Sunday, December 2, 2007

Review - Love Like Water - Meme McDonald.

One of the reasons that I love YA books so much, is that the well written ones act as something of a guide to life. For the curious teen (or adult) they are a way of saying "What would happen if... " or "What will happen when...". While every book is about this exploration into other people's worlds, YA is somewhat special because it's target audience are still at a stage where they are desperate to learn about everthing - especially that concept of 'what will happen next'. It's a common concept in writing for teenagers, that they all want to 'read up', so books about sixteen year olds just starting to date etc, are actually read by 13-14 year olds, who aren't ready to date yet but are still curious. Which leads to the question, what do the 16 year olds read? What do the 17 and 18 year olds read? In some ways, the answer to this is adult fiction, but I don't feel that is enough of an answer. While some adult fiction can be useful to a 17 year old, the expereinces of a 30 year old housewife are very different to those of a 20 year old uni student, or even a 20 year old student who chose not to go to university - so where are the books about that? I can think of three on the top of my head, "Queen Kat, Carmel, and St Jude get a life", "48 Shades of Brown", and "Love Like Water". I'm sure there are others, (and anyone who wants to recommend one feel free), but mostly it seems that the 20 somethings are too old for YA, and too young for adult fiction. This may come down to the difficulty in marketing books about this age group, which is a shame because some of them have fantastic potentional.

Love Like Water, by Meme McDonald, is an example of why more books like this should be written. Meme McDonald is probably a familiar name to many Australian school students, because her books about aboriginal culture have been studied in most schools. Her new book, Love Like Water, follows the story of three young adults who all move to Alice Springs. None of them have gone through the traditional 'going to uni then getting a job' path that has been preached to us in high school, they have all ended up in the middle of no-where to try and find themselves, and try and work out what to do with their lives. The book isn't preachy about this, we only get a sense of it through watching the characters and listening to them talk. Even the explicitly stated message of 'we have to make our own meaning in life' is only the view of one of the characters, when she thinks she's worked it all out.

The book is very much a character driven creature. The author's voice is almost non-existent because the story is told so vividly through the voices of the characters. Even though the casual is simple style is one of the features of most YA, it still feels refreashing to read something that sounds the way poeople actually talk, and using the words people actually use. One of the truely remarkable things about the book is the way that the setting is described so vividly without slipping out the vocuabulary that the characters would use, and the features they would comment on.

The use of more than one point of view character was a very clever choice for this book. The three characters all come from different backgrounds, and so see the world in a different way, but since they are all apart of each others lives, you get to see what each character looks like from mulitiple view points. Switching in and out of a characters head like that makes them so much more fully developed than they would otherwise be, and really encourages you to think about how you would see them if you encountered them in your life.

It's also interesting because it gives multiple points of view on the issues dealt with by the novel. As I mentioned earlier, this is never done in a preaching manner, just in a 'this is the way things are' kind of way. This is especially true of the race themes that run throughout the book, it's not so much of an issue because the author wants it to be - but rather because the book is set in Alice Springs, and that's the way things are there.

I really think this is a fantastic book, and hopefully will be a step towards more like it being published within the genre.


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