The Art of Taxidermy – dark, but so exquisitely beautiful!

Image result for the art of taxidermy

Author: Sharon Kernot
Publisher: Text Publishing

Sharon Kernot’s verse novel, The Art of Taxidermy, is an exquisite, profoundly moving story of grief, loss and love and family.

The Art of Taxidermy is a beautiful verse novel that is set in a small country town in the 1960s. Kernot explores the theme of grief through her character, thirteen-year-old Lottie, who has experienced a great deal of death in her short life, including the loss of her mother. As the book unravels, you learn more about the losses that Lottie has experienced and you begin to understand why Lottie is so obsessed with death. Lottie’s way of grieving is unique – she collects dead animals and attempts to preserve them.

Lottie’s family has experienced significant losses and adversity. They are a German family living in post World War Two South Australia and one thread of the narrative is how members of the family were imprisoned in the Loveday Internment Camp during the war. Lottie’s family were considered enemies during this time and as such experienced great difficulties and hardships.

Lottie lives with her father, Wolfgang, who is gentle and kind-hearted, but he’s busy with work and he’s also distracted with his own grief. Her aunt Hilda lives nearby and helps Lottie’s father in the raising of Lottie. Aunt Hilda is a practical woman and she doesn’t understand why Lottie or her father cannot just move on with their lives. She doesn’t understand why they are both haunted by their losses.

The novel takes place in the 1960s and it is a time when people didn’t talk to children about death and dying. Lottie is confused and has been left to find her own way to understand what has happened to her family and to comprehend why she feels the way she does. No one is giving her advice or support, so she turns to taxidermy because that helps and gives her a place to understand her grief.

The reasons for Lottie’s desire to express her grief through taxidermy are evident.

I wanted flesh and blood, not ghosts.

Lottie’s father, a scientist, is accepting of her interests. Aunt Hilda, though, finds it ghoulish and unladylike. Kernot does manage to add some dark humour from the Lottie and Aunt Hilda relationship. Aunt Hilda finds some bloody sheets from one of Lottie’s experiments and believes Lottie has started her period. Aunt Hilda is delighted with this turn of events and gives Lottie advice and menstrual pads. Lottie accordingly uses the cotton from the menstrual pads to stuff a lorikeet.

The artwork on the cover also needs to be mentioned – the delicate gumnuts, wattle and pale blue and green eggshells that fill the cover are stunning and add another layer to the connection to the Australian bushland which features heavily in this verse novel and almost becomes another character in the book.

The Art of Taxidermy is ideally suited to verse novel. The dark and strange subject of taxidermy is a perfect fit. Verse novels are challenging to write and not many people can write them well, but Kernot has created a masterpiece. Beautifully voiced, this narrative took my breath away. What I love about this book, though, is that Kernot in such a beautiful way reminds us that no matter how ugly things may seem, there is beauty around every corner and that we all don’t have to see beauty in the same way.

Flower, Dead, Wither, Rose, Death

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

 

The Things That Will Not Stand

 

The Things That Will Not Stand - Michael Gerard Bauer

Author: Michael Gerard Bauer

Publisher: Scholastic Australia

Sebastian is at a university open day with his best friend Tolly when he meets a girl. Her name is Frida, and she’s edgy, caustic and funny. She’s also a storyteller, but the stories she tells about herself don’t ring true, and as their surprising and eventful day together unfolds, Sebastian struggles to sort the fact from the fiction.

But how much can he expect Frida to share in just one day? And how much of his own self and his own secrets will he be willing to reveal in return?

I love Michael Gerard Bauer’s writing. From the beginning, I enjoyed this book because it was full of Bauer’s trademark humour.

As the book progressed though, Frida started to irritate me. I am not good with people who can’t tell the truth. I guess this comes from associating with people who lie constantly. I hate it when I am not sure if someone is telling me the truth because they have told so many lies in the past, so I had a hard time with Frida and her pathological lying.

I did love the banter between all the characters and I particularly adored Tolly. Seb, at times, was a little pathetic and Frida with her lying irritated me, but Tolly was perfect. He was funny, intelligent and the type of person you wished you were friends with. To be perfectly honest I couldn’t understand why Tolly was friends with Seb.

Tolly stole the book from the moment his character was introduced.

‘We’ve had numerous complaints from our other patrons regarding the excessive drug use, offensive language and obscene behaviour at this table.’

I check Frida’s reaction. She’s observing him closely, like she’s dissecting him and peeling back the layers with her eyes.

His introduction is perfect. He flawlessly moves into the banter without missing a beat with Frida and Seb. For some time during the book, I seriously couldn’t understand why Frida preferred Seb over Tolly.

Bauer’s writing is hilarious. The Things That Will Not Stand is wonderfully funny and you will find yourself laughing out loud. Yes, I was little irritated by Frida and her lying. Yes, I thought that Seb was a bit of an idiot, but Bauer writes in such a way that you go through these emotions and yet at the end of the book you feel genuinely for these characters.

The Things That Will Not Stand is pure Bauer. It is heartbreaking and funny. I will admit that towards the end of the book I had reached my limit with Seb’s idiocy and Frida’s lying and then suddenly Bauer takes a different direction (and it isn’t like you didn’t know it was coming), but somehow he had me caring for these characters.  When reading the final chapters, I had tears running down my face (and I hardly ever cry when reading). I finished this book and I realised that for all their annoyances I liked Frida and Seb and I wanted them to be happy.

And despite my irritation, there were times when I enjoyed Frida and Seb a lot. I emphasised with Seb a lot more than I would like to admit (maybe he annoyed me because I saw a lot of me in him!).

There are two words I’m desperately hoping no one utters while we are here. Audience participation. More like audience humiliation is the way I see it. Why couldn’t we have gone to the drones? I’m missing them already. Drones are great. Drones do their thing in the sky. Alone. Drones never expect you to get up there and join them. Drones don’t force you to be part of their show. Drones don’t expect anything of you at all. They just let you be. People should be more like drones!

Oh Seb, I hear you!

Liberty

liberty-cover_final

Author: Nikki McWatters

Publisher: University of Queensland Press

Liberty is a magnificent book about three women who lived in three different centuries but who were all fighting for the same reason – their freedom.

Firstly, we are introduced to Jeanne, a teenage girl living in 1472, France. Jeanne is from a poor, disgraced family – her father is known as Matthew, the Coward. Due to her family’s lack of circumstances, Jeanne is forced into an arranged marriage. At the same time that Jeanne is dealing with the fact that she can’t marry the man she loves, war is coming to her beloved town of Beauvais. The townspeople have elected to fight their enemy, even though their numbers are low and they are not suitably equipped to fight.

In 1797 Ireland, Betsy is living in her much-loved Ireland and has joined the rebel army along with her brother and best friend to free Ireland from English rule. Betsy and the rebel army want Ireland to be liberated and they want to live lives free from oppression.

Our final story is told from Fiona’s perspective. The year is 1968 and Fiona is heading off to university for her first year as a law student. During this time, Fiona’s brother receives his draft notice and suddenly Fiona begins to take more notice of the anti-Vietnam protests that are occurring around her.

What I particularly loved about this book was that though each story is fiction, they are based on real events that happened in history. Jeanne and Betsy are both real women from our past and I’ve no doubt that there was a real-life Fiona who was grappling with what was happening in 1968 and wondering how she could make a difference.

It is evident that McWatters has done extensive research for this book. Each story is distinct. The sense of the period in each story is unmistakable. Each story unfolds in alternate chapters and there is never any confusion of which story is being told – each young woman is distinct and each story is captivating.

If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Betsy. At the beginning of Betsy’s story, she is spirited, young and a little naive. Being so young Betsy is idealistic and sees that England occupying her treasured Ireland is wrong. By the end of Betsy’s story, she is still young, but she considers life with more matured eyes. Betsy has fought a battle and that battle has made her wiser and stronger. Betsy has been through a war and she now knows the exact price of war, but still, her spirit and resolve remains strong. McWatters is a master writer because since finishing this book, Betsy has never been far from my thoughts.

Being a student of history, I know that rarely is history told through the eyes of females and so this book by McWatters is quite remarkable.  I love that McWatters sheds light on two brilliant young women from history who fought for what they believed. I loved that McWatters showed that women were making a difference. I also loved that McWatters showed men and women working together to make a difference. Jeanne, Betsy and Fiona all had strong and supportive men in their lives. These men knew what these women were capable of and they wanted to help these women reach their potential. The men in these women’s lives were in awe of these strong, independent and spirited women. I loved that these were stories of women empowering women but also of strong, decent men empowering women.

Liberty is a brilliant book for women and men. I hope that young men read this book and are just as inspired as the young women readers.  If you love politics, this is the book for you. If you love history, this is the book for you. If you love great storytelling, this is the book for you.

Thank you, Nikki Mc Watters, for giving us a book that resonates long after you have finished reading.

liberty3

Just Breathe

Author: Andrew Daddo

Publisher: Penguin

Just Breathe, a beautiful coming of age book. I consider myself a person who isn’t too emotional, even a tad cynical at times, but this book by Andrew Daddo melted my cold heart – I also shed a tear and I can’t remember the last time I shed a tear when reading a book.  I heard Andrew Daddo on the radio and he said when he asked his fifteen-year-old daughter what should he write about next, she suggested, ‘write something to make me cry’. Well, I’m sure Daddo’s daughter did cry.

This is a book about possibilities. Two young people who are on the brink of discovering who they are and what they hope for their future.  Just Breathe is an exhilarating, emotional rollercoaster – the rollercoaster of being a teenager.

What I particularly liked about this book was that the two characters that the book centres around are such great kids. Emily and Hendrix are two kids who are dealing with challenges in their life, but they aren’t letting these challenges rule their life or determine their future. Together they are navigating their own lives and supporting each other to be the best person they can be.

Emily is dealing with a life-threatening tumour but she doesn’t want it to define her, nor does she want it to limit her life. She wants to fall in love, to make mistakes and most importantly, she wants to be a teenager.

Hendrix is living and training as an elite athlete. His father is controlling his life because his father’s dream is to see Hendrix as the next national champion. In the beginning, Hendrix believes that this is what he wants, but as his world expands, he realises that life has so many more possibilities and that he doesn’t want to be tied to his father’s dream.

Emily and Hendrix are two beautiful characters who are intelligent, funny and snarky. Daddo’s writing is superb. Just Breathe will capture your heart from the moment you start reading and it never let’s go.

Special mention must go to Ethan. Hendrix and Ethan strike up an unlikely friendship through their running and Ethan reminds Hendrix of what it is to be a teenage and particularly a teenage boy.  Ethan provides us with many moments of sheer joy and humour. He is also the friend that everyone should have in their life. Ethan is an easy-going character whose actions start at his heart, not his brain. He doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body and he wants the best for everyone, but he isn’t a syrupy character and I applaud Daddo for providing us such a great character.

Just Breathe shows us that teenagers are fundamentally the same no matter the era. Daddo has managed to write a beautiful book that captures that fantastic time of being a teenager. When you can see all the possibilities that life has for you, but you are also frightened and overwhelmed by those possibilities. As you read this book, you will be taken on an emotional ride that will make you feel, laugh and cry. Just Breathe is a book full of heart.

daddo

I Am Out with Lanterns

Author: Emily Gale

Publisher: Random House

I Am Out with Lanterns is a fresh, multifaceted and funny novel. The story is told from multiple perspectives. It follows a medley of characters as it explores bullying, friendship, family, love, community and the yearning to belong and be accepted.

Gale imitates life in this book which I think is why it resonates so hard with you when you read it. The lives of Wren, Adie, Ben, Juliet, Hari intersect in ways that are both sad and beautiful. Like real life, their lives are like a roller-coaster, one moment riding a high and the next a low.

Gale’s writing is nuanced and vibrant and her weaving of so many characters together shows exceptional writing skill. There were times when I felt she was bringing too many diverse aspects to the table in one book, but I let that slide and understood that this was what the book was about, characters who show us that life is not black and white, that for most us life is filled with all different colours – a kaleidoscope of colours.

The grieving Wren who is cynical and sarcastic but yet also vulnerable. The lonely outsider Juliet who comes from a loving and supportive family. Juliet may have been my favourite character with her quirky sense of humour and her passion for literature. Milo who is compassionate, funny, smart and autistic. Hari who shows enormous strength, confidence and maturity for someone so young. And of course, Ben the villain. We hear from Ben and we realise that sometimes bullies are just that, bullies. We will always live in a world where individuals will be thoughtless, cruel and careless with other peoples’ lives and feelings. I love that Gale didn’t let Ben off the hook. Yes, he has difficulties in life but nothing that should allow him to behave the way he does in this story.

Gale has shown extraordinary restraint and yet still managed to weave together a plot that is sophisticated and relies heavily on chance and the randomness of life. The book has great lessons, but it also has great warmth, humour and charm. You will fall in love with Gale’s characters and when the book ends you will wonder and mused about the characters for days.

I Am Out with Lanterns is a book that will linger with you long after you read it because it is a book of hope and love.  Defiantly diverse and original this is a book that is a must-read.

lanterns4

Hive – AJ Betts

Author: AJ Betts

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

I am not quite sure why I decided to buy this book.  I liked Zac & Mia (AJ Betts most well-known novel), but it isn’t one of my favourite books, so I didn’t buy this book because I loved Zac & Mia.  I think I bought it because I had just come off from reading In The Dark Spaces by Cally Black and How to Bee by Bren MacDibble (who are actually the same person but that’s another blog post!) and I was drawn in by the idea of bees (through the cover) and a new world.

It took me quite some time to get my head around AJ Bett’s strange world in Hive. I often found myself re-reading sections because I thought I had missed a critical piece of information. I struggled to understand the world that AJ Betts had created, but I am happy that I kept reading because, by the last third of the book I couldn’t put it down, I was completely and utterly immersed in this unique world.

AJ Betts builds up this world, slowly and almost hypnotically. Her writing is mesmerising and you find yourself drawn into this strange, distinctive and closed world. I have read a lot of dystopian novels over the years, but this world is utterly original.

The protagonist of the book is a beekeeper named Hayley. At first, it would appear that Hayley is quite content in her small, inflexible and strict world. An underwater world ruled over by a mysterious, indistinct council.

I am not sure whether it is because I am watching The Handmaid’s Tale, but I felt myself making many comparisons. The world is much kinder in Hive – there are no sanctioned hangings or chopping off limbs for disobeying, but there is still this sense of foreboding in the world because everything is controlled by the “council”. Three hundred people live in this constructed hexagonal world. The world is set underwater, so day and night is created with phased artificial light. Zero population growth is carefully maintained and because there are so few citizens, this is a process that is methodically followed to safeguard genetic integrity. Within the world there is a shared sense of community and purpose – everybody does what is expected of them in their job and station. No one questions the council or the way the world operates. It feels very cult-like. There is no spontaneity in the world. Every day, every hour, every second is meticulously planned. This world doesn’t like surprises. Knowledge is confined and the citizens are given a limited vocabulary. The citizens cannot read or write. Books are non-existent for the citizens because as the judge’s son says, “Books never forgot.”

I love how AJ Betts subtly allows you to feel the cult-like world that Hayley lives in.

“Solitude wasn’t a sin, but to desire it was a cause for suspicion. It could be a symptom of sickness or melancholy – or worse, madness. Solitude was frowned upon and not to be trusted.”

Hayley enjoys her role as a beekeeper and it would appear that she is quite happy with her life, but she suffers from “head pains” (migraines).  In the world that Hayley lives head pains are seen as a sign of madness and Hayley has seen what happens to those who are deemed “mad”. Hayley finds that the one place that she seems to have relief from the head pains is the engineering room, so she breaks the rules and finds herself seeking solace in the engineering rooms on a regular basis.

During one such visit, Hayley finds a drip in the ceiling and it this drip in the ceiling and her interaction with the judge’s son that makes Hayley start to question everything she knows about her world. Hayley’s questioning takes her into a dangerous place because being inquisitive is not acceptable. The council likes their citizens ignorant and docile. The more Hayley questions her world and the council the further removed she is from her safe and predictable world. Hayley’s head pains lead her to seek relief through different avenues and at times she finds herself seeing the harsh reality of her world. The more Hayley sees, the more Hayley questions. Though Hayley finds all the questions “maddening” and she wishes for a simpler life – like her fellow citizens, but Hayley can no longer go back to living in her simple, ignorant world.

“I inhaled the sweet smoke of paperbark, hoping it would calm me as it calmed the bees. If only I could fall asleep while someone took apart my world, cleaned it up and put it back together in a neater version than before.”

Hive is a cleverly written dystopian novel that will appeal to fans of this genre. Hive, though, is much more than a dystopian read. AJ Betts has carved out an intimate, intriguing world and in this world, she has placed a tenacious protagonist who is questioning everything that she knows. Hive has captured my imagination and I am very much looking forward to reading the second and final volume in the series, next year.

honey-bees-401238_960_720

Small Spaces

Author: Sarah Epstein

Publisher: Walker Books

As a ten-year-old child, Tash Carmody witnessed the kidnapping of six-year-old Mallory Fisher or did she? When Tash tells the police and her family that she believes Mallory was taken by Sparrow – her imaginary friend, she loses all credibility but is Sparrow imaginary or real?

Sarah Epstein does a brilliant job of having the reader wondering if Sparrow is real or a figment of Tash’s imagination throughout the whole book.

Tash is slowly getting on with her life after years of therapy. She is learning to control the panic attacks and her fear of small spaces, but just as Tash feels that she has a grip on life, the Fisher family arrive back in town with a traumatised and mute Mallory who remembers little of her kidnapping. Tash’s world becomes consumed again by her imaginary friend Sparrow. But once again is he real or a figment of her imagination? Is Sparrow a manifestation of her childhood fears or is he an actual person capable of despicable acts? Will Tash figure it out or will she lose her grip on reality?

It wasn’t the mystery that I felt was compelling about this book but the sub-stories within the book. Obviously, Tash has gone through something traumatic, but instead, she is accused of attention seeking – by her parents and her therapist.

Tash is given a cookie cutter diagnosis by her therapist and throughout the following years the therapist continues to fail Tash and understand what happened to her or what Tash actually needs to recover and move on with her life. Her parents brush her off because they are busy with a newborn and they assume she is acting out for attention and her relationship with her parents is never the same over the years. It is probably this part of the book that I found the most distressing. At times it feels like Tash’s parents don’t even like her, let alone trust or believe in her.

Small Spaces is a good read. I do think the mystery reveal falls a little flat and most readers will come to realise what is happening far before the actual reveal (mainly if they are paying attention) in the book. Though despite these shortcomings Small Spaces is an interesting and compelling read.

Small Spaces2

 

Found – Fleur Ferris

Found

Author: Fleur Ferris

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Fleur Ferris fans will love this book because it has all of Ferris’ signature elements – tense, exciting, thrilling.

It is difficult to combine an action-packed book and to develop characters, but Ferris has done an admirable job of both, Yes, there is more action and drama than character development, but you still care for the main character Beth and her family & friends.

The story follows seventeen-year-old Beth, whose most significant problem is telling her parents she has been seeing local boy, Jonah, for the past few weeks. Beth’s parents are strict and her parents have a stringent set of rules in place that she must follow. Before Beth gets a chance to tell her parents about Jonah something happens which turns her world upside down and throws her life into confusion. Beth has lived an idyllic life with her parents and suddenly she learns that her parents have been keeping secrets from her and it those secrets that have Beth and her parents fighting for their lives.

Beth is a strong character – she’s smart, tough, funny and athletic. She goes through a gamut of emotions in this book. Beth’s roller-coaster of emotions is authentic and that’s what makes Beth feel so real. Her emotions are raw and it is hard not to feel for her when she is wrestling with these feelings.

Beth’s parents are great characters and Ferris does a great job of warming you to these two characters early in the novel. Not once did my support for her mum and dad waver.

I loved Beth’s dad, affectionately known as Bear. He’s a six-foot-four muscled shaved-head giant. Bear runs the local karate school and gun clubs. He often takes the local kids out bush for survival skills camps and all the young guys in town want to be him and are terrified of him.

The supporting characters add to the book and they also give that sense of community to the book. A small town that looks out for each other. If you could bottle that community spirit and protectiveness you’d be a millionaire and Ferris makes you as a reader understand this sense of community through her book.

Yes, the book is an action-packed thriller but it also has moments of great humour – mainly through Jonah and Beth’s interaction with the supporting characters. It is also a book about the richness of small town living and it is this that makes the book unique and not just another action-packed thriller.

The Centre of My Everything

 

Author: Allayne L Webster

Publisher: Random House Australia

The Centre of My Everything by Allayne L Webster was recommended to me by a friend. At first, when I started reading it, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but I think my initial reserve was that it was too close to home. This is a book that captures Australian small town living and it doesn’t hold back.

The book is set in small-town Mildura, where everyone knows or thinks they know everyone. The first character we meet is Corey. Corey is a football hero and high-school drop out who is struggling in the real world. On first meeting Corey it is quite easy to write him off as a loser, but as the book progresses we learn more about Corey and there is a lot more to him than initially meets the eye.

It is pretty easy to dislike Corey, particularly in the opening chapter when we learn that Corey and his mate Hamish have gone on a bender and stolen bones from the local cemetery. Upon reading this, I wasn’t particularly sure I wanted to keep reading but having grown up in small towns I know that sometimes things that happen don’t always define the person involved.

The next character to be introduced is Tara. It is relatively clear from the beginning that Tara is a disaster. She’s a beautiful disaster, but still a disaster. Her mother is off travelling with her boyfriend and has left Tara to fend for herself and Tara isn’t coping. Tara hasn’t had the best upbringing. Her mother hasn’t been the best role-model.

Next, we are introduced to Justin, who has come back to Mildura after leaving ten years earlier, at the age of fourteen when his mum committed suicide. Justin found drugs in the city but has come back to Mildura clean and looking for answers. His father is the local drunk and is seen most days propping up the bar at the local hotel.

Finally, there is Margo. Margo is aboriginal. She’s not into drinking, partying or messing up her life. Margo wants to escape Mildura and she is working hard at school, so she can leave Mildura and make a life for herself. Out of all the characters, Margo comes from the most stable home.

The book follows the characters and what results is a raw and riveting tale. This is a no-holds-barred book and how refreshing is that to read. I think that’s what holds people back from truly appreciating this book. This is real life and sometimes real life is difficult to read. At the moment I am reading an American YA book and I think that the most significant difference I noticed between the two is that American books are polished (but not always in a good way). Australian YA fiction tends to give us the flawed characters that are relatable. Australian authors don’t sugar-coat characters or a story and Allayne L Webster, in particular, has written a story that is beautifully Australian. Yes, at times it is crude and gut-wrenching, but for lots of Australians so is life.

This is a cautionary tale about binge drinking, but it is never condescending or blaming. Young people don’t always make the smartest decisions, but I think what this book shows is that a bad decision doesn’t have to define you. There are ways out of bad choices. The Centre of My Everything shows that there is hope for everyone, not just the chosen few. Your life may feel like it is out of control, but life can turn around for the better.

The book also presents to us the idea that how someone is presented is not always who they are as a person. That when treated with respect and love a person can show a different side. This happens to all the characters but in particular Corey and Tara. From the outset, these two characters are the most difficult to like. It would seem as though they are wasting their lives away with alcohol and bad decisions. It would also appear that they are no-hopers – not very smart and very little going for them except their good looks and charisma. Through the book, we learn that there is more to Corey and Tara and with compassion and understanding they show what potential they do have. Webster gives us two teenagers who are doing the best they possibly can under the circumstances that they have been handed in life. Neither of the two has had good role models in their life and when they are shown a different way of life they embrace their lives in more positive ways.

The Centre of My Everything is quintessential Australia. It is funny, crude, intense, moving and gut-wrenching. It isn’t always an easy read, but it is a book that will stay with you long after you read it and aren’t these still the best books. The books that make you think, question and wonder. What I loved most about this book is that it is a book about forgiveness and as they say, “to err is human; to forgive divine.”

grape-hyacinth-1360509__340