Review – One Would Think the Deep

One Would Think the DeepIf you thought Claire Zorn’s first two YA novels, The Sky So Heavy and The Protected, were brilliant, you’re going to need double tinted Ray Burns for her latest masterpiece, One Would Think the Deep.

Zorn manages to mould rough edged, grit-encrusted reality into exquisite accomplished prose with the mere flick of her fingers. One Would Think the Deep is a story that surges with emotion, confrontation, and ultimately, hope.

If I were to reflect on Sam’s story too deeply, I’d be overwhelmed with the melancholy of it, of him but this is not a tale of woe and hopelessness, in spite of its gently grim beginning. Its sincerity and swagger from the opening lines swept me along and held me afloat until the very end.

Shortly after one fateful New Year’s Eve, Sam Hudson finds himself suddenly orphaned, teetering on the precipice of shock, grief, graduation and homelessness. My stomach filled with sick ache for him as he called his Aunty Lorraine to inform her of his mother’s premature death.

With nothing more than his skateboard and a collection of 90s something mixed tapes (he listens to Jeff Buckley on his Walkman with the same obsession I did to ABBA), Sam lingers uncomfortably in the small coastal town of Archer Point with his aunty and cousins, Minty and Shane. He is caught in a turbulent no man’s land of past boyhood memories and buried family secrets, incapable of finding his fit. Grief and despair are his most loyal companions, second only to his cousin, Minty with whom he spent a chunk of his childhood.

Minty is the laWavetter day version of Taj Burrows, young, gifted, a surfing legend amongst the local crowds. His laconic life views and ability to work any wave endears Sam to the ocean. But it takes a few months before his newfound surf therapy begins to take effect. Despite the elegant monastic simplicity of ‘a life in the water’, Sam’s life continues its complicated hurtle toward (his) self-destruction. He pines for a past he doesn’t fully understand, yearns for the affections of a girl he can barely speak to and is constantly at crushing odds with most of his family members including, Nana. Sam’s emotional dichotomy of good boy battling the bad within is fascinating and heart wrenching at times. It’s impossible to dislike him because of what you feel for him feeling so much.

Sam’s story of hurt and healing is beautifully rendered. Even the most vicious of emotional situations are depicted with refined tenderness so that I found myself weeping emphatically throughout, not just at the end where you’d expect a need for tissues.

Each character is drawn with knife-edge sharpness. Each speaks with a clarity that never dulls. Every sense is heightened by the wrenching complexity of the lives of this very inconsequential, simple group of ordinary individuals. And it’s not just Sam who is damaged and vunerable. Each is noticeably flawed or at least weighed down by their own limitations to a point of exquisite confusion. I loved them all.

It’s not the surf, time, or chance or even family that ultimately saves Sam in as much as they all conspired to also undo him.  It’s that old chestnut love, which I believe is the true nucleus of One Would Think the Deep (the moments between Gretchen and Sam are incomparable).The ability to surf the ‘glistening wake’ of your leviathan fears and laugh about the results with people who love you is ultimately the key to surviving the ride.

If you are experiencing loss and your soul feels displaced, if you have a passion for the waves or you are still in love with the sounds of the 90s, then you must submerse yourself in this book.  I can almost hear Jeff Buckley crooning Hallelujah

UQP June 2016

Claire ZornStick around…in the coming weeks I’ll be chatting more deeply with Claire about her latest work and how she developed such impressive surfing lingo.  Meantime, you can find all her great reads, here.

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Review – The Pause

The PauseThis book is remarkable. John Larkin cleaves a mighty wedge into our suspension of belief with the consummate precision and delicacy of a brain surgeon. The Pause doesn’t just tell the story of emotionally damaged Declan O’Malley poised to leap in front of a train and end it all; it entertains the reader in a way that allows you to spontaneously laugh aloud whilst weeping.

Declan is about to leave his teenage-hood behind and as it turns out, his life too. With everything to live for he makes a fatal unplanned decision set to change his path and all those his life (and death) affects. However, before Declan suicides, he pauses. What follows is a fascinating narrative of Declan’s before and after and the parallel consequences of his decision. The Pause has a strong ‘sliding doors’ quality; essentially  it’s an alloy of two versions of one life that invites readers to think hard about the multitude of tiny insignificant decisions we make with every breath and how they define and dictate the direction our lives take.

John LarkinThis novel is absorbing. Larkin’s structure elevates empathy and firmly imbues us into Declan’s emotional quandaries. The pace is never frantic but it is unrelenting nevertheless. It is a story that is difficult to step away from. You will not want clean the kitty litter tray or answer the front door once you step onto that station platform with Declan.

Larkin’s characters cut with knife-edge deftness. Declan is a complex mixture of teenage swagger and self-doubt. He is both grounded and deeply disturbed, harbouring a hurt so painful, it threatens to derail him for good.  He is acutely aware of his shortcomings and that hormones have as much to do with his rational thought destruction as anything else as a teenager. Yet in spite of his chemical and emotional acknowledgement, he is still side-blinded by the actuality of life and his mental frailty. Like many adults and young people, he has very little idea of just how mentally sick he is until it is literally too late. However throughout all this tenderly rendered turmoil, Declan possess a sarcasm and comical observation on life so clean and unrestrained it will make your heart bubble. If I had a son, I would want a version of this boy.

Declan’s support crew: his faithful school mates, his wickedly wonderful family, his gorgeous girlfriend and her estranged demon mother are equally as colourful and mosaic, all layered with such incredible meticulousness that you will want to either hug or slap them accordingly. Through them, we visit the impacts of mental disease, ADHC syndrome, family relationships, regret, sexuality, self-acceptance, and suicide as well as the cry for universal understanding.

Larkin’s prose is beautiful. Apart from being a story of teenage angst and depression, The Pause is a crushing love story. It swells with hope and the desire to live. It resounds with a fervent realisation that life is not always straightforward and simple but if we take time to acknowledge our own self-worth, if we simply pause for thought to see life through, the possibilities are endless.

Confronting, elegant, and accountably decisive, The Pause is an astonishing masterpiece of torn emotions and triumphant spirit that is essential YA (and beyond) reading.

Random House Australia April 2016

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Review – James Munkers Super Freak

Lindsey LittleAuthor, Lindsey Little likes looking at things from great heights. Me too. It is how I choose my rugs, for one. Allowing yourself a chance to gain a different view of a situation or object can afford you a very different perspective of it. And having a different perspective can be very rewarding indeed. As I discovered when reading Little’s, debut YA novel, James Munkers Super Freak.

The slightly ominous cover, whilst indicative of the story, belies a strong and captivating narrative, which happily, I was reluctant to walk away from.

James MunkersJames Munkers is a weedy, non-descript, slightly whiny teenager tumbling along in a large blended family when suddenly out of the blue, he is forced to adapt to a new town, new school, and disturbingly new powers.

Turns out, James is intrinsically entwined in a plot to destroy the world. Desperate to assimilate as inconspicuously as he can into his new surroundings, he is instead thrust head first into a destiny he’d rather forget.

Disappearing fathers, alarming bright blue, havoc-wreaking critters, and inter-dimensional communication conundrums gives James repeated headaches and plenty of reasons to want to run and hide. Did I mention the local school thug who won’t let up on him and a headmaster who is keen to suck the life power out of him? Instead of cowering, he throws up a lot whilst slowly coming to turns with saving the world. As improbable as all that may sound and in spite of a few convenient plot quick fixes, Little peppers the narrative with plenty of believable sardonic humour and characters as vibrant and varied as those found in a certain school of witchcraft and wizardry.

James’s inherent nerve lies forever just inches beneath a veneer of teen sass and cynicism. Thankfully, Little’s (aka James’s) solid and convincing voice allows us plenty of glimpses at James’s vulnerability so that you really want to rally beside him along with his mate, Jem and an assortment of other all-for-one, one-for-all Guardians.

James Munkers Cover spreadFast-paced and witty, this punchy fantasy winds up well while leaving several big questions unanswered, thus paving the way for further James Munkers adventures.

Young teens (boys in particular) will have little trouble tuning into James Munkers’s ‘human-dimensional power’ trip.

IP Kidz April 2014

YA Review – Steal My Sunshine

The reading audience of YA yarns is ticklish to quantify by age and intangible by definition. Yet its common trait is the desire to be shocked, entertained and moved in the briefest possible time. I no longer have the rush of youth but do suffer the impatience of age so I love that YA reads can take me on a tour of emotions and conflicts, show me succinct snap shots of life, and have me safely home in time for dinner. It’s a bit like being a teenager again. So many issues, duelling emotions, and desperate questions that need answering – like yesterday.

Steal my sunshineSteal My Sunshine, Emily Gale’s first Australian release, is a bit of a circular re-visitation of one’s past. It centres around 15 year old Hannah, a girl with mostly pure intentions who is often at bitter odds with her mother Sarah, and older brother, Sam. She dwells on the fringe of true friendship and romance and feels most kindred to Essie, her eccentric, gin-swilling grandmother.

This story drew me in from the start. How could someone’s sunshine be stolen? It is easy to find fault with Hannah’s acerbic, confused mother, her pusillanimous father, her self-absorbed brother, and her seen-it-all-before best friend. But the key to surviving a crisis is not always about attributing blame. Sometimes it just makes more sense to acknowledge your true-self and accept how it fits in with life.

Hannah’s acknowledgment occurs when her world begins to dissolve during an oppressive Melbourne heatwave. Normality is slipping through her fingers faster than sand from St Kilda beach and she’s at a loss as to how to hang onto it. Enter Essie; the one person Hannah feels holds the answers, whose past can help Hannah make sense of her future. But Essie harbours a shameful secret of her own.

Hannah’s wild, enigmatic misfit of a best friend, Chloe, complicates the mix further. She is as intimate as a bestie should be but is not quite the right fit for the more straight-shooting Hannah. It doesn’t help that Hannah has a burning desire for Evan, Chloe’s older brother.

The disintegration of Hannah’s parents’ marriage and subsequent polarisation between Sam, her mother and herself, forces Hannah to spend more and more time with her grandmother until Essie at last, reveals the shocking truth. And this is where it gets interesting.

Essie takes us back sixty years after an ill-fated attraction leads to her expulsion from her family in the UK to Australia and the subsequent ‘cruel, immoral and shameful’ forced adoption of her baby. It is this theme of abandonment, involuntary confinement, and coercion that Gale portrays so poignantly through Essie’s heart-wrenching, personal recounts.

Though astounded, Hannah eventually finds solace and an understanding of where she belongs within her family and in doing so, reconciles with those she has been at odds with.

Touted as a coming of age novel, Steal My Sunshine summons us to acknowledge the abominable practise of forced adoption in the 1950’s and 1960’s and the realisation that not all broken things can be fixed back to perfect. But as Hannah discovers, the pieces can be saved and remodelled into something else just as special.

Emily GaleGale successfully evokes all the discomfiture of living in St Kilda during a heatwave whilst confronting one’s burning personal issues. Her narrative is gripping yet fluid, and although I would have liked to have seen more emotional development between Hanna and Evan (because I’m a hopeless romantic), it would have been superfluous to the story. The ending seemed a little too convenient after the gritty intrigue created mid-novel but these are minor niggles in a book that offered a satisfying YA mix of confronting pasts, contemporary anguish and reclaiming one’s self. A YA read that shines.

Woolshed Press imprint of Random House Australia May 2013