My beautiful writerly daughter passes on to me the best of her reading of YA. She knows what I enjoy, so she rarely lets me down regarding that. A ten day cruise to the South Pacific was the ideal time to enjoyably plough through several of her recommendations – Andrew Daddo’s ‘One Step’ and JC Burke’s ‘The Things We Promise’. I knew, from the experience of my first time on an ocean liner, deliberately eschewing social media for the duration and finding a quiet sunny spot on board, that being there with a book in hand is bliss. Last time I ran out before the cruise ended and had to stock up on a shore excursion. This time I ensured I had enough along, but it was a close run thing.
The Daddo family have been big names in the popular culture of our country and as it seems almost obligatory for celebrities to try their hand at this writing caper, why should a Daddo be any exception? Most go for the biography or memoir, often ghost written – but a few have had a go at writing for kids, many – you can probably name them, as could I – have made a fair fist of it. Andrew Daddo is no exception – he has obviously found another calling to add to his talents. Name recognition possibly gives him a head start, but he needs the talent to back it up. Daddo has it on the evidence of ‘One Step’. The mood of dread he created as his tale headed towards its conclusion convinced me.
A constant theme in YA is the scourge of schoolyard bullying, a fact the main protagonist of this tome, Dylan, knows only too well. Just when he thinks he’s making progress in the girlfriend department (he’s finally been noticed by Gracie), despite his constant battles with an acne-ravaged face, along comes his arch-nemesis, Hamish Banning, to make his life hell. The situation is not helped by his best buddy going all weird on him. Dylan thinks, though, an invitation to a party will see him finally become part of the cool set and he’ll be able to hang out with the object of his desire. But all is not as it seems, with disastrous results. With his self opinion plunging, not assisted by his worrisome parents and the embarrassment of actually being good at something (creative writing) preying on his mind, where can a lad seek refuge. The answer doesn’t make for pleasant reading.
Some reviewers have stated the necessity for parents of teenagers to engage with the books of ‘One Step’s’ ilk being currently written for that age group. This is to better understand what’s going on in the lives of young people at such a critical age. It is perhaps a forlorn hope, even if they are as immensely enjoyable as anything written for older age brackets. So if it’s Daddo for the lads, then a worthy recommendation for the lasses would be JC Burke, even if the title under discussion here is set back in the Nineties.
Ms Burke has been around for a while now, perfecting her wordsmithery. ‘The Things We Promise’ takes us back to a time when the Grim Reaper was instilling fear into communities all around Oz. It was a period when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was getting into full gear. Gemma gets swept up in it all because her brother, Billy, is gay and at the epicentre of events in NYC, plying his trade as a make-up artist. He has promised to return home to work his wonders on his sister’s face for her leavers’ dinner.
We forget the impact the then deadly outcomes of this invidious disease had on the world. When this author discovered that her own offspring had little idea about it all, now we’re into the second decade of a new century, she decided a novel was the best way of informing today’s teens. Into it she has woven the confusions afflicting tender souls in those years when one comes of age – the same issues largely as the present, minus the impact of hand held digital devices. With the recent plebiscite, homophobia has again crawled out form the gutters, so ‘The Things We Promise’ is a timely tome. And it is also a reminder of how far we have come, in the positive sense. But ignorance still abounds, just as it did back in Gemma’s day. She’s a spirited lead character and as the waves rolled by, with the sun soaking this body that was fresh from the icebox that had been Hobart this winter on that sunny cruise, I immensely enjoyed this young lady’s journey. So I took two good ‘uns on the cruise with me. Ta muchly darling daughter.
JC Burke’s website = https://www.jcburke.com.au/