Contemporary fury and historical shadows
by George Ivanoff - June 17th, 2010
What have I been reading lately? I’m glad you asked! In Lonnie’s Shadow by Chrissie Michaels, Fury by Shirley Marr and TimeRiders by Alex Scarrow. All three are YA. But they are three very different books. And at least two of them are a notch above your average YA novel.
First up, In Lonnie’s Shadow by Chrissie Michaels. This is a historical novel inspired by the archaeological excavations around Lonsdale Street in the city of Melbourne, the artefacts from which were displayed at a Melbourne Museum exhibit. These artefacts are ordinary things, part of everyday life in 19th century Melbourne. Each chapter of In Lonnie’s Shadow is headed by an artefact’s name, number and description, rather than by a standard chapter number and title. And somewhere within the chapter, that particular item is alluded to. It could easily have been contrived and intrusive, but the author handles it with subtlety and aplomb. In her hands it is a wonderfully original, intriguing and evocative way into the story.
Lonnie McGuiness is a teenage resident of the area known as Little Lon — an area of poverty and hard knocks, looked down on by the rest of Melbourne in 1891. Lonnie is a stable-hand who dreams of being a jockey. He gets caught up in an illegal street race, which he discovers has been fixed. It is a story of struggles and survival… but most importantly, it is a story of friendship between Lonnie and his three best mates: Pearl, a prostitute caught between two rival brothels, desperate to get away from both; Daisy, a Salvation Army do-gooder with a mysterious past who moonlights as a seamstress, making dresses for one of the brothels; and Carlo, who operates a fruit cart but dreams of opening an ice cream factory. Four lives that cross paths; four teenagers who help each other out and stick together.
There is a lot of wonderful historical detail and atmosphere in this novel. The author certainly seems to have done her research. The characters are vivid and sympathetic. The Melbourne setting is both familiar and completely alien. As a Melbournian, I found the landmarks and place names were known to me (the Exhibition Building and its iconic fountain, for instance), but the poverty and squalor of the characters lives were an eye-opener. I can see this book being well-used in schools to help bring a historic period to life in the minds of students. It’s an enthralling read.
“My name is Eliza Boans and I am a murderer.”
How’s that for a great opening line? This book had me hooked from word go and I found it very hard to put down. It’s about a high school girl and her friends who get caught up in murder. It’s also about friendship and the day-to-day dramas of teenage life in high school. It’s funny. It’s dramatic. It’s sad. It’s a really riveting read.
It’s also particularly interesting for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it is told with flash-backs. Eliza has been arrested and is sitting in a police station talking to anthropologist Dr Fadden, while refusing to see her mother. Slowly, over the course of several conversations, Eliza opens up and tells us about the events leading up to her arrest.
Secondly, Eliza, the main character, is thoroughly unlikeable. She is a spoiled rich kid living in a walled suburb and attending an exclusive private school. She is a bitchy, smart-mouthed, sarcastic, snobby brat who is even nasty to her own friends. Oh yeah, and she’s a complete control freak. And yet, somehow, Marr manages to elicit sympathy for this character. Maybe it’s because we get a bit of an insight into her past and how she came to be who she is. In any case, there were several moments where I found myself taking her side in conflicts — these moments were usually followed by a double-take as I reminded myself that I didn’t like Eliza and so I had no business taking her side. Hats off to the author for achieving this. It is rare for me to enjoy a book with an unlikeable protagonist.
Eliza aside, there are many interesting and memorable characters in this book — from Eliza’s trio of girlfriends, Marianne, Lexi and Ella, to the sympathetic and likeable student Neil, whose past is inextricably linked with Eliza’s. Neil was easily my favourite. I’d like to tell you why, but that would necessitate spoilers. All I’ll say is that there is a great deal of subtlety to his character.
Although this book seems aimed mostly at teenage girls, I think there’s a lot in it for other readers as well. It’s a thoughtful, well constructed novel… and a great read!
Finally, there’s the science fiction, time-travel adventure TimeRiders, by Alex Scarrow. I’ve already reviewed this book for the MC Review website, so if you’re interested you can go there to see what I thought of this clichéd but entertaining yarn.
So… anyone out there read anything really interesting lately? Feel free to share your literary adventures with the rest of us in the comments section below.
And tune in next time for a little bit of Doctor Who.
Catch ya later, George