The YA Verdict #6


Every second Sunday of the month, two book clubs meet to discuss YA books. One is the First Review Book Club with teen members, the other is the Young at Heart Book Club for adults who love YA.


Here are the verdicts, out of 10, on the books read by the teen members of the First Review Book Club this month:

Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin

Freya's verdict: 9/10

"This is a beautiful story into the life and struggles of a transgender, non-binary person whose experiences, while different from some, are conveyed in a humorous yet eye-opening manner which allows the reader to empathise with their struggles." 

Meet Nevo: girl, boy, he, she, him, her, they, them, daughter, son, teacher, student, friend, gay, bi, lesbian, trans, homo, Jew, dyke, masculine, feminine, androgynous, queer. Nevo was not born in the wrong body. Nevo just wants everyone to catch up with all that Nevo is. Personal, political and passionate, Finding Nevo is an autobiography about gender and everything that comes with it.

Liberty: The Spy Who (Kind of) Liked Me by Andrea Portes

Georgia's verdict: 5/10

What is a hero? Paige Nolan knows. Sean Raynes, the young man who exposed America's unconstitutional spying techniques, is a hero, even if half the dum-dums in the country think he's a traitor. And her journalist parents, who were captured by terrorists while telling stories of the endangered and oppressed--they were heroes, too. Were . . . or are; no one has ever told Paige if they're still alive, or dead. Not heroes. Anyone in the government who abandoned her parents, letting them rot somewhere halfway across the world. And certainly not Paige herself, who, despite her fluency in five languages and mastery of several obscure martial arts (thanks, Mom!), could do nothing to save them. Couldn't, that is, until she's approached by Madden Carter, an undercover operative who gives her a mission: fly to Russia, find Raynes, and discover what other government secrets he's stockpiled. In exchange, he'll reopen the case on her missing parents. She's given a code name and a cover as a foreign exchange student. Who is a hero? Not Paige Nolan, but maybe, just maybe, Liberty is.

Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody

Tim's verdict: 6/10

"It was an intriguing idea and had an interesting plot, but it didn't last the whole way through the book."

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smouldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the travelling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show. But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that--illusions--and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Rory's verdict: 7.5/10

"It was a good book, with a unique concept and a great plot."

When you're a Jan'Tep initiate approaching your sixteenth birthday, you'd better be ready to prove your worth as a mage. Either that or have a miracle on the way. And Kellen isn't counting on either. He knows he'll need a few tricks up his sleeve to avoid disgracing his family and becoming a Sha'Tep servant. So when a sassy, straight-talking traveller arrives in town, Kellen is all ears. Ferius Parfax is jaded but worldly, an exile who lives by her wits and the three decks of cards she carries. She can't teach him to spark his bands and access the seven magics, but with the hand that Kellen's been dealt, he knows he needs all the help he can get.

Truth or Dare by Non Pratt

Sam's verdict: 9/10

"I liked that they started as friends, the relationship develops, and there's a happy ending."

How far is too far when it comes to the people you love? Claire Casey hates being the centre of attention. But if it means getting Sef Malik to notice her, it’s a risk she’s happy to take. Sef is prepared to do anything to help his recently disabled brother. But this means putting Claire’s love – and life – on the line. Because when you're willing to risk everything, what is there left to lose?

Sparrow by Scot Gardner

Georgia's verdict: 9.5/10

"I enjoyed the depth of character. It's a thoughtful book that explores some big views."

One, two, three, breath. When a juvenile detention exercise off the coast of the Kimberley goes wrong, sixteen-year-old Sparrow must swim to shore. There are sharks and crocs around him but the monsters he fears most live in the dark spaces in his mind. He's swimming away from his prison life and towards a desolate, rocky coastland and the hollow promise of freedom. He'll eat or be eaten, kill or be killed. With no voice, no family and the odds stacked against him, Sparrow has nothing left to lose. But to survive he'll need something more potent than desperation, something more dangerous than a makeshift knife. Hope.

Gap Year in Ghost Town by Michael Pryor

Tim's verdict: 8/10

"I liked that the author invented a new word, 'phasmaturgy'."

 Let's get this straight - ghosts are everywhere. And they're dangerous. This is why my family has hunted them for hundreds of years. 

The Marin family run a two-man operation in inner-city Melbourne. Anton has the ghost-sight, but his father does not. Theirs is a gentle approach to ghost hunting. Rani Cross, combat-skilled ghost hunter from the Company of the Righteous, is all about the slashing. Anton and Rani don't see eye to eye - but with a massive spike in violent ghost manifestations, they must find a way to work together. And what with all the blindingly terrifying brushes with death, Anton must use his gap year to decide if he really wants in on the whole ghost-hunting biz.


Release by Patrick Ness

Average rating from members: 8.5/10

It's Saturday, it's summer and, although he doesn't know it yet, everything in Adam Thorn's life is going to fall apart. But maybe, just maybe, he'll find freedom from the release. Time is running out though, because way across town, a ghost has risen from the lake... This uplifting coming-of-age novel will remind you what it's like to fall in love.

Patrick Ness said he was influenced by Virgina Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume's Forever, and we agreed we could see the influences. A few members weren't sure about the supernatural fairy story unfolding side by side with main story, but after discussing the way the two stories connected, and the possibility of the end of the world (or someone's world), we decided it actually worked well.

Some members commented that they felt a little uncomfortable reading some of the quite detailed sex scenes, but we agreed that it was portrayed frankly and emotionally, and was quite realistic and important for teens to read.

We loved Patrick Ness', as always, beautiful writing and his wonderful characters.

Out of Heart by Irfan Master

Average rating from members: 9/10

Adam is a teenage boy who lives with his mum and younger sister. His dad has left them although lives close by. His sister no longer speaks. His mum works two jobs. Adam feels the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Then his grandfather dies and in doing so he donates a very precious gift - his heart. William is the recipient of Adam's grandfather's heart. He has no family and feels rootless and alone. In fact, he feels no particular reason to live. And then he meets Adam's family. William has received much, but it appears that he has much to offer Adam and his family too.

We loved, loved, loved this gorgeous book. We loved the writing, the poetry, the free verse, the clever playing with words that Adam uses to express himself. We loved the characters, the depiction of family relationships, and the clever structure of the story.