Review: ‘Small Spaces’ by Sarah Epstein

SmallSpaces

I know things aren’t right with me – conjuring up Sparrow today is evidence of that. The worst thing I could do is drag anyone else into my mess, least of all the Fishers. I know I should talk to my parents. I know I need to arrange a session with Dr Ingrid now instead of waiting until June.
I also know I won’t do any of those things.
Instead, I’ll try to figure out how to get a mute girl to talk.

When Natasha Carmody was eight years old she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure six-year-old Mallory Fisher away at a carnival. Neither Natasha’s family nor the police believed her, and when Mallory was found seven days later she was mute from the trauma. The Fisher family moved away, and with the help of her stern mother, as well as regular visits to a child psychiatrist, Tash accepted that Sparrow wasn’t real.

Now seventeen, Tash hopes to enter her final year of schooling without incident, so that her parents will see that she is capable of moving away from the seaside town of Port Bellamy, to the city to attend university. Standing in the way of her goal is Rachael, her beautiful and popular former-friend, who was privy to Tash’s childhood secrets. As the final year of school approaches, Tash thinks her greatest fear is for Rachael to use Tash’s secrets as leverage to humiliate and bully her at school. But, the Fisher family return to Port Bellamy, and so does Sparrow. Tash realises that Mallory is the key to unlocking the truth about the dark secret that connects them. Does the gruesome Sparrow exist? Is Tash going mad? Is Tash the gruesome one?

Small Spaces is a stunning, gut-wrenching thriller debut by Sarah Epstein. The first person narrative alternates between ‘now’ and ‘then’ chapters, with the ‘then’ chapters containing transcripts from psychiatrist sessions, as well as newspaper clippings. The novel is cleverly structured, as alternating between past and present not only adds to the suspense of drip-feeding the events surrounding the carnival, but is also atmospheric as it gives a sense of Tash’s increasing anxiety as she struggles to reconcile the past with the present.

A great cast of characters offer moments of tenderness and humour, courtesy of meticulously yet effortlessly crafted character traits and history. Tash is uncomfortable in her own skin, as she muses ‘my haircut is safe, my freckles are obvious and the only hip piece of clothing I own is a vintage E.T t-shirt I found in an op shop. And I don’t even wear it in public because I’m not cool enough to pull it off’. There is an element of tension underlying each of the relationships, ensuring suspicion is maintained throughout. Sadie is Tash’s fearless protector, but has a rebellious streak and confidence that far exceeds Tash’s. Even when they were friends, Tash was intimidated by Rachael, a pretty girl with trendy clothes and plane trips to her grandparents’ house in North Korea. While Tash’s nine year-old brother Tim only plays a minor role in the book, his impact is profound. He is largely oblivious to the family politics, and was too young to remember the events of the carnival. As such, he has been afforded the innocent and carefree childhood Tash never had, which makes Tash protective of him.

Small Spaces is a thrilling read with unrelenting suspense. I couldn’t put it down.

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With thanks to Walker Books for providing an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Small Spaces will be published on 01 April.

Review: Whisper by Lynette Noni

 

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They call me “Jane Doe.”

              They say it’s because I won’t tell them my real name, that they were forced to allocate me a generic ID. The name is ironic, since there’s nothing generic about me.

              But they don’t know that.

              They could have given me any name, but there’s a reason they chose “Jane Doe.” I hear the whispers. They think of me as little more than an unidentifiable, breathing corpse. That’s how they treat me. They prod, they poke, they badger and tweak. All of them want to coax a response from me. But their efforts are in vain.

             

Whisper by Lynette Noni is narrated by Subject Six-Eight-Four, a girl with monstrous capabilities who has survived internment at an underground compound known as Lengard, for two years, six months, fourteen days, eleven hours and sixteen minutes. Her internment has consisted of the same mind-numbing routine psych evaluations, strength and endurance training and experimental therapy. She believes survival is only possible by maintaining her silence and not trusting any of the Lengard personnel. But, Director Maverick Falon informs her that if she doesn’t comply, she will be eliminated from the program, and given the program is top secret, she knows she will be killed if she doesn’t obey. She is transferred into the care of the golden-haired Landon Ward, whose informal tone and dimpled cheeks causes her to consider the possibility that not everyone at Lengard is as bad as she thinks they are. But, the more she learns about Lengard, the closer she comes to learning its secrets, secrets that could destroy the world if she doesn’t speak out, but if she does speak, she might destroy the world anyway.

When I first heard about Whisper at the 2018 YA Showcase it went straight to my top ten most anticipated YA reads of 2018. I love speculative fiction, and the mention of secret compounds, government conspiracy, and a potential female anti-hero or villain origin story made me all kinds of giddy. I am all for the reluctant imperfect protagonist, who has to struggle to earn her gift (or curse). “Jane” is harbouring a secret so deadly, she only has to utter a word to bring about the destruction of the world. She is wilfully held at Lengard, as she knows she can’t hurt anyone if she is locked away. But she is mistrusting of her wardens, as believes they are either underestimating or seeking to exploit her explosive potential.

At the outset, Jane is apathetic towards her own existence, as she describes her daily routine and the limited people who attempt to interact with her with some degree of detachment. The detachment at times proves jarring, as Vanik embodies the dark side of Lengard, as she describes her “experimental therapy” sessions as two hours of hell where he pushes her to the point of brain damage. Given Jane says that nothing could be worse than Vanik’s experiments, it’s strange that Jane never offers any detail about what takes place during the session. If Jane was apathetic to her existence, then wouldn’t she be able to provide some detail about the session? Or, if this was one part of the day that tore her out of her apathy (as evident by Jane mentioning her fear of her sessions) then would it not be possible that she would relive fragments of the session through nightmares or anxiety-driven thought? Vanik’s role at Lengard made it hard for me to hope for any positive relationship with Falon, Ward or any of the other Lengard staff, as given the regularity of her sessions with Vanik over a two-year period, and the lack of narrative to suggest there was any issue with his sessions, I could only assume the other staff were complicit in the experiments Jane endured, despite any voice of disapproval. The lack of narrative concerning her sessions with Vanik sat at odds with the impact these sessions had on everyone within the compound. This made it hard for me to suspend my disbelief and allow myself to become immersed in the story.

Despite my misgivings about the way Vanik’s sessions were presented, Whisper was still an enjoyable read. While it is the first of a trilogy, Whisper still works as a standalone book, as it answers many of the questions it sets up. There are some great characters in this book, the most notable of which are Cami and Sneak. Cami is a refreshing change from the testosterone-filled evaluators, as she acts as a refuge for Jane, but her connection to the evaluators maintains a point of tension for Jane, as she constantly has to remind herself that no one can be trusted. Sneak lives up to his nickname, in both ability and as someone who is sure to surprise. The special abilities that the characters possess are intriguing, as is the politics of the rival factions, fuelling my anticipation for the subsequent books.

 

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Whisper will be published by Pantera Press on 01 May 2018.

With thanks to Pantera Press for giving all 2018 YA Showcase attendees an ARC.

Review: Untidy Towns by Kate O’Donnell

UntidyTowns

 

I ran away on a Tuesday afternoon in late March. Six pm and I was headed south-west in a train that smelled stale. I had put two hours and however many kilometres behind me. Walking the length of the carriage and back again to stretch my legs, I lurched and pitched with and against the movements of the train. I’d done it now. Right decision. Wrong decision. My decision.

 

Set in the fictional country town of Emyvale, Untidy Towns is a contemporary novel narrated by Adelaide, a seventeen year old who is sick of living her life on other people’s terms. Adelaide drops out of the prestigious school she had been attending under a scholarship and heads back to her family in Emyvale to regroup, to breathe, and to try to figure out what she wants from her own life. Her mother sends Addie to work for her grandad at the Emyvale Historical Society. Addie starts hanging out with Jarrod, and realises he is just as stuck as she is. Addie realises she has to play an active role in her own life in order to find purpose and happiness.

Untidy Towns is a beautifully written novel about family, friendships and forging your own path to happiness. Unsure of where her future lies, Addie finds herself taking stock of her own life. Leaving her prestigious school and returning to the town in which she grew up provides Addie with the opportunity to look at her town, family and friends through fresh eyes. The novel is character-driven, and is therefore reliant on believable and intriguing characters to move the story forward. There is no one single antagonist standing in Adelaide’s way, just as there is no champion waiting to rescue her. Kate O’Donnell has created a collection of endearing and multifaceted characters who propel Addie to take charge of her own life, including her supportive mother who offers a balance of reassurance and authority without ever seeming too controlling, and Adelaide’s extroverted private school friend Mia, whose social confidence compliments Addie’s introverted tendencies but also arguably holds Addie back from becoming an active participant in her own life.

The pacing of Untidy Towns beautifully compliments the major theme of the book of slowing down and taking stock. The novel doesn’t seek to provide answers, but reads as more of an acknowledgement of the intense amount of stress that teens endure during their final year of schooling and the accompanying weight of expectation of a future they are expected to have perfectly mapped out. If this book was fast-paced and filled with plot twists, then it would be contradicting its own message of slowing down and finding happiness in the here and now. The pacing and the structure beautifully aligns with its message – something I only fully appreciated once I finished reading it.

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Review: Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield

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The gully looks bottomless tonight. Some say Hannah Holt is buried in the gully, her uneasy spirit slipping from crevice to shadow, sniffing for fear, and when she smells it she’ll pull you down by the ankles with her teeth. We all know the stories are spread by grown-ups to keep us away from the quarry, but this is the first time I’ve ever thought about Hannah Holt, or William Dean, before I’ve crossed. I can’t help wondering whether he closed his eyes when he jumped, or met the rocks with them wide open.

Ballad for a Mad Girl is a fantastic genre-bending read. It is part contemporary, part thriller, part murder mystery, part supernatural horror. Just when I thought I was getting comfortable in the direction the novel was going, Vikki Wakefield changed the tempo.

Two years have passed since Grace Foley’s mother was hit and killed by a car. It is not the first tragedy to befall the small country town of Swanston, as teen Hannah Holt mysteriously disappeared twenty-three years prior, rumoured to be at the hands of Willliam Dean. Rumour has it that William hid her body down the local quarry, the same quarry where he would later fall to his death.

The Foley family have moved from the family farm to a house in town, and seventeen-year-old Grace is struggling with the rules her suffocating yet distant father has set, which do not seem to apply to her brother Cody, despite the fact that he is only three years older than her. Everything around her is changing – her friends, her family, her sense of self. She clings to her reputation as the town prankster and record holder for the fastest crossing at the quarry. But after a death-defying crossing goes wrong, Grace finds herself haunted by a ghost, the presence of which brings up a renewed sense of grief for her mother. With her reputation as the town prankster ensuring no one will believe her, Grace is forced to go it alone to uncover why she is being haunted.

Grace is a highly emotionally evocative narrator to follow. She considers herself to be the hero and saviour of her group of friends, which includes Gummer, Amber, Pete and Kenzie.

We were leftovers. Only it didn’t feel that way. It felt like we chose each other carefully, to make sure all our odd shapes fitted together.

Grace is established as an unreliable narrator, as Kenzie argues that she wasn’t saved by Grace when they became friends. Amber and Gummer both question whether they have outgrown their predetermined roles in the group. While offering brief moments of introspection, Grace largely responds with anger and defiance – clashing with and hurting her friends, and upping the ante on her pranks. It would be easy to just be angry with Grace, but at the heart of her rage lies fear that Wakefield has beautifully understated – fear that her friends are moving on without her. While the quote on the back of the book, At this rate I won’t survive high school. I’ll be a dead friendless virgin., gives the impression that one of Grace’s core concerns is not being able to find a sexual partner, the book is more focused on her friendship dynamics, which was a refreshing change. Another layer of intrigue is added to Grace’s character, as underpinning her anger is the looming presence of the ghost, which calls into question whether Grace’s anger stems from her grief, her changing friendships, or from the ghost.

Ballad for a Mad Girl deals with some pretty heavy-handed material, the death of Graces’ mother and the impact her grief has on Grace’s relationship with her friends and family, as well as the horror elements of the ghostly encounters, but Wakefield beautifully crafts the narrative without the novel plummeting to overbearing despair or gratuitous violence or gore. Much of this can be attributed to the complexities of the characters, and also Wakefield’s prose, which is interspersed with beautiful imagery. A cemetery scene filled with gothic imagery exemplifies Wakefield’s masterful craft.

Overhead, hundreds of swallows fly in perfect formation like a dancing cloud, and Maria’s angel gazes down solemnly as I pass. Above the noise of traffic out on the road, I hear the rustle of leaves. But there aren’t enough trees here to make that much sound. It’s voices. A chorus of whispering—real, or imagined, I can’t tell—that only gets louder as I approach the barrier of tape.

 

I loved everything about this book. The multifaceted characters who could say too much and not enough. The blurring of genres. The poignancy and sharpness of the depiction of grief that left me in tears more than once. The grittiness and beauty of the narrative.

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2018 YA Showcase – #LoveOzYA highlights

The YA Showcase is a speed-dating session of sorts, where publishing house reps woo young and old YA fans alike with their most anticipated YA for the New Year. Run by the Centre for Youth Literature, the annual event continues to be a sell-out year after year. While international titles were once again showcased this year, I’m going to focus on my most anticipated LoveOzYA titles. Here, in no particular order, are my top 10 most anticipated #loveOzYA reads for 2018:

GrowingUpAboriginal

 

Growing up Aboriginal in Australia
Edited by Anita Heiss
Black Inc
April 2018

A collection of non-fiction stories from Aboriginal writers, including Ambelin Kwaymullina and Celeste Liddle. Childhood stories of family, country and belonging.

 

 

The Art of Taxidermy
Sharon Kernot
Text Publishing
July 2018

A verse novel about a young girl grieving for her mother finds comfort in her fascination with taxidermy. I’ve been craving a good verse novel (bring on Maxine Beneba Clarke’s YA verse novel!), and taxidermy peaked my quirky interests. This novel was shortlisted for the 2017 Text Prize.

 

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Tin Heart
Shivaun Plozza
Penguin Books
March 2018

Frankie was Shivaun’s sharp, raw, hilarious and uplifting debut novel. I’m ridiculously excited to read her second novel, Tin Heart, which was pitched as a novel that explores identity, survival, family and an unlikely friendship/romance.

 

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Neverland
Margot McGovern
Penguin Books
April 2018

An edgy, dark read for older readers, Neverland explores how we misremember and romanticise the past. For fans of Fairytales for Wilde Girls, Our Chemical Hearts, On the Jelicoe Road and We Were Liars. The pitch had me at ‘edgy, dark…’.

 

 

Small Spaces
Sarah Epstein
Walker Books
April 2018

We don’t pick and choose what we are afraid of. A psychological thriller about a gruesome imaginary friend, a mute girl and dark secrets.

 

The Rift
Rachael Craw
Walker Books
November 2018

Okay, so Rachael isn’t Australian, but it’s fair to say we’ve claimed her as one of our own. The Rift is a dual-narrative fantasy promising action and ample swoonage. I loved Craw’s Spark trilogy, which was packed with suspense, humour and tenderness, so I am pumped for her next offering.

 

Catching Teller Crow
Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Allen & Unwin
August 2018

I was captivated by The Interrogation of Ashala Wolfso I am eager to see Ambelin’s next offering. Catching Teller Crow, which she co-wrote with her brother Ezekiel, explores sexualised violence against Indigenous girls, and how hope lies in the hearts and hopes of First Nations women.

 

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White Night
Ellie Marney
Allen & Unwin
March 2018

A secret off-the-grid community in rural Australia. Intriguing cult elements. I’m all for the “do not judge a book by its cover” adage, but IT’S SO PRETTY! Also, cults!

 

 

LIFEL1K3
Jay Kristoff
Allen & Unwin
May 2018

What does it mean to be human? Set in post-apocalyptic USA, the robotic population have been reduced to slaves and androids (robots that look like humans) have been outlawed. Eve and her best friend, Lemon, find an android in a scrapheap who knows the truth behind a robotic revolt.  Oh, and Eve discovers that she can destroy robotics with her mind.

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Whisper
Lynette Noni
Pantera Press
May 2018

The first in a new series, Jane Doe has been locked away and experimented on for two years. Her resolve begins to crack under the influence of her new evaluator, forcing her to question and uncover the truth about the program. An exclusive advanced reader copy was given out to all YA Showcase attendees, so I am one happy camper.

Event Highlight: #LoveOzYA panel at Melbourne Writers’ Festival

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Danielle Binks, Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Ellie Marney and Alice Pung address a full house at the MWF #LoveOzYA panel

With a stomach full of Butterbeer and cheeks sore from smiling at all the wizards running around as part of Harry Potter day at MWF17, I serenely strolled to The Cube room at ACMI for the #LoveOzYA Panel. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the epic line of people waiting to get let in – the #LoveOzYA anthology, Begin, End, Begin, is an extension of the increasingly vocal #loveOzYA online movement, which is a celebration of Australian Young Adult literature. The session was chaired by Danielle Binks, who was both editor and writer for the anthology, and champions Australian YA via Twitter and an extensive list of articles for Kill Your Darlings. Danielle commanded attention through her passion for the YA readership. Danielle revealed that she has a YA novel in the works, although she gave no hint to its genre (had I been feeling less zombie-like from sleep deprivation, I would have asked her to divulge more during the audience Q&A). While Danielle lamented that no Australian works made it into the latest top 10 of Australian Library and Information Association ‘Most borrowed books for young adults (13-18)’, it was clear that the #LoveOzYA panel had assembled to celebrate the diversity and success of Australian YA, which Danielle kicked off by announcing that the Begin, End, Begin is into its second print run.

This was to be the first all-female #LoveOzYA panel, featuring Danielle, Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Ellie Marney and Alice Pung. Danielle introduced each of the writers by reading an excerpt from their short story, before asking each writer about what motivated them to write their story. Ellie said she decided to write a prequel of sorts of her Every series because readers of the Every series kept asking for it, and also as a way of saying thank you to her loyal readers. Melissa Keil approached ‘Sundays’ like a bottle episode, where she wanted to explore characters in one location. Alice Pung spoke of how minority characters are often portrayed in a positive light, in order to avoid politics. This positive portrayal comes at the expense of multifaceted characters, so minorities are frequently presented as tropes. A key motivator for ‘In a Heartbeat’ was to depict multidimensional diverse characters. Before allowing Amie to speak of the motivation behind ‘One Small Step’, Danielle pointed out that Amie submitted her story six hours late because she was getting it fact-checked by NASA! Amie went on to say she was fascinated by the media coverage of the first IVF baby, where community pride was bordering on ownership. Amie also spoke of being on the train and overhearing teenagers talking about planning their university selections and how they were going to navigate their choices with the expectation of their parents.

Danielle invited the panel to speak about why Australian-centric stories are important, before commenting herself on the importance of Australian youth seeing themselves on the page, so they know that they matter and are represented. Danielle also joked about buying cappuccinos as a 16-year old because that’s what Josie Alibrandi from Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta did. Amie joked that she grew up planning her escape, courtesy of John Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began series. Melissa received numerous letters from readers who, until reading her work, hadn’t seen Melbourne streets in a book before, or had not seen Australian terms used.  Ellie commented that, as a teacher, she has noticed common use language in high school has become Americanised, citing “canteen” and “litter” as examples. Ellie later went on to say that if the US titles are the default literary culture in Australia, then we will lose our language, our Australianness. Alice added that we will lose our irreverence, our irreverent sense of humour. US editors complimented Amie on her use of futuristic slang in Illuminae, despite it being Australian slang. Amie added that Illuminae is very Australian-centric, as it is told by refugees.

Discussion moved to the future of Australian YA publishing, with all panellists conveying a sense of hope and excitement about its future, despite the obstacles. Ellie spoke about how ‘Missing Persons’ explores the cultural shift from rural to urban. Danielle noted that displacement is a common theme across YA, with Amie predicting that, in the future, we will see a lot more Australian YA exploring a more diverse outlook of what it means to be Australian. Being on the panel at numerous YA events gave Danielle the opportunity to ask teens what they want to see more of in YA, and the majority of the feedback has been for more representation of the LGBTQI community (this was met with a loud applause from the #loveozya audience). Amie added that while we need more “coming out” stories, we also need to have stories where queerness is not a plot point. A number of the stories in Begin, End, Begin feature LGBTQI characters without the representation being a key plot point, which has meant that some schools have been more willing to include discussion on the texts (although some did request for LGBTQI discussion to be avoided). All panellists were in agreement that the future looks bright, as teens are infinitely more open-minded and accepting than the previous generation, which can only result in an increase of representation of diversity.

Given it was Harry Potter day at MWF (and I spied quite a few Potter-clad people in the audience, which made me very jealous about my lack of Potter merch, tbh), Danielle asked the panel for their thoughts on blockbuster books. She noted that Simone Howell was able to get published by Bloomsbury because of the “mad money” Bloomsbury generated from Harry Potter. Amie argued that reading a blockbuster series doesn’t mean a reader won’t expand their horizons, as ‘this generation went to Hogwarts together and came back looking for more adventures’. Ellie Marney commented on how J.K Rowling’s series was arguably the first to be marketed as a YA cross-over, as the books were published with “adult” covers. While teens are the targeted readership of YA, adults are also reading YA and therefore also contributing financially, which increases the size of the market and opportunity for new voices.

With the session nearly at its close, Danielle invited audience questions. An audience member asked the panellists what advice they would give to writers. Ellie recommended reading across the YA readership, rather than sticking to a particular genre. She also urged writers to write what you want to read, as any attempts to write what you think will please a readership will only fall flat. Danielle added that writers should read everything, not just YA, and not just fiction. She also urged writers not to look down on any readership or genre (as so often happens to YA!). Amie got into a tongue-twister as she said you have to write (not just write about writing, or tweet about writing, or blog about …). Melissa recommended writers seek out competitions and opportunities, as everything you write will make you a better writer. Alice echoed Amie’s sentiment as she urged writers to get the words down on paper, and to not worry about spelling or grammar at the expense of the story. I got tangled up in tweets for a bit, so I missed one of the audience questions, but Danielle spoke about diversity representation in fiction and how there is no monolith experience, as not everybody experiences disability in the same way. Ellie spoke of how far self-publishing has come in terms of technology and user-friendly access, which is giving unprecedented access to new and diverse voices. The final question asked by an audience member was how the panellists stay motivated. Alice said sometimes you don’t have motivation, but you write anyway. Melissa plays with characters by writing scenes that won’t end up in her novel. Danielle offered that day-dreaming is just as much a part of the process as the actual writing, and Ellie mentioned that Cath Crowley has word-free breaks to nurture herself.

The #loveozya panel came to an end and the crowd hurried out to head to the book signing. I would have happily sat for another hour or two to listen to the panellists discuss YA, such was level of their passion and insight. It was equally invigorating to sit amongst the audience, as YA readers have proved time and time again how passionate they are about the readership. This was a great MWF panel, and I hope there are many more like it at MWF18… or a whole festival devoted to YA.

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Review: ‘Begin, End Begin’ by Danielle Binks (ed.)

The #loveOzYA hashtag was created to promote and celebrate Australian young adult literature. Danielle Binks wrote about the origins of the movement in Kill Your Darlings . Danielle further discusses the origins and intent of the movement in a foreword to Begin, End, Begin, adding ‘It was not born out of patriotism or a rejection of international voices – far from it. LoveOzYA has been about the inclusion of voices. And it has been a movement, as the name suggests, about love.’

Begin, End, Begin contains contemporary, urban fantasy, and speculative fiction short stories, to name a few. A range of themes are covered, including teen pregnancy, sexuality, bullying, and sibling relationships. I’ve reviewed a few of my favourite stories.

 I’m screaming inside my own private little world, stuck inside my suit.

‘One Small Step … ’ had me holding my breath during intense thrilling scenes, laughing  at deadpan humour, and teary-eyed during poignant moments. Amie Kaufman’s sci-fi explores the weight of parental and societal expectation at conflict with the personal growth and choice through the narration of 17-year old Zaida. The world-building feels effortless, and the action and suspense is beautifully complimented by moments of humour and tenderness. I couldn’t help but speed-read through this piece, before going back and re-reading. A brilliantly crafted short story, which left me with a sense of a world that endured before the first page and would continue on long after the last.

9 p.m.
This it how it goes.
       I am standing in a corner, ‘cause I always seem to find myself standing in corners. Not in the centre of the sweaty, heaving dancers, and not in the back sunroom with the stoners and smokers. Definitely not too close to the front door – that would imply that I’m eager to escape, or eager to be seen.

Gabrielle is a playing the role of a supporting character in her own life, as she lives vicariously through her best friends. But, when she sees Cam kissing a girl who is not his girlfriend, Gabe is forced to examine why their relationship is so important to her, and to find a way to forge ahead with her own life. Book reviews are subjective, right? I know that. I’m hyper aware of the prejudices I bring to my own reading. But, from the very first paragraph of ‘Sundays’ I was hooked in; it felt like Melissa Keil had crept into my brain and was rehashing my teenage years. So, on the one hand, you could say I am automatically biased because I relate to the protagonist’s detachment from her own life, but this wouldn’t be possible if not for the almost tangible sensory atmosphere of the party, the way in which the pace is maintained by structuring the narrative in time segments and the banter and bickering between friends.

‘Lucy’s thoughts are so loud she worries the whole bus can hear them.’

The only story in the anthology written in third-person, ‘The Feeling from Over Here’ follows Lucy as she finds herself sharing an eight-hour bus trip from Wagga to Albury with Cameron Webber. With no phone reception to provide a welcome distraction, Lucy is forced to evaluate her conflicting feelings about Cameron. Tozer has created an emotionally evocative story filled with multifaceted characters. There’s no room for cardboard cut-out characters, as even the bus driver delivers nuance in his limited appearance.

It’s hard enough being an outsider, without having to watch something end that you’ve always wanted to be a part of’.

14 year-old Bowie isn’t prepared to watch her brother King disappear out of her life, so she follows him to the pub where he meets up with his friends. When Bowie is spotted by his friends, King reluctantly lets his younger sister tag along for his last night out. Danielle Binks beautifully captures the love and tension between the two siblings, and the shifting family dynamic, as King is determined to break away from the prejudices and pity he has endured living in a small town community, and Bowie struggles to adhere to the invisible sibling boundaries while grappling with impending change. ‘Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory’ had me in tears by the end.

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Danielle Binks will be hosting a #LoveOzYa session at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival on Saturday, 03 September. The session will feature Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Ellie Marney and Alice Pung. I’ll put up a recap of the panel, as well as the YA Keynote featuring Angie Thomas.