Tag Archives: retro read

Book Reviews Reading

Review: Alex by Tessa Duder

A photo of the book Alex by Tessa Duder

What is it?

Alex by Tessa Duder

First published 1987

A New Zealand, young adult (historical?) novel.

The Back Cover Blurb

Alexandra Archer is swimming to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rome. In the past year she has fallen in love and knows how it feels to lose.

Alex faces intense competition and will have to swim the race of her life to achieve her dream.

What I thought

I remember I must’ve been about 12 when a girl who I wouldn’t exactly call a friend was reading Alex. I know I was in the 10 to 12 range, because we were in the hall I went to for Girl Guides. I can see the scene so clearly. A book about a girl swimmer? Ugh, no thanks.

12 year old me was so wrong.

Actually, no. I don’t think 12 year old me would’ve liked this book. It didn’t have teenage brothers solving mysteries, or swords and sorcery, or a man who collected pigs. But 38 year old me did.

Crap, I’m old.

But I loved Alex (the character). She’s strong and driven and vulnerable. I loved how the story is split between chapters showing her thoughts during her final race and the lead-up to it. The writing style almost lost me in parts, because it’s very tell-y. Alex rambles on about her life, and sometimes I thought I’d actually like to see some of this stuff instead of just being told about it. But her narration is so charming, it didn’t turn me off the book.

I’m glad I finally read it, and I’d highly recommend it. Alex (the book) is a classic piece of New Zealand literature, and Alex (the character) is still relevant today.

Book Reviews Reading

Review: Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

So stoked I get to add something else with a retro read tag. This was another fabulous library find. A book I’d heard of but never read.

What is it?

Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

First published 1992

A contemporary, young adult, coming-of-age novel.

The Back Cover Blurb

Josephine Alibrandi is seventeen, and in her final year of school. Dealing with her mum and the ways of her Nonna are daunting enough as she prepares for her exams. But Josie is about to discover real life gets in the way of her carefully-made plans. She suddenly has to deal with having her father around for the first time in her life, falling in love and uncovering her family’s secret background.

Despite all the turmoil, this is the year Josie discovers that emancipation doesn’t mean escaping from your past. Sometimes you need to face up to who you are in order to set yourself free…

Why should I read it?

The story is fairly straight-forward and follows Josie through her last year of school. But on the way she deals with her sense of identity, her place in the world, love, and family secrets.

Josie is a great narrator, and I enjoyed her chatty style. The book also has a level of reflection about it (which relates nicely to my last post) so though we live those moments with her, I also had the feeling she survived them and realised their importance. She’s also a bit of an unreliable narrator but it’s easy to get sucked in. The choices and actions she makes seem to make perfect sense at the time, but when she reflects on them with the wisdom of hindsight, we can see she was kidding herself.

Looking For Alibrandi is a good, solid read. Well written and engaging. It’s also aged well. I can’t believe it was published 22 years ago. Apart from the lack of cell phones and unusual slang words (which could be a cultureshock rather than a futureshock thing), the book could easily be from 2012 instead of 1992. Teenagers deal with the same stuff in the same ways.

It’s well worth tracking down a copy. And now I want to watch the movie.

Find out more about Melina at melinamarchetta.wordpress.com

Book Reviews

Review: The Pigman by Paul Zindel

What is it?

The Pigman by Paul Zindel

First published 1968

A contemporary (for the time), young adult, coming of age novel.

Why should I read it?

If you’re a teenager, why would you want to read a book that was written over forty years ago?  Before you, and possibly even your parents, were born?

Because nothing’s changed.

It starts with an oath.  John and Lorraine swear to tell only the facts of what happened when they met Mr Pignati.  They’re typing it up in the school library while the librarian—the Cricket—hovers around.  And in alternating chapters, they reveal their story.

It started as a game, picking phone numbers at random and seeing how long they could keep someone talking.  Until Lorraine chooses Mr Angelo Pignati’s number and they develop an unusual friendship with a man they dub the Pigman, thanks to his large collection of pig ornaments.

Mr Pignati is a bit weird, but offers both John and Lorraine a refuge from their own unhappy lives: John’s clean-freak mother and domineering father, Lorraine’s man-hating mother.  Mr Pignati was always happy to see them and they had fun together.  It was “something that let me be a child in a way I never could be with my mother”.

But Mr Pignati has secrets of his own and when John and Lorraine push his hospitality too far, it puts their friendship with the old man at risk.

The characters of John and Lorraine each have their own unique voices.  Lorraine is sensitive and paranoid, and can’t seem to please her mother who is “quick with her hand”.  John has a tendency to distort the truth and doesn’t want to “wear a suit every day and carry an attaché case”, which is something his father can’t seem to accept.  “Be yourself!  Be individualistic … but for God’s sake get your hair cut.”

It’s a bitter sweet story, where John and Lorraine learn an important lesson, but lose something along the way.  “Our life would be what we made of it – nothing more, nothing less.”  Maybe life seems unfair, maybe your parents are out of touch, maybe you have no idea what you want to do with your life – but in the end you’re the only one who can do anything about it.  And when you realize this, you have met your Pigman.

The Pigman is a fantastic, heartfelt coming-of-age story suitable for anyone from 11 or 12 years up.  It’s short (my copy has only 159 pages) but uses the compact length to get straight to the heart of the story without any real subplots.

Paul Zindel wrote 39 novels, many about teenage outcasts with useless parents, and often with quirky titles to reflect the humour which balanced out the heavy subject matter.