure_this raging lightIt is the first day of school and seventeen year old Lucille’s mother has not come home. She has been gone for two weeks. On some level, Lucille has been preparing herself for this. So she gets her nine year old sister Wren ready, packs lunch and gets them both to their respective schools.

As time progresses, bills come in, and food runs low, Lucille realises that she’s going to have to figure everything out herself if she’s going to keep Wren out of the foster system. With the help of her best friend, Eden, she might just be able to look after Wren, get a job, navigate her final year of high school and keep her mother’s absence a secret from anyone who might pry.

This Raging Light is Estelle Laure’s debut novel. Bel and I received a free copy at the Hachette Date-a-Book night, and the Hachette team were so enthusiastic about the writing style, characters and narrative that I read it on the plane trip home. Their praise for the novel was entirely justified. Raging Light is lyrical, intense and enchanting; with a writing style and pace so deftly handled that it’s hard to believe it is a debut novel.

Characters sell the story in Raging Light. Told in first person from Lucille’s perspective, readers are there for the ups and downs and for the terrifying doubts. The uncertainty of whether Lucille can make it through and the anxiety about how the situation is affecting her sensitive sister are rendered with stunning emotional accuracy; as are the emotions behind Lucille’s crush and her friendships. Lucille’s best friend, Eden, was my favourite part of Raging Light. Her philosophy on life, people and human nature is unique and takes readers into some of the more in depth areas of the novel.

Despite liking Lucille and her narrative voice, it bothers me how little empathy she had for her mother. It seems as though her mother looked after everyone until she left, yet Lucille never considers what her mother’s state of mind might have been as much as she wonders how her mother could have done what she did to them. It doesn’t occur to her that almost being murdered might undo a person. Nor does she wonder whether the night her mother almost died was the first night she had been attacked.

While the premise of this novel is all too believable for many teens across the world, This Raging Light is more a light-hearted flight of fantasy than a gritty slice of reality. Wren and Lucille might be in an awful predicament; but, they have initially come from a reasonably charmed life. They have aspirations and goals and, despite their circumstances, don’t give up on trying to attain them. For a beautifully crafted feel-good read, you can’t go past This Raging Light.


This Raging Light – Estelle Laure

Hachette (January 7, 2015)

ISBN: 9781408340264

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