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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

CROSSING THE LINE By Dianne Bates. Ford Street Publishing


Seventeen-year-old Sophie is intelligent, good at her studies and a fine poet. She’s also a self-harmer, who cuts herself when feeling stressed. And she has plenty about which to feel stressed. She has been fostered since early childhood, after losing first her neglectful mother, then her beloved aunt and uncle when they divorced. She has been with one foster-family after another, constantly changing schools and unable to make friends because she keeps moving.

Now it seems things will improve, since she has been allowed some independence and has started sharing a house with the likeable and kind-hearted Amy and Matt. She’s made friends at her new school and is hoping to finish her last year.

Will these be enough for a girl who feels a desperate need for family - especially a mother? A spell in a mental hospital introduces her to psychiatrist Helen Marshall, to whom she clings, mistaking treatment for affection.

Can her new friends help her? Will Matt’s affection be enough?

Sophie is a lucky girl, actually, to have friends as patient as Amy and Matt! There were times in the book when I felt like slapping her and telling her to get over it. The first-person narrative worked well, however, making it easier to understand what was going on in her head.

Self-harm has become known as the new anorexia among teenage girls. It has been estimated that one in ten girls in Australia is a self-harmer. Girls who feel they have no control over their lives may cut because that’s something they can control. Sophie does it as a form of release, or even a tribute, in the form of initials cut into her arm. It’s a major issue in this day and age and veteran Australian children’s and young adult writer Dianne Bates handles it well, in a readable and gripping book. The characters and storyline are believable. I believe this book will make it into classrooms, as there is a lot of material for discussion.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


John Johnson keeps losing his head - literally. And his feet (especially the small one, which doesn’t seem to fit and keeps falling off) and arms and legs. He is a detachable person - and not, as he discovers, the only one. In fact, that’s the problem. When John’s friend Crystal is kidnapped by men in vinyl suits and taken to an underground base in America, full of detachable people, he has to follow, while his parents think he’s on a school camp. He can’t afford to buy a plane ticket, but his genius friend Ravi designes a suitcase that will fit his bits and posts him to the U.S.

And that’s only the start of a story that becomes progressively sillier and funnier as it goes. It has the grossout factor that kids enjoy without ever becoming too disgusting. The characters are amusing (my favourite is the American pretzel-collector (among them is one shaped like Elvis and another like the Eiffel Tower) who helps John and Crystal). I did wonder how Ravi, who has a distinctly Indian accent, had a surname like Carter, but never mind. Suspend disbelief. The young readers won’t care.

Heath McKenzie’s delightful illustrations add to the story.

It’s aimed at boys between nine and twelve, but let the girls read it too - they’re just as likely to enjoy it.