Tag Archives: Realist Fiction

Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
Book Reviews
August 12, 2010 posted by Morgan

Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian

Natalie Sterling wants to be in control. She wants her friends to be loyal. She wants her classmates to elect her student council president. She wants to find the right guy, not the usual jerk her school has to offer. She wants a good reputation, because she believes that will lead to good things. But life is messy, and it’s very hard to be in control of it. Not when there are freshman girls running around in a pack, trying to get senior guys to sleep with them. Not when your friends have secrets they’re no longer comfortable sharing. Not when the boy you once dismissed ends up being the boy you want to sleep with yourself – but only in secret, with nobody ever finding out. Slut or saint? Winner or loser? Natalie is getting tired of these forced choices – and is now going to find a way to live life in the sometimes messy, sometimes wonderful in-between.

Painting people into camps is really easy to do: either they’re good or bad, respected or mocked, smart or silly. For Natalie, high school – and life – is a pretty simple game of either-or. And she knows what she is: she’s a senior. She’s student council president. She’s going places. There’s no room for the other side, and definitely no room for the myriad shades of gray that make up the vast middle. Not That Kind of Girl opens up with Natalie recounting a story that’s become legend at her private school, Ross Academy.

It’s a story about a freshman girl who started dating a senior boy, and when she wasn’t ready for anything too physical, he ruined her reputation, and changed her life. Natalie uses that true story as one of the reasons why she has chosen to just opt out completely. After all, if she doesn’t play the game, there’s no chance at losing it. And she’s got her eye on the future – even if that means missing out on some of the present. Natalie’s steadfast resolve is threatened by the new crop of freshmen girls, though, who are led by her former babysitting charge. Spencer is brazen, overtly sexual, and totally in charge of her life. But when her antics get her in trouble, Natalie decides to take her under her wing and show her – and the rest of the so-called Rosstitutes – what self respect means. Natalie was sure she was going to teach the freshman girls a thing or two about how to thrive at Ross Academy, and how to rise above the misogyny and sexism that run rampant through the hallways. But instead, they start teaching her lessons – the hard way.

Throw in a deep attraction to one of the very boys Natalie is railing against, and you’ve got yourself a classic high school story with a feminist twist. I loved this book. Siobhan Vivian is a master at the contemporary high school scene (see her other works, like Same Difference, to understand) and this latest release – due out in September – further demonstrates her skills at depicting the ins and outs, the blacks, whites, and grays of teenage life. I’ve been Natalie – in both the good and the bad ways – and I was pleasantly surprised to see how she grew and changed throughout the story. Her thinking about high school relationships feels simplistic but is actually quite nuanced, and the differences between her and Spencer, and her and her best friend, illustrate how complicated male-female dynamics are, especially in a contemporary high school, where the playing field is never level and the responses are never entirely fair.

The supporting cast of characters feel like they were hand-picked from my own high school memories: the entitled, demeaning jock; the young teacher eager to leave her mark; the best friend who turns out to be different from what you thought. And I found myself gripped by the fast-moving plot, which spanned a year in the life of Ross Academy. There are no mermaids or sirens, vampires or ghosts in this book. What there is is a striking, gorgeous high school reality – straight up and dirty. Embrace it.

Pages: 304

Publication date: September 1, 2010

Rating: : ★★★★☆

Teaser quote: “I had expected Mike Domski to retaliate for Friday’s pizza incident, of course. I knew he’d want to embarrass me like I’d embarrassed him. But his attack was worse than any grease stain. It was degrading.”

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Book Reviews
July 19, 2010 posted by Nikki

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in fragile bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the thinnest. But then Cassie suffers the ultimate loss-her life-and Lia is left behind, haunted by her friend’s memory and racked with guilt for not being able to help save her. In her most powerfully moving novel since Speak, award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s struggle, her painful path to recovery, and her desperate attempts to hold on to the most important thing of all-hope.

We live in an era obsessed with body shape, size, and beauty. We live in a world of constant scrutiny from media outlets, peers, and most importantly, ourselves. Ever corner you turn, a magazine cover or billboard is plastered with a half naked girl the size of a toothpick. When did this become the norm, the standard? Products are being shoved down our throats that claim to help us look younger, skinnier, fitter, more tanned, more perfect. What’s wrong with us just the way we are?

Meet Lia. I’d love to tell you she’s your average, run of the mill teenager, but I’d be stretching the truth a little there. Lia suffers from a serious eating disorder, but don’t tell her that, because she’ll vehemently disagree with you. She’s already been to rehab twice, but according to Lia, she’s just fine. But if she’s just fine, why does she feel like she needs to hide her weird eating (or non-eating) habits from her family?

Then her best friend and partner in all things ‘thin’ dies one night under suspicious circumstances in a hotel room. Although the police are investigating all avenues, Lia has a pretty good idea about what happened to her: Cassie’s body simply shut down. Instead of setting an example for Lia, Cassie’s death only adds more fuel to her smoldering fire, and Lia’s eating habits (or lack thereof) take a deathly turn for the worse.

She’s not eating. She’s down to 98 pounds, but its not enough. All she sees when she looks in the mirror, all she feels when she runs her fingers over her skin is fat fat fat fat fat. She starts working out in the middle of the night when her family is asleep, creating ridiculous calorie deficits. She cuts herself. She fights with her family about her eating habits, but mainly, she fights with herself.

Every. Single. Moment. Of. Every. Single. Day.

Lia’s story is completely and absolutely unputdownable, and a must read for women and teenagers everywhere who have ever struggled with, or contemplated an eating disorder. Now I understand why Laurie Halse Anderson is an award winning author. Not only does she create shining characters with strong, loud voices, but she writes from the heart –  her blood, sweat, and tears are all over the pages of this novel.

Lia’s internal struggle with food, her inability to love herself, and the overtly warped reflection that she sees when she looks in the mirror is something many women can relate to. Her lack of control and the lengths she goes to in order to achieve a state of what she considers perfection is a heart wrenching, sobering lesson.

Wintergirls doesn’t point fingers, doesn’t lay blame. It doesn’t deal with the why so much as the what is. For people that simply don’t understand the grasp eating disorders have over their victims, Wintergirls is a must-read for you. For those of you who are currently struggling with issues of self-esteem and have a delicate relationship with food and your body, Wintergirls is a must-read for you.  For family and friends of victims of eating disorders, Wintergirls will help you understand your loved ones motivations a little better. Absolutely everyone can learn something from this book.

A powerful story that should be shouted from the rooftops. Laurie Halse Anderson, I heart you for telling it so honestly.

There’s no sugar coating on this one, folks. Kleenex may be required.

Publication date: 2009

Pages: 278

Rating:: ★★★★★

Teaser Quote: If I got down to 070.00 I’d want to be 065.00. If I weighed 010.00 I wouldn’t be happy till I got down to 005.00. The only number that would ever be enough is 0. Zero pounds, zero life, size zero, double zero, zero point. Zero in tennis is love. I finally get it.

The Piper’s Son – Melina Marchetta
Book Reviews
March 3, 2010 posted by Katie

The Piper’s Son – Melina Marchetta

Thomas Mackee wants oblivion. Wants to forget parents who leave and friends he used to care about and a string of one-night stands, and favorite uncles being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world.

But when his flatmates turn him out of the house, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt, Georgie. And starts working at the Union pup with his former friends. And winds up living with his grieving father again. And remembers how he walked away from Tara Finke two years ago, after his uncle’s death.

In a year when everything’s broken, Tom realizes that his family and friends need him to help put the pieces back together as much as he needs them.

Thomas Mackee feels as if he has nothing left to live for. His family is split apart; he no longer communicates with his closes friends and almost lost everything if not for the compassion of those friends he cut off. For as much as Tom seems to hate the world, the further we go along and find that Tom is struggling with hating himself. After an event that leaves him in hospital, Tom ends up pleading with his Aunt Georgie to let him stay. A decision that eventually puts Tom on the path to who he really wants to be.

Georgie is pregnant. To the man she broke up with for seven years. Who has a son from another relationship. Georgie and Sam have a careful relationship. What it is neither can really decide or talk about. For Georgie and Sam, silence is normal. Until Tom appears and unintentionally creates a channel for communication, and Georgie and Sam might have a chance to finally work out exactly what they mean to each other.

Francesca and Justine work at the Union pub, the pub where Tom’s flatmates stole $2000 from while they were working there. Tom decides that it is up to him to repay the debt. Francesca and Justine knew Tom through high school, and were cast aside when Tom lost his uncle, yet they never stopped caring. Slowly, Francesca and Justine find that they are getting their Tom back, and will do everything they can to help Tom return to who he used to be.

But Tom doesn’t only have his own life to worry about. His father is a former alcoholic whose drinking problem forced Tom’s mum and sister to relocate to Brisbane. His father abandoned Tom to fend for himself, and never once looked back. His favourite uncle was killed in a terrorist bombing attack, the one person Tom relied on for good, true, honest advice. His sort-of ex-girlfriend that he is still in love with is in Same and has moved on, refusing to communicate in any form.

In a life where everything seems so tangled, will Tom be able to work out, what it is he truly wants before it is too late?

The Piper’s Son is the fifth novel from Australian author Melina Marchetta, and is set five years after the events of Saving Francesca. Yet, it is not necessary to have read Saving Francesca to understand the story, as believe it or not, this is the first Marchetta novel that I have read. That may come as a surprise to some who knows Marchetta’s work, but I now know why Marchetta is regarded as one of the best young adult authors in Australia.

The Piper’s Son was one of the most captivating and engaging books I have read this year. I could not get the characters out of my head, constantly wanting to pick up the book and find out what happens next. Through the perspective of Tom and occasional flashes into the mind of Georgie, I’ve discovered two characters that I care about. Tom is troubled and flawed, needing love and acceptance, even if sometimes he shrugs it off and pretends like nothing can tough him. Georgie is that aunt that you wish you have – caring enough to let you stay when you have nowhere else to go and perceptive enough to know that something is wrong, even if you don’t want to talk about it. From the beginning of the novel where nothing goes right for either Tom or Georgie, to the end where you find that maybe, just maybe they can make their lives work in a positive way; you are there with them, each step and failure along the way. Failure that reminds you that they are just a human as anyone else.

Set in a modern day Sydney with references and mentions to recent events from everything to the Lord of the Rings to the London terrorist attacks, Marchetta has created a world that is gritty and instantly believable and recognisable as a world that we belong to.

I highly recommend this to everyone, no matter the style of novel you like to read.

Publication date: March 2010

Pages: 328

Rating:: ★★★★★

Teaser quote: He went to the sent box praying that somehow the email got rejected. No such luck. Twenty seconds earlier anabelsbrother sent taramarie a message, now with the words cheers, or see ya, or whenever. But signing off with the word, love.

Author Interview with Stephanie Kuehnert
Author Interviews
November 20, 2009 posted by Nikki

Author Interview with Stephanie Kuehnert

Stephanie Kuehnert’s new book, Ballads of Suburbia, is our Book of the Month here at yaReads. We think Stephanie is a pretty amazing story teller and is a breath of fresh air in the world of Young Adult fiction. She deviates from the regular YA formula and her books are confronting, edgy, and real. It’s great to see someone pushing the boundaries. She was kind enough to answer some of our questions about Ballads, for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

If you had to choose a ballad that fits your own life story what would it be?

Okay, this is seriously the hardest question anyone has ever asked me! It’s hard for me to choose just one because different phases of my life had different songs. I guess, I’d have to say “The Young Crazed Peeling” by The Distillers though. There are things that don’t apply literally (I’m not from Melbourne, I didn’t have an abusive dad, though my mom does blame herself for me growing up troubled a bit), but it’s basically to me about getting through your rough teenage years where you’re bored and troubled and as Brody sings “you can wash it all down, swallow your story, get smacked up, yeah and go down in drum roll glory,  but it won’t solve it, committing self inflicted crime.” And then you’re “liberated from those sad side city streets”, find love, speak truth, and  “it hit me, I got everything I need. I got freedom and my youth.” Basically my troubled youth ended well, and gave me a gift of creativity, and I finally did find good love.

You’re obviously heavily influenced by music. What are your top three bands/artists of all time?

Nirvana, Hole, and Social Distortion, all of whom I discovered between the ages of 12 and 14.

Where does your musical influence come from?
Somewhere around age 10 or so music became as essential to me as food, water and air. I got into the Beatles first, through my parents. Then we got MTV and I started getting into alternative rock like REM, Jane’s Addiction, Depeche Mode and Faith No More as well as heavier stuff like Metallica and Megadeth. I had a couple friends who were always discovering new bands first, like one of them got Nirvana’s first album Bleach right before Nevermind came out and they got huge. One of them got stuff from a cool older cousin. That was where I heard Hole’s first album and I remember that friend brought the first Nine Inch Nails album to my 12th birthday party and we were like “The devil wants to f*** me in the back of his car?!?” BAD-ASS! But really it was Nirvana that had the hugest influence. Something about how Kurt Cobain screamed, it just soothed all that hurt inside and I wanted more music like that. So I bought bands’ albums that he mentioned in interviews. That’s how I discovered the Sex Pistols. Nirvana and The Sex Pistols were my two favorite bands in junior high and from there I went on to discover more punk. Punk gave me voice and a sense of release. It all comes from that.

Now for Ballads, how long did it take to write?

Actual writing time probably 2 years, but I wrote a really, really crappy book when I first started the creative writing program at Columbia in 2000/2001 called The Morning After. It had some of the same characters from Ballads, but it was a fictionalized version of my own life and that was not what I wanted to do. I had something to say about suburbia and I wanted to do it justice and find the write structure for it. So I shoved that manuscript in a drawer and went on to write my first published novel, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. In the middle of doing that, while I was in grad school, I took a class with Joe Meno and he did this whole lesson on ballads and that was when I realized I needed these confessional type ballads for my suburbia book. Still, I finished writing IWBYJR and then came back to Ballads in 2006. I need a lot of stewing time for my books. But the ballad structure was exactly what I needed. I wrote the book fast. I think the only scene from The Morning After that made the cut though was when Kara and Adrian meet.


Did you make a conscious decision to kill of Maya, or did the story kind of write itself that way?

I knew Maya was dead when I met her. Ballads, unlike IWBYJR, I wrote linearly. I wrote that epilogue first and when Kara had that vision of Maya, I saw her too and I knew that Maya was dead. I knew how she would kill herself too, but I had to discover the whys through the writing, let Maya slowly reveal them to me.

A lot of the characters in Ballads (Liam and Kara especially) say that love is for suckers, yet they both end up falling for the people they’re messing around with. Do you think that people can have no-strings attached relationships like they were both aiming for?

Kara’s story is not as uncommon as society would have us think. Why do you think teens (and people in general, I suppose) turn to self-mutilation, drugs and substance abuse to help solve their problems? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself and I would say no. I had a couple Adrian style relationships when I was younger and always got emotionally involved and got hurt. Now I’m a very emotional person so that is just me, but when I’ve seen other people do it, it seems like someone always gets hurt too.

Kara’s story is not as uncommon as society would have us think. Why do you think teens (and people in general, I suppose) turn to self-mutilation, drugs and substance abuse to help solve their problems?

Because as a society we don’t communicate well. That’s kind of the whole theme of Ballads, the whole tragedy of it. If parents had talked to children or children had talked to parents or other trusted adults or each other, things might not have happened the way they did. I hope this story creates a dialogue and gets people talking so fewer kids suffer in silence like the characters in Ballads and like I did as a teen too.

If Kara’s parents had stayed together, do you think she would have gone down a different road, or do you think she was destined to learn life’s lessons the way she did?

Well, it depends. If they stayed together for the right reasons and actually created a healthy environment, then maybe things would have been different. But “staying together for the kids” and creating this unhealthy silence wouldn’t haven changed things. Also Kara had other issues. She felt isolated and friendless, she might have still gone down the same path because of that. I don’t think anyone is destined for anything, there are always choices, but there are also always multiple factors that shape why we act the way we do.


Do you think Adrian will ever clean himself up?

Um, I don’t know. Part of me wants to hold out hope. Part of me is cynical because I have friends (ex-friends really) who are still in the throes of addiction and it seems like they will never come out. Adrian’s a lot like them because he just doesn’t care. If you don’t care enough to save yourself, you’re pretty much screwed. No one can save you but you.

For all those people out there who live by the motto “once a drug addict, always a drug addict” what do you have to say to that?

Depends what you mean by that. If it’s like a negative thing, like people can never turn their lives around, I think that is bullshit. There are always choices and opportunity for change. But it is a fight to overcome an addiction. I struggled with self-injury and even though I haven’t cut in eight years when a friend of mine was killed in a motorcycle accident last year, it took unbelievable willpower not to go back to old ways of running from pain. So yeah, you are always an addict in that sense where it’s not like you can just indulge again without consequences. But you can start fresh and turn your life around.

What would be your advice to teens reading Ballads that might be following a similar path as Kara?

Find someone trusted to talk to. Friends are good, but finding an adult is important too. There is no shame in therapy. My life didn’t turn around until I seriously started going to therapy. That combined with my art–my writing–helped me through my darkest times. Art is the best escape– no hangovers, no regrets, no scars. Finding some form of art–music, writing, painting, photos, film–to express yourself with is the best way to begin to heal. Along with talking. Talking is so necessary.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a few different things. It takes a while for the ideas to formulate so I do more than one thing at once until I really get going. I’m working on a book about a teenage girl and her alcoholic, still-teenage-acting mom trying to grow up and finally put down roots somewhere together. Then I’m working on a book with paranormal elements, that involves mythology and rock ‘n’ roll.

Book Reviews
November 10, 2009 posted by Nikki

Ballads of Suburbia – Stephanie Kuehnert

Kara hasn’t been back to Oak Park since the end of junior year, when a heroin overdose nearly killed her and sirens heralded her exit. Four years later, she returns to face the music. Her life changed forever back in high school: her family disintegrated, she ran around with a whole new crowd of friends, she partied a little too hard, and she fell in love with gorgeous bad-boy Adrian, who left her to die that day in Scoville Park….

Amid the music, the booze, the drugs, and the drama, her friends filled a notebook with heartbreakingly honest confessions of the moments that defined and shattered their young lives. Now, finally, Kara is ready to write her own.

The blurb featured above doesn’t even come close to doing Ballads of Suburbia justice. This is not your regular dose of girl-meets-bad boy-but-finds-her-way-back-to-the-right-side-of-the-tracks kind of YA fiction. There is nothing censored, dusted over, or left out of this novel. I’m not even really sure you could classify this one as YA. Having said that, I think its something all angsty teens should read, and not because it has a ‘drugs are bad’ message, although it does, in a round about kind of way. Mostly, because it’s so real and I reckon there is a whole bunch of teens wandering around suburbs just like Oak Park, feeling just like Kara does, thinking there’s no escape. Ballads is a tale about choices and how those choices can affect us for the rest of our days.

Kara’s decent into darkness essentially starts when her parents split up. They moved to the suburbs so they could live out their happy all-American fantasy of being a perfect family, only it didn’t quite work out that way. Not even close.

Kara is hurting and she’s looking for someone, something to make it all stop. Her quest takes her to fairly innocent places at first. Alcohol, cigarettes, a bit of pot. And it works, for a while, but soon enough, the pain starts to push through the mask and she knows she’s going to need something new.

Enter Adrian. Who needs drugs when you’ve got Adrian? He’s sexy, badass, and he likes Kara. No one has ever liked her before, not in that way. Who wouldn’t be pulled in by his trance? Before long, though, it becomes obvious that Adrian is bad news. He’s into hard drugs and he’s unapologetic about it. Soon the high of being around him isn’t enough either, and Kara jumps on the junkie wagon.

What I loved about Ballads is that the narrative does not, in any way, lay blame on Adrian for Kara’s drug use. Although she goes through some seriously messed stuff, Kara makes a choice, a whole bunch of them actually, and the narrative recognises that the reason Kara becomes addicted to heroine is because she allowed herself to. She didn’t need Adrian’s influence – hell some could argue that he didn’t ever actually influence her to use, but he certainly never tried to stop her – her pain and despair was so great that if she hadn’t gotten it from Adrian, I’m certain she would have found it elsewhere.

Kara’s problems essentially started at home, though I don’t entirely believe its fair to blame her problems on her parents, either. For me, it seemed that Kara is the kind of girl that was always going to at least dabble in illicit substances. Would she have taken it to such extremes if her family life had been more stable? Who knows. It’s impossible to say, but there are plenty of kids from well adjusted families that end up as heroine junkies. For some, I think it comes from within. Ballads acknowledges this and lays it all out on the table, judgment free. I bet that every single person will take something different from this novel, and that’s why I think everyone should read it.

This one comes with one hell of a warning folks. If you’re looking for something warm and fuzzy, don’t read this book. If you’re looking for a teen romance that takes a walk on the wild side, don’t read this book. If you’re looking for something that ends up all good and well in the end, then don’t read this book. If what you’re looking for is a real life read that will break your heart, fill your eyes with tears, and force you to face the hard questions head on, then this is absolutely, most definitely the book for you. If you’re looking for a book with complex and deep characters, then this is the book for you. If you’re looking for a read that will keep you thinking long after you finish the last word, then Ballads of Suburbia is a must-read for you.

Kara’s tale is a raw, hard-hitting lesson on just how much guts it takes to fight your way from the dark side into the light. Stephanie Kuehnert’s effortless prose and outstanding imagery will leave you standing front and center, right in the middle of all Kara’s chaos.

Be prepared to have your beating heart ripped right out of your chest.

Rating:: ★★★★★

P.S – If you’ve never known someone that’s affected by drugs the way Kara and some of her friends in this book are, I hope that you can look upon her story in a non-judging way. And if you, or someone you love has been kissed by drugs, then I hope you can take something of Kara with you into your days. Her story is more than just a fictional tale.

In Ecstasy – Kate McCaffrey
Book Reviews
September 30, 2009 posted by Nikki

In Ecstasy – Kate McCaffrey

Ecstasy. I’d always thought I might try it one day. I’d heard kids at school talking about getting wasted on the weekends. They made it sound awesome. I pictured the roughly made tablets with their tiny butterflies. An amazing experience inside a tiny pill.

My body ached and my face was sore – I guess from smiling so much. I don’t remember ever laughing more. A new world had opened up for me, a place where I was confident and beautiful and a hot guy like Lewis wanted to be with me. That morning I figured life couldn’t get any better. How could something that made you feel like that be bad for you?

Meet Mia. She’s only just turned fifteen and she’s always been in Sophie’s shadow. Not that she minded, not really. Without Sophie, Mia wouldn’t have a social life. Without Sophie, Mia would probably be a nobody. So when Sophie takes Mia to a party one night and offers her an ecstasy tablet, Mia doesn’t even think about saying no. Before she even realises what is happening to her, Mia is flying high – and loving every minute of it. Armed with the artificial confidence the drug provides, Mia is invincible, and her newfound radiance does not go unnoticed.

Enter Lewis. Very hot. Sweet and charming as hell. Suddenly very interested in Mia. Lewis is no stranger to ecstasy. His parents are away a lot and Lewis is often left to fend for himself. It’s not hard to turn into a party animal when you’ve got no parental units to keep you in your cage. The more Mia hangs out with Lewis, the more ecstasy she takes. Before she even knows what is happening, Mia can’t socialize without it.

Slot in Sophie here. Sophie is supposed to be Mia’s best friend, but since she’s been hanging out with Lewis and his crew, she’s changed. Sophie can see what is happening to Mia, but when she tries to talk to her about it, Mia reckons that she’s just jealous and blows her off. Sophie has a whole lot of other stuff going on in her life and she really needs her best friend right now … but is that even Mia anymore?

In Ecstasy is all about the downward spiral. For Mia, its one that is fueled by drugs and an overarching need to fit in, feel popular and be loved. For Sophie, while it may have started like that for her, her painful journey takes a bit of a different turn. With both girls so disconnected, who is going to save them? Who is going to snap them back to their reality?

Kate McCaffrey’s portrayal of the drug scene is terrifyingly accurate.  If you’re thinking about taking drugs, or you know someone who may be thinking about it, reading something like In Ecstasy first might be a smart move. While Mia’s story isn’t applicable to everyone, and not everyone who takes drugs gets addicted, In Ecstasy is an excellent representation of what can happen if you do.

I can’t say that I enjoyed reading this, but I’m certainly glad that I did.

Rating:: ★★★★☆

Halfway to Good – Kristen Murphy
Book Reviews
September 14, 2009 posted by Nikki

Halfway to Good – Kristen Murphy

It’s the first day of Term One, and Luke and Anna are on opposite sides of the student-teacher divide. School is the last thing Luke feels like – how can he feel halfway to good when his father is sick, his mother is sad and his older brother is painfully present?

Anna’s life still revolves around love, friendship and homework, but she’s a graduate teacher now. Can she cope with a bullying co-worker, a persistent ex-boyfriend and a class of unforgiving Year Elevens, and still find time to help Luke?

Luke is one depressed teenager, but if you ask me, he’s got pretty good reasons to be so down. His dad is sick – really sick – and life at their place just isn’t as peachy as it used to be. But that’s not where it stops. Luke has other problems, too, he just can’t figure out what they are. He’s got this awesome girlfriend, but he doesn’t want to be with her anymore. Why? No one knows – not even Luke. He’s got these awesome friends, but he keeps shutting them out. Why? No one knows – not even Luke.

Anna is graduate teacher, fresh out of university. Of course she’s worried about her first full time teaching position, but she never anticipated as many stumbling blocks as she encounters. For absolutely no reason at all, one of Anna’s superiors takes an instant disliking to her and does everything she can to ensure Anna’s first year on the job is anything but easy. Luckily for Anna, she’s got a wicked mentor assigned to her, who becomes more like a best friend than a colleague.

Then there’s the whole thing with Anna’s ex-boyfriend. He left town – and her – a while ago, but now he’s back. He’s back, and he wants Anna back too. Anna’s head screams run but he heart… well her heart tells her to stay. What does one do, when presented with such a scenario, especially when he hurt her so badly before?

Luke and Anna’s worlds collide when Luke walks into English at the beginning of the year. She’s his teacher, but by the end of the novel, they’ll mean more to each other than simply student and teacher. In a bizarre twist of fate, Anna’s sister is marrying Luke’s brother. Being intimately linked like that is weird for them at first, especially Luke, but as he gets to know Anna more, he stops thinking of her as his teacher and starts thinking of her as someone he could grow to trust, someone he could grow to care about.

Halfway to Good is narrated through both character’s perspectives. The advantage that this novel has over singularly narrated novels is that the dual narration concept leaves nothing to the imagination. Readers don’t need to assume anything because both stories are sprawled on the pages for all to see. It’s fantastic to see how Luke and Anna impact on each other’s lives, and I loved not having to draw my own conclusions for once. Interestingly, because Anna is older than Luke, her perspective provides a different kind of slant to the story, adds a certain depth that is sometimes lacking in regular YA fiction. I still think that teenage readers will be able to relate to Anna, though. She’s only a first year teacher and her thinking patterns aren’t too ancient that the kids wont get where she’s coming from.

Halfway too Good is a solid read, and one that enthusiasts of general, contemporary young adult fiction will love. I fell in love with both Luke and Anna, and I wanted so badly to help heal their aching souls. Narrated through both a male and a female perspective, this is one of those universal novels that I reckon both boys and gals will get into. Can’t get much better than that.

Rating: : ★★★★☆