Review: Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward

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In an Orphancorp, there’s not a lot of physical contact, and the touches we do get usually hurt. Without each other, maybe we’d go through life thinking that hands are just slaps and fists, not for grasping or stroking.

Welcome to Orphancorp is a gritty, first-person dystopian novella following seventeen year-old Miriiyanana Mahoney. Mirii is seven days away from Age Release when she is transferred to a new Verity House. It doesn’t matter to Mirii where she is transferred to, because all of the compounds have the same layouts and the same wardens, known as Aunties and Uncles, who use brutality and humiliation to keep the orphans in line. The Orphancorps buy unaccompanied minors from the state, but they have to release them back into society when they turn eighteen. That is, unless the orphans mess up before they’re due for release, in which case they are transferred to Prisoncorp.

There are only seven chapters in Welcome to Orphancorp, which are listed in descending order, counting down to Mirii’s her release date. Upon her arrival to a new Verity House, Mirii is warned by one of the aunties that she needs to keep her mouth shut in order to make it to her release date. While the novella is structured around the seven day countdown, Welcome to Orphancorp isn’t so much a novel about escape, as it is about survival. Given that Mirii arrives at the new orphancorp in a gag and chains, Mirii’s situation is bleak, but she is by no means a downtrodden pacifist.

Marlee Jane Ward has crafted a complex protagonist and narrator who is both aware of her limitations but is also driven by a need to push back against an institution devoid of compassion whenever a chance arrives. Like the majority of orphans, Mirii has been in the system for most of her life. The orphans are raised amongst themselves, with the majority of older teens made to care for the toddlers. Mirii has proven incapable of looking after the younger ones, so she is assigned to electrical manufacture. The natural inclination for Mirii is to not form any emotional attachment, as orphans can be transferred out to other compounds or sent to Prisoncorp if they have enough infractions.

The novella contains explicit sexual content as well as drug references, but neither is gratuitous. By day, the orphans are bound by rules and hierarchy brutally enforced by the Aunts and Uncles. But once the lights are out, they showcase their skills through black market trades and cling to their humanity and identity through sexual encounters.

Welcome to Orphancorp has echoes of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, as both present a near-future dystopian world that offers little hope of change at a societal level, as the compounds operate within a larger world which has no interest in intervention. The beauty of both novels is the show of defiance the characters can achieve by daring to live.

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Review: Maladapted by Richard Kurti

Maladapted

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Science created him.

We created him.

Now we have to use him.

 

Revelation

He will destroy everything that makes us human … He must be uncreated.

 

The following review contains spoilers.

Cillian is the sole survivor of a terrorist attack on a packed Metro train. He carries his father out of the wreckage, but rather than imparting final words of love, his father uses his final breath to utter the word ‘Gilgamesh’. How did Cillian survive the attack when everyone around him died? What is Gilgamesh? Images of Cillian carrying his father out of the wreckage go viral, and Cillian finds himself on the run without really knowing who he is, or who he should be, running from. Tess is a survivalist, having joined Revelation after the death of her family. Like Cillian, she is also a sole survivor of an attack. Revelation sends Tess to make contact with Cillian, forcing her to re-evaluate her own belief system. With both characters displaced from their home and any sense of family or security, they must either join forces or do what they’re each programmed to do.

Told with a third-person omniscient narrator, Maladapted is an action-packed story set in the futuristic Foundation City. Themes of connectivity and temporality are explored through various forms of technology, including gun-building apps, security bots and encryption tabs. Foundation City is an aspirational city where everything is temporary, as pop-up shops and cafes evaporate on a daily basis. Unfortunately, much of what the reader learns about the ever-shifting Foundation City is through exposition, rather than showing characters experiencing temporality.

The plot of Maladapted races forward at the expense of character development. There was little reason for Tess to have any internal struggle with her allegiance to Revelation, as the religion is presented as nothing more than an extremist group from the outset, with their mantra,While we Breathe, We Trust,  furthering the cliché of mindless/brainless disciples. The only element of suspense is achieved through the possibility of Tess either killing Cillian or being killed by Revelation. Cillian is a lone genius, who shifted schools every few terms before finding a place at an academy for gifted students, and eventually securing a scholarship at the age of fifteen. Like many fifteen-year-olds, his greatest stressors in life are dating and finishing assignments on time. Both Cilllian and Tess lack depth, and serve as tools to move the plot along, presumably because there is so much story to cram in. It’s only once Tess and Cillian are inside Gilgamesh that Maladapted gains depth and feeling, as passive anecdotes of the city and the politics of religion versus science give way to the experience of their time in Gilgamesh.

I really wanted to like this book, as it had so many elements to make for a great read, but the abundance of exposition and lack of depth of character made it a hard slog. Maladapted is the first book in a series, so here’s hoping the second book has room for greater character development.

 

With thanks to Walker Books for providing a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Australian readers – take note

Jay Kristoff - Literary Giant

hatter Hello my name is Joe Hockey

Hello Droogs,

I’m taking a moment away from the usual brand of shenanigans and tomfoolery that plagues the pages of this blog to talk about a threat to the Australian publishing industry and Australian authors. This is a long post, but if you’re a reader of Australian fiction, you should seriously read on. There will be cake at the end.*

You may be aware that the Australian Federal Government is looking to change existing copyright laws in a way that will be deeply damaging to the Australian book industry, particularly to creators (like yours truly) and publishers.

The Turnbull Government has stated its intention to remove the Parallel Importation Rules (PIRs) that currently exist to protect Australian territorial copyright. These rules were put in place to ensure that if an Australian publisher holds the rights to a book – whether from a…

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Review: ‘Frankie’ by Shivaun Plozza

Frankie

I leave my life up to fate for a few minutes and look what happens. If karma’s a bitch then fate is her psychopathic cousin. You know, the one no one invites to family reunions because she makes the little kids cry.

Frankie has been suspended from school and is facing possible expulsion. Her Aunt Vinnie is at her wits end, her best friend Cara is at risk of getting into trouble by association, her cheating ex-boyfriend is going all doe-eyed, and there’s a cop hanging around. Not exactly an ideal time for Frankie to receive a call from a boy named Xavier, who delivers a bitch-slap from fate when he tells her that he’s her brother. The revelation pushes to the surface the traumatic relationship Frankie had with their mother, Juliet, who dumped Frankie at the Collingwood Children’s Farm when she was just four years old. Before Frankie can even begin to make sense of this new family dynamic, Xavier disappears. Frankie needs to find her brother, to figure out what having a brother even means, but can she do that without getting expelled and pushing Vinnie past breaking point?

Frankie is an exciting narrator and protagonist to follow because literally pulls no punches. She tells it like she sees it, and won’t back down from a fight. The narration is filled with brilliant dry one-liners observations and an honest portrayal of what it is to be a teenage girl. A key strength of the novel is the complexity of the characters. Mr Tran is a minor character who has a major impact by the mere act of sitting silently by Frankie’s side while Vinnie goes into bat with the principal. Vinnie, Frankie’s aunt, has been pushed to her limit by Frankie, but can still break right in the thick of an argument with Frankie to crack up laughing at a joke.

Cara is Frankie’s best friend and fearless ally, who also frequents the principal’s office. Cara’s approach is always to defend Frankie first and ask questions later. Cara and Frankie are great characters to follow, so much so that it was a little disappointing when a love interest came on the scene, as I would have been thrilled if focus was on the love between friends rather than romantic love. That’s not to say I wasn’t all misty-eyed while reading poignant moments between Frankie and her love interest, or that romantic love dominated the novel. The banter between Cara and Frankie, their propensity to get each other into trouble, and their similar headstrong personalities that makes them such great friends while also potentially setting them up for epic fights made them an exciting duo to watch. I was greedy to read more of their friendship, and found the romantic love interest came at the expense of the friendship.

The physicality of Collingwood is beautifully entwined with the story from beginning to end. The smells, sights and sounds illicit not only a strong sense of physical place, but also a strong sense of emotional place. From magpies clashing over scraps while Frankie waits outside the principal’s office, to the hum of the drinks fridge in the Emporium being the only sound to break the tense silence between Frankie and Vinnie, to the stench of ‘rotting fruit, Spanish donuts, pigeon poo, baby vomit and hairy-guy odour’ at the Saturday market Frankie really wants to leave so she can find out where her brother is. Shivaun’s evocative world-building is the greatest achievement of the novel.

Frankie is a sharp, raw, hilarious, heartbreaking and uplifting debut.

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The Madness in the Method – on creativity and mental illness

Powerful and vital read on living and writing with mental illness.

Claire Zorn

Like many humans, I sometimes have conversations with other humans. (Real ones, not the imaginary ones I converse with for money.) Inevitably when chatting with someone new, the question of occupation comes up and that’s when I get to tell them I’m an author. It’s wonderful. My twelve year-old self (who couldn’t spell or do sums but had a catalogue of imaginary worlds and characters in her head) does backflips of glee. I’m not going to pretend for a moment that I don’t love my profession, yes writing novels is difficult, but it is a privilege and I still have a file of rejection letters in my study to remind me how blessed I am.

Sometimes the news that I am an author is met with questions about what I write, how I got published, how much money I earn or when I find the time to write. Sometimes the…

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Review: ‘My Sister Rosa’ by Justine Larbalestier

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Rosa is a ticking time bomb.
I don’t think it matters what you call it: psychopathy, sociopathy, antisocial personality disorder, evil or the devil within. What matters is how to prevent the bomb from exploding.

My Sister Rosa is a contemporary psychological thriller by Justine Larbalestier. The YA novel is narrated by 17-year-old Che, who has charged himself with preventing his highly intelligent, Shirley Temple-like 10-year-old sister from hurting anyone. Manipulation and lying became a means for Rosa to explore her sinister tendencies, as she is all too aware of the protection her age and doll-like looks gives her. The parentals, David and Sally, are dismissive of Che’s warnings and accusations in part because they’re preoccupied by their own relationship and hectic business dealings, but also because they believe Rosa is merely a rambunctious 10-year-old girl. When their parents move them overseas yet again, this time to New York City, Che must find a way to contain Rosa in a new environment while also getting some degree of control over his own life.

My Sister Rosa is not solely reliant on the constant presence of a singular psychotic character in order to build and maintain suspense. My Sister Rosa exudes impending and inevitable destruction throughout, which is largely achieved through the way the novel is structured, as well as the overarching theme of control.  The novel is divided into four parts, determined by the list of goals (p25) Che writes every time he is forced to move to a new place:

  1. Keep Rosa under control
  2. I want to spar
  3. I want a girlfriend
  4. I want to go home.

The goals offer some degree of comfort as they are the only consistency Che has. While Rosa has no sense of boundaries and no purpose in her destructive tendencies other than for its own sake, Che relies on boundaries in order to feel some sense of control over his own life and to ensure he is prepared if Rosa brings about a cataclysmic event. While the goals offer comfort, they also leave him frustrated and angry because of his inability to achieve any of them. Che tries to counteract the sense of powerlessness he feels within his family by boxing. Training allows him to lose himself within the momentum and technique, but even that freedom is restricted, as he has promised his parents he won’t progress to sparring.

The first person narrative adds to the tension, as while Che strives to uphold himself as the good son and protector, he is still a fallible human being in desperate search of an identity independent of Rosa. When Che moves outside his own boundaries, or those set by his parents, it not only causes his parents to question is reliability, it also raises the possibility that Che may be an unreliable narrator, which adds another layer of depth and deception.

The only jarring aspect of the novel takes place in Chapter 25. I don’t want to post any spoilers here, so I will only say that the event that happens at the end of Chapter 24 is at odds with what happens at the start of Chapter 26, and at the start of Chapter 27. I’m really keen to discuss this, but don’t want to ruin the book. Please PM me your theories!

My Sister Rosa answers the call for more diversity in YA through the inclusion of people of various ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender identity and sexual orientation. Larbalestier creates these characters without reducing them to a stereotype or trope, arguably because the diversity is not presented as a point of contention. There are sexual references and drug scenes, but there isn’t a hint of gratuity or moral questioning. Rosa’s psychopathic nature is presented in an understated way, as she is depicted as an inquisitive individual who ponders about inflicting pain or death, and any accompanying threat is an indirect afterthought.

My Sister Rosa is an unnerving and thrilling read. With a great mix of characters and an unrelenting sense of impending destruction, the greatest challenge when reading this book was not to devour it all in one sitting. The story stayed with me long after I put the novel down.

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With thanks to Dymocks for the pre-release copy.

 

Review: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

AshalaWolf

“You are the Tribe, Ashala.” I frowned, and he continued. “You were the leader, the glue that held them together. Now you’re gone, it won’t be long before they start squabbling with each other, and leave the safety of the Firstwood. We think it shouldn’t be more than six months until they’re detained. The enforcers here are taking bets on it.”

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, the first book in an Australian dystopian series by Ambelin Kwaymullina, is set 300 years in the future. All of the earth’s resources have been depleted and the world has been decimated by fires, floods and earthquakes. Some believe the destruction was caused by humanity’s abuse of the environment, but the majority believe those with superhuman abilities are to blame. Along with other laws, The Citizenship Accords is established to prevent superhumans from upsetting the natural balance and bringing about further destruction. All individuals must undergo the Citizenship Assessment after they turn fourteen, in order for the government to determine whether they possess superhuman abilities. Those who are deemed illegal are placed in detention centres.

Sixteen year-old Ashala Wolf has been betrayed by a friend of her Tribe, Justin Connor, and placed in a detention centre under Justin’s watch. Prior to her capture she had heard rumours of secret experiments conducted on Illegals leading to the development of an interrogation machine. Chief Administrator Neville Rose straps her to a machine to forcibly draw her memories out, intent on finding the rest of her Tribe, a group of Illegals who possess superhuman abilities. Ashala doesn’t know who she can trust, and is scared of what memories Administrator Rose will rip out of her mind, but she is determined to find out as much as she can about the detention centre to protect her tribe, even if it means she doesn’t make it out alive.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is narrated by Ashala. She is a natural-born leader, as she is assertive, empathetic and willing to sacrifice her own needs for the good of her tribe. She’s a refreshing female protagonist to follow, as she doesn’t wallow in guilt and is proactively trying to better her situation. Her greatest flaw, as noted by Ember, one of her Tribe, is she always sees the best in others. Her inclusive nature results in being betrayed by Justin Connor at the outset of the novel. Connor is her guard throughout the novel, rarely leaving her side. Despite his betrayal and his presence as her captor and guard, Ashala still takes time to ponder about his physical perfection. While her behaviour is consistent hopeful/empathetic/trusting aspects of her character, her preoccupation with his attractiveness detracts from the intensity of the detention centre, which is vivid and harrowingly conveyed, and the impending interrogation.

I’m normally apprehensive about covers that feature recognisable faces, as I prefer to conjure up my own image of characters based on their appearance and characteristics. However, this cover captures the ferocity of Ashala without appearing melodramatic or detracting from the supernatural elements.

The novel gains momentum once the interrogation begins. The structure shifts, cutting between scenes of Ashala’s tense stand-offs with the deceptively kind-faced Administrator and his subservient staff in the detention centre, and memories of the Tribe and her time in Firstwood. Scenes within the confines of the detention centre are intense, as Kwaymullina deftly creates situations where characters are manipulated right when they think they have the upper hand. The employees of the detention centre all have a great depth of character that feeds into Ashala’s anxiety about recognising friend from foe. Boomers, Skychangers, Rumblers, Firestarters and other superhumans are introduced in the interrogation scenes, but a greater understanding of their capabilities is gradually revealed through Ashala’s memories. Ashala’s memories contain elements of Dreamtime beautifully woven with sensory descriptions of Firstwood. Ashala is viewed as the leader of the Tribe, she is not the only force to be reckoned with. Tribe members including Amber and Georgie have much to offer, but it is the evocative Firstwood that commands attention and continually raises the stakes.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is the first in a series, but works perfectly as a standalone novel. An evocative and deceptive read. The Disappearance of Ember Crow and The Foretelling of Georgie Spider are both available.

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