Finally, here it is – my 2012 Clayton’s Shortlist for Older Readers.

No doubt my Six Pick will be different to the CBCA judges’ Shortlist (out on 3  April), and, no doubt, different to yours – and so it should be.

We all clasp books to our hearts for different reasons – what speaks to me might fall on deaf ears elsewhere. And that’s the beauty of reading.

We are all Clayton’s judges of what we read. As Kate Grenville once wrote: ‘Each of us brings our own experiences, memories and prejudices to a work of art and looks at it through that unique lens. We all read the same words…but we all see different things.’

I’ve enjoyed being a Clayton’s Judge for CBCA Qld. I hope you enjoy what you see in my shortlist and that you’ll take the time to rummage through My Clayton’s Notable Books for 2012 for a shortlist of your own. :)
Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock was a fine fantasy novel in its own right, but its sequel Froi of the Exiles proves that Melina Marchetta just keeps getting better.

After making her name in contemporary realistic fiction with award-winning books like Looking for Alibrandi and The Piper’s Son, she is now really hitting her straps in the richly imagined world of fantasy.

Froi of the Exiles is superb storytelling –  gripping, complex, and intense, with characters that will steal your heart.

The little thief from Finnikin is now eighteen years old and trained by the Royal Guard to protect Lumatere’s royal family with his life. When he is ordered to infiltrate the enemy kingdom of Charyn and assassinate the cruel despot who rules it, his fierce loyalties are tested. He discovers unexpected bonds of kinship with Charyn’s damaged people, and an unlikely love with the land’s abused and half-mad Princess, Quintana.

Like all the best fantasy, Froi of the Exiles canvasses great themes, challenging the reader to view the harsh realities of war through the microcosm of those who endure it. By showing the heart of the enemy, the hardships of refugees, and the call of blood to blood, it challenges us to examine our own prejudices, our own contemporary failures.

At almost six hundred pages, and charged with sexual tension, this is a novel for mature readers, fifteen plus.

I wept at the end, for Froi, for Quintana, but most of all for myself. The final in the series, Quintana of Charyn cannot come out quickly enough for me – or for the legion fans Froi of the Exiles will inevitably attract.

When We Were Two by Robert Newton

A beautiful, funny and deeply moving book set at the beginning of the Great War that  suggests an answer to the eternal question: Why would anyone want to go to war?

Sixteen year old Dan is running away from home, his violent father, and the responsibility and guilt of caring for his brain-damaged younger brother, Eddie.

Dan steals away in the dead of night, determined to track down their missing mother. The only clue to her whereabouts, a postcard from Port Macquarie, more than two hundred miles away across the plains and mountain ranges of central NSW.

Eddie refuses to be left behind, and tags along with his billy cart and old dog, Bess, believing Dan’s story that they are off to fight a group of Huns who are causing trouble in Port Macquarie. They set out together on foot. And then they were Two.

The frustration, guilt and love that Dan feels for his special younger brother is at the heart of this inspiring rite of passage novel. The complexity and depth of the brother’s relationship is beautifully depicted as the boys encounter hardships and danger during their trek from Gunnedah to the ocean.

This is a story about how boys become men and deals deftly with the best, and the worst, that men can teach boys.

Together the boys conquer mountains, prejudice and the pain of their shared past. Then Dan loses everything, and alone, he must make a decision about his future based on all he has learned along the road.

When We Were Two is a journey worth taking. Highly recommended for just about anyone over the age of twelve.

Shift by Em Bailey

This is the first YA offering from Aussie children’s writer, Meredith Badger (author of the Go Girl books and Tweenie Genie series) and it’s a cracker.

Copies have been walking off the bookstore shelves thanks to the mega-cool cover, and genre-busting, tightly-plotted psychological thriller contained in its pages.

Olive Corbet is a dark, salty, intense little thing. She’s been taking her meds like a good girl. Taking baby steps. Trying to make it up to her little brother for their Dad leaving. Avoiding her old toxic friendships and trying to adjust to life since The Incident that changed her from popular insider to self-styled outsider.

Olive is doing OK, she’s holding it together – just…

Then the new girl Miranda Vale arrives at her school. A blurry, ill-defined creature that on first sighting seems to slip out of focus. Like someone who moves just before the photo is taken.

Only Olive seems to notice Miranda’s mirrored eyes. Her parasitic ways. The way she cannibalizes other people’s lives….

The tension between Miranda and Olive grabs the reader from the first page and doesn’t let up.

Did Miranda kill her own parents? Is she sucking the life out of Katie, Olive’s former best friend? Will Olive be next? Or is it all in Olive’s head?

Nobody trusts Olive’s judgement any more. Not even Olive.

This hard-to-put-down story is a riveting gallop of a read that examines toxic friendships through a more sinister lens.  Definitely on this year’s Must-Read list for teenaged girls.

Pig Boy by J.C. Burke

A powerful and confronting story about bullying and prejudice.

Damon Styles is not a likeable protagonist – obese, belligerent, and arrogant about his own intelligence. The other kids at school cruelly call him Damoink and his mother, the sow.

On the morning of his 18th birthday Damon witnesses something so dreadful that it dictates all his subsequent behavior. We don’t know what he’s seen, but we do know that he’s unpopular at school, that he plays violent video games and is given to angry outbursts. Like others in the small town of Strathven where he’s grown up, we are quick to believe the worst of him.

Damon is all too easily cast as the boy most likely to commit a Columbine-style massacre. He keeps lists of people who have let him down…He is obsessed with the idea of learning how to shoot.

He teams up with the town’s other outsider –Miro, the Serbian pig shooter known as the Pig Man. Miro too has secrets. He has survived the horrors of the Bosnian conflict. He understands what it is like to be hunted.

He takes Damon under his wing, teaches him to shoot and an unlikely friendship develops. The town watches uneasily, sensing evil afoot. When it is finally unleashed, it comes from a most unexpected quarter.

Pig Boy is a compelling story that will confound your expectations. It peels back the layers of a small country town, revealing the unreliability of perceptions and the prejudices they lead to.

The Wake in Fright elements mask author JC Brennan’s real and more subtle intentions. This is truly impressive story telling for mature readers and would make a good class novel for high schoolers.

A Straight Line To My Heart by Bill Condon

Bill Condon could not have chosen a more telling title for this funny, poignant coming-of-age story.

Everything is so beautifully observed. From the deceptively simple cover, and the wry voice of its protagonist, to the irresistible banter of characters who brim with a laconic but unconditional love for each other and the world they inhabit.

Tiff is an orphan whose mum died when she was just a baby. She was taken in by friends of the family, Reggie and Nell, and Nell’s 22 year old son, Bull, from an early ‘bad’ marriage. Nell dies a few years later, leaving Tiff to be brought up by a pair of boofy blokes.

My the time Tiff finishes school, Bull is forty and his step-dad Reggie is older than God’s dog. Reggie still has some hair, but most of it is poking out of his ears and nose. He’s given up the smokes, diagnosed himself as cactus and is quite adamant about how he wants his funeral to play out.

But Tiff’s all grown up, and it’s time to leave Gungee Creek for the big wide world:

Gungee is an ancient word that means: This place is a hole… There’s not much to do there. Gungee Creek doesn’t even have a creek.

All they have is the football team, the Gunners, which under Bull’s obstinate captaincy has notched up twenty straight losses.

Then Tiff gets a dream job (well work experience, but it could definitely lead somewhere) on the local paper, the Menindah Eagle, an hour’s bus ride away. She meets a boy, her world opens up … then Reggie starts coughing up blood.

This book will make you laugh and cry. A lovely story from one of Australia’s finest and most understated writers for young people.

The Coming of the Whirlpool by Andrew McGahan

Andrew McGahan’s adult fiction has won a swag of awards including the Vogel and Miles Franklin literary awards, a Ned Kelly for crime fiction and an Aurealis for Science Fiction.

His first foray into children’s fiction comes laden with expectations and in my opinion, it does not disappoint.

The Coming of the Whirlpool brims with adventure, heroism and secrets and has all the hallmarks of a swash-buckling classic.

This,the first book in The Ship Kings series, sets the scene for an engrossing historical fantasy on the high seas.

Young Dow Amber is the son of a wood cutter, brought up in the high country of New Island. But from his first glimpse of the distant ocean, he is driven by a strange and unsettling yearning for the sea.

His mother has long feared this awakening in his blood. It is not drowning that she fears: “What she truly dreads is that if you go to sea then you will come to the attention of the Ship Kings. And that if they discover who you are, they will kill you.”

Despite the grim warning, Dow makes his way down from the high country to a cursed fishing village where he is apprenticed to the embittered and grieving Nathaniel, who has lost both son and grandson to the Maelstrom.

The locals live in dread – not only of the mysterious Ship Kings, but of the ocean as well. The old ways, the secrets of navigation, have been lost. No-one dares to venture out past the heads: it is forbidden by order of the Ship Kings.

When they sale into port in their tall ships to collect the annual ‘tribute’ that keeps New Island impoverished, Dow’s forbidden longing only grows.

Then the whirlpool rises, precipitating events that end with Dow Amber sailing out through the Heads, a prisoner of the dreaded Ship Kings.

You’ve been given Fair Warning, the elements are gathering for the next thrilling installment in the Ship Kings saga!

And that’s my Clayton’s YA Six Pick for 2012. Feel free to post your own shortlist below. :)
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