Snake Bite, by Christie Thompson
I grabbed a copy of this young adult novel from my local library after discovering is it set in my home town (Canberra). I came to this discovery after participating in a LoveOzYa Instagram challenge, where one of our quests was to identify a young adult book set in our home town. This proved something of a challenge - while it seems there are many young adult books set in Melbourne, with a plethora to chose from, it is not so much the case for Canberra. But when you think about it, Canberra provides the perfect backdrop for a young adult novel - it's a capital city with a small town vibe. The perfect setting for murder mysteries or thrillers. We are surrounded by bush and close enough to the snow or coast. What more do you need??
Anyway, I digress...
Snake Bite is an addictive edgy read about teens struggling with absent, alcoholic parents, disjointed friendships, and the search for some sort of meaning and sense of self through the haze of 'durries' and pills, taken to relieve the boredom of a scorching summer in the Valley - a suburban area in the southside of Canberra.
I loved the protagonist of this novel, 17-year-old wise-cracking emo-girl Jez who, despite her tough-talking exterior and bored demeanour, has an internal vulnerability which makes you ache.
As the story opens, Jez is struggling with her relationship with her single mum, who works down at the local club and drinks too much. Things come to a head when it is revealed that mum has secretly started dating one of her work colleagues - a much younger man. Along with this, Jez is discovering that her feelings for her best friend Lukey are starting to develop into something more, but does Lukey feel the same way?
As she starts to explore these new feelings, Jez finds herself becoming entangled in the lives of her neighbours - Cash, an older guy who is showing a sudden interest in Jez, and his sister Casey, who has just started working as a stripper. This Canberra summer is starting to look a whole lot more complicated, as Jez begins to realise that sometimes people are not what they seem on the surface, and friendships start to strain.
I would suggest this book is aimed at 'new adults' or the upper end of the young adult market, due to its more mature content. The writing explodes on the page - raw, gritty and real, and I loved it.
I particularly enjoyed the frequent references to places that are all too familiar to us Canberrans, such as the Tuggeranong shopping mall, where it's perfectly acceptable to shop in your ugh boots, and Kambah Pool - where I hung out myself as a young adult during those long sun-drenched Canberra summers, when cicadas screamed in the trees, the sun was relentless, and days seemed to crawl by. There is a thrill of recognition when you see places you are familiar with reflected back at you, which is why it's so important that our literature for young adults includes a diversity of places, people and experiences.
I'd love to identify more young adult books set in Canberra - there's a definite gap in the market there!
I binge read this deliciously addictive book in a few days - it's the perfect summer read.
Published by Allen & Unwin.