This book was so good. An infuriating yet entirely lovable main character, equally complex secondary characters, hilarious writing style, incredible descriptions of place, and an absolute cracker of a plot. What more could a reader want? Shivaun Plozza has reminded me how incredible and wonderful and heartbreaking YA can be.
It’s told in the first person by Frankie, a 17 year old from Collingwood who was abandoned by her mum as a kid, and now lives with her aunt. Summarising the story makes it sound larger than life: her long lost brother shows up, she witnesses him stealing stuff, then he goes missing, then she spends all her time searching for him by making pals with his burglar friend and breaking into various people’s houses, getting involved with drug dealers, etc., for clues to his wherabouts. But it’s really realistic when you read it: it’s the story of a girl from a broken family, who has a serious anger management problem and doesn’t really believe she’s worth anything.
Everything about this story was tight and well executed. The descriptions of Collingwood and the surrounding areas – Children’s Farm, Dight’s Falls, the river, parts of Abbotsford – are all spot on and also feature in the story naturally – i.e. they don’t feel included just to shout ‘look where this story is located!!!’. There’s a small romance that is compelling and feels real, but it also not the main focus of the plot. The story is rich in detail – about Frankie’s obsession with Joy Division, her aunt’s kebab shop, high school in Collingwood, teen relationships, Frankie’s confused feelings about her new brother. The way the story illuminated the ways that everyone – even bullies (or perhaps especially bullies) – have deep and real problems that often stem from something out of their own control (like their upbringing, or parents’ treatment of them) was sad and convincing. At the same time the text was clear that individuals are also responsible for their immediate actions. The book balanced these things really well.
The narrative voice is wise-cracking, sharp-talking, sarcasm-laden and very witty. It made me laugh out a loud many times, even in the darker moments. For example: ‘Smith Street at night is straight out of the nightmares of every suburban housewife…As I hurry past pub after pub I accumulate drunken catcalls like a Hollywood starlet accumulates rehab stints’. Initially I was a little wary of this style, partly because it’s not uncommon in YA (though rarely is it done as well as in this book) and partly because I wasn’t sure if a 17 year old would really talk like that. However, I came to realise it totally fits with Frankie’s character: she’s good with words, a gun at cryptic crosswords, and jokes about sarcasm and mean-yet-quick-witted retorts being her best skills. As another character puts it: ‘I don’t understand half the shit you say’.
I was worried the ending of this story would come together too neatly but it didn’t – I mean, there was enough closure to feel satisfied but not so much it felt contrived. I won’t give it away but it was moving and heart breaking and great. And the build up! So much tension! I think the way Plozza wrapped up the story, actually, was what made the book for me. It’ll stay with me, I’ll read it again, and I hope she writes another soon.