Bracing yourself for an impact that never arrives is a strange sensation.
When it becomes clear that the anticipated pain is not going to make an appe...moreBracing yourself for an impact that never arrives is a strange sensation.
When it becomes clear that the anticipated pain is not going to make an appearance, there’s a moment of confusion before the tensed muscles release, before the flinch fades, before the shielding hands come down. A suspended second where the expectation and the reality don’t quite connect, and you have to reassess what’s going on.
As I read The Survival Kit, I think I had been unconsciously readying myself for an emotional kick in the solar plexus, only to reach the epilogue without any such violent impact. If anything, as I put the book down, I felt the distinct empty space where I had expected the strong emotional response to be. And I can’t help but think that this does a disservice to the book, and the things I actually did feel about it.
Have I confused you yet?
In a genre with no shortage of “grief books”, Donna Freitas’ writing and approach to a heavy subject sets The Survival Kit apart. Her approach is both respectful and empathetic, striking a balance between the inherent sadness of her topic and a genuinely uplifting subtext, without coming off either deliberately tear-jerky or TV-movie cheesy. The focus is on Rose’s growth, her progression through grief, and the eventual affirmation of her personal beliefs about life.
The story opens after the death of Rose’s mother, with the discovery a survival kit. A signature gift that Rose’s mother has been making for other people over the years, the survival kit is a paper bag filled with small personalised objects and mementos, like tiny tethering devices, keeping hope alive in their recipients. The sections of Rose’s story loosely centre each object in her survival kit. Originally seeing them as specific clues or pieces of a message, Rose slowly comes to find her own interpretation of the gifts, a way to incorporate them in her life and rediscover what she thought she had lost.
What was almost immediately apparent to me, and definitely a welcome change to the prevailing trend, was the lack of high school clichés to found in this book. Cheerleaders who are not stereotypes! Football players who are not written as mindless jocks! Diversity! An absence of Mean Girl caricatures. Beautifully rendered friendships. The passing of real, actual time and the gradual burgeoning of romantic feelings. (view spoiler)[Despite some slightly predictable moments, Rose and Will’s relationship is definitely a highlight of this story, with some genuinely poignant, honest scenes. (hide spoiler)] While there is more than a nod to what I what I can only assume is an average US high school experience, this felt refreshingly down to earth, with meaningful, well-developed relationships and a strong supporting cast of characters.
The symbolism of the items in Rose’s survival kit, while appropriate, occasionally felt a little heavy-handed and I have to question a few incidents which didn’t feel strictly realistic. Neither can I say that this book held any huge surprises in terms of the direction the plot took – the dramatic moments are not too difficult to predict.
That said, I don’t feel that this outweighs that strong positive themes running through this story. I very much appreciated Freitas’ care in showing Rose as a vulnerable, mourning character, yet also one that didn’t rely on the love interest to “save” her. This story, particularly the latter half, speaks very much to Rose’s self-determination, character growth and belief in her herself. I love the fact that while the story encompasses a range of people and events that have a direct bearing on the plot, it always remains very much about Rose, her decisions, and her passage through experiencing loss. There is a beautiful sentiment underpinning Rose’s narrative that though she has lost her mother physically, she still retains so much of her essence: in her surroundings, her daily life, her family, even within Rose herself.
Evidently, I have a lot of very positive things to say about this book, and I think it’s an exceptional read both in terms of its style and content. But to circle back to my original comments, I had expected to feel a deeper emotional connection to the story. I can’t say that my response to it was quite what I anticipated. I’d go so far as to say, for me, there a certain something lacking and I can’t entirely overlook its absence. I don’t mean to say it isn’t moving, because it really is, but I think I had been looking for a heavier, more lingering reaction.
However, I’m convinced of Freitas’ ability to write a strong, relevant contemporary story, and will definitely read her work again. I’d also recommend it without hesitation to anyone looking for a quiet, thoughtful read with beautifully developed characters. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The Reviewer (that’s me) finished Psych Major Syndrome two days ago and presents with a mild yet persistent state of indecisi...more3.5 stars
The Reviewer (that’s me) finished Psych Major Syndrome two days ago and presents with a mild yet persistent state of indecision over how to review and rate said book.
The Reviewer states that she highly enjoyed the experience of reading Psych Major Syndrome, identifying with the main character and the sensation of “flailing” through the late teen years. (view spoiler)[ That's a total joke. I'm still flailing. (hide spoiler)]Reviewer has a tendency to over-analyse (case in point: this review) and thus found many of Leigh’s observations to be very relatable and quote unquote LOL-worthy. The Reviewer appreciates Leigh’s complicated feelings and certain amount of denial over her relationship with Andrew, the passive-aggressive (or just plain aggressive) competition between classmates, and the cold, hard realisation that she is, in fact, slightly naive.
During the reading of this book, the Reviewer experienced some education-related feelings of envy. This is probably a subject for another day – as the Reviewer has not so much a chip on her shoulder about this, but more of a massive chunk out of it.
While the Reviewer was entertained by the romantic element of the plot, and the chemistry between the characters, she does feel the denouement was slightly unrealistic and the literary equivalent of the ending of a John Hughes film. She also freely admits that she’s possibly just a cynic. She secretly loves the escapism.
The Reviewer enjoyed Thompson’s writing style, and as aforementioned, it made her laugh. It’s a clever, relatable book with a voice she connected to. She feels conflicted about the mildly saccharine ending.
Diagnosis: Rating Anxiety - The protest and distress exhibited by a chronically indecisive reviewer at the end of a mixed reading experience.
The Reynje Incomplete Sentences Blank Review
Name: Reynje Major: Ambivalence!
I read Psych Major Syndrome along with the lovely Choco
Because I had seen some great reviews around and sometimes I’m just in the mood for some snarky funny romance, you know?
The cover is delightfully green, and from a certain angle that girl really reminds me of a smiley Kristen Stewart – odd but true.
The synopsis pretty much leaped off the screen at me and said “Hey, Reynje, you should read this because late-teen-analyses-her-life-and-herself-too-much has your name written all over it. “
Leigh is a relatable character that I found myself identifying with so much sometimes that it was a little bit frightening (and not just because we both hate the misuse of “you’re” and “your”..)
The narration blends Leigh’s snarky humour with emotional depth, and I thought her introspection and tendency to analyse were refreshingly realistic without being laboured.
Andrew is a character that steadily climbed the list of fictional people I want to punch in the face
Nathan is quite scrumptious, but maybe I just have a thing for musician type guys who are good at Maths and like cats..?
I loved the way definitions of psychological theories were incorporated as chapter headings and how they were woven into the plot because I’m fond of clever stuff like that.
I don’t believe that guys tell girls they smell like rain. Come on, Alicia Thompson and works of YA romantic fiction in general! Why do you build up my expectations only to have the real world kick them over? Why?!
Hooray for emotional snap-decision haircuts that actually turn out to be amazing, because this also doesn’t happen in real life.
Boo for emotionally manipulative, self-centred jerks who drive BMWs with heated seats.
Rebekah is a surly little champion who tugged at my heart.
I wish I had a cat called Euclid. And an eyepatch.
Is it possible “to analyse something to the point where you could no longer see it?” Ab.so.lutely.
The ending played out a little too rom-com style for me (is it possible to swoon and roll your eyes at the same time?)
You should definitely read Psych Major Syndrome if you’re a fan of the upper YA realm of fiction with great voice and humour in a similar vein to Mostly Good Girls (and shirtless acoustic guitar players).
EDIT:(view spoiler)[I'm revisiting this review briefly with an addendum, to address something that has been playing on mind. While this review came off fairly glib, I do stand by my feelings on it, in that I enjoyed it as a piece of mostly funny, witty escapism. However, it would be remiss of me not to point out that there was a particular scene/charater in this book that did not at all sit well with me. The scene is question is later reflected on by Leigh as one of the times she really enjoyed with her room mate Ami. However I need to say that I wish this scene had been different, and the secondary character involved (Li) had not been written in such a distastefully stereotypical way. I see that this scene was meant to inject humour, and it may not bother everyone, but I can't say that I felt comfortable with it at all. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I put this mostly down to what I like to call the “Matthew McConaughey Climactic Love Chase Eff...more3.5 stars
I am not overly fond of romantic-comedy films.
I put this mostly down to what I like to call the “Matthew McConaughey Climactic Love Chase Effect”. You know – where at the finale of the film one of the actors (Note: need not be Matthew McConaughey, although he is a Repeat Offender) realises that the love of their life may have just slipped out of their proverbial grasp, so they grab the nearest bicycle/horse/skateboard/unicycle and frantically race through the streets/fields/rain, over various obstructions, spurred on a dawning realisation of true love, to chase down said object of affection. Cue tearful reunion and heartfelt declarations and kissing and possible cheesy wedding montage.
Friends – this is nonsense. It does not happen. I know, because if it had any basis in reality, surely the person of my dreams would have commandeered one of those poor tourist-trap draught horses on Swanston Street, and chased my tram down the road, yelling protestations of undying love. Right? (view spoiler)[RIGHT?! (No, seriously, please know that I write this with my tongue planted firmly in cheek.) (hide spoiler)]
And that’s why I like Stephanie Perkins’ books. (Yes! The point! I finally got there!) Unabashedly romantic and fun, the plots may be somewhat predictable, but the characters are anchored by being relatable. They have heart and personality, and they act like teenagers. The romance feels fresh and not hackneyed or banal. There’s always a sliver of painful truth amid the sweetness. And no Matthew McConaughey on the back of a vespa.
Anna and the French Kiss was a “right book at the right time” when I first read it. It was an experience on par with eating a big slice of chocolate cake. And not in a “I’m in a public place, so I will eat this nicely with a fork and my manners” kind of way. I mean, in a “no one can see me, so I’m taking huge bites and getting ganache on my nose” kind of way. I inhaled that book in one long, swoony breath.
Reading Lola and the Boy Next Door was a similarly decadent reading experience. While the characters have their own personalities and histories, the story is essentially a flip of the scenario in Anna and the French Kiss. This time, it’s Lola who has to be honest with herself about the relationship she’s in, and the relationship she truly wants.
Perkins’ characterization is a treat, which is just as well, since the story essentially rides on the reader’s investment in the chemistry and different relationships at play. Lola could have easily veered off into cliché-quirky territory, but she’s given dimension beyond the costumes and wig-wearing with complex family relationships and believable insecurities. I’ll admit that I occasionally felt frustrated with her, that some of her actions were rather selfish.(view spoiler)[For example, the Marie Antoinette wig incident screams petulant teenager. (hide spoiler)] But Lola grows throughout the story, not changing into someone else, but learning from mistakes and becoming comfortable with who she is.
Oddly enough, one of my favourite passages from the book is not part of the romance at all, but rather in one of Lola’s raw, painful moments:
”Because that’s the thing about depression. When I feel it deeply, I don’t want to let it go. It becomes a comfort. I want to cloak myself under its heavy weight and breathe it into my lungs. I want to nurture it, grow it, cultivate it. It’s mine. I want to check out with it, drift asleep wrapped in its arms…”
Lola girl, I hear you.
While I did love Cricket – on paper, he’s much more my type as a love interest – I felt that somehow St Clair had more presence in the former book than Cricket did in the second. I’m not entirely sure why. Cricket was endearing and very sweet, and goodness knows I love a “mathematical equation face”, but I felt that he was a little bit.. diluted at times. Don’t get me wrong, I adored him. But perhaps I just wanted to see him have more agency throughout the story.
I enjoyed the plot and the way it played out – Perkins is nothing if not brilliant at building tension through delayed gratification and lots of yearning from afar peppered with small, touching moments. A couple of times, the dialogue and writing bordered a little on saccharine for personal taste, but it was pleasantly escapist while not being completely devoid of reality. And most importantly (see rant above) the finale is cute, without being trite.
And if true love comes looking for me, please ask it to wait by the coffee machine – I’m busy reading.
Pre-reading thoughts: I am 95% percent that this book will be just lovely, and that I will enjoy reading it, when I finally pull it from my TBR pile. However, please tell me I'm not the only one a little bothered by Lola's stare. I have to keep my copy turned over, otherwise I feel as if her eyes follow me around the room. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
**spoiler alert** How much of your humanity can you sacrifice, before you become a monster?
Enclave opens on the naming day for Girl15 (thereafter, Deu...more**spoiler alert** How much of your humanity can you sacrifice, before you become a monster?
Enclave opens on the naming day for Girl15 (thereafter, Deuce) who has survived fifteen years in the underground system of tunnels that form her world. As a huntress, Deuce joins the faction of her society responsible for providing food and protecting the enclave from Freaks – a role she has trained for fiercely. Paired for duty with Fade, an aloof fellow hunter of mysterious origins, Deuce discovers her world is not all that it seems, and is forced to question her loyalties, her beliefs and make a decision that will change her existence.
Unlike some other recent dystopian offerings, where the worldbuilding is entertaining yet highly implausible, Aguirre’s speculation is anchored solidly in recent history and current events (with the exception of the Freaks). A perusal of the Authors Note reveals the sources of inspiration for this projected post-apocalyptic world – and make no mistake: it’s not pretty. This is a violent, amoral place, and Aguirre’s prose is steeped in blood, gore, references to abuse, hopelessness and patriarchy gone to hell in a handbasket.
Against this grim backdrop, the characters are confronted with situations that call into question their core convictions. And in a world where survival is paramount, where is the line between good and evil? When do the ends stop justifying the means in a place that no longer has a measure for brutality, where social and moral mores have disintegrated? And how much cruelty divides the bad from the not so bad?
Deuce is but one of the substantial crop of “kickass” heroines currently populating YA shelves. And she is certainly not the first who has struggled to reconcile her fighting, survivor instinct with a burgeoning empathetic side. However, I felt that the blend here was handled more successfully than in some other cases. Deuce’s evolving principles still feel in keeping with who she is, and what she has been raised to believe. While she begins to experience new feelings and twinges of conscience, she does not lose who she is as a huntress. Rather, the broadening of her perspective makes her a stronger character, both as a fighter and a person in general. The development of compassion and attraction doesn’t cut her off at the knees, or incapacitate her with romantic dithering.
On this note, I have to mention the fact that Deuce experiences interest from opposing angles (yes, otherwise known as a love triangle). I have to say though, that I don’t believe it was a trope-tastic triangle, as such, and that I felt Deuce’s actions and lack of intuition regarding Fade and Stalker were in keeping with her character and the life she had lead up to that point. Basically, while it caused me some anxiety as a reader, being able to see what Deuce couldn’t, I didn’t mind its incorporation into the plot.
In a similar vein, I found the way that Deuce viewed herself was rather refreshing. In one passage, (I can’t recall exactly where, I was too engrossed to mark pages as I read) Deuce notes that she feels beautiful when she is fighting. It was an interesting deviation from the general rule to see a protagonist tie her sense of beauty to her skills and the strength of her body rather than simply the way a guy looks at her. (Not that I would mind Fade looking at me. I adored that guy).
On the subject of strength, I enjoyed the way Aguirre explored the different forms this takes in different characters. In particular, Deuce’s gradual understanding and recognition of Tegan’s strengths, and the development of their friendship despite starkly contrasting histories, was an interesting addition to Deuce’s character growth.
Enclave strikes me as a book that is going to divide readers along some quite distinct lines, and I can see some disliking it with a fervor equal to (if not greater) than my like. There is a lot of ambiguity and greyness and plain ugliness to this story, as it hypothesizes on life in a world with little or no system of ethics. However, it’s this intensely challenging nature that made me engage with it and Deuce in a way I couldn’t some other post-apocalyptic stories.
To say I found Enclave gripping would be a bit of an understatement. I sat immobile on the couch, I fought sleep to read into the early hours, I resisted the urge to shout at anyone who tried to speak to me while I was reading. And I felt a little crestfallen to discover I have more than a year to wait until finding out what the future holds for Deuce.
Regardless, Enclave is a strong opening to the trilogy, with interesting and compelling characters that I felt an investment in, and a complex, frighteningly believable world. (less)
I wondered what it would be like to see the dark blue sky above us not as heavy drapes of cloth, the top of a circus tent, but as an infinite expanse. As everybody else saw it.
In Going Too Far, Jennifer Echols has crafted a compelling story about the connection between two characters who are, in some ways, the very antithesis of each other.
Meg won’t be tied down, literally. Resistant to plans, authority, confined spaces – she combats restrictions and small-town claustrophobia with plans to go away to college and avoidance of emotional entanglements.
John After lives within his carefully constructed defences, refusing to be left exposed and vulnerable. A law-enforcer, a rule-abider, Officer After is guarded and cautious. He is the practiced restraint to Meg’s reckless abandon.
Going Too Far is an incredibly engaging read. The chemistry between Meg and John is intense and volatile, the story becoming increasingly charged with each page. The interactions between the characters spark with the friction of conflict and attraction. Add to this the enforced distance of the situation that throws them together, and the plot is heavy with anticipation.
Sexual tension aside, it is also an honestly expressed portrayal of what it is to let go, to trust, to be hurt and to hurt someone else. In this respect, Echols has created realistic characters, with flaws and strengths, each contending with their own internal issues. Importantly, whether their actions are sympathetic or not, they act like teenagers: perhaps not always defensible, but mostly understandable.
This was my first Echols novel, and I was impressed with the fluid writing and her deft hand with dialogue, particularly with Meg’s snarky, self-deprecating humour. (view spoiler)[What’s unimpressive about this book is the distinctly horrid cover. Please don’t let that fool you about what’s inside. (hide spoiler)] While a major selling point is clearly the romance aspect, there was also greater substance here than I was expecting, in the exploration of Meg and John as nuanced individuals.
Going Too Far ended up being not quite what I had expected, in a good way.
Somewhat surprising, definitely engaging, and highly enjoyed. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Whenever I think about this book, ‘Start Me Up’ by the Rolling Stones starts playing in my head – and for me, this is never a bad thing. Actually, I t...moreWhenever I think about this book, ‘Start Me Up’ by the Rolling Stones starts playing in my head – and for me, this is never a bad thing. Actually, I think I may have bumped up my rating slightly as a result of the music liberally referenced through the story. (Nice use of the Doors, Hannah Harrington.) Bonus: Playlists! Yes and thank you.
While the story opens at the wake for Harper Scott’s sister June, this isn’t exactly a book about suicide. It’s about grief and regret, the aftermath of the decision of a family member to take their own life, and how Harper’s quest to do one last thing for June might just save her own life.
And yes, also about music.
Harper, her best friend Laney and a taciturn guy with a connection to June embark on a road trip from Michigan to California with June’s ashes. And while the road trip delivers its own bizarre encounters and landmarks (hi, Fridgehenge!), it’s really the backdrop for the gradual unfolding and development of the characters as they come to terms with June’s departure from their lives, and with each other.
What set this book apart from other coming-of-age, grief stories for me was the blunt honesty it was presented in. I didn’t feel like the prose was deliberately trying to pull at my heart strings or manipulate my feelings about the characters. They were realistically presented complete with flaws and not-always-sympathetic behaviour, without over-angsting in the process. At the same time, it is completely engaging story that I felt invested in the entire time I was reading it. The interactions between the three main characters really worked and there was tangible chemistry (*cough* Jake *cough*) that grew throughout the pages. While I appreciate that the dialogue between them may not be entirely representative of the 16 to 18 year old population in general, I thought it was true to their characters, and it had me laughing out loud at times (while on public transport no less). Harrington’s writing was fluid and compulsively readable, and she nailed the spectrum of emotion Harper moves through in response to her sister’s suicide.
Alongside the heavy subject matter the story deals with, it’s also high on the swoon scale, and despite some fairly jerk-ish behaviour, Jake is also a multi-dimensional character with personality rather than being a token hot-guy cardboard cutout. Harper’s ambivalence toward him was believable and the mounting tension was crafted for a maximum impact payoff. In addition to the back and forth between Harper and Jake, which will have readers flipping pages eagerly, I also appreciated the way his attitude towards Laney changed. From a particularly “oh no you didn’t” scene, to the gradual and subtle gestures of apology, it tackled issues of judgement and misconception.
I had a minor quibble with a plot point towards the very end of the book – not that it wasn’t within the realm of the possibility – but it seemed a little.. neat? The situation seemed to be resolved conveniently in time for the ending of the book, but I do appreciate that Harrington alluded to the ongoing emotional repercussions of the event.
Ultimately, Saving June was a touching, funny, painful book with a lot of realism and heart. It’s an upper YA read doesn’t flinch from difficult topics, and there are some beautifully written scenes that deal honestly with what it is to grieve and not always have an answer to the ‘why’s?’ presented by suicide. (less)
Everything on the street is still. No wind, no sound. It's as if the earth itself has stopped breathing.
*Long, wistful sigh*
If entering the world of This Is Shyness was like wandering into a darkened hall of mirrors, returning to it in Queen of the Night is like sliding from wakefulness back into a welcome dream. Hall continues to gently twist the seam between fantasy and reality, creating an alternate version of Melbourne that is shaded with the fanciful and strange, the curious and bizarre. But the perpetual night hanging over Shyness feels familiar this time, and crossing Grey Street into the darkness is more like a homecoming than a tumble down the rabbit hole.
Until I began reading Queen of Night, I don’t think I had realised just how much I had missed this world and the characters, Wolfboy and Wildgirl. We reconnect with them six months after the events of This is Shyness, and whereas the first book had a larger focus on their shared quest through Shyness, the second book takes a slower, more subtle approach, examining the delicate web of the characters’ relationships and the ties that bind them to Shyness. It’s a quieter book, in a manner of speaking, but perhaps deeper than the first – delving into the nature of dreams, hope, and cause versus effect. After finishing This is Shyness I was inclined to think it an excellent standalone, but Queen of the Night proves there was (and is) much more to be explored in Shyness.
Leanne Hall’s writing is incredibly beautiful. For me, it’s just the right blend of lyrical and local, the striking imagery tempered with the distinctly Australian voices. Wolfboy and Wildgirl’s narratives are clearly defined, and as much - if not more - is conveyed in their manner of speaking and actions than their respective dialogue. Wolfboy’s burdened heart and tentative advances, and Wildgirl’s impetuousness and courage make for a compelling dynamic between them, and I loved the way Hall developed their relationship, allowing her characters to make mistakes and grow.
Also: Wolfboy, I want to climb into your lap and stroke your cheek. Just sayin’. *blushes*
While Queen of the Night further tears back the layers of this world and reveals more about the darkness, Shyness and Dr Gregory, I appreciated that it still does not give away all the answers. Hall leaves space for the imagination, for speculation and questions. Allusions are made and hints are given, but there are no explicit answers and the book doesn’t talk down to the reader by spelling everything out. The unexpected still lurks around corners, from a blindingly bright underground club to a deserted velodrome, the mysterious Datura Institute and pale flowers growing in teacups on street corners. And despite how much “curiouser and curiouser” Shyness becomes, it feels organic and unforced.
As mentioned above, the pacing and structure of Queen of Night is somewhat different to This is Shyness, but the plot feels more nuanced here. The secondary characters play a larger role this time, and ideas about the nature of both literal and metaphorical darkness, and the role of dreams as a conduit for emotion, are explored.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what it is about these books that I love so much. The writing, definitely. The imagination, of course. But in Queen of the Night I was particularly struck by the tender way the various relationships in the book are portrayed. The characters are flawed, vulnerable, but the connections are palpable. The final scene in which Ortolan and Diana appear perfectly articulates this, the way so much love and understanding can be communicated in the description of a simple action.
If Beatle Meets Destiny was a flirty love note to Melbourne, then Queen of Night is a kiss blown to this eclectic, secretive city, and a gentle acknowledgement of the hidden worlds it holds within.
If Finnikin of the Rock was a story about a divided and displaced nation’s journey towards healing thei...more(Scroll down if you'd prefer the tl;dr version)
If Finnikin of the Rock was a story about a divided and displaced nation’s journey towards healing their collective psyche, Froi of the Exiles is about a people broken apart by hatred, the wound in their history left to fester, and seep suspicion and fear into the cracks between them. A faceless, malevolent presence in Finnikin of the Rock, this is Charyn’s unveiling as more than simply “the enemy” of Lumatere. It’s an insight into a land burdened by suffering and grief, and the darker side of human nature.
While Finnikin of the Rock covered more ground in one sense of the word, with a quest that lead its characters into the far corners of Skuldenore, Froi of the Exiles is a novel on a vaster scale in several ways. This story is more complex, with an intricate web of a plot, and it unfolds new dimensions to Marchetta’s fantasy world and the resident characters. Froi of the Exiles plumbs depths of the world only hinted at in Finnikin of the Rock: the detail is richer, each small element is vital and serves a larger purpose in the whole. The themes are pushed further, and by extension the characters are more nuanced, forced to develop in often unexpected, yet organic, ways.
Given the serpentine nature of the plot and the level of intrigue present, at times this is a difficult story to keep hold of. It twists sharply, resists being pinned down, turns in surprising directions. Yet it never feels loose or uncontrolled. There was always a sense, as I read, that Marchetta was driving this story exactly where it needed to go, regardless of how difficult a course she charted. The entire story is characterised by a sense of weight and momentum, that it’s being inexorably drawn to some powerful, inevitable conclusion.
This is an extraordinarily strong book, and probably one I’ll have to read again to fully appreciate the intricacies of the plot, but I believe that its greatest power lies (as with Finnikin) in the characterisation and relationships. Marchetta does not go easy on her characters, providing them with convenient justifications for their actions or plot developments that open up handy loopholes. Instead, she forces them to wrestle their inner demons, with all the brutality and desperation that hand to hand combat entails.
Which brings me to Froi. (Froi!) For those who have read Finnikin of the Rock, you’ll be aware of the fact that Froi attempts something abhorrent in the first book. So it speaks to Marchetta’s skill as a writer that she is able to develop this character - his shame, his humanity, his convictions - in such a way that makes him deeply compelling. There are plenty of easy roads Marchetta could have taken in bringing Froi back as a main character, effectively glossing over his backstory. But I think that would have taken away from the thematic power of the novel, and been disingenuous to the character himself. Instead, by exploring the darker side of Froi’s nature, she creates a character so conflicted, and so authentic, it actually makes me ache.
”Although a voice inside had chanted to stop that night, Froi would never know if he would have. And he wanted to know. He wanted to say the words, ‘I would not have gone through with it.’ But he’d never know and that was his punishment.”
That passage punches me in the gut every time, and it’s small moments of crystallised thought such as this that make Froi’s growth throughout the novel, redefining the terms on which he lives his life, so real and heartbreaking.
But it’s not only Froi that Marchetta is unafraid of putting into morally ambiguous and unsympathetic positions, flaws exposed. Almost every character in the novel has to fight for something, has some excruciating internal journey to travel. Lucian, Beatriss, Trevanion, Lirah, Gargarin, amongst others – all carry with them some kind of pain, and have been or must go through something that will alter them irrevocably. While not always (if at all) providing tidy resolutions, there’s something rewarding about accompanying these characters on their journeys. There is a redemptive nature to their growth, and an acknowledgement that people are rarely all good or all evil, and all are capable of both inflicting pain.
And then, Quintana. Oh, Quintana. I’m not sure there is a character I’ve felt so fiercely about recently. She is my spirit animal. Neither clichéd fantasy princess or “kickass heroine” in a physical sense, Quintana is an alloy of contradictions: vulnerability, humour, grief, rage, intelligence, insanity. She’s tenacious and a little bit feral. She’s passionate and cold. And though this is largely Froi’s story, the chemistry of these two characters, the way they crash together on the page, is pretty captivating.
I won’t brush off the fact that this isn’t a light book, in terms of the content. Be warned that there’s all manner of brutality in this story: rape, torture, infanticide – Marchetta takes Froi of the Exiles to some very dark places. Reader thresholds for this type of subject matter will vary, naturally, but I feel it’s worth mentioning that it didn’t read gratuitously to me. The inclusion felt purposeful, important to the story being told.
On the other hand, it would remiss of me not to note that this book worthwhile things to say on the issues of religious tolerance, racism and cultural prejudice. Just as she does not flinch from showing both the repugnant and the admirable in her characters, Marchetta also shows the cruelty humans are capable of, along with their capacity for forgiveness and absolution.
Underpinning this very involved and intense novel, however, is the very human desire to belong somewhere. To have a sense of home, of family, and connection. And that this can sometimes be found in the most unlikely of places.
tl;dr: This book is a beautifully complex, emotional wrecking ball. It’s brilliant.
P.S. Thank goodness I held off from reading this until now. I think a year long wait for Quintana of Charyn might have completely cracked me.
* * * * * I can't even, people. I just finished and everything hurts.
I’m going to preface this review with a warning that I find it hard to talk about this book without gushing - an urge that has not diminished with eac...moreI’m going to preface this review with a warning that I find it hard to talk about this book without gushing - an urge that has not diminished with each subsequent reading. I'm not sure how to sufficiently express how much I adore this book, so I may just start flinging adjectives wildly as I go on. Sorry.
Taking place over one unseasonably hot night in Melbourne, Graffiti Moon is a story about art, poetry and love. About secret identities, past mistakes and punches in the face. About pink vans and an elusive perfect shade of blue. And a girl on a mission to find Shadow, a graffiti artist who documents his thoughts on walls around the city.
Crowley weaves the plot together through the perspectives of Ed and Lucy, two unique, nuanced teenage voices, interspersed with the works of Poet as the night unfolds. A slight overlap between some scenes allows you to see how the same events are filtered by each of the protagonists, and watch as the relationships between them develop and change. The interactions between the characters were refreshingly realistic: Dylan and Daisy’s barbed exchanges, Ed’s caution, Lucy’s unfiltered observations. I loved them all. Flawed but charming boys, girls with style and strength. Chemistry that fizzes from the page.
A story by turns funny and poignant, Crowley’s prose is lyrical yet understated. The writing is evocative, pulling you in and immersing you in the story. Its an experience not unlike the way Ed describes a Rothko painting: “.. for a while, as long as you’re looking at it, that painting is the world and you get to be in it.” (p 167). Graffiti Moon is the type of book that holds you close, wrapping you up in the tension, until the final page.
I particularly enjoyed the discussion and use of art throughout the book, from references to local artists Ghostpatrol and Angela Brennan, to the ongoing motif of Rene Magritte’s The Lovers in Lucy’s point of view. I’ll be the first to admit I know next to nothing about art, but I found the use in the story both relatable and effective.
Also, the shout outs to Melbourne’s street art really made me want to go out and rediscover the city I live in :)
Graffiti Moon in a gorgeous book that captures the hopefulness and uncertainty of standing on the brink of your future.
It now has a permanent spot as one of my favourite reads of all time. (less)