Life In Outer Space is a book of firsts – it’s the first book put out by Hardie Grant Egmont’s Ampersand Project; the first YA novel by self proclaimed book nerd Melissa Keil, and the first time Sam Kinnison meets a girl that he could just fall in love with.
I was lucky enough to be asked to write teachers notes for this one, which you can keep an eye out for here and so read the book a while ago now. Unfortunately Big Life Events have kept me from blogging for a while (and may make my blogging sporadic for the first part of this year), so my review itself is shamefully late – sorry Melissa!
Sam is perfectly happy with the way his life is going. He’s seen the movies. For a geek like him, he knows that high school is going to pretty much suck. But that’s okay. He knows where he stands, and it’s not like he doesn’t have grand plans for life beyond the school corridors.
When Camilla Carter shows up he’s pretty sure that he’s got her pegged. She’s your standard cool girl, destined to fit in. It doesn’t hurt that her dad’s a fairly famous music journo, practically a free pass to hang out with any crowd she wants to. Which is why Sam’s so shocked when she picks his. He’s not in the market for new friends, and is definitely not looking to fall in love, but it seems like life, and Camilla Carter, might just have other plans for him.
Life In Outer Space is not only a great debut for a fresh new voice in Aussie YA (think Lili Wilkinson or John Green – witty, charming and funny) but also sets the tone for the Ampersand Project overall. There’s a freshness that breathes through the pages of this, and regardless of what comes next for the Ampersand Project, it’s clear that they have an eye for unique, clever writing. Melissa Keil is by no means a novice to the publishing industry (she works as a children’s book editor), and her editing background and love of the genre is apparent in all aspects of her writing.
I often talk about how nice it is to read a book that reminds you how good reading can make you feel – not how clever it looks on your shelf, not how proud you can be of your endurance having slogged through it, but a book that reminds you of how fun it can be to just let the threads of a story wrap themselves around you and pull you in. It’s so important, especially as life throws up more and more alternatives to taking the time out to read a book, to remember that feeling of reading a book for the pure pleasure of it. Life In Outer Space is that book.
Camilla and Sam, along with the supporting characters, are witty and real – enough that you wish you knew them in highschool, but not so much that you feel that you’re watching twenty-somethings trying awkwardly to walk in teenage shoes. Keil’s writing is spot on for the current trend of being super snappy and succinct and the movie references and lists throughout break up the text in a way very reminiscent of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. There’s no sense of trying too hard, or pushing to fit into a particular mold, just good writing by someone who’s clearly having a great time doing it.
With the ongoing uncertainty of the future of the Australian Book Industry, it’s both a relief and a reward as a reader, writer and critic to see the strength of emerging voices like Melissa Keil’s, and publishing initiatives like the Ampersand Project.