Loner, by Georgina Young
Loner won the 2019 Text YA fiction prize and I can absolutely see why.
I will start by saying that it took me a few chapters to feel invested in Lona as a protagonist - and I think this is because the third person narration initially made me feel a bit distanced from her. But I quickly realised that this is merely because I'm accustomed to reading YA that is written in first person present tense, which ensures that you as the reader are very quickly drawn inside the head of the narrator - it is in many ways a more intimate form of telling story.
However, as I read on, I realised that the third person present tense used by Young is the perfect choice for the telling of Lona's story. It allows for a wry humour and keen observation of Lona's environment and her thoughts on her surroundings and the people in her life without descending into sentimentality or meandering trains of thought. The writing style is succinct and smart, and zings with both humour and heartache.
It quickly becomes clear that Lona has dropped out of art school and is floundering somewhat as she navigates social awkwardness, fractured friendships, crushes and new relationships, her grandfather's illness, and shifting family dynamics. There were so many scenes I could relate to and found myself laughing aloud at Lona's sharp insights and deadpan humour (such as when she refers to herself as 'the most basic bitch ever' in conversation with her new love interest George).
I also loved her observations in relation to the mundane rituals of social interactions. I could at times absolutely relate to the paradox of longing to just slump on the couch in daggy pj's watching tv or reading, entwined with an almost urgent desire for constant company and social interaction - to feel wanted and seen.
Loner is written with a unique style and flair - the narrative voice is so fresh that it becomes addictive and I found it difficult to put this book down. I related at times to Lona's struggle with her idea of herself as an artist - her sense of frustration and loss of confidence in her art; of wanting to create without having to conform to the boundaries of being at school and being told what to do. I enjoyed seeing her creative self start to re-emerge and particularly loved the way in which Lona's art became a way of acknowledging her and her grandfather's mutual love of books and reading.
The scenes in which Lona spends time with her grandfather are - for me - the most poignant in this novel. Reading is the link that enables Lona to find a way to reach out to her grandfather as his physical health starts to decline. Despite the heartache and awkwardness in her interactions with him, Lona finds that she can still maintain a bond by reading aloud to him from whatever book she is carrying around with her in her bag. This sharing of story is a form of communication between the two, breaking down barriers, connecting them and bridging the silences and distance that can be created by illness.
One of the things I loved the most about this book is that Lona's relationships with the guys she falls for don't follow a predictable literary trajectory. Don't get me wrong - I'm a sucker for the classic enemies to lovers trope that is popular in YA fiction (think Girl meets Hot Boy who is a bit of a jerk but soon shows a sensitive side and Girl falls for him while pretending she despises him. Then they get together, often via Fake Dating - until there is some sort of conflict which reinforces that Hot Guy is actually a jerk, until he redeems himself towards the end of the story). Rather, the relationships in Loner do not shy away from all the awkwardness, confusion, frustration, physical lust, wandering hearts and lack of conclusion that is characteristic of real relationships among the twenty-something age group.
If you want to read a young adult novel that is fresh, smart, with a unique narrative voice and a keen sense of place, then add this one to your reading list - you will be not be disappointed!
Published by Text