Steven Herrick shines a light on domestic violence

 

bogan

Author: Steven Herrick
Publisher: University of Queensland Press

Steven Herrick is one of my favourite authors. His gentle humour and vibrant characters bring both light and heart to difficult topics. The Bogan Mondrian deals with themes of grief and domestic violence.

Herrick’s writing is always unashamedly Australian and personally, I love this about his books. The Bogan Mondrian is set in the Blue Mountains where Herrick has lived since 1994. I might add that Herrick was born and bred in Queensland and I always feel this Queensland connection whenever I read his books – notably his sense of humour which features in all his work and despite the heavy themes of The Bogan Mondrian Herrick adds humour to this story which helps to balance it out.

‘Absenteeism…’ he repeats.
‘A scourge,’ I finish. Charlotte is a bad influence.
Cue loud exhale.
‘You will both report to Mr Dexter,’ he checks his watch again, ‘at lunchtime, for one week of detention. An email will be sent to your parents.’ He looks at me meaningfully. ‘I’d welcome a meeting.’
‘There’s only Mum left,’ I say.

He offers a stage-managed cough. ‘Yes, I’m well aware, Saunders. I believe you mentioned that last time you were in here.’

‘My dad’s alive,’ Blake adds, perhaps trying to be helpful. ‘But he lives in Queensland.’

When the book opens, we are introduced to Luke. A young man who lost his father to cancer and despite losing his dad two years ago, Luke’s grief is still raw and real. Since his dad’s death, Luke has lived in a fog and he is meandering through life with no direction. As a result, Luke spends much of his time wagging school and swimming at the reservoir. Luke doesn’t hate school but thinks it is boring and pointless. But when Charlotte, a young woman from a wealthy family, comes into his world, he realises there are worse things than school. Charlotte’s father beats his wife.

In reading a piece that Herrick wrote for Reading Time, he had this to say about choosing Charlotte’s family as victims of domestic violence.

The choice of a well-to-do family was deliberate – domestic violence affects people from all classes, races and religions. In the novel, Luke becomes a catalyst for Charlotte confronting the violence happening behind the neatly-trimmed hedge, circular driveway and security door. I chose a teenage boy and girl because this is not a women’s issue – the notion of masculinity and our propensity to violence is for us to understand and fix. I hope Luke is an example of male strength, kindness and empathy. I hope he’s a believable antidote to the destruction wrought by Charlotte’s father.

Charlotte father is a charismatic, attractive and successful man. When Luke first meets him, he questions Charlotte’s story. The man he meets doesn’t fit the version that Charlotte has given him. Luke starts to disbelieve Charlotte. Charlotte’s father is protected by his wealth, his status and his persona as a “good bloke”.  Herrick shines a light on so many facets of domestic violence. Men who hit their wives don’t always look like monsters and don’t always come from the wrong side of town.

As we all know, violence against women is about power. Herrick shows in The Bogan Mondrian what happens when the power is taken away. He encourages us to think about how we can take power from these men. Luke and Charlotte took away Charlotte’s father’s control. Herrick admits that how this was achieved in The Bogan Mondrian is not a solution to domestic violence. Domestic violence is complex and different for everyone experiencing it – to say that there is one solution is to simplify the issue and Herrick doesn’t want to simplify the matter. He wants to show how, as individuals and as a community, we can flip the power away from these violent men.

I’ve always admired authors who can give us fleshed out minor characters and Herrick does this beautifully. The Bogan Mondrian has a stellar cast. There is Rodney, the car thief who is both shady and kind. Luke’s best friend, Blake, who isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed but his goodness shines through. There is the librarian, Tracey, who shows Luke where to find information and give him moral guidance and Mr Rosetti, who is teaching Luke how to swear in Italian.

The Bogan Mondrian is a sensitive and beautiful story that highlights an issue that affects 1.5 million Australians, but most importantly, Herrick gives us Luke – a lovely young man who hopefully is our future.

Mondrian, Red, Blue, Yellow, Abstraction

 

After the Lights Go Out

lights2

Author: Lili Wilkinson

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

I was captivated by this book. I find preppers endlessly fascinating. Full-on doomsday preppers and conspiracy theorists seem driven by paranoia and pessimism and I find that sort of mindset curious.

Before I read this book, I thought that doomsday preppers were a little eccentric, maybe slightly mad. Pru’s father would certainly fit that bill, but what I also learnt is that doomsday preppers have some fantastic skills and are certainly prepared for any disaster that may prevail.

Pru, her two sisters and her doomsday prepper father live on the outskirts of Jubilee, a remote mining town in the Kimberley. The girls are home-schooled and live a relatively isolated existence as their father has forbidden any social media and they aren’t encouraged to make friends or become a part of the community. They spent most of their time learning skills and practising drills for the apocalypse. The girls humour their father, but unlike him, they don’t believe that one day the world will cease to exist as we know it.

So what happens when their dad is right? When a solar flare triggers a shutdown of all power and electronics and Pru and her sisters are thrown into a world that their father has prepared them for, or has he?

Pru’s father is away at work on the mines hundreds of miles away and Pru, as the oldest sister, must take charge and make decisions for her and her sisters. With a bunker of supplies and survival skills provided by their conspiracy-theory obsessed father, the girls know how to keep themselves safe. Pru’s dad has been prepping the girls for this event for years.

But the girls don’t think like their father and that’s where the problems arise. Pru’s dad has trained her for this event and in that training comes the mantra, ‘family first’. But Pru isn’t like her dad and she feels a connection to the people in the town. As each day passes and Pru feels the severity of the situation, she begins to wonder whether her father was right.

Would you share supplies, even if it meant depriving your family? Would you keep your family safe? Would you keep your secrets from a community that needed you? As an introvert and someone who doesn’t particularly like people, my first thought was that I would bunker down and not worry about the community. But I have to admit that Wilkinson made me question this decision and that’s the beauty of this book. I can understand Pru’s dilemma, she is following her dad’s directions and she feels an obligation to the only person who has ever taken care of her but is her dad right?

The book chronicles a disaster and its aftermath, but it is also a story of community, friendship and love. There is also a lot of humour in the book. The characters are beautifully written and you find yourself, like Pru, drawn to them. The people are realistically and honestly portrayed and Wilkinson has done an excellent job of making you care for each and every member of the community.

‘In the past,’ he says slowly, ‘the holiest priests were the ones who kept themselves apart from the world. They formed monasteries in harsh, remote places. They saw only one another, and spent their lives devoted to prayer. This, they told themselves, brought them closer to God.’ He uses a tea towel to wipe the mugs clean. ‘I respect their devotion, but honestly I think that’s nonsense. Prayer brings me comfort, but it doesn’t bring me closer to God. People do. Hard work. Helping others.’

After the Lights Go Out has a dramatic premise of a disaster placing Australia and most of the world in a situation that is scary and unthinkable for most, but like most Australian young adult writers Wilkinson writes with such humour that you find yourself laughing throughout the book. I love how Australian authors use humour to balance their stories.

Keller pulls his shirt over his head and follows her. He doesn’t react to the coldness of the water in any way, because he would think it unmanly to squeal. That’s the kind of dickhead he is.

Wilkinson is a brilliant writer. Her writing pulled me into the story and I was mesmerised from beginning to end. After the Lights Go Out is uncompromising, shocking, thrilling and yes, funny.

Lights

The Secret Science of Magic – Melissa Keil

Melissa Keil is one of the finest voices in Australian YA fiction. Her books are always delightful, entertaining and wonderfully eccentric and The Secret Science of Magic, her third novel is no exception.

A quirky, high school romance unfolds in alternating voices of maths whiz Sophia and aspiring magician Joshua. The Secret Science of Magic is a book with a lot of heart that deals with complex questions of love, identity, friendship – sensitively and realistically.

Sophia is a fantastic and refreshing character. She is almost certainly on the autism spectrum – brilliant in science and maths but finds people challenging. Life for Sophia is not comfortable – crowds frighten her and she suffers from panic attacks. She lives inside her own head and sees the world a little differently to those around her. Sophia is authentically geeky and readers will emphasise with her anxiety.

I like that Sophia shows us that just because someone doesn’t feel comfortable around people doesn’t mean that they are shy, aloof or uninterested. Many of those on the spectrum choose to be alone, preferring their own company – a little like introverts.

“I resist the urge to remind her that I am not shy. That’s always been the conclusion most people draw about me, the simplest and least demanding diagnosis, which I rarely bother to correct, ‘shy’ is a label everyone can get on board with.”

Keil has an exceptional gift of putting together characters who are uniquely different but so well matched. Joshua is empathetic, vulnerable, awkward and romantic. He understands Sophia and Sophia needs a Josua in her life.

Joshua brings fun and joy to Sophia’s life. He uses his magic to woo her (often anonymously) and it works. It is sweet, charming and gorgeous. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like magic.

“Mr Grayson’s vintage movie projector on the back of the room starts to whirl…it floods the dreary lab with flickering light and then begins broadcasting a Dr Who Xmas special.”

Josh is unique because at school he’s a loner but he’s okay with this, he’s happy and he isn’t fazed by what other people think.

Melissa Keil has a knack for creating colourful and likeable characters that you wish you knew in real life. Her characters feel real and always are fun, engaging and intelligent.

The Secret Science of Magic is a modern classic for today’s generation. Both Joshua and Sophia are clueless about what their life after high school will look like. Keil doesn’t sugar coat the reality of what life can be like for a teenager and the confusion that occurs particularly in Year 12 where life is about to change dramatically.

What I love about Melissa Keil’s books is they sparkle and yet they have hidden depths. She always makes her books funny, uplifting but also moving and emotionally wise. She makes it look so smooth and effortless, but a book with this much heart has been written by an exceptional author.

Like her previous novels, The Secret Science of Magic is humorous, heartfelt and compelling. Once again Melissa Keil has delivered a book that is heartwarming, empathetic and often hilarious – a delightful read.

heart