My heart ached. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to write that sentence as often as I did while reading Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, an anthology comprised of ten short stories, six graphic stories and one play script. As noted in the introduction by Kirsty Murray, the anthology was inspired by protests in Delhi and Melbourne following violent crimes against young women in late 2012 (the women are not named, but they are presumably Jyoti Singh and Jill Meagher). Each of the stories offer a sense of hope, fulfilling the aim to convey “desire to have and do impossible things, especially things that girls aren’t meant to do.” This anthology is a celebration of collaboration, with notes from each of the creators giving insight into the writing and collaboration process. This book needs to be a set text in schools. I’ve reviewed a few of my favourites.
You’ve heard this story. Only this time she didn’t meet a wolf in the woods. There were no woods, no wolves.
‘Little Red Suit’ by Justine Larbalestier re-imagines Little Red Riding Hood in a flood and drought-ravaged Sydney, where 50,000 survivors are crammed together in an underground city. 15-year-old Poppy lives with her mother, while Poppy’s grandmother is one of the remaining few who live above ground in a sealed home outside the city. Grandma Lily is one of the few to afford such privilege (and risk) because she is an engineer, the most valued member of society. When Grandma Lily doesn’t reply to Poppy’s message, Poppy takes it upon herself to go to her grandmother’s house to make sure she is okay. A suffocating city, dilapidated buildings, electrical storms, and a predatory howl all make for an intense read. With brilliant world-building and a strong-willed, resourceful and brave female protagonist, Larbalestier created an intoxicating atmospheric story.
She was the most beautiful girl in our village, but on that day her head was shaved and she was dressed in sackcloth.
‘Cast Out’ by Samhita Arni, is a confronting read. The lack of power afforded to women and girls, and the futility of any attempt at resistance, is achingly told by Karthini, the young narrator who witnesses multiple instances of girls being set out to sea to die for displaying magic, or simply because they are female. The brutality is unrelenting, as the girls are publicly humiliated and beaten before sent to their doom, while the women who should protect them are shackled by the patriarchy. There is no room for chance of a better future for girls in this land, which is made all the more tragic through Arni’s emotional restraint, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope.
These men, they didn’t look like monsters, but the words pouring out of their mouths fouled up my whole world, every morning and every afternoon.
A Gran Sasso Device causes the filthy words to fly right back into a predator’s mouth, as though the words were never heard or never said. But, Melita can’t afford a Gran Sasso device, so how will she get one so she can stop the men outside the teashop from objectifying her and making her feel unsafe? ‘Cat Calls’ by Margo Lanagan is equally uplifting as it is unnerving. To say any more would spoil the story.
As far as superpowers go, it’s a pretty lame one. I haven’t worked out how to use it, you know, to fight crime or save the world. I can’t even use it to save Bonnie.
Vega can go into objects. A bowl. A stone. She is highly self-conscious, having only confided in her best friend Bonnie about her ability. Bonnie is the centre of Vega’s universe. Bonnie is dying. ‘What a Stone Can’t Feel’ by Penni Russon vividly depicts the inadequacies many teens feel when struggling to find their sense of place. It beautifully captures the relationship between best friends and the helplessness Vega feels as she tries to be there for her friend while coming to terms with having to forge her own identity and sense of self worth.