Review: Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil

9781742973951Oh where do I even start to sum up my love for Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil?! The awesomeness of this book is mind-blowing. I’m shouting its praises far and wide and adding it to my “favourite of ever” shelf. It ticks all the boxes: good writing, excellent characters, adorable romance. OH and did I mention this is an Australian book?! Let us just skyrocket to the moon in the awesomeness category.

Contrary to suspicions aroused by the title, this is not a sci-fi novel. It’s an adorably realistic Aussie contemporary. The narrator is 16-year-old Sam (not Sammy, don’t even think about it), who goes to a dodgy high school and wishes he could fast-forward his life…about 20 years, or so. He’s obsessed with films (old horrors particularly) and he writes screenplays. His current project is Killer Cats from the Third Moon of Jupiter (it’s a working title). Sam thinks it sucks, like every other part of his life.

I really like Sam. He felt very realistic (down to the “grunting over holding a conversation”…and anyone with a brother will know what that’s like) and I honestly feel like he’s a character you could meet in real life.

The secondary characters are equally marvellous and well written. Everyone just leaped off the page and they were all dimensional an complex. Firstly there’s Mike, Sam’s best friend — he’s gay and quiet and has “one expression” and only Sam can tell he has other emotions. They’re like DUDE BEST BUDS. And I love a book about friendship like this. Then there’s Adrian…who feels like “that friend you have” but sometimes wish you didn’t? He’s described as a troll. How nice. Then there’s Allison, who is, unfortunately, the weakest part of the team because I honestly forget what even her point is since it’s been a while since I read the book.

And Camilla…ah, Camilla. She’s the “love interest” and I ADORED HER FROM DAY DOT. She’s an epic combination of geek, smartness, music and mischievous. Camilla is perfect, but yet not stuck up or snobbish. JUST PERFECT FOR READING ABOUT.

As for the actual story? Well obviously I’m an enormously enthuastic fan. I MEAN COME ON. You saw that coming! It didn’t drag, although it’s not speedy-paced story. And the writing is utterly fantastic. It’s witty and awkward, and wins for the dialogue. Absolutely wins.

As for the romance? Okay, Sam is like 90% clueless. SO. That’s a little annoying to read, but I won’t say it’s not realistic. Ahem. And I think Sam and Camilla’s relationship is slow building and sweet and AWKWARD. But sweet.

And endless shrieking happiness that the book is Australian! I read a lot of American literature? So this is like a refreshing returning-home…with all the slang and the culture and mannerisms. I understood these references!

This book made my day.

“I think, because…well, I like the idea of coming up with a story that never existed before, but I don’t really want to be in charge. I don’t want to be famous. I guess I like the idea of sitting in the dark and knowing that I created the thing on screen, that it’s my story, but, like, no-one else has to know it was me. Does that make sense?”

 

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Books & Christmas with Melissa Keil

MKMelissa Keil is the author of two of my favourite YA novels, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl (2014) and Life in Outer Space (2013).

(I reviewed Cinnamon Girl here and Life in Outer Space here.)

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Melissa.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA lit world?

I’m based in Melbourne, but get to travel around a bit for writers’ festivals, school visits and so forth. The YA lit world is pretty amazing in Australia – apart from the festivals and speaking gigs, I get to catch up with other authors pretty regularly at launches and other events. It’s a lovely, supportive world to be part of.

How did your first YA novel, Life in Outer Space, get published? Which awards has it won or been shortlisted for? life in outer space

My first novel was the winner of the inaugural Ampersand Prize run by Hardie Grant Egmont, who, at the time, were looking for real-world manuscripts from unpublished YA authors. I think it was just one of those magical moments where the stars aligned and the manuscript just landed in front of the right people at the right time. It’s been nominated for a few things, including the Prime Minster’s Literary Award, The CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), the Gold Inky, the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards. It was the winner of the Ena Noel Award, and it was also a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults in the USA.

There’s still a buzz happening around your second novel The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl. Which awards has it won or been shortlisted for and what’s happening with it now?cinnamon girl

Thanks! Cinnamon Girl was shortlisted the Gold Inky Award, the CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), the Western Australian Young Readers Book Award. The most exciting thing that’s happening at the moment is that it’s getting ready to be published in the US and UK early next year. Both publishers have chosen quite different (but amazing) cover looks, and the US edition has been illustrated by a fantastic comic book artist called Mike Lawrence. I’m looking forward to seeing her out in the wider world!

Why do you think these books resonate so strongly with readers?

That’s a hard question! All I can say is that I write the characters who I love and connect with, whose worlds I want to be immersed in. They feel like real people to me, and I hope that that translates onto the page.

What else have you written?

I started out as a children’s book editor, and as part of my job, wrote lots of books ‘in house’, mostly junior non-fiction and preschool early-learning type books. I’ve had a picture book, Rabbit and His Zodiac Friends, published. I also have lots of half finished books and short stories in my bottom drawer!

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m finishing up my next novel, tentatively titled The Secret Science of Magic. It’s been one of the most challenging things I have written so far, but I’m on the home stretch with it now.

What have you enjoyed reading?inbetween days

The last book I read was Vikki Wakefield’s Inbetween Days, which was just beautiful, with some wonderfully complex and well-realised female characters and relationships. I’ve just started reading Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, which I’ve been looking forward to reading for a long time.

Christmas is coming. How do you plan to celebrate and what books would you like as Christmas presents?

All the books! I think my friends and family are tired of me asking for books and book vouchers, but there is no such thing as too many books. There are loads of things on my wishlist – one of the things I would really love though is the complete Obernewtyn Chronicles. My first four books are original editions with covers that don’t match the newer books – as all true book-nerds know, this is just unacceptable.

Where can people find you on social media?

At my website melissakeil.com, or on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as MissMisch77.

All the best with your books, Melissa.

Thank you for having me!

What will win YA Book of the Year?

 

Sky so HeavyThe CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) winning and honour books will be announced on Friday 15th August. One of the most eagerly awaited categories (especially for bloggers) is the Book of the Year: Older Readers.

http://cbca.org.au/ShortList-2014.htm 

A surprise outcome in the OR category of this year’s shortlist is the appearance of FOUR debut novelists. The future of YA Australian writing seems very safe with this number of debut heavy-hitters.

The majority of the Older Readers’ shortlist is from the genre of contemporary realism, with two from speculative fiction.

Five of the six shortlisted authors are female. Bloggers who monitor the number of awarded female authors must be cheering. (It should be remembered, however, that the CBCA shortlist is judged on literary merit, not the gender of the authors or protagonists. The judges only have a two-year term so it’s hard to accept there may have been a gender prejudice in the recent past.)

Gay best friends or brothers are also punching above their weight in this category.

And a couple of the novels are very place-specific to Sydney and its surrounds.

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil (HGE) was one of my top three YA novels for 2013 as outed in the Weekend Australian http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/turning-romance-on-its-head-for-young-adult-readers/story-fn9n8gph-1226613224447

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/hot-reads-for-summer/story-fn9n8gph-1226781555130

Life in Outer SpaceSo I’m obviously thrilled it has been shortlisted. It won the inaugural Hardie Grant Egmont Ampersand award and is contemporary realism, not sci-fi as implied by the title. Sam is an adorkable hero. He cannot believe that popular Camilla could like him. If you can’t wait for Melissa’s next book, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl (Sept), read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

 

Another brilliant novel is Fiona Wood’s Wildlife (PanMacmillan). Sybilla is a complex – introverted yet easy-going – character who discovers much about herself and her peers on her extended school camp.

WildlifeFelicity Castagna continues the realism in The Incredible Here and Now (Giramondo). It is of enormous appeal for anyone who knows Sydney’s west and for teen boys in particular.

Will Kostakis adds humour to the mix in The First Third (Penguin), a contemporary Greek tragi-comedy.

Claire Zorn seamlessly incorporates human rights issues into The Sky so Heavy (UQP). This is a fast-paced post-apocalyptic story which begins in the Blue Mountains. Her new novel, The Protected is even better.

Fairytales for Wilde GirlsAnd Allyse Near creates her own sub-genre in Fairytales for Wilde Girls (Random), which co-won the Aurealis award.

Everyone is disappointed when YA books they love aren’t shortlisted. Surprise omissions for me this year are Simmone Howell’s edgy Girl Defective (Pan Macmillan), Amanda Betts’ luminous Zac and Mia (Text) and Jackie French’s Refuge (HarperCollins).

Which Book of the Year: Older Readers do you think should win?