Absolutely killer (pardon the pun) prologue, a diverse cast and an intriguing twist at the end, but the middle really suffers from a plodding pace. 2.5
Absolutely killer (pardon the pun) prologue, a diverse cast and an intriguing twist at the end, but the middle really suffers from a plodding pace. By the time the climax arrived it felt like too little too late and I had a hard time summoning any interest in the fate of the characters and the "reveal".
What really didn't work for me, however, was the dialogue, which was stilted at best and dare I say "middle-aged" at worst. I didn't for a second believe that the teen characters, or even the older supporting cast, would speak like that.
The premise is a good one, but the characters were thinly developed and I never really felt engaged with Pan as a narrator.
Disappointing, because that chilling prologue really got my hopes up. ...more
Margaret Wild's writing is really lovely and poetic, and the opening of The Vanishing Moment is strong. However, the third person point of view lacks Margaret Wild's writing is really lovely and poetic, and the opening of The Vanishing Moment is strong. However, the third person point of view lacks immediacy and ultimately the "twist" felt too awkwardly juxtaposed with the realistic beginning. Intriguing concept but it felt like this novel was trying to be too many things at once, and ultimately did none of them completely successfully. ...more
The Sky So Heavy is a story of disaster and survival; of human nature in a time of darkness and desperation.
In the wake of a catastrophic nuclear eveThe Sky So Heavy is a story of disaster and survival; of human nature in a time of darkness and desperation.
In the wake of a catastrophic nuclear event between unnamed countries, Australia is plunged into a nuclear winter with devastating repercussions. Alone in their Blue Mountains home, brothers Fin and Max Heath struggle to cope as cold and darkness descend, sickness sets in, and food and water run scarce. As supplies dwindle, the fabric of their suburban neighbourhood begins to deteriorate into suspicion and paranoia. Seemingly abandoned by the authorities, their small community is left to face starvation and illness unaided, and hope of rescue becomes increasingly dim.
From the beginning, Zorn delivers a strong, relatable voice in Fin. There’s an immediacy to his narration, a believable edge of wryness to his tone as he describes his ‘whiter than a loaf of Tip Top’ suburb in the Blue Mountains, life with his father and step-mother, his crush on neighbour Lucy Tennington.
Throughout the novel the choices Fin makes become increasingly difficult, with complex consequences. The decisions Fin makes begin to affect him emotionally, as he attempts to reconcile how his personal system of ethics has been skewed by the disaster. The issue of survival at what cost is compounded when Fin and Max join forces with Arnold Wong and Lucy Tennington, and head towards Sydney in the hope of locating Fin’s mother. Faced with the brutal realities of the outside world, there are no simple choices.
Much of Fin’s growth as a character is directly related to his companions: Max, the brother he’s fighting to protect; and Lucy, the girl who can protect herself. But most interesting of these relationships is that between Fin and Arnold. The resident outsider at school, Arnold was bullied and Fin is complicit in this. While it would have been easy to paint the interactions between these characters as Teachable Moments, Zorn carefully avoids this by refraining from any cheesy messages or unrealistic reconciliation scenes. Rather, she presents them as interesting counterpoints to each other: Arnold with his faith and personal tragedy, Fin with his guilt and doubt. Zorn is matter of fact about the racism and prejudice of their world, without excusing or glossing over it.
The most interesting aspect of The Sky So Heavy was, for me, the clear parallels between the post-nuclear event world Zorn depicts and current issues. If you’re familiar with recent Australian politics (and let’s face it, if you live here its fairly unavoidable...) the questions raised in TSSH will have ring of familiarity:
‘It’s like those people out in the ration line complaining about people from over the border taking their share. They have to believe that we’re greedy, ‘cause the idea that we were actually left to starve is just too awful.’
“Border security” (heavy, sarcastic quotation marks) is a major subject of the novel. Inner Sydney has been divided from the outer suburbs, with those on the inside receiving a measure of relief from the fallout. Those attempting to cross the border and seek refuge within the city do so at risk of death. By placing Fin and his companions in the role of refugees, and the not-so-subtly uttered sentiment that they should “go back where they came from”, Zorn’s novel takes a shot at the present fear mongering and moral dubiousness accompanying the issues of foreign policy and asylum seeking.
The Sky So Heavy is a solid, compelling novel of survival and hope. The questions it raises are not easy, nor are the answers. While not unrelenting bleak, this is a confronting novel in it’s portrayal of a country sunk into physical and moral darkness.
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Tomorrow When The War Began by John Marsden Ashfall by Mike Mullin Days Like This by Alison Stewart ...more
“They will say ‘Agnes’ and see the spider, the witch caught in the webbing of her own fateful weaving. They might see the lamb circled by ravens, bl
“They will say ‘Agnes’ and see the spider, the witch caught in the webbing of her own fateful weaving. They might see the lamb circled by ravens, bleating for a lost mother. But they will not see me. I will not be there.”
On 12 January, 1830, the last instance of capital punishment in Iceland occurred when Friðrik Sigurðsson and Agnes Magnúsdóttir were executed in Vatnsdalshólar in Húnavatnssýsla, for the murder of two men.
While often painted as “monstrous”, a cold-blooded murderer, a figure of Lady Macbeth style ruthlessness - the truth is that there is a dearth of factual information about Agnes Magnusdottir. While the instrument of her execution – a broad axe – has been preserved, little is known about the life of the woman sentenced to death, and publicly beheaded. (A third person was also convicted: Sigridur Gudmundsdottir, whose sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment).
“They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine.”
Burial Rites is the product of a ten year quest to uncover what remains of Agnes Magnusdottir’s life. Instigated by an exchange visit to Iceland after high school, Hannah Kent spent the ensuing years absorbed in intense archival research, examination of primary sources and retracing of Agnes’ steps from her birth to her final resting place. Kent called the result a “speculative biography”, a weave of fact and fiction, and her own “dark love letter to Iceland.”
While Burial Rites presents the question of whether history has misrepresented Agnes, the novel does not necessarily demand sympathy for her. It does, however, offer a more empathetic, albeit ambiguous, portrayal of a woman condemned – and an attempt to understand what circumstances might have led to her conviction in a double murder.
The result is an exquisitely beautiful novel. Kent’s prose is rich and clear, rendering the melancholic, claustrophobic atmosphere of the Icelandic winter and Agnes’ impending execution in evocative language. Agnes herself, awaiting death and exiled at the farm of a minor public servant, emerges from the pages vividly.
“Those who are not being dragged to their deaths cannot understand how the heart grows hard and sharp, until it is a nest of rocks with only an empty egg in it. I am barren; nothing will grow from me anymore. I am the dead fish drying in the cold air. I am the dead bird on the shore. I am dry, I am not certain I will bleed when they drag me out to meet the axe. No, I am still warm, my blood still howls in my veins like the wind itself, and it shakes the empty nest and asks where all the birds have gone, where have they gone?”
Kent writes with a kind of graceful maturity, a depth of emotion that befits the subject matter. This a story about a woman facing her imminent death, a woman with one final opportunity to speak her truth, and Kent captures the desperation, isolation and grief of Agnes with stunning clarity. The book is interspersed with Agnes’ inner monologues, and these sections are the most vivid; pouring forth in a steam of raw psychological pain and striking imagery.
Though she spent much of her life employed as a servant and a period of her childhood as an orphaned pauper thrown on the mercy of the parish, there is evidence to suggest that Agnes was also an intelligent and highly literate woman. And this is the version of Agnes that Kent chooses to portray; beneath the hard and icy veneer of a woman reviled and silenced, she is compelling, passionate and astute.
While living and working alongside Jón Jónsson and his family, fragments of Agnes’ story begin to emerge. As she confides in Tóti, the young assistant priest commissioned to reconcile her to her fate and to God, Agnes’ version of events takes shape as the remaining days of her life pass. Through this gradual unwinding, Tóti and the family come to confront the idea that the truth may not be all that it seems. While we already know how Agnes’ story ends, it’s this suggestion of dissonance between public opinion and her personal reality that fuel the novel’s tension. Burial Rites suggests that truth is open to interpretation, and is rarely as straightforward as commonly perceived. Fear, gossip and hatred twist the idea of Agnes into something horrifying and loathsome; an opinion no doubt perpetuated by the pervasive social, religious and sexual politics of the time.
To this end, Kent’s novel faithfully depicts life in 19th century Iceland, and is immersed in historical detail without the narrative being weighed down or bloated. It is clear that care has been taken to accurately represent the conditions of Agnes’ world, to reconstruct the framework of her life with as much integrity as possible. The gaps in historical record, which Kent has fleshed out with fiction, fit seamlessly within the broader context of time and place, resulting in a story that respects its origins.
We cannot know the entirety of Agnes Magnusdottir’s story, but Burial Rites asks us to remember her, if not reconsider how history may have buried her own truth with her body. Knutur Oskarsson, who accommodated Hannah Kent during part of the writing and research of the novel, stated: “I do believe that the execution of Agnes is still an unhealed wound in Iceland, in the history of Iceland.”
Burial Rites is a respectful and moving acknowledgment of that wound; a reminder that Agnes Magnusdottir’s voice once existed, even if it was lost to time. ...more
Despite a genuinely creepy and intriguing premise, I found the execution of Cry Blue Murder somewhat wanting.
The story opens with the abduction of HaDespite a genuinely creepy and intriguing premise, I found the execution of Cry Blue Murder somewhat wanting.
The story opens with the abduction of Hallie Knight, a school girl from Melbourne’s south-east suburbs, and the subsequent investigation into a possible link with two previous murders. Someone - dubbed the Cocoon Killer - is kidnapping girls in their early teens, poisoning them and leaving their naked bodies wrapped in shrouds of handwoven fabric and hair. Rocked by the tragedies, and as the cases remain unsolved, the community responds with understandable fear. Suddenly, their suburban streets are no longer safe.
Cry Blue Murder is related entirely through documents: emails exchanged between the two main characters, spliced with statements, interview transcripts and newspaper articles. The two girls, Celia and Alice, meet on a facebook page for then missing Hallie Knight, and quickly strike up a regular correspondence. Both feel somewhat isolated in their situations – Celia at a new school and Alice banished to a boarding school after a family tragedy – and find comfort in their budding friendship. It’s also a medium for the girls to express their anxiety over the ongoing Cocoon Killer case, and communicate how it’s impacting their lives.
With some reshuffling in order to tell the story in a logical and suspenseful manner, Kane and Roberts have attempted to replicate the kind of material that might be found in a Barrister’s brief – organising records of the police investigation to gradually reveal clues. And while the format works exceptionally well for a maximum impact reveal, it unfortunately makes the beginning feel somewhat flaccid and slow. I had expected to be immediately plunged into a chilling story, close to the detail of the mystery. In reality, the first half of the novel is more about the girls themselves and the way their friendship develops. In hindsight, it’s the right choice for the story, but it did take me a while to warm up to the pace.
The thing is though, I called the killer early. It’s possible that that was meant to happen, to augment the unsettling tone of the book; I can’t say for sure. By the final pages, I was less shocked by the reveal than by the abruptness of the ending. The authors leave readers with little explanation of the killer’s motivations, just a few breadcrumb hints threaded through the plot.
Cry Blue Murder is a quick read, and both Kane and Roberts have a good grasp of their characters’ voices (even if a couple of the cultural references and instances of slang felt somewhat dated given the ages of the girls.) The emails are conversational and expressive, while still conveying detail about their lives and fleshing out the secondary characters, including family members. That said, I never felt particularly engaged by either Celia or Alice, and perhaps this was the problem. For much of the novel, my lack of interest in them resulted in diluting much of what should have been a creepy, unsettling atmosphere.
That said, the concept really is clever, and I suspect other readers won’t have the issues with the execution that I did. If you’re looking for an inventive YA mystery, definitely give it a go. ...more
Darkwater is a languid, atmospheric novel about murder and coming of age in 1970s Australia. It draws much of its strength from Blain’s use of settingDarkwater is a languid, atmospheric novel about murder and coming of age in 1970s Australia. It draws much of its strength from Blain’s use of setting; she paints an authentic and vivid picture of life in that time: summer days swollen with heat, the tick of ceiling fans through the interminable school hours, front doors left open and unlocked, skateboarding and joints under the underpass.
It’s an accurate rendering of a different time, and Blain’s attention to detail is notable, though I do wonder why she chose to place the story at this point in history. Possibly because it mirrors Winter’s own position on the cusp of innocence and naivety to something more self-aware. Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch makes an appearance, along with environmental activism and local politics muddied with money, markers of a community undergoing change and churning with unrest. Or maybe it’s the less sophisticated approach to crime investigation that lends itself to the story, perhaps a contemporary setting would have significantly curtailed the process, preventing the mystery of Amanda Clarke’s death from drawing out like languorous summer evenings.
In Darkwater, Winter chronicles how the discovery of Amanda’s body impacts her small, suburban world. Winter is an observer, recording the reactions and changes she notices around her as the community attempts to come to terms with the tragedy. Younger than Amanda’s core group of friends, Winter is on the periphery of things, writing down what scraps of information she can glean, attempting to piece together a picture of what really lead to Amanda’s body floating in the river.
None of the characters feel particularly close, as if by setting the story some time ago, a distance with the reader has been preserved. Even Winter, who narrates in first person, feels somewhat aloof at times. Perhaps this was the point, to keep the focus firmly on the shocking event that rocks the community – but Amanda is also a shadowy figure. We’re given second-hand glimpses of her through other characters, but we never become close to her. We see her through the lens of envy, lust, adoration or frustration. We’re given insight into a home life that is substantially less charmed than it outwardly appears. Yet she isn’t a dynamic character in the story; she’s a figure, a symbol, a catalyst for the ripples that spread out through her hometown.
The central mystery itself – in all honesty – I didn’t find terribly compelling. While the question of who killed Amanda hangs over the story, I thought its most powerful scenes were those depicting the small moments between Winter and her friends, Sonia and Cassie. In these, Blain captures the awkwardness of adolescence, the fumbling of the characters as they navigate their way through crushes, drugs, sex and death. It’s handled frankly and with a distinct lack of melodrama – Blain presents these events as realities of life, not as fodder to shock.
The resolution of the mystery felt a little like it fell back on convenient plot points – the seeds of who the perpetrator is and how it will be revealed are planted fairly obviously. That said, I get the impression that the crime itself is not strictly the point of the story, but rather its effects on those surrounding it. Blain shows how the insidious creep of prejudice and paranoia drives people apart, how suspicion and grief unravel relationships and families.
Blain’s writing has a slightly lulling quality about it, or maybe it was the lethargy of the setting seeping through. The pacing is sedate, focused on character development more than action, but there’s a note of disquiet that keeps the story engaging. The technique of opening the majority of the chapters with a “Fact” or “Theory” from Winter’s notebook initially seemed intriguing, but it did grow tedious after a while.
Darkwater is a quiet story, steeped in mood and atmosphere. While the pacing and logic of the plot are not without flaws, it’s an candid depiction of one girl’s coming of age in a time of tragedy and social change....more
I wanted to like this book so much more than I actually did. I mean, look at that cover! I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its co*heavy sigh*
I wanted to like this book so much more than I actually did. I mean, look at that cover! I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I can’t lie, that gorgeous art and the blurb had me thinking this would definitely be a REY-BOOK.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite for me.
To start with the good: I loved the setting and the historical context of the novel. By choosing to set The Mimosa Tree during the final years of the Cold War, against a back drop of the anti-nuclear movement and the very palpable tensions of the international arms race, Preto frames Mira’s internal conflict with an interesting external parallel. When Mira’s very real fears and sense of impending disaster on a global scale are pre-empted by a tragedy much closer to home, the setting and political climate take on a symbolic significance.
As for the not-so-good, here’s where I confess I’m a monster with a heart of stone: Mira’s family tribulations did nothing for me. I’m sorry. The cultural and generational dissonance between Mira and her family is interesting, particularly when it comes to her relationship with her father. Yet despite the truly sad things that happen to Mira’s family, I had no emotional investment in these characters. The novel feels bloated, weighed down and slow with scenes that establish how the family functions internally: the relationships between Mira’s mother and aunts, her parents, their world view, the fact that Mira is attending university. This is all important, particularly in terms of understanding Mira as a character, but it’s all too long and dense. The opening chapters meander through interminable scene-setting, recounting the minutiae of conversations and the drinking of copious cups of coffee.
The tedium is broken somewhat by Mira’s commencement of university and gradual establishing of relationships with Felicia and Harm. It’s here also that we see Mira’s connection to alternative youth culture of the 80s, particular in the music she listens to (Goth, New Romantic, alternative rock etc) and the social movements around her (anti-nuclear, resistance to US foreign policy etc). Combined with and in response to her family circumstances, Mira engages in risk-taking behaviour and drug use, becoming drawn to the apparent freedom of Harm’s lifestyle, romanticising his choices. (Personally, I completely fail to see Harm’s appeal.)
But as much as this is a story about family, death and struggle to define identity – which are all strong themes – I feel they were explored with varying degrees of success. Mira’s safety map, the motif of the mimosa tree, and the atmosphere of catastrophe are effective, but the pacing is weak. It’s a patchy novel: powerful at moments, but unengaging in others. Unfortunately, I think I like the idea of this story much more than the story itself.
* * * * * * Not a review (yet), but if you want to check out the New Romantic/Goth/alternative 1980s playlist hop on over here or here.
Gale’s first YA novel is a blend of the contemporary and historical, entwining the stories of fifteen year old Hannah, her mother Sara, and grandmotheGale’s first YA novel is a blend of the contemporary and historical, entwining the stories of fifteen year old Hannah, her mother Sara, and grandmother Essie.
Steal My Sunshine deals with one of the darker aspects of Australia’s history: the forced adoption of children born to unwed or ‘wayward’ girls, often at the coercion of churches, hospitals and adoption agencies. This practice of removing babies against the mothers’ will, or ‘institutionalised baby farming’, went on for around five decades. Apologies to those affected have only been issued since 2010 (commencing with Western Australia) and most recently in 2013 on behalf of the Federal Government.
There’s an element of mystery in the unwinding of Hannah, Sara and Essie’s story. The relationships between the three women are fraught; tense with resentment and unfulfilled yearning. Hannah, who’s already trying to navigate her parents’ separation, school, her crush and a complicated relationship with her best friend, begins to uncover Essie’s history, sensing that it holds the key to the family’s conflict.
Essie gradually reveals her secret, piece by piece. These sections are related via flashbacks, and what is unearthed in these scenes is truly harrowing. Even with the knowledge that Gale is only providing a glimpse of the horror endured by these girls, it’s enough to make for compelling, albeit grim, reading. Though Essie’s portions of the novel are comparatively brief compared to the contemporary storyline, they pack a punch.
Gale’s novel is a heartfelt coming of age story that tackles the themes of redemption and forgiveness, internalised pain and the far-reaching effects of trauma. Particularly noteworthy is her skilful hand with crafting realistic relationships between the characters. There’s a touch of romance in this story – but mostly it’s about family, and learning to heal the wounds of the past. ...more
“This is the story of a wild girl and a ghost girl; a boy who knew nothing and a boy who thought he knew everything. And it’s about life and death and grief and romance. All the good stuff.”
..and Girl Defective does have these things. But for me, it isn't about those elements so much being about a girl finding her place in the world. As with Notes from The Teenage Underground, Simmone Howell does this beautifully: it’s real and organic and subtle. Within the framework of a flagging record store, an unconventional family, a lost girl and a charismatic one – another girl grows and changes. Girl Defective is not just about the things that change her, but the girl that is changed - her metamorphosis between the pages.
"Sometimes I’d see Dad look at my brother and feel the acid tang of jealousy in the back of my mouth. I’d flash on Gully at four saying, ‘I’m a boy and Dad’s a boy but Sky is a GIRL.’ And I’d feel cursed and isolated and defective."
Sky is a girl in transition. She’s not even sure if she fits in with her family of misfits: a father stuck in the past, a little brother who won’t take off his pig snout mask, and a mother who left her behind. She’s somewhere in between friendship and infatuation with the magnetic Nancy. A musician turned developer wants to build over St Kilda’s history and the place Sky calls home. Then there’s the quiet, short-sighted boy, spending nights pasting up pictures of a girl’s face on walls.
There is a palpable sense of place in Girl Defective, (I promise that’s not just my bias as a former St Kildan speaking), and Howell’s rendering of Melbourne’s seaside playground suburb is both affectionate and frank. Alongside the tourists attractions and crowds and the slow slide from bohemianism into gentrification, Howell also portrays the homelessness, sex work and drug abuse that are very much a part of St Kilda. It would be disingenuous to ignore the sharp socio-economic contrasts that characterise the area; that disadvantage and privilege exist side by side in glaring disparity.
It’s a setting that fits Girl Defective, a kind of warped urban fairground populated by artists and hacks, misfits and celebrities. The fanciful and the real are entwined here: underground parties are filled with girls in silver and boys in masks, while street workers hug the edges of Carlisle and Greeves Streets. A run-down record store clings to the glory days of the mix tape and pristine vinyl, while a window on Inkerman Street is filled with the ugly mugs of infamous curb-crawlers.
As with the location, Howell develops her characters with various shades. As one character later states, they are not “bad” people, but they are flawed and layered. Part of this story is about Sky discovering this fundamental truth, peeling back the different versions of themselves people present, and understanding what lies beneath.
At the heart of Girl Defective are these relationships, each of which have some bearing on Sky’s character development. Whether they are familial, romantic or platonic, the connections between the characters are engaging and nuanced. Howell addresses matters of loneliness and lust, alienation and alcoholism, manipulation and empathy. Yet this isn’t a heavy book. There’s a certain levity to story that balances its substantial content, and an artfulness to the writing that is intelligent and gorgeous to read.
"Kid, that was what she called me. Or little sister, or girlfriend, or dollbaby, or monkeyface. Sometimes she even used my name – Skylark, Sky – all in that drawl that felt like fingernails on my back lightly scratching itches I didn’t even know I had."
And then of course, there’s the music. (The lovely Mandee has put together a playlist for the book.) As befits a book with an iconic record store at its centre, music is woven through Girl Defective like an extension of the characters and setting, a soundtrack not only accompanies the plot, but feels integral to it.
"Late in the night, in the yoga light, I listened to Leonard Cohen but I didn’t have to coax the sadness out. His voice was a long tunnel with the tiniest pinprick of light at the end."
A unique coming-of-age story with a touch of mystery, a lot of character and full of heart, Girl Defective is indeed “all the good stuff.”
Reading that Rone's work played a part in inspiring Girl Defective felt almost serendipitous, given my own burgeoning obsession with his art. His posters and murals are highly recognisable, now appearing not only in Melbourne but around the world.
I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I think there is something a little haunting about Rone's 'girls' and their expressions. I don't know what their origin stories are, but I can't help but wonder if there are any lost girls among them...
This one was slower for me than the previous two instalments in the Rosie Black Chronicles - initially the action felt a little tedious and repetitive This one was slower for me than the previous two instalments in the Rosie Black Chronicles - initially the action felt a little tedious and repetitive.
That said, I like the way Morgan chose to wrap the series up and where she left the characters. A good conclusion to a fun futuristic trilogy.
Once again, Text has crushed it with the gorgeous (and relevant) cover art - though you may have to take my word for it that it’s much more l3.5 stars
Once again, Text has crushed it with the gorgeous (and relevant) cover art - though you may have to take my word for it that it’s much more lovely in person than in a Goodreads thumbnail.
The Pretty family are bank robbers, in the old-fashioned balaclava-wearing, gun-toting, vault-emptying style of heists. They move from town to town, never staying long in one place, lead by the Pretty matriarch: the mercurial and restless Sophia. Nina and her younger brother Tom were born into a life of crime and duplicity, but Nina is counting the days until she can legally flee the nest and live on her own terms. Nina is increasingly uncomfortable with her mother’s twisted moral code masquerading as Robin Hood style philanthropy, yet she’s also aware that she’s complicit in Sophia’s criminal agenda. The whole family is. And family, according to Sophia, is everything.
Bowe takes an attention-grabbing concept (bank robbing family and their life on the road) and anchors it firmly in a deconstruction of dysfunctional families. The story switches back and forth between Nina and Spencer, both of whom are dealing with complicated home lives. Nina, craving the normalcy of life off the lam, and Spencer, navigating the emotional fallout of a family tragedy, both feel like outsiders in their own way. Nina has never been able to build real friendships; Spencer is awkward and a bit of a loner, besides his best friend Bridie. When their paths cross, Bowe sets in motion a chain of events that – we know from the prologue – will end in disaster.
Bowe uses third person omniscient narration, and as such it’s her authorial voice that comes across most clearly. All This Could End is quirky, dryly humorous and a little bit tongue-in-cheek without belittling the concerns of her teenage characters. Because where Bowe excels is in writing authentic, believable characters attempting to navigate their transition into the adult world. The on-the-cusp sensation of adolescence is captured beautifully, with all the soul-searching and questioning of identity it entails, without waxing angsty. Nina and Spencer find in each other someone they can open up to – to an extent; Nina at least has secrets she can’t reveal.
While the two main characters develop a relationship, romance is not a substantial part of the plot. Bowe shows the burgeoning closeness between Nina and Spencer, the tentative nature of their attraction and a few endearingly awkward moments as they manoeuvre towards each other, while remaining firmly focused on what this means for Nina and the choices she will have to make.
All This Could End is fundamentally about the relationship between Nina and Sophia (and between Sophia and the family as a whole), and how it alters as Nina begins to comprehend the extent of her mother’s solipsism. Bowe handles the complexity and ambiguity of Sophia’s character well, and Nina’s confusion over whether her mother is a bad person or not is developed throughout the course of the novel. Sophia has an ability to justify her actions and obscure her selfishness that plausibly explains Nina’s difficulty in resisting her mother. While Nina initially seems somewhat passive, outwardly complying with her mother’s whims and actions, it’s clear to see how this is necessitated by Sophia’s manipulative nature. By choosing to wait it out until she’s eighteen, Nina is also picking her battles, opting for what seems to be the most failsafe method of escaping her mother’s hold.
The missing piece here is Paul, Nina’s father. While Nina, Sophia and (to a lesser extent) Tom’s motivations and actions are clear and well explored in the novel, Paul’s reasons for adopting, pursuing and raising children in a life of crime with his wife remain vague. Bowe references Paul’s love for Sophia, and makes a passing comment on his upbringing, but this never feels sufficient to substantiate his choices. Sophia’s abuse of her role as a parent goes a long way to explain her influence over her children; yet Paul’s willing participation in Sophia’s schemes is the weak link in the story. It’s hard not to ask at least once while reading the novel why he’s never resisted or questioned their lifestyle.
The pacing of the novel, while understandable in terms of the plot, is uneven and I would have liked to have seen some aspects of the story expanded on. Bowe lingers over certain scenes, then truncates periods of several months. I get this: Bowe is establishing her characters before thrusting them into the climax – but I felt some development of the story was abbreviated for the sake of the finale and extended epilogue. I might have felt more for that epilogue had I been able to spend more time with Spencer and Nina’s relationship as it progressed, and how they subsequently grew as individuals.
That said, All This Could End was a refreshing take on familiar themes. Bowe appreciates and writes knowledgeably about the experience of being a teenager, with a slightly offbeat, conversational charm, a balance of humour and sensitivity. Definitely one to watch. ...more
I recently came to a realisation about my book and film tastes that, while obvious in hindsight, was a bit of a 'Eureka!’ moment for me. It happened w I recently came to a realisation about my book and film tastes that, while obvious in hindsight, was a bit of a 'Eureka!’ moment for me. It happened while watching some action movie with a friend, and by watching I mean spending two hours scratching my nail polish off because I was bored to tears. It hit me that no amount of blowing things up or chasing things on screen or on the page will hold my interest if the characterisation isn’t there. For me, stories are about the characters, above all.
The first time I read Finnikin of the Rock I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I wasn’t a big reader of fantasy and I had a sort of deep, emotional attachment to Marchetta’s contemporary novels. I grew up reading Looking for Alibrandi in the school library. I found comfort and empathy for my own experiences in Saving Francesca. I cried ugly tears over On The Jellicoe Road (and I do mean ugly).
Then I read Finnikin and I felt as if someone had pulled that nice, comfortable, contemporary carpet out from under me. I’m probably a classic example of something Marchetta has spoken about openly: the way the US audience initially embraced her fantasy novels more readily, while her Australian readers were more reticent, clutching their copies of Alibrandi and giving Finnikin the side-eye for a while.
On reading Finnikin of the Rock for the second time, however, it finally clicked for me that rather than just writing “contemporary” and “fantasy” novels, Marchetta writes about people. Whether her setting is Sydney’s western suburbs or the imagined Land of Skuldenore, whether her plot incorporates bridesmaid dress shopping or a blood curse, the stories are first and foremost about the characters: who they are, what they want, what drives them.
For that reason, I think this subsequent reading really solidified in my mind what a strong novel Finnikin is. Because all of these characters feel like real people. They are fully formed and vital on the page. They are engaging and relatable. And their stories resonate. Fantasy setting aside, the conflicts and relationships with which Marchetta fleshes out the novel are relevant and familiar, and they transcend the parameters of a single genre. This time around I felt I had a better handle on the world, and it was the relationships that struck me, the bonds between the characters that Marchetta carefully constructs and grows as the story progresses.
Without discrediting the intricacies of the plot and world building, which are considerable, if I could reduce my summary of the novel down to a few words, it would be that this is a book about displacement and hope. A people removed from their homeland and families, subjected to atrocities at the hands of enemies and prolonged exile – and how this affects them both collectively and individually. How they respond when they are broken down, scattered, compelled to live as fugitives or refugees. How language and culture unite a people. And how the struggle between hope and fear plays out in a people divided, dispersed and grieving.
It’s probably fair to say that my appreciation of this novel has increased on rereading it. Whether that’s because I just paid more attention this time, or I’m simply more used to the concept of “Marchetta-fantasy” now, I don’t really know. But I do understand now what a strong, complex book it is, and why its widespread love is deserved.
* * * * * This is actually a re-read, but I removed it from my "Read" shelf so I count it in 2012.
I still don’t know what the colour of trouble is, but the colour of this book is beige. An inoffensive enough shade, but one I feel completely indiffe I still don’t know what the colour of trouble is, but the colour of this book is beige. An inoffensive enough shade, but one I feel completely indifferent to which does not make for easy reviewing. I can’t get enthusiastic about beige. Or even ranty about it. Beige is… boring.
Maddy is a fifteen-year-old artist set on notoriety. She’s already painting, making clothes, skip-diving, and running a small business with her best friend Darcy – but it isn’t enough. Maddy wants to make waves. So when she finds a rare, seemingly discarded painting on throw-out day, she hatches a plan to make a name for herself in the art world. Of course, there’s always a downside to notoriety.
I love creative, artistic characters in YA.. but this is no Graffiti Moon. My biggest gripe about The Colour of Trouble is that it so obviously reads like an adult writing about teenagers. There is an awkward disconnect in the dialogue and the characterisation that makes the author’s presence in the novel all too apparent. I couldn’t fully immerse myself in the story or care about the characters because I couldn’t ignore how wooden it all felt.
If you’re after a laundry list of things the “quintessential” (cough) creative teen would be into though, you’ll find it here: Frankie, Moleskine notebooks, skip-diving, etsy, tumblr, busking, urban art, shirts with lilies painted on them… (apparently). This is part of the reason the book didn’t work for me – the references don’t feel organic - I felt like I was tripping over them where they stuck out from the story.
The writing itself is serviceable but not really remarkable. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing, especially in terms of the characters’ emotions, which gives the story a bit of a detached, stilted feel. I feel like there was a real missed opportunity in terms of Maddy’s synaesthesia, which goes largely unexplored and under utilised in the writing. Instead, we get awkwardly inserted mini info dumps, making for some pretty dry dialogue:
”…I can’t stop thinking about that colonial painter we learned about in class who did all the forging.” “Joseph Lycett?” “Yeah, what a guy. He was sent over as a convict for forging money and ended up being one of the most famous early painters.”
Did you enjoy that little bit of Australian art trivia? You’re welcome. Frankly it that conversation nearly put me to sleep.
Perhaps I’m being a little hard on this book, which some might find an endearing and fun lower YA read. Yet I can’t help but feel frustrated that The Colour of Trouble missed a great opportunity here. ...more