Life In Outer Space

Life In Outer SpaceLife In Outer Space is a book of firsts – it’s the first book put out by Hardie Grant Egmont’s Ampersand Projectthe 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.

Tuesday: Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar

From nostalgia to downright terror, and yet there was something about this book that made me take a trip down memory lane as well. In this case it was the fact that something in the book reminded me of the eerie feeling I had when my year 5 class teacher read aloud Del Del by Victor Kelleher. Now I don’t remember the plot, but coming out of both books made me feel the same way, as though I had unleashed some creature in the reading that I’d never quite be able to let go of again.

Kirsty Eagar fascinates me, because unlike many authors she doesn’t seem to have any preferred genre. She’s swung so far from a very gritty (and well written) YA story about rape, to surfing vampires, and now with Night Beach into the realms of horror, thriller and speculative. In fact, the link between her books isn’t from genre at all, but from a very prevalent theme in each – surfing culture. Now, I don’t know anything about surfing or surfing culture so I’m not even going to pretend that I do, but Kirsty Eagar obviously does, because not once for a moment, in reading any of her books, do I doubt a word of what she’s telling me.

In Night Beach she’s telling the story of Abbie, an art and surfing obsessed senior who is also desperately attracted to Kane. She’s spent most of the past few years watching his every move, so when he comes home after a surfing trip Abbie’s the first to notice that something’s changed about him, something dark has come with him for the ride.

I hesitate to call this horror, because it isn’t the Christopher Pike knife-wielding horror of my teenage years, however there is something intensely disturbing about this book. In some places it made me think of depression or mental illness, that blackness that you can’t quite escape that all too frequently leads to obsession and the desire to venture down dark and twisted pathways. and then in other moments it’s like a surreal, speculative dream, bordering on a nightmare, but so skilfully woven that you can’t wake up, and you don’t want to.

I’ve never stood on a surfboard in my life, am growing sick of vampire books, and find it very hard to relate to the particular kind of ‘tough but vulnerable wave nut’ that Eagar writes about. But I’ll keep reading any word she writes, because her characters, if not familiar, are achingly real and her stories, no matter how dark, are spellbinding and startlingly original.


Review, some news and a promise

First up, while I have been busy with Big Life Business (more on that later) I’m well aware at just how slack I’ve been with the blogging and the reviewing and what not. So rather than promising hundreds of reviews and then not delivering, I’ve written and scheduled a whole week of review-ey goodness! It’s all done, which means no-one needs to rely on me to actually do anything but watch the dates go by. So Monday to Friday next week stay tuned for 5 reviews of some recent YA titles. (that’s the promise part).

Now, a review and some news. I recently found out that I’m expecting my very own little person to read to and play with. It’s all very exciting and also terrifying BUT the relevance that it has to this blog is that it’s made me very aware of the books that I’ll be reading to him. This realisation coincided quite nicely with a publisher sending me a brand spanking new copy of Gus Gordon’s new book, Herman and Rosie to review, so although my focus will still be predominantly YA, you can expect to see a few picture books popping up here and there as I prepare myself for endless hours of reading to my little person. Forgive me though, because I’m not used to reviewing picture books so it may take me a while to find my groove with it!

Herman and Rosie had me at hello, because it reminded me of one of my favourite animated features, Mary and Max. The story is of two people alone amongst the hustle and bustle of a big city. Sometimes they love it, love to breathe the city air and be surrounded by the energy and business, but when things go wrong Herman and Rosie each lose their creative spark and feel more alone and low than ever.

We literally watch their paths cross on the beautiful, intricate maps that dot the pages, and I imagine that readers will delight in pointing out all of the things Herman and Rosie share, following the journey eagerly in the hope that the two, clearly destined to be the best of friends, shall meet.

You can see a teaser of the book below, an image taken from Gus Gordon’s website.

I love both the pictures and the text of this book, there’s a business and a simplicity in both. Everything is easy to understand, words easy to pick out, no big swathes of text for young readers to trip over. But at the same time nothing is so simple that one glance is enough. You have to keep  going back and looking again, getting drawn into the layers of words and pictures and finding something new each time.

I’d like to bet that everyone finds a favourite page in this one, both little people and big ones. It might be the evocative colours you love, or the detailed and personalised maps. Or it might be watching Herman and Rosie in their elements – playing groovy jazz and singing from the rooftops of their (actually quite close by) apartment buildings. Whatever it is, there’s going to be something you’ll love in Gus Gordon’s book and I can’t wait to have a brand new person to share it with.

Also, Leigh Hobbs will be launching the book in Melbourne later this month so you can actually go and meet Gus and grab yourself a signed copy. Check out the details here and get along to the Little Bookroom on the 22nd. I went to the launch of Anna Walker’s Peggy last weekend and not only was it a cracking good time, but we got a delicious biscuit in the shape of a chicken!