Sixteen-year-old Nate is struggling to stay afloat as he attempts to avoid getting beaten up at school and tries to fly under the radar of his dad's quiet menace at home. He quietly observes the way his dad treats Nance and his twin half-brothers, without finding a way to outwardly voice his concern. Nate writes his thoughts in a notebook, which provides some solace amongst the raw confusion of his daily life. Through his writing he creates for himself a kind of alternative reality. In his own words, being able to write things down keeps him "from self-destructing."
Despite the turmoil of his home life, there are people who seem to be on Nate’s side, such as his best friend Merrick, who skirts continuously around the edges of danger. I enjoyed the dry and snappy dialogue between the two friends as they take the back way home from school to avoid getting beaten up, or hang out at YouthWorks, the local youth centre.
There’s also Nate’s English teacher, Mr Reid, who attempts to get through to Nate and engage him, and the tough-talking but warm and caring youth workers Mim and Macy, who provide a safe haven at YouthWorks.
When YouthWorks is threatened with closure after a violent incident there, and his allies start to drop away, Nate finds another unexpected ally – someone who will graffiti words from his notebook on the wall of the Youth Centre, someone who will skirt the shadows with him, someone who might allow him to dare to hope for change.
Nate’s voice hooked me from the start, alternating between dry humour and moments of raw insight. He exudes both toughness and tenderness – he’s learnt to walk with a swagger and not make eye contact, and stores up his knowledge like a weapon, in case he needs it as protection. But internally he feels like he’s treading water and worries about whether or not he is a good person. Nate is a compelling narrator who will engage you until the fast-paced ending. Wakefield has given voice to people living on the fringes, the marginalised, to the lost and lonely - where a bright shiny future is not a given, where opportunities are elusive. This is a book written with gritty realism, but never in a way that feels overly grim or despairing. We find ourselves caring deeply about what happens to Nate and hoping he can take some sort of control of his future. As you read, you will see flickers of light in the dark - allowing you to dare to hope that Nate can find a way out, while simultaneously fearing for him. This is a powerful young adult novel, told in a raw and honest voice that will make you laugh and break your heart.
Compelling reading and one of my favourite young adult reads this year.
*Longlisted for the Stella Prize.
*Shortlised for the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature.