Friday Brown….. God! I wish I could write like this!

Friday BrownFriday Brown by Vikki Wakefield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Friday Brown believes she is cursed. All the women who have died in her family have done so around or in water. Even her own mother died of pneumonia – her lungs drowned. At seventeen, she is cast out by her grandfather because she reminds him too much of his lost daughter. Friday is on her own on the streets.

She befriends a boy named Silence. He’s strange…with a troubled past he doesn’t
talk about. Silence lives with a group of squatters headed up by the charismatic, but cruel, Arden. They survive by petty crime, and their wits most of the time, with Arden running the show.

Friday resolves to leave and take Silence with her, but her money has been stolen and she is inextricably drawn to Arden in way she doesn’t really understand. When the cops start sniffing around the squat, Arden packs up the crew and they flee to the bush, where Friday feels more at those than the rest of the group. Arden feels threatened by this and applies pressure to Friday with physical violence. After a rain storm, the dried creek bed they have been camping in begins to flood and Friday and the rest must again flee. In all the confusing Silence disappears and things take a dark and tragic turn. Friday finds herself taking a stand – for herself, for her forebears and for Silence. She challenges her fate, and realises that love might just save her.

This book has unforgettable characters. While I found Friday to be sympathetic as a protagonist, the one I really connected with was Silence. Damaged by his past, he just wants to be loved and to feel safe. Arden is a deftly painted villain, as vile as any I have read.

Wakefield’s writing is superb. Economical, but lyrical, and full of wonderful imagery. The twists and turns of the plot are completely believable and the turning point of the novel was a complete punch in the guts, but achingly beautiful too.

An utter triumph. I am in awe of Vikki Wakefield and her amazing talent.

Into that Forest by Louis Nowra – the review

Into That ForestInto That Forest by Louis Nowra

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, what a book. This was by far one of the most unusual books I have ever read. Louis Nowra certainly deserves his standing in the Australian literary landscape. I was completely drawn in to the world of Hannah and Rebecca – after a slow start. This book kind of creeps up on you like a stalking thylacine, and that is as it should be.

Hannah and Becky, awkward friends, lost and alone after a shipping accident, are washed up on a strange shore and are cared for by a family of Tasmanian Tigers, Dave and Corinna. The story of how they gradually become more tiger than human is a compelling one. They learn to talk without speaking, to hunt, to small fear, to experience life at its most visceral. Far removed from their former lives as human girls, they are happy animals for years, until the fat man Hannah remembers seeing near her home when she lived with her father is spotted in the forest. Hannah knows he kills tigers. A cat and mouse game ensues, with Ernie, the tiger hunter, and the girls circling around each other until, eventually, the girls are caught.

Becky’s father, Mr Carson, has been searching for them all this time and now he wants to take them “home”. Hannah discovers that whatever she knew as home is gone – her parents are dead. She knows she only has herself to rely on. What follows is a series of events that takes all of them to the very edge of sanity and back again. I will not issue spoilers here (not my policy), but the end is devastating. Despite that, I felt the ending was exactly should have happened and as a reader that is a prize beyond measure.

This is writing at its finest. Nowra paints a picture for all the senses – the smell of blood, the sense of it, the tingling in the bones that the girls experience is very effectively described. There is a real atmosphere to this book – first free and then terribly oppressed. It is unnerving, unsettling and makes you question exactly what is human? What is HUMANE?

I will remember this book for a long time.

Uncomfortable, especially if you have been a fourteen year old girl

ButterflyButterfly by Sonya Hartnett

An amazing, emotional and memorable book. Sonya Hartnett has captured so much in the 200 or so pages of this book – the pain of being fourteen is very raw here. I was happy to finish it because it made me feel uncomfortable in a very familiar way. There will be many women who read this book and see themselves printed on the page.

Plum, the main character, looks at herself in the mirror and appraises her changing form with the same sense of trepidation that many girls her age face. It brought a lot of the self doubt and anxiousness I felt at that age flooding back. Plum’s 2 older brothers are both harbouring secrets and that sets events in motion that reach a heart-wrenching climax in the last few pages of the book.

Her “friends” are experts in emotional manipulation and Plum is desperate for acceptance by them. Her desperation drives her to harbour a secret of her own and it is exposed, with life-changing consequences, at her own 14th birthday party. Throughout the book, Plum develops a friendship with the older woman next door, Maureen. Plum fails to realise this is a maipulative relationship until is it too late, but she wreaks a spiteful revenge that you know is shaping her for the years to come.

I would like to re-read this novel in about 6 months, when I can distance myself from it a little better. I realise I have not given much plot information here, but I really just want to urge people to read this books for themselves, rather than divulge any more plot than I have to. If you are a woman beyond the age of 14, read it.

Into That Forest by Louis Nowra

I remember reading Louis Nowra’s play, Summer of the Aliens when I was at Uni. Even then, I realised he was a different animal in the Australian literature landscape. Once I saw Cosi, I knew i was right. Now, I am reading Into That Forest – his latest book. I am not even halfway through and I have a sense of the altered reality that always sits in his writing. The story, of two girls who survive a river accident and end up on their own in the wilds of Tasmania, is mesmerising. I will post a full review soon – it is a short book, but I suspect I may end up revisiting the review at a later date and revising it…

The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner

The Dead I Know The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner

The Dead I Know is a gripping, emotional rollercoaster of a book. The story centres around Aaron Rowe, who has left school to train as a funeral director with John Barton, owner and operator of JKB Funerals. Aaron lives with his Mam in a caravan. Mam is not mentally sound and it makes Aaron’s life very difficult, especially because he loves her so much. Their relationship is a complicated one and, without slipping in a spoiler, not what I expected.

Aaron sleepwalks, having nightmares that seem like memories, and often wakes up in strange places. The novel focusses on a period of about a month in Aaron’s life, where the nightmares are becoming real and he is struggling to cope. He slowly builds a relationship with Skye, John’s younger daughter, and the brother/sister relationship they have offers him a safe haven – indeed the whole Barton family accepts him for who he is, without judgement, and they become his rock in a swirling maelstrom.
This is a novel about change, about growing up and about acceptance – both of oneself and by others.

I found the characters in this novel real and believable, which unnerved me a little. I am not accustomed to feeling as attached to a central character as I was to Aaron. His story is utterly compelling. Gardner never wastes words, but paints raw and visceral pictures with his language.
This is an intense reading experience, but well worth the effort because it is ultimately a story of hope.

Every Day by David Levithan – Mindblowing!

Every DayEvery Day by David Levithan

This book will break your heart. This book will get you excited about writing. This book will make you want to stop writing because you will never write this well.
“A” exists in a life that we cannot imagine. Every morning, “A” wakes up in a different person’s body. “A” lives a different life every day. Never knowing where it will be or who it will be. Sometimes “A” is female, sometimes male. Fat, thin, a-grade student, drug addict, nerd, jock, goth, happy, depressed, abused, loved. Whatever comes “A”’s way there are rules to live by. Then “A” meets Rhiannon while in the body of her boyfriend Justin and in an instant everything changes.
All of a sudden, “A” is attached. “A” continues to have contact with her after he has moved on – against all the rules. For the first time “A” has found someone to stick around for and there is no way of staying.
This is a breathtaking piece of writing. It is a story that is like no other. The closest comparison I can make for anyone who wants one is to The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Even then, it really does not prepare you for “A”’s life. Rhiannon becomes “A”’s reason for existence – she is beautiful, sensitive and unattainable. In his pursuit of her, all his rules for living in other people are cast to the wind and he becomes increasingly careless with the lives of those he inhabits – with some dire consequences. “A” is wise and world-weary, but not as worldly as he/she imagines. Rhiannon is constantly telling “A” that the real world, the world of those of us who live every day where we are, is more complex than “A” can understand because “A” only experiences life 24 hours at a time, and it is always different, always shifting.
Worlds collide and then break apart in this accomplished novel.
I was completely swept into “A”’s world, and Rhiannon’s, and I was very pleased that Levithan wrote the ending the way he did (no spoilers here). Antyhing else would have been untrue to the story.
A philosophically challenging and mind-bending book. I loved it.
For ages 14 and up.