***BOOK GIVEAWAY*** DETAILS AT END OF POST
As I’m sure you all know, each year Text Publishing awards the Text Prize for young adult and children’s fiction. You can read more about that here.
This prize, now in it’s sixth year, is awarded to unpublished manuscripts and has thus far unearthed the following titles.
2008 – Richard Newsome –The Billionaire’s Curse
2009 – Leanne Hall – This Is Shyness
2010 – Jane Higgins – The Bridge
2011 – Myke Bartlett – Fire In the Sea
2012 – AJ Betts – Zac and Mia
and recently announced 2013 – Diana Sweeney – The Minnow, which will be published in 2014.
Zac and Mia, published yesterday, is a book about bravery. Not clean, gleaming, heroic bravery, but a kind of snotty, enduring, isolated bravery found in hospital rooms, in late nights, in long drives and in making the best of every good moment – knowing that they’re going to be tempered with some pretty crap ones. It’s also about love.
I’ve heard this described as ‘sicklit’ which I think perfectly sums up this new genre (when did cancer become a whole genre??) of books about teenage cancer sufferer/survivors. There are already some great names in there – John Green for one with The Fault in Our Stars. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here, that the best of these are by authors (such as Green, and now AJ Betts) who aren’t afraid to write it real. Authors who aren’t afraid to make their characters real (sometimes obnoxious, sometimes hilarious, sometimes devastating) teenagers. They’re not heroes just because they got sick. In fact there’s a great scene in Zac and Mia where Zac receives an award that he feels is undeserved and only awarded out of sympathy. It’s a wonderfully truthful and awkward moment which is the perfect catalyst for his subsequent rage.
Mia storms into the book nothing but rage. Our first introduction to her is her rage pounding through the walls into Zac’s hospital room. It’s her rage that pulls him from his sickness and into the present. It’s her rage that contrasts everything, shining a blinding light on the unfair, the underprepared, the unfinished. Zac knows that her chance is better, that she’s one of the lucky ones. But Mia doesn’t feel lucky, she feels alone, broken. And then Zac taps on the wall of her hospital room. He says ‘trust me’.
The relationship that grows between these two is beautiful. There’s a great balance of highs and lows in the book. Sickness is woven into each part of the narrative, and its interesting to see how the different character react to their own sickness, and to the sickness in each other. It’s interesting to see so many views on life, on living. It’s interesting, in so many ways, and it’s wrapped in a fragile love story between two characters who in all honesty would probably have never given each other the time of day if not for that single tap on a thin hospital wall.
But the wind steals the words from my lips and tosses them away. I’m glad they’re gone. AJ Betts writes with an enviable ease. There is a perfect balance between country and city, sick and health, fear and bravery on each page and in every interaction. None of the characters are wasted, and in reality it feels as though we are invited into a much larger world than the page count might suggest. As you might expect from a genre named ‘sicklit’, there’s a reasonable dose of tragedy, and of unfairness. There’s plenty of hope though and more importantly plenty of chances and choices.
I think you have to be brave to write a book like this. To write it without overt, condescending sympathy. And to be brave enough to write the moments that are funny, or grotty, or filled with rage, alongside those that are brave and heroic. It’s a book that is well deserving of a prize, and is likely to win many more.
***GIVEAWAY – Thanks to Text Publishing, I’ve got a copy of Zac and Mia to giveaway to a First Impressions reader. If you’d like to win* simply post a comment below telling me why you’d like this to be the next book on your reading list.
*Winners must be from Australia or New Zealand, although of course I welcome comments from anywhere on the blog! I’ll pick a winner within 7 days and will then get details and a postal address.