The best books about family, belonging and unrequited love

Emma Cameron Author Of Out of This Place
By Emma Cameron

Who am I?

Working in schools, I was surrounded by young people facing challenges and finding their place in the world. Their lives were affected by various relationships, family, and their own personalities. I thrived on their energy and was privileged when they shared their stories, hopes, fears, and uncertainties. I witnessed hearts captured by young love that wasn’t always returned and marvelled at how those without good family support still managed to stay true to themselves no matter what life threw at them. Thank goodness for human resilience. I’m no poet but enjoy language and using poetic devices. I became a writer when teen characters insisted that I give voice to their stories.


I wrote...

Out of This Place

By Emma Cameron,

Book cover of Out of This Place

What is my book about?

Finding your way in life can be hard, especially without the right people around you. Out of This Place presents teens Luke, Casey, and Bongo at a major life crossroad. They’re looking for change and want to escape. Where they end up is determined not only by circumstances but also by their choices. Their overlapping stories are delivered in free verse.

I didn’t make a conscious choice to write it this way. It was simply how Luke spoke to me. His voice crept into my head as a monologue. I enjoy writing in this style as it causes readers to pause in particular places so as to immerse them in the mood and situation more readily than the words otherwise would. Though not considered poetry, this form lends itself to performance.

The books I picked & why

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By The River

By Steven Herrick,

Book cover of By The River

Why this book?

This story’s protagonist is a caring, trustworthy, thoughtful young man. Harry’s life holds its share of loss. His loving dad is raising two boys alone because their mother has died. My heart both bled and soared as I watched Harry, a deep-thinking soul, make sense of the world. His tale holds timeless flavours of the past sprinkled with plenty of honesty.

Free verse delivers so much story in very few words. Each verse is a poem that stands alone and, besides reading from start to finish, I often dip into it in random places to enjoy glimpses into the heart of a wonderful male role model. It’s no wonder that the United States Board on Books for Young People placed it on their Outstanding International Book List.


Secret Scribbled Notebooks

By Joanne Horniman,

Book cover of Secret Scribbled Notebooks

Why this book?

I’m a sucker for endpapers so, with inside covers that appear browned with age, this book instantly grabbed me. I was even more drawn in by the edges of all pages looking aged, with the book’s title repeatedly running along the bottom of each one like a handwritten footer. Once I was reading, the flavour of classics like those by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austin meant I couldn’t put it down.

Set in the later part of the 20th century, Kate’s story explores self-worth and finding purpose. First-person narrative uses language cleverly. It is easy to read, the voice unpretentious. I felt like I knew Kate. We have so much in common, including the ability to write in the dark and a penchant for taking laneways rather than main roads.


The Changeover

By Margaret Mahy,

Book cover of The Changeover

Why this book?

I picked this up at a jumble sale. It sat on my shelves unread for years, many associates in publishing telling me it was still their favourite book. Supernatural romance isn’t my thing but respect for others is, so I was delighted when finally reading it. Not only about good versus evil, it showcases relationships of all kinds. Without any didacticism, it compares right from wrong, particularly with regard to not crossing lines for personal gratification.

Sorensen, who joins protagonist Laura in her journey, is an admirable and timeless role model for every male. Despite fighting his own demons, he behaves honourably. His interactions with Laura revolve around the dangers of inviting trouble upon yourself. Each of them learns to value the magic within themselves and to accept who they are. No wonder it won the 1984 Carnegie Medal.


Beyond the Laughing Sky

By Michelle Cuevas, Julie Morstad (illustrator),

Book cover of Beyond the Laughing Sky

Why this book?

Thank goodness those in Nashville’s world are nurturing and full of common sense. He’s like no other child but his story shows that difference doesn’t need fixing. His adoptive family doesn’t always expect him to adapt to the way they do things, sometimes adapting their own behaviour. I love how Nashville and his sister bake cake every night because there are 364 non-birthdays to celebrate each day.

Nashville’s tale embraces the idea that impossible is a ridiculous little word and shows that no matter how different we are, we share the same hopes, fears and a need to stay true to ourselves. One of my favourite lines in the book relates to a life-changing injury Nashville accidentally causes to another being. The vet says this little bird will just have to make do. It’s true for any of us in many situations.


Because of Winn-Dixie

By Kate DiCamillo,

Book cover of Because of Winn-Dixie

Why this book?

Winn-Dixie is what Opal names the stray she rescues when it invades the local supermarket. She can’t bear to let anyone send it to the pound. I knew I was in for a ripper read the moment she said, "I knew I had done something big. And maybe stupid too." Her tale, like everything Kate DiCamillo creates, took me on a delightful journey.

Opal’s mum left when she was three and her dad, who she refers to as the preacher, never speaks of her. This distresses Opal, who has no friends in the new town they’ve just moved to. With Winn-Dixie by her side, she finds friendship and helps those around her fill the loneliness in their lives. Her actions also heal the fractured father-daughter relationship.


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