Another excellent YA read

I’ve said it many times in recent years (most often at Great Stories): some of the best fiction around is turning up on young adult shelves. And some of the most interesting stories are coming from Australian writers.

Case in point: This is Shyness by Leanne Hall.

This is Shyness is the story of a teenage girl (to be known as Wild Girl) who wants to forget the troubles of her life. She crosses over into the literally perpetually dark suburb of Shyness and meets Wolfboy, a guy with his own issues – not the least being his penchant for howling. He agrees to guide her through the streets of endless night, but there are strange things in Shyness and what they think will be a welcome diversion soon turns into something more menacing.

This is a very cool book. Strong left-of-centre characters, original plot and world building, and a great mix of darkenss, humour and sharp dialogue.

I loved it’s Australian flavour (just enough to feel familiar). The setting is also just off-kilter enough to be dystopian, but not so much so that it feels alien.

At the novel’s heart is an engaging, off-beat romance, but there are also well-handled themes of alienation, grief, self-identity and self discovery that make this an above average novel (and not just for young adults).

There are enough loose ends to set up future stories in Shyness, but also enough closure for it to be OK if Leanne Hall moves on to other stories. Can’t wait to see what she does next.

Need a zombie fix?

They’re not sexy, but there’s something very cool about zombies.

And I must admit, I prefer my zombie stories with a fair dose of dark humour and irony (although you can’t go past The Forest of Hands and Teeth for something more disturbing).

Thanks to the cornucopia of goodies that is Twitter, I was introduced this week to the Caldecott Chronicles by RG Bullet, a series of very clever short zombie stories about an infestation of the undead in the Cotswolds in 1899.

RG Bullet nails the narrative voice – the very resilient, resourceful and well-mannered (if at times cheerily mercenary) 32nd Earl of Rothshire, who sets about dealing with his unwanted visitors, even if many of them are former friends and manor staff.

I loved the droll sense of humour, and the juxtaposition of zombie horror with the sensibilities of 19th century rural England. For me, the Caldecott Chronicles are what Pride & Prejudice and Zombies wanted to be, but didn’t quite pull off consistently.

As well as being cleverly written, the Chronicles also feature fantastic illustrations, which add to the fun.

The Chronicles will be available in their entirety in November (published by SilverHouse Books). Until then, you read the first instalment here.

You can find out more about the series (and RG Bullet) at www.rgbullet.com.

This is why I love live theatre

I’ve been a huge fan of live theatre for about a decade now. Nothing beats the visceral nature of quality live performances, and few companies do it better than La Boite here in Brisbane.

Last night, my good friend Heather and I went to see La Boite’s production of Ruben Guthrie (written by actor/author Brendan Cowell and featuring a Gyton Grantley, of Underbelly fame, in the title role).

We were blown away. It’s funny, confronting, poignant and – most of all – utterly mesmerising. The performances were brilliant, direction tight, and the writing sublime – tackling the tough topic of the nature of alcohol and alcoholism in Australian society.

Our reactions were interesting (at one point we actually both wanted a drink of the Zinfandel being described just metres from us on stage..).. But we also talked about how difficult it is to be the non-drinker in a social situation (which happens to me occasionally, when I  do a liver cleanse – it’s my version of hitting the re-set button) and we both had a think about when and why we consume wine. And, for me, the role alcohol has played through different phases of my life.

The play captures just how integral alcohol is to what we consider “normal” socialising. Granted, Ruben takes it to extremes (as he does his recovery), but when he finally joins a 12-step program, it’s the reactions of his friends and family that are the most fascinating – and often appalling.

Ruben Guthrie definitely has plenty of confronting material (including a lot of profanity and sexual content), and there’s a real sense of danger and menace when Ruben goes off the deep end. But it’s also very funny (and very heavy on irony) and is the most provocative piece of theatre I’ve seen this year. Shows like this are the reason I will keep going back to sit in a dark room and watch people bare their souls on stage.

(It’s also the reason I hope to return to writing plays at some stage. I’ve written three plays – two were performed by Phoenix Ensmeble in 2004 and 2005 and both were directed by the aforementioned talented Miss Heather … but more on that another time.)

Ruben Guthrie is on at La Boite until 12 November.

More great YA fiction – The Bridge by Jane Higgins

If we’re talking excellent young adult reads, it would be remiss of me not to mention Jane Higgins’ The Bridge.

Jane is a fellow author at Text Publishing, and won the Text Prize with this riveting dystopian tale. I blogged about it a few weeks back on Other Worlds, and you can find that post here if you’re interested.

(Occasionally I still post over at Other Worlds or Great Stories, although most of my thoughts on books I’ve enjoyed are on Goodreads these days, as a way to streamline my online book-related activities!).

Reading recommendation: The Hunger Games trilogy

I’ve just finished Suzanne Collins’ gripping utopian trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay).

The first two books were absolute pages turners. I slowed a bit on the third, but found the ending satisfying.

It’s worth jumping on the bandwagon for this one, as The Hunger Games in particular will be a huge discussion topic when the fim version comes comes out next year (teaser trailer looks promising). If you’ve read the series, let me know what you think. 🙂

I’ve written brief reviews/thoughts on all three novels at Goodreads (the first doesn’t have spoilers, but the other two do, so don’t read them until you’ve read the books!):