Monday Upliftivism: The Moonlight Dreamers…and a Guest Post from Author Siobhan Curham!

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It’s been a bit of a tough few weeks for us round the shelf lately.  The winter plague has invaded the household and I can barely think, let alone read, for all the coughing, hacking, moaning and prayers for deliverance, or a speedy death.  This week therefore, will be spent catching up on reviewing a whole bunch of books that have been eagerly awaiting their spot in the limelight.

Kicking off the week, in case you too are plagued by illness or general despair at the state of the world, I offer some upliftivism with new release YA novel from Walker Books, The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham.  I should also mention that Siobhan has written a guest post for us about how to create authentic teen characters, which those budding writers amongst you (and I know there are a few!) will no doubt want to feast your eyes on.  Let me introduce you to the delightful and too-sweet-for-words, Moonlight Dreamers, which we received from Walker Books Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

An inspirational, heart-warming book about four girls trying to find their place in the world. Siobhan Curham celebrates very different but like-minded friends in this captivating novel.

Amber craves excitement and adventure. Instead, she’s being bullied at school for having two dads, and life at home isn’t much better. Inspired by Oscar Wilde, Amber realizes that among the millions of people in London, there must be others who feel the same as she does; other dreamers – moonlight dreamers. After chance encounters with Maali, Sky and Rose, Amber soon recruits the three girls to the Moonlight Dreamers. It’s high time they started pursuing their dreams, and how better than with the support of friends?

moonlight dreamers

Quick Overview:

I have to say that if ever there was a book for younger readers that fit the Utopirama mould, then The Moonlight Dreamers is it.  While some unfortunate things do befall the characters in the novel, the overall feel of the book is so warm and subtly positive, that you just know that each girl will eventually find her way.  The book begins with Amber, a young woman with two dads who faces bullying at school, ostensibly because she is “different”.  Amber decides to take a risk and passes out invitations to form a secret society – the Moonlight Dreamers – to girls she encounters that look like they might share her desire to revel in uniqueness and go after their dreams.

The characters in the book struck me as particularly authentic creations.  Maali, the youngest of the group, possesses a wonderful naivety and sense of openness to the world around her – yet struggles with the simple task of talking to a boy.  Amber, on the outside, has all the makings of a confident young woman who isn’t afraid to walk to the beat of her own drum, but worries endlessly about being too different for people to like her for who she is.  Skye is still grieving the death of her mother and desperately wants to take the next step and perform her poetry in public, but is in conflict with her father over his new relationship.  And Rose, the accidental Dreamer, seems so worldly-wise, but desperately needs the approval of friends who are prepared to get to know her outside of her famous parents’ shadows, in order to gain the confidence to follow her dreams.

There’s something amazingly engaging about watching these characters tackle what are, for the most part, typical problems that many teens face.  The story is told in alternating perspectives so by the end of the book, the reader has had plenty of time to get to know each of the girls as individuals and watch how their interactions propel them towards facing their fears.  There’s a refreshing simplicity in the telling of the story that allows the characters to come to the fore without being shackled to the stereotypical portrayals that are grist for the mill of many contemporary YA books, where the focus is on predictable romantic relationships or fitting into expected social roles at school.  The author has managed to clearly show the girls as they are, and want to be, because the girls themselves – rather than their romantic interests or school troubles – are the focus.

If you know a young reader (or an older one!) who could really do with a bit of positivity in their lives and an affirmation that they are perfectly okay just as they are, then I would highly recommend getting a copy of The Moonlight Dreamers into their hands.  Apart from the fact that it will inspire you to pursue your dreams under fortuitous moonlight, it’s just a cracking good read and a story to soothe the fears and worries of the troubled soul.

Utopian Themes:

Books as solace for the weary heart

The wit and wisdom of Wilde

Friendship as a transformative power

Serendipitous discoveries

Youthful exuberance

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

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Five out of five protective bubbles for the security of knowing that one is not alone in one’s difference.

Although this certainly isn’t the type of YA that I generally go for, I did thoroughly enjoy The Moonlight Dreamers and was left with a warm, fuzzy feeling in my stony jaded heart by the end of it.  It also got me thinking about starting my own secret society, but I haven’t decided on a theme yet, so until then, keep my idea under your hat.

Don’t forget to check out author of The Moonlight Dreamers,  Siobhan Curham’s guest post about creating authentic teen characters!

Until next time,

Bruce

A YA (ish) Read-it-if Review: Hyacinth Girls…

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Welcome to a Read-it-if review for a book that has been on my Netgalley shelf for months and months and months that I’ve only just managed to get to.  Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel, like The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, is one that I put off and put off because its publication date was so far off, only to find that I should have picked it up sooner because it is well worth chatting about.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Thirteen year old Callie is accused of bullying at school, but Rebecca knows the gentle girl she’s raised must be innocent. After Callie is exonerated, she begins to receive threatening notes from the girl who accused her, and as these notes become desperate, Rebecca feels compelled to intervene. As she tries to save this unbalanced girl, Rebecca remembers her own intense betrayals and best-friendships as a teenager, when her failure to understand those closest to her led to tragedy. She’ll do anything to make this story end differently. But Rebecca doesn’t understand what’s happening or who is truly a victim, and now Callie is in terrible danger.

This raw and beautiful story about the intensity of adolescent emotions and the complex identity of a teenage girl looks unflinchingly at how cruelty exists in all of us, and how our worst impulses can estrange us from ourselves – or even save us.

hyacinth girls

Read it if:

*you’ve ever been given a demeaning nickname

*you like adult fiction that is cleverly disguised as young adult fiction

*you’ve been clamouring for a book featuring young people and bullying, in which the characters are more than stereotypical, paper-thin, mean girls, and the adults have backstories too

Right off the bat, I have to acknowledge how unexpectedly noteworthy I found this story to be. When I flicked back to the blurb and found out that this was a “teen bullying” story I was preparing myself for the run-of-the-mill, mean girls scenario with cliques and rich bitches and everything we’ve seen before in a thousand movies and books. While the blurb gives the indication that this is a YA book, I think that this is actually properly realised adult fiction that features young characters and bullying, but focuses on deeper explorations of the characters, their motivations and relationships. [Interjection: Yes, I realise YA is “proper fiction” too, so no need to send the hate mail just yet]. I suspect that adult readers will get just as much out of this, if not more, than their teenaged counterparts and that is the mark of a good book all-round.

Hyacinth Girls is told in alternating points of view, beginning with that of Rebecca, who has become the guardian of teenager Callie after her mother, Joyce (Rebecca’s childhood best friend), was killed in an accident and her father committed suicide. The early parts of the story focus on Rebecca’s shock and denial when informed that Callie has been involved in serious bullying of a classmate. The story moves back and forth between the present day, as Rebecca tries her darnedest to clear Callie’s name, and Rebecca’s childhood with Joyce, her older cousin and his girlfriend.

About halfway through the book, the story switches to Callie’s point of view and the reader becomes privy to the “other side of the story” as it were. It isn’t too hard to see that Rebecca suffers from a sort of functional blindness toward Callie’s alleged behaviour and sharp readers will be pleased to note that their suspicions are confirmed in Callie’s telling of the story. Toward the end of the book, the perspectives change again as events come to a head and secrets and lies come back to haunt all the characters.

What I most appreciated about this story is that the characters are all deeply fleshed out. Each character has flaws and a back story and motives that are understandable and familiar, but not stereotypical. The book really explores the concepts of error and redemption through characters who are judged outwardly by their actions and characters for whom the judgement (and damnation) is self-wrought and internal. Hyacinth Girls manages to set itself apart from the crowd of “seen-it-all-before” books on bullying to really explore the people who engage in it, the people who fight against it and the people who unwittingly support it. I particularly appreciated the realistic fallout (or lack thereof) at the very end of the book, when the reader gets to reflect on the tumultuous events of the story and their impact on the lives of the characters in the context of a wider society of those who don’t have a personal stake in the lives of these particular young people.

Overall I think that aside from being a “bullying” book, Hyacinth Girls is just a really absorbing read.

Until next time,

Bruce