Meet Me at the Intersection ed. Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Published: 3rd September 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Fremantle Press
Pages: 296
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Meet Me at the Intersection is an anthology of short fiction, memoir and poetry by authors who are First Nations, People of Colour, LGBTIQA+ or living with disability. The focus of the anthology is on Australian life as seen through each author’s unique, and seldom heard, perspective.

With works by Ellen van Neerven, Graham Akhurst, Kyle Lynch, Ezekiel Kwaymullina, Olivia Muscat, Mimi Lee, Jessica Walton, Kelly Gardiner, Rafeif Ismail, Yvette Walker, Amra Pajalic, Melanie Rodriga, Omar Sakr, Wendy Chen, Jordi Kerr, Rebecca Lim, Michelle Aung Thin and Alice Pung, this anthology is designed to challenge the dominant, homogenous story of privilege and power that rarely admits ‘outsider’ voices. 

Meet Me at the Intersection is filled with some brilliant stories and pieces of work by authors who are showing that those marginalised and seldom heard voices can be just as powerful and have just as important stories to tell. It is filled with the voices of Young Adult authors and stories but is an anthology that can and should be read by everyone.

The collection is filled with a range of forms and styles from poetry, memoirs and short stories. Each author brings their own style of writing and it was a nice to see so many different voices through the book. There are little explanations of each author and their background before each piece and it is clear there is diversity across all kinds.

In terms of content, each piece takes place in a different time period and it was refreshing to see not every story was contemporary; and while this makes sense for memoir, some of the other stories were from other time periods as well. I also loved the way these stories have been ordered in the collection. In the introduction it mentions that the oldest culture of storytellers deserves to go first and I loved that that was acknowledged.

What made this anthology stand out to me was it never felt like there was a single message being highlighted, instead it was about representation. The blurb mentions that the focus of the work is to represent the everyday lives of Australians and it has succeeded brilliantly. In doing so you gain an understanding by reading about these fictional, semi fictional, and real lives about the ordinariness and extraordinariness of a diverse group of writers. it is wonderfully eye opening and showcases that these lesser heard and unique voices have some amazing stories to tell. It is an anthology filled with own voices and is beautifully, distinctly Australian. What more could you ask for?

You can purchase Meet Me at the Intersection via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

DymocksAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

Published: 7th July 2020 (print)/7 July 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Disney-Hyperion/Dreamscape Media
Pages: 292/6 hrs and 5 mins
Narrator: Robin Eller and Cary Hite
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Marva Sheridan was born ready for this day. She’s always been driven to make a difference in the world, and what better way than to vote in her first election?

Duke Crenshaw is so done with this election. He just wants to get voting over with so he can prepare for his band’s first paying gig tonight. Only problem? Duke can’t vote.

When Marva sees Duke turned away from their polling place, she takes it upon herself to make sure his vote is counted. She hasn’t spent months doorbelling and registering voters just to see someone denied their right. And that’s how their whirlwind day begins, rushing from precinct to precinct, cutting school, waiting in endless lines, turned away time and again, trying to do one simple thing: vote. They may have started out as strangers, but as Duke and Marva team up to beat a rigged system (and find Marva’s missing cat), it’s clear that there’s more to their connection than a shared mission for democracy.

I found this and thought I would give it ago since even in Australia we’re inundated with news about US politics and the election. After having sat through Red, White and Royal Blue and enduring political explanations I didn’t care about in book form, I was unsure I wanted to read a book seemingly even more dedicated to it. Turns out I was right but not for what I was expecting.

I thought it would be an ok read about two teens meeting on election day and fighting to get a vote counted, no doubt falling in love on the way in this 24 hour type story. What I didn’t expect was every other issue under the sun to come up and so many subplots that by the end I essentially forgot it all began with a voting issue.

The first half is all about voting as Marva and Duke, both from politically focused families, talk about their voting day plans as first time voters. Marva is an activist and passionate about voting rights and making the system easier for people, while Duke lives in the shadow of his brother who was more politically active than he is but still wants to do the right thing.

What I didn’t need was to sit through 27 plus chapters reminding me about how ridiculous the US election process is and I don’t know whether it is because it isn’t my experience or that it is so in your face about how broken their system is, and I get that a few people need to hear this, but it was less of a story and more of a PSA about the troubles in voting and the hassles people have to go through. Side stories about siblings and cats aren’t enough of a distraction from the fact I was over the story and the different blockades in place for Marva and Duke to deal with. I never felt there was an actual story here.

After all of that the voting actually felt like the least important thing in the end once all the unimportant subplots and other issues were discussed. After all the complications it gets brushed over and you forget that that was the start of the book. If it was mean to be a jumping off point for their meeting maybe there shouldn’t have been half a book dedicated to Marva explaining how important it is if it gets pushed aside so quickly.

To Colbert’s credit, her use of chapter headings and flashbacks are a good way to introduce character histories and family relationships. But so many important issues try to be covered in the story that are important during their scenes but then are forgotten just as quickly. Social justice, racial prejudice, class difference, grief are all subjects woven through this story and it is done naturally and sometimes quite well but they are also brushed over very quickly.

There is not much in the way of romance either. Duke and Marva do gradually start to like one another as they traipse all over town which feels like a nice, normal start to a friendship, but the leap to romance felt unnecessary and through the whole thing there were barely any indicators that that’s where the story was headed. Even for a 24 hour type story this was a rushed convenience and it felt out of place.

The blurb makes it sound like the issue in voting is going to be a larger part of the story, and it was in a way but it also meant giving the characters time in a car or waiting in line to talk about everything else. There are too many unnecessary subplots which felt like time fillers when more time could have been spent on establishing the characters themselves and their growing relationship together. The saving grace is that it was short and easily forgettable.

You can purchase The Voting Booth via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Love, Frankie by Jacqueline Wilson

Published: 17th September 2020Goodreads badge
Publisher:
RHCP Digital
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

GROWING UP. FALLING IN LOVE. COMING OUT.

Frankie is nearly fourteen and teenage life certainly comes with its ups and downs. Her mum is seriously ill with MS and Frankie can feel herself growing up quickly, no thanks to Sally and her gang of bullies at school.

When Sally turns out to be not-so-mean after all, they strike up a friendship and are suddenly spending all of their time together.

But Frankie starts to wonder whether these feelings she has for Sally are stronger than her other friendships. Might she really be in love?

Frankie doesn’t want Sally to just be her friend. She wants her to be her girlfriend. But does Sally feel the same?

I picked this up because I was looking for some LGBTQIA books that were directed at younger audiences and while this does have a storyline of a hopeful romance, it honestly falls short. There are a lot of things to praise Wilson for, she shows a strong character who deals with her sick mother and stands up to bullies which is good, but this wasn’t the coming out story I was expecting.

That’s not to say it isn’t there at all. There are a few major themes playing out through this narrative from illness, bullying, as well as a young girl trying to work out if she loves her new friend. Wilson combines all of these together well so we see and understand the pressure Frankie is under concerning her mother and the girls at school, but also her own internal struggles she has to come to terms with.

I found myself becoming worried for Frankie and what Sally’s intentions were for her, I didn’t want to read about any homophobic slurs, especially since Frankie is so unsure herself and since the blurb wasn’t matching up with the story I was reading. However Wilson brings it together in a slow but sure way and you see the start of a story between these girls where there is something more than friendship on the cards.

This story is young adult but it is very much aimed at the low end with younger readers. There is drinking and talk of drugs but none are actually done and there is never a feeling of long term between Frankie and Sally, more is placed on the long lasting friendship than the romance. But it is still an important story about young girls of thirteen and fourteen discovering who they are.

While it feels unresolved and open, the ending is positive in its own way. Not to have Sally outed if she isn’t ready is an unspoken hurdle but there is a light in the future for both girls. The story ends in hope for Frankie and for her mother as well which is a good decision from Wilson given the young age of her main character. For young teens trying to work out their own sexuality it is a stepping stone to show how small steps can feel like big steps and at this age there doesn’t need to be definitive answers or pressure. It just wasn’t the full experience I was looking for and it fell flat in terms of voice. I may have forgiven it if it fell into the junior category, but bumping this into the YA group I wanted a strong voice and writing style that felt less childlike.

You can purchase Love, Frankie via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Published: 10th July 2007 (print)/22 December 2009 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon Schuster/Audible Studios
Pages: 294/6 hrs
Narrator: Sunil Malhotra
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★ – 1 Star

“Last week I cut my hair, bought some boys’ clothes and shoes, wrapped a large ACE bandage around my chest to flatten my fortunately-not-large breasts, and began looking for a new name.”

Angela Katz-McNair has never felt quite right as a girl. Her whole life is leading up to the day she decides to become Grady, a guy. While coming out as transgendered feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reaction he gets from everyone else. His mother is upset, his younger sister is mortified, and his best friend, Eve, won’t acknowledge him in public. Why can’t people just let Grady be himself?

Grady’s life is miserable until he finds friends in some unexpected places — like the school geek, Sebastian, who explains that there is precedent in the natural world (parrotfish change gender when they need to, and the newly male fish are the alpha males), and Kita, a senior who might just be Grady’s first love.

Why did I read this? I saw three one star reviews before I started but decided to see for myself. Yeah, no. One star is about right. Look, it isn’t the worst book I have read, but the fact it is trying to tell a trans story and if I, with my limited knowledge and experience, know that this is a terrible story then I can only imagine how any trans people reading it must feel.

I disliked this pretty early on. There is one sentence that told me this story wasn’t going to be right and it only got worse as it went along. The entire thing revolves around Grady and his attempt to be himself. Commendable, brave, all those things in a small town USA high school of course were going to be a challenge, but where Wittlinger has failed is she’s made these big emotional and social changes into small hurdles that all get overcome and resolved in the space of a few weeks and now everything is ok. I felt it brushed over trans issues quickly and at times barely mentioned anything about them at all.

Away from that, the characters themselves had no depth, they are forgettable, one dimensional, and honestly some of things coming out of their mouths is problematic on a whole different level. They are quick things, often said in a single sentence but stick with you. There’s racism, fatshaming, whatever it’s called where we’re still apparently making fun of people for “being a geek”, plus there’s a whole thing about trying to hook up with a girl who has a boyfriend. It’s as if Wittlinger needed to make everything around Grady nice so when the few bad things happen it stands out, but also have everyone around him be less somehow, so these key characters could feel superior. It felt weird and grubby at times and I hated reading about the mocking of these characters.

The one saving grace of this story is that it’s short. Malhotra does an ok job on narration, there isn’t much distinction in his voices for each character but I was too focused on the issues with the writing to worry too much about the voices. The stereotypes, the sexism, and the insensitivity throughout is astounding and it is evident Wittlinger has no concept of what being a boy means other than a short haircut and typical boy clothing. I am so glad I have read and know there are better trans books out there to enjoy because if this was my first point of call to books about coming out or an introduction to the trans community I would not only horribly misinformed but incredibly disappointed.

You can purchase Parrotfish via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond | Amazon

Amazon Aust | Audible

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Published: 1st October 2006 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Pan Australia
Pages: 278
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★ – 1 Star

At school I’m Aussie-blonde Jamie — one of the crowd. At home I’m Muslim Jamilah — driven mad by my Stone Age dad. I should win an Oscar for my acting skills. But I can’t keep it up for much longer…

Jamie just wants to fit in. She doesn’t want to be seen as a stereotypical Muslim girl, so she does everything possible to hide that part of herself. Even if it means pushing her friends away because she’s afraid to let them know her dad forbids her from hanging out with boys or that she secretly loves to play the darabuka (Arabic drums).

There are so many things wrong with this story. Ignoring the fact that there are plot holes and an unbelievable plot in the first place, I don’t think this told the story Abdel-Fattah was trying to tell.

One thing that irked me was that for a modern sixteen year old girl she gave out way too many personal details to a virtually anonymous person who gives no details back in return. She reveals so much to them and we know nothing, secret identity or not. This secret admirer could be anybody and it is her blind trust that they are genuine which annoyed me the most. Plus, on the truly petty side, her email doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Another thing was her hypocritical nature. For all her arguments against racist stereotypes she is rude and stereotypical herself against others. The only issue there is it isn’t classed as racism so it isn’t seen as bad. The comments she makes to some people are just as outdated and rude but she doesn’t see that there is a problem with it. The other thing she never has a problem with is that she is in love with the racist boy at her school which is problematic in itself.

I understand she is hiding herself and can’t expose who she is, but she is also weak and a coward that even if she can’t say anything, she can’t even reprimand their behaviour in her mind. She can’t fume and get angry that she can’t tell these idiots off, we don’t see her have any emotion at all where she is fearful of revealing herself but also angry she can’t fight back against the racist behaviour. It would have made her a better character to know she was struggling with standing up for what’s right and trying to protect herself at the same time.

I hated that after an entire book about telling us how over reactive her father is about her social life and how she is a good girl who wouldn’t do anything wrong, she proves him right the second she is able to go out with friends. It was a waste of so many scenes making us root for her against her dad as it proved she really was just like he expected her to be.

As a main character she doesn’t feel fully formed, like she is still under construction. She talks about detention like she has been there all the time despite going for the first time, and her relationships with other characters are confusing. She has deep conversations with people she barely knows and doesn’t say anything to people she has been friends with for a while. Overall the dialogue is unnatural and doesn’t feel real. These aren’t conversations that real teenagers would be having, certainly not the way it’s been written. I will admit I skimmed some parts as the narrative becomes boring and cycles around the same things quite a lot. There are super cringy moments and eye rolling moments which highlight further how strangely this story is written.

This certainly failed in whatever goal it was trying to achieve. Hate is Such a Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub is a much better example of what Abdel-Fattah is trying to do and while it isn’t exactly the same, it’s a better exploration of the Lebanese experience in Australia with all the exploration of racism, fitting in, and teenage drama.

You can purchase 10 Things I Hate About Me via the following

BooktopiaDymocks

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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