Guest Review: Invisible Boys – Holden Shepherd

This must be the standout book of the year – everyone is talking about this. Read what guest viewer Andy Macleod thought of this award winning debut novel.

Invisible Boys

Holden Shepherd

Fremantle Press

ISBN: 9781925815566 

 

Description:

In a small town, everyone thinks they know you: Charlie is a hardcore rocker, who’s not as tough as he looks. Hammer is a footy jock with big AFL dreams, and an even bigger ego. Zeke is a shy over-achiever, never macho enough for his family. But all three boys hide who they really are. When the truth is revealed, will it set them free or blow them apart?

Invisible Boys is a raw, confronting YA novel, tackling homosexuality, masculinity, anger and suicide with a nuanced and unique perspective. Set in regional Western Australia, the novel follows three sixteen-year-old boys in the throes of coming to terms with their homosexuality in a town where it is invisible – and so are they. Invisible Boys depicts the complexities and trauma of rural gay identity with painful honesty, devastating consequence and, ultimately, hope.

 

Invisible Boys – A review by Andy Macleod

Up until two days ago, I had only once before sobbed uncontrollably while reading a novel. It was Skallagrig, by William Horwood. It was the 1980s and I was in my twenties.

I’m now in my late fifties, and I’ve just finished Holden Sheppard‘s award-winning debut novel, Invisible Boys.

Set in Geraldton in WA’s Midwest, Invisible Boys follows three very different teenagers, Charlie, Hammer and Zeke, as they grapple with being gay in a very straight town.

This novel spoke directly to me like no other. The characters and I, although separated by nearly a generation, have a lot in common.

We share not only a hometown, but the fear, rejection, taunts and loneliness that came with being gay in it.

Finally, someone has put into words the trauma of my own experience growing up gay when I couldn’t.

When I finished Invisible Boys, I felt something crack, crumble and fall away deep inside. I’m still unpacking what that may have been. Possibly shame, maybe silence. I’ll need to work on it.

Is Invisible Boys only a book for gay men? Absolutely not. If nothing else, it’s also a great story, and I hope it becomes required reading in the high school curriculum.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but whatever you do, you won’t regret reading Invisible Boys.

My favourite laugh-out loud-moment would have to be the ‘onion rings’ reference.

 

 

Review: Allegra in Three Parts – Suzanne Daniel

Allegra in Three Parts

Suzanne Daniel

Pan Macmillan Australia

ISBN: 9781760781712

RRP$29.99

 

Description:

From Suzanne Daniel comes an outstanding debut novel, capturing 1970s Australia with warmth, humour and a distinctive voice. I can split myself in two . . . something I have to do because of Joy and Matilde. They are my grandmothers and I love them both and they totally love me but they can’t stand each other. Eleven-year-old Allegra shuttles between her grandmothers who live next door to one another but couldn’t be more different. Matilde works all hours and instils discipline, duty and restraint. She insists that Allegra focus on her studies to become a doctor. Meanwhile free-spirited Joy is full of colour, possibility and emotion, storing all her tears in little glass bottles. She is riding the second wave of the women’s movement in the company of her penny tortoise, Simone de Beauvoir, encouraging Ally to explore broad horizons and live her ‘true essence’.

And then there’s Rick who lives in a flat out the back and finds distraction in gambling and solace in surfing. He’s trying to be a good father to Al Pal, while grieving the woman who links them all but whose absence tears them apart. Allegra is left to orbit these three worlds wishing they loved her a little less and liked each other a lot more. Until one day the unspoken tragedy that’s created this division explodes within the person they all cherish most. Suzanne Daniel is a journalist and communications consultant who has also worked for ABC TV, the Sydney Morning Herald, the United Nations, BBC (London) and in crisis management and social services. For the past twenty years she has served on community, philanthropic and public company boards. Suzanne lives in Sydney with her husband and family. Allegra in Three Parts is her first novel.

 

My View:

I am sitting here in my flares, a recent “op shop” purchase, I love flares, I am searching for the musical references mentioned in this novel; I love the music of the seventies.

At the time (the 70’s) I was too young to appreciate that I was growing up female in the middle of the Women’s movement, the liberation. The movement was happening around me and I largely benefited from the struggles of my peers. Helen Reddy’s powerhouse song “I am Woman” was the anthem we all sang. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rptW7zOPX2E

But I digress. I am meant to be reviewing Allegra in Three Parts – and in a     roundabout way I am.

Allegra in Three Parts has many story arcs – the Women’s Liberation movement being one of them; the setting up of women’s safe houses/refuges from family violence, the challenge of attaining equal pay and conditions, education for women, the harnessing of trade unions to improve work conditions…so much more is introduced to us by the characters of grandmothers Joy and Mathilde. Joy is at the forefront of the movement, with her Liberty Club. Mathilde clearly feels that education and a good job are the key to a woman’s success and independence and she is determined that Allegra will have those opportunities. They both want the best life possible for Allegra.

 

Suzanne Daniel also creates a space here to discuss the role of fathers in family and in particular as role models for their daughters when we are introduced to Rick – Allegra’s father. As the narrative progresses his influence on the family and Allegra increases – in a positive way.

 

The characters of Rick and the grandmothers are great devices to open up discussion surrounding grief, loss and resilience.

 

There are so many more social issues subtly probed in this novel – so gently are they introduced that you hardly are aware of the lessons being shared; on racism, multiculturalism, on being different, of bullying, of class and privilege…

 

More than issues this is a book about growth and healing, forgiveness, families and love and the importance of being loved.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omrGB4HgjEg

 

“There’s no formula for happiness that’s guaranteed to work

It all depends on how you treat your friends and how much you’ve been hurt

But it’s a start, when you open up your heart

And try not to hide, what you’re feeling inside

Just open up your heart.”  (p249, ‘Open Up Your Heart’ G W Thomas)

 

I loved this book!

 

 

 

Post Script: Graffiti Moon – Cath Crowley

Cover Graffiti Moon Cath Crowley

Graffiti Moon

Cath Crowley

Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd

ISBN: 9780330425780

 

Description:

Lucy is in love with Shadow, a mysterious graffiti artist.

Ed thought he was in love with Lucy, until she broke his nose.

Dylan loves Daisy, but throwing eggs at her probably wasn’t the best way to show it.

Jazz and Leo are slowly encircling each other.

An intense and exhilarating 24 hours in the lives of four teenagers on the verge: of adulthood, of HSC, of finding out just who they are, and who they want to be.

A lyrical new YA novel from the award-winning author of Chasing Charlie Duskin and the Gracie Faltrain series.

 

 

My View:

Before I start my review I would just like to mention that this book has won or been nominated for a massive number of awards, I am just one of many singing praises for the beautifully written book:

Literary Awards:

New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature (2011), Children’s Book Council of Australia Award Nominee for Older Readers Book of the Year (2011), Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Young Adult Fiction (2011), Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Nominee for Prize for Writing for Young Adults (2011), The Inky Awards Nominee for Gold Inky (2011)  The Inky Awards Shortlist for Gold Inky (2011).

 

This book is a beautiful coming of age story that is the perfect pick me up for any waning spirits – full of lovable characters, complex yet not complicated issues, full of big ideas ( the images/art work descriptions here are poetic and beautiful and sad all at the same time), some great descriptive prose, colours, colour and more colour. I loved it. No need to say any more 🙂

 

 

 

Post Script: Summer’s Gone – Charles Hall

 Take a journey with me…

Cover Summer's Gone

Summer’s Gone

Charles Hall

Margaret River Press

ISBN: 9780987561541

 

Description:

One short, beautiful summer of love, and then a tragedy – and the Vietnam War – will drive four friends apart.

But nothing is straightforward about what has come between them. And nothing is clear, really, until years later, when Nick goes back to where it all happened and trawls through his memory to put the pieces together.

 

Charles Hall’s novel tells a very personal story set in Australia in the rebellious days of the 60s, a decade of upheaval, when one’s own journey was intensified by the politics of the world – civil rights, feminism, drugs and, at the heart of the upheaval, the Vietnam War and conscription. It was a time of uproar on every level – families, music, film, relationships and a belief that not only did the world need changing but that ordinary people could change it…

 

 

My View:

 

This reads as an intimate, personal account of life, a coming of age story set in tumultuous times of the late 60’s early 70’s; written in the first person, it feels like the protagonist Nick/Nicko is talking directly to you, sharing his experiences, his personal growth, his relationship ups and downs… and his political thoughts.

 

Some small part of me identifies very strongly with this era (I missed being part of what became affectionately known as the psychedelic /free love/hippy era by a mere decade or so), I was a teenager challenging my own world as this comets tail was in its death throes. But I had aunts and uncles that grew up in this time and I witnessed some of their “freedoms” enviously. As a teenager with limited experience of the world I thought they were so lucky. I love/d the music, the fashion (the wide, wide legged flairs) peace signs on jeans, necklaces, bracelets, denim was king, bold blue eyeshadows and big eyes, big hair, fun…passion, the beginnings of feminism and the rise of equal opportunity. I was too naïve to appreciate that all this “freedom” came with a cost – the threat of conscription was very real, I found it incredulous that conscientious objectors were thrown in jail, no freedom of expression, personal rights here. The sexual revolution came at a high cost too – for some women the cost of not having freely available, stigma free contraception meant experiencing the backyard abortionists – some did not survive this experience. Attitudes and laws had not caught up with this new culture of freedom the 70’s rushed to embrace. And yet it had an appeal, a romance, an image of youth and freedom that I found intoxicating. Hall’s protagonists’ cleverly lead us through these tumultuous times, showing all sides of this revolution.

 

Hall’s’ characters are very likable – Nick/Nicko, Helen, Alison and Uncle Clem all demonstrate those wonderful characteristics we as Australians love to identify with; the battlers, the free spirits, the larrikins, the hard workers…people who made their own opportunities…even the “bad guy” Mitch has elements of likeableness that you can’t ignore – he volunteered to serve his country – Australians are big on patriotism, he came back wounded and experiencing Post Traumatic Shock – Australians pride themselves on their empathy. Great casting here.

 

The settings and locations were very real to me. I recognised some of the flats, the shared houses, the op shop furniture and barely going first cars. I am sure that aside from the huge hike in rents some of these places haven’t changed very much at all. The trips across the Nullarbor – a few towns have grown, a few have disappeared but the journey, the excitement of making that crossing to a brave new world is still exhilarating (especially if you live in Perth and travel eastwards rather than the other way).

 

There is so much in the book to enjoy. There is so much nostalgia; I loved this book with its simple, easy to read style that talks to you like you are a best friend. The narrative is complex yet innocently beguiling at the same time. It is a coming of age and a personal story, an Australian story, spoken in the colloquial; laconic, blokey yet peppered with insight and self-awareness. And it is a tragedy – on some many levels. Read this and take the journey back to a different time, read with your eyes wide open.

Post Script: Driving Under The Influence – Jenna Martin

Driving Under the Influence

Jenna Martin

Melbourne University Publishing

Victory

ISBN: 9780522866285

 

Description:

A hilarious novel about hitting rock bottom and climbing back up again.

 

Chelsea has had a rough week. After a few great years of professional triumphs and personal stability, she suddenly finds herself—at the grand old age of 28—homeless, jobless and single. Cheating on her boyfriend with her boss probably wasn’t the brightest idea.

 

Salvation comes in the form of her father, Gary ‘Turbo’ Turbiton, a once major but now fading star of stage and screen, who offers her a job as his assistant while he travels Australia promoting his recent autobiography. Chelsea adores her Dad but she knows from years of family road trips just what this ‘job’ will entail: hours and hours of mindless bush trivia, pit stops to ridiculous local landmarks and pointed interrogations about what she’s doing with her life. All the while John Denver will warble endlessly on the CD player. Resigned to her fate—and without a better offer—she says yes.

 

The promo tour takes the two of them across Australia—from a family wedding in Darwin to a pig farm in Port Fairy, from a chance encounter in Tenterfield to an impromptu karaoke night in Yackandandah. Along the way there are unplanned detours—and people—they have to face as they both struggle with that eternal life question: what happens next?

 

With its light touch and sassy humour, Driving Under the Influence is a charming look at growing up, growing old and what fathers and daughters can learn from each other.

 

 

Jenna Martin has been a teacher in Sydney, a law student in Wollongong, an actor in London and a film producer in Los Angeles. She has written several plays, screenplays, short stories and the occasional bad love letter, and this is her first novel.

 

 

My View:

This is a delightful debut novel about one woman’s life changing journey during a road trip with her famous father, stopping to see various lunatic relatives and landmarks along the way; full of reminiscing, hope, love and laughter this book will hook you in and before you know it you will be smiling and laughing out loud. This read is so enjoyable!

 

I don’t know if it my association with  the film and tv  industry( my workplace of the last ten years) or the familiarity of certain situations or certain types of people that drew me in or if it was the larger than life father figure – Turbo to his fans and family, who had me trying to guess who he could be modeled on – I was imagining all sorts of tv presenters and the odd actor who could fit this profile, or mixes of them, (sorry Jenna I have just come across info alerting me to your famous father – and I didn’t think of him , not even for a minute) anyway I was intrigued, I was engaged in this madcap romp, I was besotted with your characters… or maybe it was  the opportunity to step back in time when you reminded of fashions, music, shows, friendships, relationship issues, adolescent dreams and tribulations, and other contemporary references about family and growing up, whatever it was I laughed and laughed and laughed.

 

This is a book written with passion and laughter…you can feel the vibes come off the pages; a great piece of Aussie light hearted fiction.

 

Book trailer can be viewed here:

http://www.jenna-martin.com/#!Driving-under-the-Influence-Trailer/cmbz/22428D4E-5E44-488A-951C-FD1860CFBB16

Post Script: Snake Bite – Christie Thompson

Snake Bite

Snake Bite

Christie Thompson

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781743316863

The funny and shocking coming-of-age story of a wild teenager in a Canberra you never dreamed existed!

Description:
Goon of Fortune is one of those games that people cracked out at parties when everyone is already too maggot to realise what a pointless game it is. A bunch of people circle the Hills Hoist and you peg a bladder of cheap wine to the line. People take turns spinning the clothes line and whoever the wine sack lands in front of has to scull for five seconds.

Jez is seventeen and lives with her alcoholic single mum in in a government rental in Canberra’s outer-suburbs, with little money or future prospects. As well as suffering from terminal boredom, Jez has got epic First World Problems: where is her next pill coming from, what will her first tattoo be, and how will she ever lose her virginity?

Recently Jez has been having weird feelings about her best friend, emo kid Lukey – is she just bored or does she really want him? And if she makes a move on him (how to make a move on him?), will that endanger their friendship? So when effervescent hipster Melbournite Laura moves to town and starts macking on with Lukey, what is Jez to do but seek guidance from sexually experienced next-door-neighbour stripper, Casey? At the same time, Jez’s mum hooks up with a local bartender, placing a strain on their already fragile relationship.

Over the course of one blazing summer, Jez runs a gauntlet of new experiences and discovers the real meaning of home. Filled with humour, brilliant observations and raw revelations, Snake Bite is a contemporary Puberty Blues, the coming-of-age story of a wild teenager in a Canberra you never dreamed existed. It will sink its fangs into, inject you with its intoxicating venom, and never let you go

My View:

An engaging read once you have discovered the secret to decoding the teenagers’ language of text shortcuts, abbreviations and contemporary jargon.  This is a fast moving book full of angst, despair, loneliness and the universal themes of all teenagers in the first world  – those of seeking acceptance and love.

The reality is not a lot has changed in the last forty years or so for young people; teenagers are still ‘misunderstood’, still seeking answers to the meaning of life and still searching for acceptance; still trying to define themselves by their clothes, their music, their “style” and their choice of friends. Young women are still confusing sex with love.  Not a lot has changed since I was a teenager.

The language of youth may have changed, the drug of choice may have changed (alcohol is an option where once was the only choice for most, now dope/weed and other chemical highs are more in favour and easy to acquire, apparently). It seems we have still not managed to teach our children how to communicate their feelings and deal with their emotions – young people are still trying to bury their angst and loneliness in the numbness of drug use.  It is a sad indictment of modern life.

An engaging read, sometimes funny, mostly sad. The characters I found were a little stereotyped and for me Jez was the only empathetic voice. I did not understand how with the massive amount of drug and alcohol use and abuse in this narrative that apparently no adult had a single clue what was going on; for me this aspect of the narrative spoilt the credibility of the story, and the fact that all issues were neatly and simply wrapped up in the conclusion – Jez was enlightened to the “ways of the world” and appeared mature beyond her years, and “happy families” prevailed in the end, was a little too convenient.

However, a quick mostly enjoyable if not sometimes confronting read that every parent should read. This book can be used as great conversation starter for adults with teenagers. And I should add – I know that I was not the target audience for this book – I am several generations too old for and most likely was seeking more than what the book was offering as YA reading. 🙂  Young adults will enjoy.