The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks – Blog Tour + Q&A

First of all, huge congratulations to Danielle Binks on the release of her debut… and what a job well done!!!

Sorrento, Victoria – 1999
Fred’s family is a mess. Fred’s mother died when she was six and she’s been raised by her Pop and adoptive father, Luca, ever since. But now Pop is at the Rye Rehabilitation Centre recovering from a fall; Luca’s girlfriend, Anika, has moved in; and Fred’s just found out that Anika and Luca are having a baby of their own. More and more it feels like a land-grab for family and Fred is the one being left off the map.

But even as the world feels like it’s spinning out of control, a crisis from the other side of it comes crashing in. When 400 Kosovar-Albanian refugees arrive in the middle of the night to be housed at one of Australia’s ‘safe havens’ on an isolated headland not far from Sorrento, their fate becomes intertwined with the lives of Fred and her family, as she navigates one extraordinary year that will change them all.

Knowing what an intense story this could be, I was surprised at how easy it was to get engrossed into this book. I felt I was able to connect with the characters and really follow the story intently. The themes of this book were so important – from family, to friendship to the issues of refugees, specifically Kosovar-Albanian refugees in the late 90’s.  The story really is touching and one that will stay with me for awhile. Written very well and very engaging – highly recommended to readers from 10 years old and up though some parental guidance may be required for some of the themes covered in the book. I really appreciate being part of this blog tour. With many thanks to Hachette Publishers and Aus YA bloggers for providing me with an advance review copy and for having me on board for this blog tour. Please read on for a short Q&A with the author herself!!! Congrats again, Danielle!!!
-Annie
Could you describe your writing process when writing this book and how this experience felt constructing your first novel?
My writing process for The Year the Maps Changed was horrendous, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. 
 
I had the idea in about 2016, to go back to examine this year I remembered from my own childhood and the real political event of ‘Operation Safe Haven’. I wrote a prologue in the heat of my first brainstorming, and then …. I went off and conducted procrastinated research for about 5-years. Don’t get me wrong, the research was important – but 5-years was a little ridiculous and it’s clear to me now that I was stalling. I was very intimidated to write historic-fiction, and get something *wrong*. But then towards the tail-end I just got so sick of myself for putting it off, that I wrote the first draft in a fever of 3-months … and discovered that actually; researching is not writing, WRITING is actual writing. Funny, that. 
 
And a sign that I could have written this a lot earlier if I’d just got out of my own way, was the fact that the prologue I wrote on Day 1 in 2016 didn’t change. It was my launching-off point and remained my prologue forevermore. It’s the one part of the story (the crucial beginning that gave me a framework for the WHOLE thing) that I got right from Day 1, and I should have followed-through more quickly … 
Your story is inspired by true events – was this a personal experience or something you came to know and followed closely over time?

I was the same age as my protagonist in 1999, and so while I remembered ‘Operation Safe Haven’ it was truly only ever vague recollections and more this feeling of … needing to tuck that little spark away somewhere, and take it out to examine later. Which I did – and partly because around 2015/16 politicians were throwing out the idea of reopening the Point Nepean Quarantine Station, and using it as a detention centre. But that got a lot of pushback from locals (and luckily, has not happened) – and a lot of the pushback was to do with how that wasn’t in the spirit of Operation Safe Haven and the last time refugees had been housed there. It wasn’t a ‘detention centre’ then, as we awfully know them now – it was a Safe Haven. Two beautiful words I remembered from long ago, and I decided to go down that rabbit-hole of history and memory …

By the time I got around to wondering what that historic event meant in a wider context for Australian and world politics, I was able to see this remarkable story unfolding with the gift of hindsight, and from a vantage point of knowing how Australia treats refugees and asylum seekers *now* – so I wanted to go back and kind of track how we got to such a point of inhumanity and brutality.

Is there a particular character in this book you can relate to? Why?
Oh gosh, Fred. I gave her the best and worst of me – and some things I gave her were a reflection of my own childhood (like a father in the police-force, and a grandparent who lives out the back of the main house). Fred and her actions are largely coloured by grief, and come out of her through fear and anger, and that wasn’t me. I haven’t had nearly as tough a life as Fred has – but also; I wouldn’t have handled the kind of childhood Fred’s had, with such eventual grace and understanding I don’t think. She’s a prickly character, which I also relate to (and frankly, I quite like reading young female characters who are sometimes awful, and nasty, selfish and egotistical – I think young female characters often get this ‘goodness’ injection to them in the hopes that readers don’t turn against them, but I wanted to show a young girl who is grappling with a lot and making mistakes but by golly, she’s also growing and embracing). 

Slay by Brittney Morris: Blog Tour

“Separate is not equal… That doesn’t even come close to leveling the field…”

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?

“What kind of noob gets lucky enough to draw the Michael Jordan card and the Michael Jackson card in a single duel?”

I was very excited about this book when I first heard about it at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, YA Con. Having it being pitched as “Black Panther” meets “Ready Player One” I was sold. I like to call this the “Urban Ready Player One” It was an interesting and fast paced read and I really enjoyed following Kiera’s story. I liked her as a character and how she developed the virtual world of “Slay” a place where people of colour could have their own space in an online world. Kiera’s virtual avatar is Emerald and for me it felt like Kiera was more comfortable being Emerald in Slay than Kiera in the real world so her challenge with identity was interesting to me. It always made me question how such talented people can develop an amazing virtual world or explode on stage yet off stage or in front of the screen, they are very reserved.

Keeping Slay under wraps was the thrilling part for me – the case of high stakes secrecy and the thrill of keeping your talent a secret was exhilarating through out the story especially when the secret is out after something sinister happened in real life which was connected to the game. The elements of mystery throughout the book: a case of ‘who done it’ and ‘who is the troll’ was good and the development of the online world was interesting.

The dialogue was very “teen” but what I liked about Kiera was how she would speak like a real teen, be vulnerable in decisions but also have a mature outlook on life. Her sister Steph is quite funny, I liked her too. It was interesting to see how Kiera dealt with her identity, sense of duty/responsibility to others as well as her relationships with family and her boyfriend Malcolm, her friends and change that stem from her own creation ‘Slay’.

A good story that draws parallels to real life: what it’s like to stand out in your own school or community, you just want to be yourself rather than the authority of your own race simply because your skin colour is different to others. I can really see this book hitting the mark within the YA readership.

Special thanks to Date a Book YA for sending me a copy of this book for review and to Aus YA Bloggers for having me on board once again as part of this “Slay” Blog Tour!!!
-Annie

Shauna’s Great Expectations by Kathleen Loughnan

An important coming of age YA novel with an indigenous lead character that is written by an indigenous author

A fresh and compelling novel about an Aboriginal scholarship student and her surprising final year of school.

Shauna is in her final year at an elite private school and has great expectations. She holds an Indigenous scholarship and is determined to be the first member of her family to go to university, no matter what. The year is off to an excellent start and she and her friends are dreaming big about life after school and planning a trip to Paris. But suddenly she finds she must make a choice that threatens to throw all her plans into disarray. As pressure builds from every corner of her world, Shauna wonders what she’ll have to sacrifice to keep hold of her dreams… Can she fulfil her own promise and still keep her promises to others? Will all her expectations be ripped away?

An insightful and important coming of age story with a strong indigenous female protagonist who sends a powerful message to those of marginalised backgrounds. This brought back memories of “Looking for Alibrandi” whereby Shauna is the indigenous minority who is on a scholarship in an elite school having to deal with racism and discrimination due to her background. Her determination in life was what I found to be her strength. Whilst Shauna is subjected to having to deal with negativity around her and live with a life choice that can influence her next life decisions, it was interesting to see how Shauna went about her choices and how she tries to be true to herself. A compelling indigenous voice, a great book and very eye opening!!!

About the Author:
Kathleen is an Australian lawyer and writer. She was born in rural Victoria and now lives between Australia and Europe with her husband and their four children.

Special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers + Aus YA Bloggers for having us on board for the Instagram Tour.
-Annie