Class texts for Middle Secondary – Part 2

Following on from yesterday’s post, here are some more suggestions for popular and new class texts for middle secondary readers.

Black Water by David Metzenthen

Set in Queenscliff, on the rugged Victorian coast, Black Water is the story of two brothers. When Farren’s father is killed at sea during a storm, all Farren wishes for is his brother’s return from Gallipoli.  When Danny does return, however, he is vastly different from when he left and Farren’s dreams for their future are dashed.  But with the arrival of the mysterious child Souki after a midnight shipwreck, the brother’s lives are again changed forever.

This is a beautifully written piece of historical fiction exploring and era when the war touched even the most remote communities of Australia.  Exploring the themes of returned servicemen and the families who were left behind, Black Water shows how one small community rallies together to help two brothers through some of the most trying episodes of their lives. 

Themes: WWI, returned servicemen, community, friendship, brotherhood, bereavement, hope.

Read an extract

Teachers’ notes

Unit of Work

Broken Glass by Adrian Stirling

Danny Clarke is growing up in the tiny desert town ofBroken Glass.  The kind of place that consists of a main street, a silo, a water tower and two pubs.  Stifled by the “small town-ness” of it all, Clarkey is desperate for some excitement.  WhenNilearrives, Clarkey knows instantly that he’s dangerous but is drawn to his unpredictability. Nileis on the edge, violent and uncaring, daring Clarkey to always take things further.  Together, along with new girl Tara, they skip school, sneak out at night to go drinking, play chicken on the highway and generally rule the town with their delinquent behaviour.  Before too long most people are terrified of them,Nilein particular, and no one knows how to rein them in.  Clarkey knows what he is doing is wrong but he soon looses all power to say no toNiles.  Saying yes is just too easy.  Then one nightNilegoes too far.  While the three of them are drinking, Nile rapesTara.  Clarkey is passed out, awake enough to hear that something is going on but too drunk to do anything about it. Nileis arrested and it is Clarkey who testifies and sends him to jail.  Though for the people of Broken Glass, Tara’s rape and subsequent suicide loom large and few are willing to forgive Clarkey for not stoppingNile, or for ratting on a mate.  Clarkey spends most of his time behind the counter of his parent’s shop, not able or willing to go outside and face his shame.

Five years later Nile returns.  His mother is sick and though he knows he’s not wanted, he makes a point of sticking around.  He’s looking for revenge, against Clarkey and against the town.  But will Clarkey have the courage to stand up to his one time friend before history can repeat itself?

Themes: violence, friendship, loyalty, menace, responsibility, reputation, courage, contradictions, revenge.

Read an extract

Unit of Work

Swerve by Phillip Gwynne

Hugh has his future all mapped out for him.  As one ofAustralia’s most talented young cellists, he is about to audition for the Conservatorium of Music.  Coming from a wealthy, upper-middle class family, Hugh is used to private schools, 5 star hotels, celebrity chefs in well-reviewed restaurants.  But Hugh is also a closet car fanatic, an obsession that is hard for him to reconcile with the rest of the people in his family.  And then Poppy turns up.  Hugh has always believed his maternal grandfather to be dead, but an old man with hippy clothes and a silver ponytail arrives outside his school and Hugh learns that all is not as it seems.  A week before the most important audition of his life, Poppy gives Hugh an offer he can’t refuse.  Drive to Uluru in Poppy’s yellow and black, 1969 Holden HT Monaro GTS 350 V8, the best of all the muscle cars.  Hugh is sensible, responsible – but for once in his life he decides to take a detour and before he knows it he’s driving to the centre ofAustralia, picking up hitchhikers and setting up dates with girls.  Living the dream.  But Poppy has something to hide and a girl called Bella could get Hugh into more trouble than he could ever dream of.

A funny, touching coming of age story from the author of Deadly, Unna?.

Themes: adventure, family secrets, responsibility, taking risks, finishing school, relationships.

Read an exract

Teachers’ notes

Unit of Work

Little Paradise by Gabrielle Wang

In 1943,Melbournewas in the grips of WWII.  Mirabel is a teenager, part of a well-respected Chinese-Australian family and living in the heart of the city.  A talented designer, her passion lies with fashion.  However, during this time of turmoil Mirabel’s talents are used elsewhere as she takes up a job as a map maker after finishing school.  While Mirabel’s older sister is constantly infatuated with one American soldier or another, Mirabel meets JJ – a Chinese soldier stationed inMelbournefor the duration of the war.  Afraid that her parents will not approve, Mirabel keeps their relationship a secret.  Swept up in the romance of first love, it is not long before Mirabel imagines herself as a soldier’s wife.  As the end of the war nears, it becomes clear that JJ will be sent back toChina.  Unsure of how safe his home country will be, JJ vows to keep in touch with Mirabel and promises to come back for her when the time is right.  Heartbroken, though still full of hope for their future, Mirabel waves a tearful goodbye to her first love. 

It is not until a few weeks later that Mirabel discovers she is pregnant.  Having not heard anything from JJ for weeks, Mirabel becomes angry, fearing that he has abandoned her.  When word finally comes that he has arrived inChinaand is still thinking of her, Mirabel could not imagine not keeping her baby.  Terrified and ashamed, Mirabel confesses her secret to her parents, who try to convince her to give the child up for adoption.  On refusing, Mirabel is confined to the house for fear that others in the community will see her as an unwed mother.  Unable to stand her confinement any longer, Mirabel runs away to a friend inAdelaidewhere she gives birth to a baby boy.  She has still had very little word from JJ, but she is still determined to be with him.  Against her better judgement Mirabel decides to take her child and travel toShanghaito find JJ.  Though she is afraid, and alone, Mirabel makes the journey, arriving inShanghaiwith no idea where her JJ is to be found.  Taken in by a friend’s family, she begins to make a life for herself and her child.  It takes a lot of investigative work but she eventually tracks down JJ and they are finally married.  However, while the war in the Pacific has ended,Chinais in the grips of a civil war.  The Communists and the Government are fighting for rule and danger is around every corner.  The situation becomes dire and once again Mirabel and her family must make a long journey to safety.

Themes: Australian history, WWII, Chinese history, racism, love, relationships, journeys, hope, danger, courage.

Read an extract

Teachers’ notes

Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett

Plumis about to turn fourteen.  Every morning she looks in the mirror, hating what she sees.  She hates her round body, her spotty skin, the small breasts that have begun to sprout from her chest. Plumis determined that when her fourteenth birthday arrives, her old self will fall away to reveal something beautiful and new.  Under her bed,Plumkeeps a briefcase full of her treasures – a glass lamb, a watch, a Fanta yo-yo, a penny – objects that fill her with confidence and invoke the person she wishes she could be.  At home she is embarrassed by her parents, so much older than her friends’ parents, and their antique furniture.  At school she sits on the fringes of her group of friends, girls so horrible that she would hate them if they were not the only friends she has.  Her only saving grace are her two older brothers – the beloved Justin and the quiet Cydar.

Over the next couple of weeks,Plum’s life will change forever.  She meets, and becomes friends with, her next-door neighbour Maureen – a housewife in her 30s who is impossibly beautiful and stylish.  Maureen teaches Plum how grow up, become more sophisticated, encouraging Plum not to eat her lunch in order to loose weight, telling her how she might deal with her horrible friends.  Just as things seem to be looking up forPlum, her birthday arrives and everything comes crashing down.  Her friends torment her in ways she could never have imagined and Maureen turns out to be nothing like the way she seemed.  Even the brothersPlumadores can perhaps no longer be trusted.

An emotional look into adolescence and what it means to be a teenage girl longing for acceptance.

Themes: self-esteem, family, friendship/enemies, trust, betrayal, mistakes, secrets, growing up, love.

Read an extract

Unit of Work

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth?
That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.

It is 1941 and fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school and looking forward to summer.  Then suddenly, her life is changed forever.  One night, the Soviet secret police invade her home and forcibly remove Lina, her mother and brother, transporting them via cattle trucks from familiar Lithuania to remote Siberia.  The conditions are horrific, the genocide unseen and thousands of lives are lost.

In this dramatic and moving story, Lina must fight for her life and for the lives of those around her.  Her harrowing journey and incredible strength of spirit will steal your breath, capture your heart and give you hope.

Themes: WW2, family, genocide, hope, fear, betrayal, Stalin, Eastern Europe, love, survival.

Read an extract

Unit of Work

Days Like This by Alison Stewart

In the future, global warming has threatened humanity.  InSydney, water is a commodity only some can afford.  Society is governed by the cruel Committee and their band of Blacktroopers who enforce their rules with violence.  As the water ran out, The Committee erected and enormous wall around the city.  Only the privileged could remain inside and have access to water, those deemed undesirable were cast out to die in the surrounding desert.  Lily is a prisoner in her own home.  The Committee has ruled that no one is to go outside so Lily, her twin brother Daniel and her younger sister Alice have remained inside for the better part of 5 years.  Forced to take pills every Friday and with no contact with the outside world, Lily and Daniel begin to question the motives of The Committee.  Then Daniel is taken away and Lily becomes determined to find him.  In trying to escape, Lily is also captured and taken away to a place where she learns the terrible truth.  The Committee have been “harvesting” teenagers for their youth – literally sucking the life out of them and giving the “serum” to adults who don’t want to grow old.  Terrified for both herself and her siblings, Lily is rescued by people from “over the wall” and learns that there are those out there who are trying to resist The Committee.  Determined to save her brother and sister, Lily must convince her new friends to go back into the den of The Committee, but will she be too late to save their lives?

Themes: dystopia, control, global warming, human rights, wealth vs poverty, survival.

Read an extract

Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

This book has proved to be a real hit with students.  The Young Readers’ Edition is an abridged version of the adult book.  Li was born into extreme poverty under Chairman Mao’s rule ofChinain the 1960s.  One of seven brothers, Li often went hungry and watched many of his childhood friends die of starvation.  Then, at the age of eleven, Li was selected by Madam Mao’s Cultural Advisors, to attend theBeijingDanceAcademy.  Li eventually became one of the most sought after ballet dancers in the world and leftChinato defect to the West.  He now lives inMelbourne.  This edition focuses on the struggles, and extreme loneliness, he faced whilst training at the academy.

Now available in the original adult format, as a picture book and a film, this text is perfect for all ages and all kinds of readers.

Themes: family, poverty, determination, Chinese history, hope, loneliness.

Read an extract

Teachers’ Notes

Unit of Work

Runner by Robert Newton

Set in 1920sMelbourne.  When Charlie’s father dies from the Spanish flu, Charlie decides that it is up to him to leave school and get a job in order to support his mother and baby brother.  When Charlie is offered a job as a “runner” for the infamous gangster Squizzy Taylor, he jumps at the chance.  Pretty soon, Charlie is running all overRichmond, Fitzroy and the city delivering packages, collecting debts and trafficking illegal alcohol.  But when things start to get a bit too hot, Charlie decides that it’s time to take his money and run.

Enjoyable historical fiction, Runner is a book about growing up poor in the 1920s and finding joy wherever it may be.  Filled with great colloquial language and humour, this book has been popular as a class text in years 8 and 9.

Themes: history, family, responsibility, decisions and consequences.

Read an extract

Author interview

Teachers’ notes


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