Censorship, Gossip Girl, and the Function of Reading

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:17 pm

So there’s been a bit of stuff in the news lately about the mother from Florida who decided she didn’t want her daughters reading the Gossip Girl books, and decided that the best, smartest and most sensible option to go with was to steal the books from her local library and keep them.  For three years.

Tina Harden is on record as saying “It’s not that I lost the books or I didn’t feel like turning them in,” she said. “I want us to work together. Hopefully they have the same goals as I do.”  I think she’ll probably find that libraries rarely have the same goals in mind as censorship-happy wowsers who steal public property.

The sense of entitlement in her comments boggles my mind.  Sure, parents can and should play a role in deciding what they want their children exposed to (although I’d argue that, by the time they hit their teens, you should be giving them a liiiiittle bit of freedom to make some of these decisions themselves).  How on earth can someone possibly think they have the right to decide what other people’s children should read?  As a librarian, I should probably be used to this kind of thing by now, given that I’m an avid fan of the ALA’s Banned and Challenged Book Lists, although fortunately my own career has so far been free of these kind of challenges.

She is also on record as saying that she hopes the library will waive the paltry $85.00 in fines she accrued while making her point.  I think she’s lucky she’s not being charged with theft; a similar stunt from a bookstore would no doubt result in charges, regardless of whether the stock was recovered, and rightly so.

On a similar note, Dan Gutman, the author of the My Weird School series of short children’s novels, has a great article about novel content and censorship.  Gutman’s starting point is a letter from a concerned/outraged parent who accuses him of committing a “literary abomination”, which is a little harsh, and also makes me suspect that the parent in question has never read any of Dan Brown’s books.

Gutman makes many excellent points in his article, most strikingly to me:

“Nearly all the complaints I receive inform me that it’s my responsibility as an author to promote positive messages and moral lessons in my books. Honestly, that never even crossed my mind. I always thought it was the parent’s responsibility to raise their children.”

Well played, Mr Gutman.  The idea that every book for children and young adults should contain Important Messages or moral guidance is well-meaning but completely misguided, and has lead to the publication of some bog-awful books.  Children and young adults read for the same reasons that adults do, and should be allowed to do so without the wringing of adults hands concerned with whether they’re learning something or gaining moral guidance from everything they rake their eyes over.

The idea that we should ban or keep books away from children and teens because they might “get ideas” is a furphy.  The whole thing with books is that they’ve got ideas in them – it’s like banning them on the basis of that humourous euphemism “contains language”.  Of course it contains language.  It’s a bloody book.   But worrying that books alone will Corrupt Our Youth ignores the positive functions of literature, while ignoring that you can’t control the host of other factors that will influence children and teens, like, oh I don’t know, being a member of society.  One of the functions of literature is that has the potential to both complement and expand our experiences of the world.  Censoring books takes away people’s freedom to engage with that experience.  It generally doesn’t work in the long run (does Tina Harden really think that her daughters couldn’t read Gossip Girl anywhere else, or that the library couldn’t replace its copies of the books she stole?), and on the rare occasions when it does work, we are all poorer for that lack of intellectual freedom.  Especially those of us whom censors would seek to protect – children and youth, for whom books can be a fantastic tool for making sense of the world.


Book Review: Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:02 pm

Forget everything you ever knew about unicorns…

The sparkly, innocent creatures of lore are a myth. Real unicorns are venomous, man-eating monsters with huge fangs and razor-sharp horns. And they can only be killed by virgin descendants of Alexander the Great.

Fortunately, unicorns have been extinct for a hundred and fifty years.

Or not.

Astrid Llewelyn has always scoffed ather eccentric mother’s stories about killer unicorns. But when one of the monsters attacks her boyfriend in the woods – thereby ruining any chance of him taking her to prom – Astrid learns that unicorns are real and dangerous, and she has a family legacy to uphold. Her mother packs her off to Rome to train as a unicorn hunter at the ancient cloisters the hunters have used for centuries.

However, at the cloisters, all is not what is seems. Outside, the unicorns wait to attack. And within, Astrid faces other, unexpected threats: from crumbling, bone-covered walls that vibrate with a terrible power to the hidden agendas of her fellow hunters to – perhaps most dangerously of all – her growing attraction to a handsome art student… and a relationship that could jeopardize everything.

This review contains minor spoilers.

I am having a particularly good run with young adult fiction lately, in that I keep picking up books that make me read them compulsively, sometimes furtively, until I’m done.  Out of that already excellent selection, Rampant is a particularly notable find.

I have to admit, unicorns are a mythological beastie I have a prejudice against, because I tend to like my beasties dark and nasty and not farting rainbows (or sparkling in sunlight, ahem).  Too much rainbow farting and no horn-impaling makes Aimee something something.  Until now, my favourite unicorn appears in a few of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, as the pet of the Queen of the Elves.  And he was only a bit player anyway.

No one could accuse the unicorns in Rampant of farting rainbows.

Borrowing from folklore that posits that unicorns are more likely to spike and devour you than take you on their back to a special land of fairies and cake, Rampant’s unicorns are venomous, bloodthirsty, and fairly revolting in general, but also at times amazing, and even sympathetic.  They are not at all a creature with whose pictures you would decorate a child’s bedroom, unless you wanted to traumatise the child in question.

But enough on unicorns.  What really makes Rampant sing, and what makes it stand out in a sea of stellar YA fiction, are the characters, particularly the main character, Astrid Llewelyn.  Astrid is smart, snarky, brave and a little neurotic – pretty much what you’d expect from someone who’s just discovered that a mythological being exists and she’s descended from a line of people who are powerful enough to kill it.  The supporting cast of characters, from Astrid’s American schoolmates to the fellow hunters she meets in the cloisters in Rome, are convincingly drawn, right down to the briefest encounters.  The dialogue is realistic, fast, fresh and occasionally hilarious, and Astrid’s inner monologue is part Buffy, part Daria, and part something else entirely that makes it unique.  She’s the kind of girl you’d want to hang out with because she’s so awesome and cool, and not just because she could save you from being gored and eaten.

Peterfreund remains faithful to the unicorn folklore that states that only virgins can tame them, and I loved how she used this; in the hands of a lesser writer, it’s the kind of thing that could potentially make me want to throw a book across the room.  The topic of sex and virginity in YA novels can always be counted on to get folks raging on all sides of the sexual politics spectrum.  Peterfreund’s unicorn hunter characters are all discovering their powers – and how conditional they are – right at a point in their lives where they’re also discovering their sexuality, and deciding what they want out of their relationships with boys, and the confusion that all this causes is pitch-perfect.  Astrid does not meekly accept that her powers are fully dependent on her virginity, and her resulting internal conflict provides some tense and dramatic moments.

Likewise, I was very impressed with how Peterfreund dealt with the issue of rape; again, a topic that many writers struggle with and cop out on, she deals with it coolly and compassionately, with a sneaky, kick-arse dismissal of the idea of “grey rape”, and a sensitive understanding of self-blame and survivor psychology.  I wish more novels – not just YA but fiction in general – dealt with this topic with the same level of compassion and humanity, rather than lazily using it, as is often the case, as a convenient plot point (motive for revenge!  The character development you have when you’re not actually developing a character!  Just random filler!  Whatever!), or treating it as something that inevitably happens to female characters, particularly in situations where there are other types of violence.

I could probably write an essay on how much I like this book, and why.  Quite easily, in fact.  I will be recommending it to people regardless of their age and their stance on the Zombies vs Unicorns debate (like I mentioned on Twitter, I’m a staunch Team Zombie girl, but Rampant has almost swayed me).  The story moves at a cracking pace, there’s a lot of intrigue, some of it out of left field at times, and, really, how many folklore-based, well-written feminist action novels do you get to read?


An Open Letter to My Homeland

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:44 am

Oh Australia,

I love you, and I’ve lived in you all my life, but sometimes I think I don’t understand you very well.  There’s a lot of aspects of your culture that confuse and enrage me, like Luhr from the planet Omicron Persei 8 and the concept of “wuv”.

So, Age columnist Catherine Deveny has lost her job, over Logies-related tweets that were considered offensive.  Particularly, from what I gather, those about Bindi Irwin.  I wasn’t following Deveny’s live tweets at the time, so I’ve only read what’s been reproduced in the media.  I didn’t think the comments were out of character and, while they may have been a little off-colour, I can see the point that Deveny was trying to make, because it’s a point I’ve often made myself, and I’ve done so in similar ways; apparently, however, dark humour and irony aren’t allowed in discussing the sexualisation of children in the media.

There’s a lot of commentary flying back and forth from all sides.  Some of it is well-reasoned and thoughtful and some…not so much.

I think Deveny’s general fearlessness when it comes to tackling controversial issues in her writing is admirable and much-needed.  Yes, she sometimes deliberately courts controversy, but this doesn’t make her arguments ingenuous.  Criticisms of her work are often far more ingenuous than anything she might do to draw attention to said work anyway; the problem is actually that often they’re not criticisms of her work, but her, personally, as a woman and occasionally as a mother.

Part of the angst about Deveny seems to be that she is apparently part of the “elite”; she makes no bones about her dislike of many aspects of Australian culture, and this sort of thing rarely makes one popular.  If you want to be a woman and popular in the Australian media, it helps to be perky and inoffensive, rather than a smart, mouthy, atheist feminist.

But, Australia, what worries me about you is that, as you’re baying for Catherine Deveny’s blood (as you’ve bayed for Germaine Greer’s before her – at least she’s in good company), and writing mean-spirited blog posts, tweets, and comments on mainstream media websites, you’re revealing your own blind spot.  You’re revealing your vicious streak, the anger you harbour against women (especially of the feminist stripe), the resentment that they won’t stay in their place and do what you want them to.

Because while Catherine Deveny loses her job, Matthew Johns gets a TV show, Sam Newman continues his stronghold in the mainstream media, and Kyle Sandilands is somehow still employed doing anything at all but commercial radio more specifically.

One of these people wrote some things on Twitter.  One of these people was accused of taking part in a pack rape, which the media gleefully referred to as a “group sex scandal”, and has apologised in the media for, essentially, the fact that he was caught out.  One of these people used a segment of his popular sports-related TV show to dress up a mannequin to recognisably resemble a female sports reporter, and then beat the mannequin to pieces.  One of these people brought a fourteen-year-old girl on his show to grill her about her sex life, and when she broke down and revealed she’d been raped at twelve, asked her if that was her only sexual experience.

One of these things is not like the others.

One of these things is out of a job, and the others aren’t.

Catherine Deveny doesn’t need me to defend her; she is quite capable of that herself.  But while she gets roasted over an open fire (mmm, delicious scapegoat), your culture, Australia, gets to pretend that it’s fighting the big fights, and that nothing is wrong.  She’ll be right, mate.

Except she won’t, because she isn’t.

I love you, Australia, but I think you’re going about this all wrong-headed, and frankly you’re coming off like a bit of a git in front of the other countries.




Book Review: Loving Richard Feynman by Penny Tangey

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:26 pm

Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.  Catherine is a science-loving fifteen-year-old.  Richard helped build the atom bomb.  Catherine’s just trying to survive school.

When your life is falling apart around you, is talking to a dead physicist normal?

Catherine thinks so, but it isn’t until her life begins unravelling that she learns who she can really trust.

In Loving Richard Feynman, her debut novel,  Penny Tangey has revealed that she has a gift for touching on the old with enough of the new that it feels completely fresh.  The narrative takes place as a series of letters that Catherine writes to Richard Feynman, self-consciously at first, and eventually completely openly.  Given that letters and diary entries such a well-worn form of telling a story, particularly in YA, this could have gone badly or just blandly, but having one of the greatest physicists the world has ever known as the focus of Catherine’s unrequitable letters works really well; Catherine learns more about Richard Feynman as she learns about herself, and uses his life and times (as told through biographies and Feynman’s autobiography) as a one-way sounding board for her own angst.

Catherine is such an awesome main character.  It’s still unusual in YA to have a female character that is so unabashedly nerdy, witty, smart and brave.  Catherine’s cousin refers to her in one scene as a “box of nerdish delight”, and this is absolutely spot on.  Catherine is smart, headstrong and hilarious, with enough emotional fragility that she’s still easy to relate to; her insistance that she doesn’t care what others think (inspired by Feynman) is more of a mantra than a verifiable fact.  It’s also nice to come across a teenage female protagonist who isn’t  afraid to indentify – loudly – as a feminist.

Catherine’s school life feels very realistic; possibly particularly so to me as, like her, I went to high school in a small Victorian country town, and the party scene in the paddock is all too familiar.  But the travails and trails are well-referenced here without seeming stale or cliche, which is an absolute boon.

As Catherine’s own life begins to change, she leans more heavily on her imagined relationship with Feynman, only to discover, as she learns more about his life, that he is just as human and fallible as the people around her.  Although the letters begin as a way for her to retreat from her life for a moment to make sense of it, she becomes more self-aware about the relationship she imagines and the ideals she is projecting onto Feynman.  It’s a clever in-text critique of the novel’s own structure, and it drives the narrative smoothly to its crisis point.

Loving Richard Feynman should be read by every current and former high school nerd, and by anyone who loves fresh, funny YA fiction with strong female characters.  Penny Tangey is a writer to watch.


CBCA Book of the Year Short List and Notables Announced!

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:20 pm

The CBCA’s Book of the Year Short List and Notables are now up, and there’s some good stuff on there (although it’s also made me realise I have a lot of reading to do before Book Week at the end of August).

I actually feel a little embarrassed by how few of the books on the short lists I’ve read yet, but that usually seems to be what happens – there’s always a combination of books I’ve read, books I’ve wanted to read and some stuff I’ve just plain never heard of.  There’s often a lot of familiar names, but it’s nice to see some newer ones on there this year as well.  Justine Larbalestier‘s Liar was one of the best books I read last year, hands down.  It was one of those books I read and then proceeded to thrust into the hands of everyone I met, without explanation, just with a “you need to read this!”.  I also recently finished Penny Tangey‘s Loving Richard Feynman, which I adored and will be reviewing here shortly.  It’s Tangey’s first novel and, as an indicator of her work, I think it shows that we’ve got a lot to look forward to from her.  On the picture book list, I loved Leigh Hobbs‘s Mr Chicken Goes to Paris, because how can you not love a story about an internationally travelled, aggro-looking six-foot-tall chicken carcass?

Congratulations to all shortlisted and notable authors and illustrators!


Book Review: Wake by Lisa McMann

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:30 am

Wake by Lisa  McMannFor seventeen-year-old Janie, getting sucked into other people’s dreams is getting old. Especially the falling dreams, the naked-but-nobody-notices dreams, and the sex-crazed dreams. Janie’s seen enough fantasy booty to last her a lifetime.

She can’t tell anybody about what she does — they’d never believe her, or worse, they’d think she’s a freak. So Janie lives on the fringe, cursed with an ability she doesn’t want and can’t control.

Then she falls into a gruesome nightmare, one that chills her to the bone. For the first time, Janie is more than a witness to someone else’s twisted psyche. She is a participant….

I broke one of my sternest personal reading rules with this book.  That rule is, don’t start a new book at bedtime, just in case it’s so good that it makes you stay up all night reading.

And guess what happened?  Yep.  Stayed up all night reading.  Was so keyed up by the time I finished (and possibly a little overly affected by the nightmares and dreamscapes of the book) that I had to re-read an ancient copy of New Scientist cover to cover before I was able to settle down enough to get some minimal shut-eye.

Check out that cover.  It was almost enough to give me nightmares on its own.  I don’t think I’ve seen a cover so perfect for a book as this one is for Wake in a long time.

I really admire what Lisa McMann has done with this novel (which is the first in a trilogy, and I can’t wait to read #2, Fade): she’s taken a paranormal plot that could have gone in a lot of directions, many of them not so great, and turned it into a taut psychological thriller with a deeply sympathetic main character, Janie.  Janie’s experiences of falling into other people’s dreams are frequently genuinely frightening, although the stereotypical sex dreams offer plenty of smirk-worthy material too.  The novel’s tendency to jump around dates and times helps hurry the plot along without coming across like a self-conscious construct.  It also works well to introduce the staggered relationship that Janie slowly builds with a boy in her year level, Cabe, who keeps to himself but seems to be as full of secrets as Janie herself.

I also appreciated that Janie is a main character who comes well and truly from the wrong side of the tracks; her mother is a hopeless alcoholic, and Janie has been teased all her life for being “white trash”.  She’s been working in a nursing home since she was fourteen, saving for college and to buy little luxuries not covered by her mother’s welfare cheque, like food and clothes.  However, Janie’s circumstances aren’t massively played out; she’s quietly accepting of her crappy circumstances, and determined to work around them.  She’s kind of a nice change from angst-ridden middle-class teenage heroines that often populate contemporary YA fiction, without being treated by the author as some sort of lesson in tolerance and class issues.

The only criticism I have of Wake is that the characters besides Janie and Cabe are fairly superficial; on the plus side, this helps keep the plot moving at breakneck speed, and stops the reader from being bogged down in their minutiae , since half the time we’ve gotten a glimpse into their unconscious thanks to Janie, anyway.

Anything else I could share about Wake might end up as a spoiler, so I will conclude by saying that there’s some unexpected plot twists (well, I didn’t see them coming, anyway) that shouldn’t be ruined, and you should pick it up for yourself.


Building Social Captial in Libraries

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:06 pm

Social capital – a sociological concept which refers to connections within and between social networks – is something I’ve been thinking and reading about lately.  This is largely due to the fact that it’s highly relevant to the topic of a conference paper I’m co-authoring (more on that later), but also just because it’s so interesting.

All the passionate public librarians I’ve ever known or worked with – and not just Children’s and YA folk, although that’s obviously where my bias and connections lie – have been heavily into developing the social capital of their libraries, even if that’s not the term they’ve used for it (and I admit it’s not a term I was familiar with until my co-author introduced it to me).  It seems very obvious that libraries need to develop relationships with their users, but this sometimes seem to be something that goes over the heads of decision-makers, sadly enough.  Many hands have been wrung and much ink has been spilled on the topic of libraries remaining relevant to their users, and it’s a good and relevant question, particularly for public libraries, whose funding must frequently be justified in terms of statistics – bodies through the door, loans statistics, program attendances, and the like.  Intrinsic value won’t get you very far, but at the same time, a library that isn’t relevant to the needs of its users doesn’t have much intrinsic value, a fact which I think sometimes the hand-wringers forget.  Yes, it sucks to have to run a library like a business minus the profit, but if your shelves are full of things that people don’t want then you’re not providing much of a service.

I’m still thinking through a lot of this stuff as it will relate to the paper, and just in general, but I wanted to share a good quote from an article by Carolyn Bourke, which is available for reading here (PDF):

“We want people in our Council, State Government Departments, local organisations, the business community and the general community to think of the Library when they have a great idea to build social capital.  We want to be one of the obvious places people think to come not just for resources but also for the broader community issues.  If we are truly to be facilitators in a knowledge society we have to be visible and active in our communities, constantly looking for new ways to build bridges to the excluded and the marginalised.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have anything to share.


Razer on Nowra on Greer

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:03 pm

Helen Razer has written a brilliant takedown on Louis Nowra’s Monthly article “commemorating” the 40th anniversary of The Female Eunuch.

Part of the problem with Nowra’s article, which other writers have pointed out, although none, so far, with as much rage-filled aplomb as Razer, is that it’s a personal attack that criticises Germaine Greer – now in her 70s – for growing old. Apparently being a brilliant author, academic and incendiary public figure does not excuse one from being criticised for being a slave to chronology. I know, I’m shocked too. In addition, like many antifeminist naysayers, Nowra seems both gleeful and quick in regarding the fact that Greer’s full revolution has not taken place as evidence that feminism has failed completely. Yeah, sorry, no. Societal change doesn’t happen overnight, and especially not while there are still people ready to jump all over the fact that those pushing for it are human, too.

I am not always Greer’s biggest fan myself – like many people, I find her a fascinating, important and occasionally incredibly infuriating figure – but there is no “politcal correctness” at play in objecting to Nowra’s piece, as his supporters have tried to argue. Pointing out that someone is making a hackneyed, sexist and pointless argument to debase a powerful woman isn’t political correctness, because there’s not a level of endangered speech going on – criticising women for being outspoken – sorry, “shrill” – and not measuring up to arbitrary notions of attractiveness is something that has never moved out of the mainstream long enough to become endangered. And that’s part of the reason why we’ll still need feminism for a while yet. To slightly mangle a popular catchphrase, the time for post-feminism will be when we’re living in a post-patriarchy.

On a lighter and more personal note, that entry was the first I’d read on Helen’s blog, and as someone who’s occasionally been a bit alienated by her writing in the past, I have now well and truly been converted into a fan. While they may have wildly different styles and different viewpoints, I think that both Greer and Razer can be counted as larrikin ratbag Australian feminists, and I wish we had more of those.


Book Review: Dear Diary by Lesley Arfin

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:17 am

Based on the Vice magazine column of the same name, Dear Diary is a genius idea: Arfin’s diary entries from ages 12 – 28, with commentary and interviews with some of the major players throughout various stages of her life. Anyone who’s ever been a teenage girl with squirm with recognition at the raw emotion of Arfin’s teenaged writings; the urge to fit in and the sense that she’s failing at doing so, the complicated friendship structures that fall away without notice or reason.
This alone would be enough, but there is a darker grain to the book. Arfin began experimenting with drugs in high school, and by midway through her college degree was a fully-fledged heroin addict. The latter part of the book deals with her stints in rehab, her ambivalence towards kicking her habit, and her occasional startling moments of clarity about what her life has become.

Arfin’s prose style is a dream; the diary entries themselves as well as her commentary sing with life and pull the reader into her world. Reading the book was like having a coffee with an old friend who’s disappeared out of your life for many years and has now come back with some amazing, heartbreaking, funny and cautionary tales to tell. It’s kind of like Go Ask Alice would have been if it was a) well-written, b) not made up and c) not misogynistic, anti-drug propagandist crap.  Dear Diary has the kind of hipster veneer that you’d expect from an offshoot of Vice, but it doesn’t glorify addiction; the poetry is in Arfin’s writing and how she perceives the world, not in the drugs she takes.  The romance comes from her eventual falling back in love with the world and herself, not some hackneyed form of drug worship.

This is the kind of book I would have loved as a teen; okay, it’s the kind of book I do love as a non-teen.  But, riveting as Dear Diary is now in my latemid twenties, I can imagine that it would have been even more compulsive reading for my teenaged self, with Arfin being middle class and familiar enough that I could feel like I shared some parts of her life, while other parts – the obvious drama of her story – making it alien enough to be captivating.  Dear Diary is definitely something I’ll be sharing with the other ex-teenage girls in my life, and probably the actual teenaged girls as well.


Book Review: Somebody’s Crying by Maureen McCarthy

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:58 pm

Three years have passed since the murder of Alice’s mother, but still the killer is unknown. Alice, her cousin Jonty and his friend Tom are drawn together by the mystery, but what is each of them hiding? Will their secrets bind them tighter or tear everything apart?

First things first: I loved this book.  I read it compulsively and was extremely reluctant to put it down until I finished it.  McCarthy has a gift of creating entirely believable characters and then getting inside their heads; quietly mourning Alice, easygoing Tom and even loose cannon Jonty feel like people I’ve met and hung out with at some point.   Their emotional responses, psychological makeup and dialogue feel entirely real, and sweep the reader up.

Set in Warrnambool in Victoria, Somebody’s Crying felt at once familiar and alien; having grown up in a rural Victorian town myself (albeit on the other side of the state), the atmosphere McCarthy creates seemed intimately familiar in some ways, but as I don’ t know Warrnambool at all, there was still a measure of distance.

The mystery of who killed Alice’s mother, Lillian, forms the binding narrative of the book, drawing in the three distinct characters of Alice, Tom and Jonty.  The chapters skip between the three main characters, with McCarthy using third-person omniscient narration to great effect.  Flashbacks to the past from all three characters help to round out the story’s history and build up the intrigue as to who is Lillian’s real killer – a crime for which Jonty, her nephew, was arrested, but not convicted due to lack of evidence.  Jonty has returned to Woollongong, and faces a cloud of suspicion wherever he goes, despite his lack of conviction.  Alice has returned to her hometown to face her mother’s death and find the killer once and for all, and Tom is drifting after three years away, looking for some answers in his life.

Somebody’s Crying is not a perfect book; there are some fairly major plot points that feel somewhat flimsy, and the characters occasionally behave in ways that it would be very difficult to imagine someone behaving in real life; Alice’s choice to take a job with Luke, who is Tom’s father and the lawyer who represented Jonty in court, seems unlikely, yet several aspects of the plot hinge on this decision.

Overall, however, it’s a strong and compelling novel that shows great insight into its characters; despite the tragic backstory, there is also a great deal of emotional reality in the lives of the three main characters, and many of the minor characters are well-developed and engaging too.  It’s definitely worth reading if you haven’t already done so.

However.  There is just one thing I’d like to address – briefly, because I suspect it’s going to come up in its own post sometime soon.  See that cover up there?  Moody, dramatic, evocative of a scene in the book, and pretty eye-catching. The girl on it is meant to be Alice.  Except it’s not.  I don’t say that as a fangirl who thinks they’re Doin It Rong, either.

See, Alice is meant to be fat.  Not pudgy.  Not a normal-sized girl with body image issues.  Fat.  It’s made explicitly clear in the book; it’s by no means a plot point, it just is.  It’s not really an issue for her either; she suffers some moments of self-consciousness about her weight, but a lot of young women her age do anyway.  She’s written as being an intelligent, captivating and beautiful young woman, whose weight generally isn’t an issue for her, and whose attractiveness is absolutely unquestionable.

So why did the publishers choose to portray her this way?  Well, okay, I get that: fat panic!  But why stigmatise a stigmatised physical characteristic further when an author has done such a good job of portraying it sensitively and in an empowering manner (something which McCarthy has also done in previous books such as Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life)?  Alice is one of three main characters whose journeys are followed in the book, yet she’s the only one depicted on the cover, and is depicted incorrectly at that.  If featuring a fat girl, even a conventionally stunningly beautiful one such as Alice, was so distasteful, why not feature the guys as well, or one of them?  Why not have an abstract, moody cover with no people in it at all?  I guess what I’m really asking is why can’t a fat character be fat?  Yes, yes, I know, fatphobic society, book sales to consider, fat girls aren’t “aspirational” or whatever.  But why couldn’t this book been jacketed in a way that doesn’t lie about one of the characters, particularly about a part of her appearance that sometimes affects how she interacts with the world, and how the world sees her?  It puts me in mind of the (rightful) fiasco surrounding the American cover of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar.

But like I said, this is something I’ll probably come back to in another post.

In the meantime, read Somebody’s Crying if you haven’t already done so, and let me know what you think of it.