This is a uniquely New Zealand urban fantasy with a kick ass main character and plenty of spooky atmosphere. Healey spins an exciting story about Ellie, a boarding school student in Christchurch who discovers that a sinister supernatural creature is after her best friend. While there’s a lot there for a kiwi reader to recognise, Healey’s portrait of New Zealand is very accessible. It's a great introduction to both us crazy kiwi folk and some of our mythology, if you’re looking for one.
This is Shyness is fairly genre defiant, but it falls somewhere between urban fantasy and magical realism. Amongst all the regular suburbs, there's a shadowy one called Shyness, a place where the sun set one night only to never rise again. The chapters alternate between two points of view: there's the girl who calls herself Wildgirl, who desperately needs an escape from her everyday life, and goes looking for it in the Diabetic Hotel, where she meets Wolfboy, the other narrator. Wolfboy is a long term resident of Shyness, and he becomes Wildgirl's guide over one long, intense night. This story unfolds like a dream, full of both the familiar and the strange.
12 year old Frankie Parsons is a bird lover and a chronic worrier. Every night at 10pm, he shares his worst worries with Ma, the only person who truly listens. There’s the batteries in the smoke alarm (which could be flat), and the spot on his chest (which could be cancer), and many, many other things too. But there’s also a worry Frankie can never bring himself to talk to Ma about – Ma herself. The 10pm Question is full of subtle humour, has a gentle but moving plot, and some of my favourite characters in New Zealand fiction to date.
On the Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta (Australia)
My god, it was unbelievably difficult to choose just one novel by Melina Marchetta. But after a lot of deliberation - a lot of deliberation - I’m making my final top recommendation On the Jellicoe Road. Even among Marchetta’s books, it’s unique. It’s realism – sort of – but the fierce traditions of the boundary wars between the Jellicoe School boarders, the Townies, and the Cadets make it kind of fantastical at the same time. Taylor is the leader of the boarders. She’s trying to keep on top of the territory wars. She's also trying to deal with the disappearance of her beloved guardian Hannah, who has left only a manuscript to give Taylor clues as to where she has vanished to. And then there’s Jonah Griggs, leader of the Cadets, who also happens to be someone Taylor shares a history with. This is quite possibly the most beautifully written novel in the world. Go read it, if you haven't already!
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (Australia)
And this is quite possibly the other most beautifully written novel in the world. I’m not going to tell you too much about it. It’s narrated by Death, and it follows Liesel, a girl living in Germany during World War II in the height of Nazi book burnings and the persecution of the Jews. But seriously, this isn’t just another World War II story. This is something magical. And yeah. It will probably make you cry.