Thursday, 31 October 2013

Meet Amy - Your Local Bookstore Manager

When the topic arose about 'what books are popular with teenagers' I had no idea where to start. Despite Goodreads and Amazon being widely available I headed to the local bookstore that my best friend manages. 
Amy has won several writing competitions, is the YA team member of the the Book Club team on 4ZZZ Radio, does regular interviews of Australian authors and is passionate about getting people reading.

Amy (pictured left) Original Image

These were some of her recommendations: 
The 'Divergent' series by Veronica Roth is extremely popular at the moment (future dystopia), as is Cassandra Clare's 'Mortal Instrument' books and is about the children of angels and their adventures. It's targeted towards the lower end of YA. 
Lauren Kate, who wrote the 'Fallen' books (angels and forbidden/fated love) also has a new one out called 'Teardrop'. While I haven't read it, I've heard is pretty good.  
Naturally the Hunger Games is still huge with the new movie coming out in less than a month. 

I interviewed a new Australian YA author called Melissa Keil about her book, 'Life in Outer Space', which is a very sweet contemporary geek-meets-girl story set in a Melbourne high school. - guy friendships are a big thing in this one, main character's parents get divorced, lots of movie/pop culture references and is relatable to people in or just out of high school.  
It's a good one for those who love YA books but are over the supernatural themes.

For slightly older teens, and something a bit more serious, there is a new Australian novel called 
The Accident' by Kate Hendrick (another Australian debut author). It's about three young people whose lives are all touched and changed by a car crash. All of them have complex family/internal lives - it's very true and in many places moving and could be a good wake-up call for many young people.  

For straight fantasy, I love Garth Nix's 'Old Kingdom' series: main character is seventeen, there's necromacy and adventure, little dash of romance, and a talking cat (in a world where World War I era clashes with a realm of magic)

Amy is just one of the many human resources that are available to the general public. Librarians, teachers, publishers and retailers are people who work in this area on a daily basis and are eager to help. 

I love it when people come up to me and ask me things! If you didn't want a personal touch you would have bought your books online. Bookstores survive on human questioning and interaction. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Book Review - Uglies

Uglies is a YA novel by Scott Westerfeld and is the first in a paranormal trilogy. Set in the future, society has changed and now young people go under an operation to become “beautiful” and leave Uglyville to go and go live in Prettylive. The protagonist is Tally and she longs to join her friends who have already undergone the operation, and from her perspective Prettyville is a teenage utopia full of dreams and no responsibilities. Yet when Tally meets Shaw, a rebel girl who has no desire to be pretty, Tally is faced with some serious ethical dilemmas as she decides if she is going to turn this girl over for not following the system or follow Shaw to the Smokies (the remnants of our world) and discover that Prettyville isn’t all that perfect.    
The novel is easy to read, the characters are believable and the audience does not have to make great leaps in order to be able to understand the science fiction concepts within this book. It also poses some great questions for young readers, particularly girls (who stereotypically are more image conscious then their male counterparts). For example, who get’s the right to decide what is considered attractive? What is it like to be labelled as ugly?  What are the societal ramifications of such as body-obsessed world?
As much as I would like to say it’s purely science fiction, I think many readers will see loose parallels to our current hyper-consumerism and tabloid culture which idolises beautiful people and sees plastic surgery as acceptable.

Scott Westerfeld has created a fascinating concept and readers will not lose interest in this fast paced book – you will want to read the sequel!

Book Review - Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesday’s with Morrie tells the familiar story of a young man who became very busy with his life after finishing university and falls out of touch with the one man who had a profound influence on his life - his sociology professor, Morrie. After seeing a story about how Morrie is terminally ill, Mitch returns to visit him and Morrie imparts some word’s of wisdom about the meaning of life and some of it’s very challenges including money, love, family, forgiveness, regret and dying.
Mitch Albom has a great writing style; he is able to paint beautiful and emotional scenes with vivid characters. The book has a very personal vibe to it; it’s told in first person, and as a reader I felt I was able to make a connection with the characters, especially Morrie. I balled my eyes out when he died at the end of the book.

This is a book that struck a cord with me when I first read it back in 2008, I was in my final year of high school and I had a grandparent who was very sick – some of the situations in this book were hitting very close to home (the scene where Morrie was losing control of his body was very scary for me) and although my grandfather has recovered, this book helped me understand that everyday is a precious gift and that we should never take our health or our loved ones for granted.

Useful Links for Young People


This is a good site which allows readers to rate and review their favourite books and make recommendations. With over 50,000 titles in various age groups and genres, it's a great way to find new books to read and share them with friends and colleagues. The site also tells readers where they can get the book in print.


This was one website that saved the lives of many of my high school friends. This site has study guides for many of the major English texts for grades 11 and 12; including the famous No Fear Shakespeare section which helps students break down the language and themes within the plays. Be warned, there are a few non-academic pages on the site, however what's life without a little fun.


If there is one thing I have learnt about trying to impart knowledge to young people is that if you want something to stick, you have to make it interesting, relatable and/or memorable or simply present it in a way that they don't realise they're learning. Infographics are a great way to impart knowledge for visual learners and is a great study tool. This app is a program where teachers and students can create their own infographics. You do have to make an account however you can also sign in and share through Facebook and Twitter.

Survey Monkey

Need to write up a survey for class? No idea where to start? No problem! This site gives you step by step process of how to write and generate a survey on a topic of your choice. There are a bank of sample questions or you can create your own; the program allows for multiple choice, yes or no along with an open or essay styled response format. If you sign in with Facebook, you are able to circulate the survey through social media. Better yet, Survey Monkey has the tools to be able to collate response data along with graph and analyse the trends.

Book Review - The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a popular Young Adult novel written by Susanne Collins and the first in a trilogy. Set in the post-apocalyptic future, the United States has fallen and is replaced by the nation of Paneem. After a bloody civil war ended the winners, The Capitol –decided that every year a competition called The Hunger Games; where a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 will be selected at a ceremony called ‘The Reaping’ to become tributes for each of the 12 districts and will be put in an arena to fight to the death until a lone victor remains. It is held to remind the Districts of the war that they lost and how they are at the mercy of the Capitol.
The story’s protagonist is 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, the sole provider for her family, which lives in the poorest area of the poorest district, otherwise known as The Seam of District 12. Forced by poverty and desperation, she illegally hunts game outside the district boundaries to feed her family. After her 12-year-old sister is reaped for The Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place and is seen by some to have a chance of winning.
Katniss’ personal opinions allow the reader to be drawn into seeing the opulence and wastage undertaken by the ignorant Capitol citizens and how the televised Games are seen as entertainment.  She is shaped by a prep team to win the hearts of Capitol citizens and encourage them to sponsor her, is given an image and a backstory of being star crossed lovers with the male tribute from her district as the audience is told that this will give her the best chance of surviving the Hunger Games. 
While there is a ‘love triangle’ in the novel, this is not the main focus of the book as the key themes are to fight for what is right and facing your fears to overcome obstacles and to beat the odds. 
The Hunger Games shines a light on some of the issues – class (how poorer kids put their name in multiple times to get more food), conscription (as those who volunteer are very rare), media control (attendance to watch the Games in public places in mandatory in the districts) and dictatorship (the President holds all the power and is not accountable to anyone) these are considered to be heavy topics within society that is rarely given to young people to analyse.
Also many parallels are able to be drawn to the real world – while most of the world goes hungry the small minority known as the West wastes millions of dollars in food every year and North Korea does not allow it’s citizens or leave the country or see anything other than state approved propaganda.

It’s a relatively easy read and the characters are realistic and relatable in many respects. Susanne Collins paints a vivid world that is easy to travel through with Katniss.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Week 13 - The Progression of Television

Televisions had only just come out when my dad was a kid; the whole family sat around together and watched some ‘family friendly’ programs and they bonded through this shared experience. Back in those days, people only had one television and it was watched infrequently (i.e. just for the evening news and maybe a family show on Saturday night). Fast forward 50 years and we are being saturated by the ‘idiot box’. I remember a line from Disney’s The Kid where the protagonist’s eight year old self pays him a visit – when he put’s his younger self in front of the TV to ditch him for a while the kid says “holy smokes… you have 99 channels and there’s nothing on!” My father’s generation would have been put off by that and would have read a book or (god forbid) have gone outside to interact with others. Now we’ll watch whatever is on television – regardless of whether or not it’s any good or if we like it. Why? Because it’s something to do when we’re bored, it’s a mindless activity where we don’t have to think or work hard.
Bruce Willis and Spencer Breslin in The Kid (2000)

Now I don’t mind watching mindless trash on television every once in a while, and although the TV can be educational (The Discovery Channel in small doses can raise your IQ and overall general knowledge) but from my observations, the next generation is one that has been babysat by the TV. Sure, it keeps kids quiet in the short term when parents or other significant adults are busy (how many of us remember watching movies in primary school while the teacher marked our tests?) but the consequences of being inundated with a mass media content that children are unable to handle has it's ramifications. I’ve seen prep kids recite the TV guide (along with parroting adult content they don't understand - but that's a different debate); I’ve watched a three-year-old sit and stare mesmerised at a blank screen for thirty minutes (I was amazed she sat still for that long) and I’ve seen plenty of tantrums from school aged kids who have failed to make it home in time for their favourite TV shows.
Experts in the UK back up these observations. According to research, young children who spend more than the recommended time in front of the TV (and other screens such as Ipads and Laptops) are more likely to face a wide range of problems in later life. These include social anxiety, obesity, deficiencies in Vitamins A and D, shorter than average attention spans and sleeping problems. In some extreme cases, the brains scans of children who exposed to excessive screen time have found the technological radiation has had a similar effect to those usually found in adults with alcohol abuse. Health professionals in the UK recommend that children under 3 should have no more than 30 minutes of screen time a day, 4-8 should be limited to 90 minutes and that older children and teens (9-17 year olds) should suffice with a 3 hour limit.
A friend who works in a bookshop has noticed that there are books dedicated to helping parents ween their kids off television. Tips include having a “TV Reduction Plan” with steps including rewarding outside play and removing all forms of technology from their bedrooms.

This issue hasn’t happened overnight or in a vacuum; but what changed from my father’s generation? Was it that it became more accessible and integrated into our routines over time? Was it the wide range of content that was offered to young people on TV and with the downfall of radio that drew people in by the thousands? My guess was that it’s a combination of a hyper-consumer culture that waits for no one, in conjunction with a sliding slope of declining lifestyle choices that’s compounded the problem.
These days watching television doesn't even have to involve owning a television! you can re-watch last night's show in your own time on the device of your choice; download a show from an overseas TV channel for free - there are even websites and social media forums which encourage viewers to network online while they are watching television! Being spoilt for choice, no wonder the next generation is being inundated with content.

Featured Image
The Kid, n.d. image viewed 10.10.13 <>

Monday, 7 October 2013

Week 12 - Popular Culture Romanticising Crime

A while back my sister’s boyfriend came over to our house and brought over his external hard-drive, which was full of his favourite TV shows. I noticed a distinct pattern as I scrolled through the titles – Dexter, Breaking Bad, Underbelly, The Wire and Boardwalk Empire were just a few that caught my eye. What do all these shows have in common? Yes, most of the shows mentioned have been critically acclaimed for excellent acting, deep and diverse characters, not to mention thrilling storylines. However, the more important point is that all of these “stories” were told from the criminals’ point of view. The audience is led on a journey with the protagonist (a serial killer, a drug dealer or crime boss) as they go about their business – breaking the law for personal gain. The police are shown as less intelligent or another obstacle (their primary concern is how to stay ahead of other bad guys). Now before I get any further some of you will be reading this and going “ease up Tiger, it’s just television; a scripted fantasy. Let him watch the idiot box in his down-time, I’m sure he’s seen worse on the news.” I will admit crime is shown on our screens every night at 6pm and what happened to these people certainly isn't fantasy. It's a very harsh reality that a passive news audience rarely consider.

 Take the drama Dexter, which has aired it’s final episode in late September – now Dexter is scientist for the police and is also a serial killer who kills murder’s and other psychos in his spare time. Dexter’s creator Jeff Lindsay, who in a 2011 interview said that he was concerned about people getting the wrong idea about his protagonist. "Some believe that Dexter cares about justice. Dexter doesn't care about justice, he cares about killing… he’s dangerous.” Yet the comments on the online transcript of the interview tend to ignore the message with one poster saying he idolised the protagonist, saying that he had a code and only killed other serial killers. “because he has a code that makes us feel better about him [doesn’t change things]. He’s not nice.” This is where I put a red alert - if he was a character on any other crime show on commercial television he would have been arrested and jailed within 45 minutes; or possibly spread out to a double episode if producers wanted to heighten the drama. But real life doesn’t have a set of producers; they don’t get to decide how the story ends. What about Dexter’s wife and son? What about the wives and sons of people he killed? What about their story? Dexter is not in the boat alone. Breaking Bad follows a terminally ill chemistry teacher Walt and his partner Jesse as they enter the world of making crystal meth. I will give it to the cast and crew, they do their best to keep it accurate, with former criminals saying unpalatable events from the show, such as dissolving bodies in acid, are common place with international drug cartels; which in comparison make the Mafia look like Catholic schoolboys. Closer to home the first season of Underbelly was banned in Victoria as they didn’t want the potential jury pool to be influenced by storytellers. Carl Williams, his associates and the rest of Melbourne’s crime families become instant celebrities and secret underworld meetings and their politics and methods became public knowledge. The public couldn’t get enough of them and it was all the talk around the water cooler the next day. Yet, these were not some fictional characters dreamt up out of the blue – these real events, these were cold-blooded killers who cause havoc on our streets without any thought of who might get caught in the crossfire. But why do we even have this issue in the first place? Why is our society so enthralled with stories of criminals and their exploits? Is it because we want an outlet from our normal, mainstream life and this looks dangerous and exciting? Is it something about a bad boy turning us on? Is it a sign that our culture is being psychologically fractured and morally degraded by crime and violence and we are looking for meaning in fiction? Or is it as simple as the fact that we came from a penal colony where something in our subconscious tells us to root for the bad guy? My sister’s boyfriend goes one step further – it’s a place where we can channel our anger (after all who hasn’t had a bad day and wanted to kill someone?) and other primal emotions. It reminds us that life’s not fair with having to hit us over the head with it. In some weird way there are parts of the characters we empathise with because they are flawed individuals who contend with the human experience and make decisions every episode. Other than that, it provides great television and a break from the mindless wave of reality television.

Featured Image: cc licensed flickr photo by Tom Francis (NC  SA)