What with organising the Christmas shopping, dodging extreme heat and storms (in Queensland at least), and generally hurtling towards the end of the year, our review numbers are slowing. Despite this, reviewers have still covered a wide range of books which feature diverse themes or characters, many of them in the young adult genre.
Kate of The Ecstasy Files was intrigued by Anna Cowan’s Untamed (also reviewed by BookThingo last year). She found ‘the premise of a feisty, opinionated heroine and a manipulative cross-dressing duke who is “so aristocratic he is almost brain-damaged” pretty damned interesting.’ One of its main themes is the subversion of gender roles, and Kate thought Cowan did an excellent job of this, as she writes, ‘the duke is often both fascinated and repulsed by Kit’s coarse physicality. He stands by, dressed in the finest silks, watching her chop wood, mend fences, and curse in the very best swear words. On the other hand Kit is made breathless by his beauty, his softness, and is driven to passion by his emotional intensity and complexity.’ This sounds fantastic!
Another romance which plays with gender roles is Ainslie Patton’s Unsuitable. Kaetrin ‘moved this one up the TBR queue when [she] realised it had a male nanny.’ In this work, she continues, ‘traditional roles are flipped on their heads. Reece is the nurturer, the one who cooks and does laundry (although, he’s also much more than that – of course, everybody is) and Audrey is in the traditional “breadwinner” role with the late nights and the corporate travel.” Kaetrin had some quibbles with the pacing and found the ending a bit rushed, but otherwise thought the examination of gender roles was ‘really interesting.’
Bree of All the Books I Can Read reviewed Clare Atkins’ Nona and Me, a novel about two girls, one Aboriginal and one white, raised in an Aboriginal community. They are inseparable until the Aboriginal girl, Nona, moves away. When she returns to her community, both girls are 15, but have been shaped by their different experiences. Rosie finds it difficult to reconcile other people’s perspectives on Aboriginal people with what she knows of Nona and her family. ‘In a word,’ Bree writes, ‘this book is powerful.’ It demonstrates the impact of the Intervention in the Northern Territory, as well as ‘the bonds that can develop between two very different families.’ Bree would, however, ‘have loved Nona’s side of the story as well as Rosie’s and found herself ‘wondering about her long after [she’d] finished the book.’
Alice Pung was a guest author for our focus on Australian women writers of diverse heritage last year. Her debut novel, Laurinda, has just been released. Its protagonist, Lucy Lam, is a young girl of Vietnamese parents who has been accepted into an elite school, and the work has similar themes to Nona and Me. As Bree notes in her review, it’s about the pressures on Lucy to belong, and how she tries to maintain a sense of self despite these pressures. Bree concludes that the book is ‘a very clever, funny portrayal of the school portion of life as well as gender and the role of friendship and power’ and that with Laurinda, Pung ‘breathes fresh life into the Aussie YA world.’
A few other works also demonstrate the liveliness of the YA genre. The stories in Kaleidescope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios, explode with diversity. Those reviewed by Sean the Bookonaut canvas sexism, refugees, immigrant exploitation and disability, but all of them ‘put story first or entertainment first.’ Like its title, this is a brilliant and multifaceted work, and one that has empathy at its heart, as Sean writes: ‘Only one thing is better than finding a character that you can identify with, who is just like you. That thing is having other people see and perhaps gain insight and understanding into what it means to be “different”.’
Continuing this thread of diverse themes in young adult novels is K.A. Barker’s The Book of Days. In her review of this book, Rochelle of Inside My Worlds mentions a favourite character, Jack, who ‘didn’t let his disability stand in his way and was quick to make light of it. He was so sweet and brave.’
I also penned my thoughts on Anna Romer’s novel Thornwood House and on its positive portrayal of a deaf man, Danny. Romer also took some of Danny’s characteristics, such as his attentiveness to body language and lipreaing, and used them to add tension to her work.
Finally, Tsana’s review of Kylie Chan’s Small Shen takes the cake with her description of its main character, Gold, a ‘bisexual, gender-swapping rock in human form.’ This is a ‘short graphically-enhanced novel,’ in which Gold’s ‘historical shenanigans touch on Chinese history in a real-world sense, rather than just a mythological sense.’ As Tsana asks, ‘What’s not to like?’
The holidays are beckoning, and these reviewers have all really enjoyed the diverse themes in these books. If you need something to read beneath a beach umbrella, or in a hammock with a glass of lemonade, pick up one of the works they mention, or head to our reviews listings for some ideas – you won’t be disappointed!
I’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis. I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012). I’ve recently received funding from the Australia Council’s new Artists With Disability program to write my third novel, The Sea Creatures. You can find more information about me at my website. I’m also on Twitter@ladyredjess.