I had fun imagining Sonya Hartnett and Isobelle Carmody indulging in a little pre-publication chit-chat:
IC: What are you working on now, Sonya? SH: A children’s story about two orphaned brothers battling for survival in a world turned upside down; talking animals; themes of freedom and loss. What about you? IC: A children’s story about two orphaned brothers struggling for survival in a world suddenly turned alien; talking animals; themes of resilience and loss …
The result is two different novels, but the marketing meetings at Penguin must have been interesting.
Sometimes ‘good’ girls just have to be ‘bad’. The ‘heroines’ of both these novels desperately want ‘to fit in’, but eventually discover that ‘fitting in’ involves accepting yourself for who you are, not changing into someone else. This seems an obvious lesson, but of course it’s one of the hardest to learn. Both books are jacketed in gorgeous fashion; the matte photographic images are enticing and every bit as seductive as the CD cases and video clips they emulate. But where one is brash and vibrant the other is muted and subtle – a description which could aptly be applied to the plots, too. For Walker and Clark deal with the age-old concern of self-identity in very different ways.
It had to happen – a rush of books about the Olympics. But that doesn’t mean they’re all bad or that they won’t last now that the fuss is over. Celeste Walters’ The Last Race, her second book for young adults, should certainly be around for a while. The cover alone could sell the book and word of mouth should do the rest.
Given the recent happenings in East Timor, this is a timely novel. It is the moving story of the developing tragedy following the withdrawal of Portugal from its former colony and the invasion by Indonesia. The book is focused through Jose, a fourteen-year-old boy who finds the events puzzling and distressing. He finds some solace in the fighting cock given to him by his uncle, the person he most relies on for wisdom and guidance. Eventually, at the insistence of his mother, he is evacuated to Portugal, where he becomes a lawyer working for Amnesty International. The last chapter brings the book full circle, as we have first met Jose as an adult, in his law office in Lisbon, looking at a paperweight which holds the tail feather of a fighting cock.
Readers of science fiction tend to discover the genre during their early teens, which should make sf an ideal sub-genre of Young Adult fiction. But the mainstay of the Young Adults genre, as it has developed over the last thirty years, is the novel of family relationships. Science fiction writers are often uncomfortable with personal relationships. The stars are their destination, not the living room; transcendence is the game, not emotional sustenance.
In a memorable sketch about enrolling a child in an English public school, Peter Sellers had the Headmaster of Cretinbury refer to the child as being at ‘the awkward age – too old for Mother Goose and too young for Lolita’. The Angus & Robertson imprint series, Bluegum, aims to provide quality fiction for thirteen-to fifteen-year-olds – an awkward age indeed.
Two of the most recent publications in this series are books which have much in common: both deal with the experience of young women who migrate to Australia; both are told in the first person.