Microviews Vol. 30: Kids Under Water

on Sunday, April 28, 2013
Sorry for the delay, peeps, but this time I have a cracker excuse. With a deadline looming and absolutely no progress to speak of, I decided to shut out the world and write the young adult novel I'd been contracted to finish by May. That meant no reading, no blogging (but still a fair amount of procrastination). It all paid off in the end. I managed to churn the darn thing out in five days. If you notice a slight skewing of these reviews towards children's or YA lit (50% in fact), let's just say I was required to do some research because holy mother of crap, writing for kids is hard!

So Much To Tell You by John Marsden
Marsden may be the God of Australian kids' lit, but these were some pretty humble beginnings. Yeah, yeah, I get that it was a sensation at the time but this tale of a girl scarred and made mute by an acid attack has not aged particularly well. Or maybe I'm just not a 12 year old girl. Wait, nope... Definitely am a 12 year old girl.
3 Out Of 5 Lesser Cormiers

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Granted I'm no expert, but this may well be the greatest children's book ever written. A magnificent triumph of storytelling through words and image it is part graphic novel (the charcoal sketches are simply stunning), part classic fable and all jaw-droppingly brilliant. Hugo's journey from petty thief to cinematic saviour is touching without being twee. Even the kids' lit conventions, many of which Selznick happily adopts, seem fresh and fitting in the context of the story. It also doesn't hurt that this book is one of the most beautiful physical objects I now own.
5 Out Of 5 Trips To The Moon

Parvana by Deborah Ellis
Still on the kids' lit train, this one is about a young girl in Afghanistan under the Taliban. When her father is arrested, Parvana is forced to dress as a boy and head to the market to keep food on her family's table. I have no doubt that, as a teaching tool, this book is quite powerful. Ellis does not shy away from the more brutal aspects of life under a repressive regime. However, there's a certain hollowness to it all when one considers what has become of the country since the book was first published.
3 Out Of 5 Dusty Chadors

The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain
Francois Mitterand's hat changes hands (well, heads) and changes the lives of those who wear it. Essentially, it's Tibor Fischer's The Collector Collector but with a black, felt Homburg instead of a vase. Note to authors: You might want to wait a little longer before trying to rip off a minor classic, even if you have that good ole je ne sais quoi French charm!
2.5 Out Of 5 Flakes of Dandruff

Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich
There's something about Nathaniel Rich that really appeals to me. Both his debut, The Mayor's Tongue, and this, his sophomore effort, have oozed quirk and good humour but still hit hard. This time round a slick opportunist builds a killer operation around selling catastrophe insurance to big New York business. This is the ultimate in used-car salesmanship. Unfortunately for him, he isn't quite prepared for catastrophe when it actually hits - a massive storm that completely floods the city, biblical style. Rich's rendering of a city submerged is brilliant, and the misfortune of our unlucky catastrophist grows increasingly absurd and hilarious as survivors come to see him as some sort of messiah-like prophet. A smart, satirical wet-willy for the climate change generation.
4 Out Of 5 Noah's Arks

Problemski Hotel by Dimitri Verhulst
Problemski Hotel is the nickname given to a Belgian asylum centre by its desperate, eternally hopefully but ultimately defeated denizens. Running the gamut of degradations, some humorous (one guy's attempts to find a Belgian wife) to horrific (the murder of a baby conceived by rape), Verhulst has crafted a fine, prescient and important novel for our troubled times. This ought to be required reading for every cold-hearted politician hoping to use human misery for political capital.
4 Out Of 5 Abbot Proof Fences (Sorry, that probably doesn't make much sense outside of Australia)


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