Once you start reading this funny, charming and poignant YA book by Nina Kenwood you won’t be able to put it down. The reader is immediately drawn into the world of 18-year-old Natalie who is in that transitional stage between finishing Year 12 and starting university, and everything is about to change. Natalie finds out on Christmas day that her parents have decided to separate, and at once we are drawn into her emotional landscape, feeling her shock and confusion, as she hadn’t seen the signs.
Luckily she has her two best friends Lucy and Zach to provide comfort, although it quickly becomes clear that even in this relationship Natalie is somewhat on the outer, as Lucy and Zach have fallen in love, leaving Natalie as the side character in their centre stage show. But she doesn’t seem to mind this too much, more comfortable hanging at home, avoiding parties.
A lot of us were awkward at this age, still trying to figure out our place in the world, technically an adult but not feeling like one. But Natalie has additional reasons for feeling unsure, and not wanting to draw attention to herself – throughout her adolescence she’s battled bad acne. Medication has largely controlled the acne on her face as the story opens, but Natalie has bad scarring on her back, along with mental scarring from the cruel taunts she’s endured. She tells us that “Winter is my season,” because she can hide herself under many layers and no one questions it. But this story takes place over summer – there are beach parties and swimming, and Natalie is feeling anxious and exposed – more so because she has unexpectedly fallen for someone, and he seems to like her back – but does he actually really like her? Or is he still in love with his gorgeous clear-skinned ex? It seems Natalie and he couldn’t be more different – he has a set of cool friends and he’s comfortable in his own skin…or so it seems. As we read on it becomes apparent that Natalie’s love interest has his own secrets and insecurities, making him an appealingly flawed character.
I raced through this book, barracking for this awkward, vulnerable protagonist the whole way. There are moments that are laugh out loud funny, and moments that are heart-breaking, such as when Natalie wonders ‘how you get past people screaming ‘gross bitch’…how you feel desirable if no one has ever desired you.’
Will Natalie find the strength to step out from behind the shadows of her two best friends and become the star of her own show? Or will she remain too afraid to expose her vulnerability?
You will have to read it to find out!
Natalie’s voice is the highlight of this book for me – it rings with authenticity, at turns quirky and quick-witted, at other times achingly vulnerable. So many times I could identify with her quirky thoughts and habits (like not being bothered to blow-dry the under-layer of her hair, except when she has a date; wearing pyjama pants with hotdogs on them that she bought from the men’s section at K-mart; and her moments of self-effacing humour: “I’ll be on my deathbed still thinking about the one time a guy was kind of nice to me.”)
Teen readers will empathise and laugh along with this protagonist as she navigates her parents separating, emerging from the shadows of her two best friends, and trying to work out the mysteries of love and dating.
This book won the Text prize in 2018.
I look forward to seeing what Nina Kenwood comes up with next!