At the risk of giving away my age, I can safely say that when I finished high school, the end-of-school phenomena known in Australia as ‘schoolies week’ did not exist. My cohorts and I celebrated the completion of our formal school years by outings to the local public pool and a restaurant dinner. Not with youth hostel (or five star) accommodation at a resort, youth oriented all night parties, dances and concerts, and all the other accoutrements that make up many a young Australian’s schoolies week.
A cross between a let-your-hair-down relief from the pressures of final school studies and exams, and a first step into the adult world without parental supervision, schoolies week is something that many young people dream of (and their parents have nightmares about).
Can’t Say it Went to Plan is a new young adult (YA) novel which follows the schoolies experience of three very different young people and their friends and family. Zoe, Samira and Dahlia have each planned the perfect schoolies week, but of course they also bring with them their individual concerns and preoccupations: anxiety and grief, parental expectations and sibling rivalry, boyfriend troubles, worries about their next steps in life. With alternating viewpoints, the author captures these perfectly along with the language and internal dialogue of this age group.
I cringed a lot reading this novel in recognition of the all-consuming self centredness of many youngsters and also, winced at the inevitable mistakes made by each of the three protagonists as they navigate their way through the ups and downs of a week in which plans are turned upside down. Parents may well turn green reading some of what they get up to, but in the end, the mistakes are not too disastrous and each character learns from their experiences.
Ultimately the novel is about what is really important: friendships and family, courage, perseverance and hope. By the novel’s end, the three girls’ trajectories meet, if only briefly, and they are able to reflect on what they’ve learned from their schoolies weeks.
Can’t Say it Went to Plan is published in May 2021 by Angus & Robertson, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.
Imagine you have read a fairy tale and later, a character from that story appears at your bedroom window.
This is the startling premise of A Wild Winter Swan, when sixteen-year-old Laura is confronted by a boy with a swan’s wing instead of one arm, who hurtles into her window on a snowy New York City night in the 1960’s. The story she’d earlier read aloud to her young charges at an after-school group was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans.
The young man in her bedroom is a personification of the twelfth brother from that tale, forever stuck between human and swan form.
Laura already has a lot going on in her life. Kicking against the constraints of living with her Italian grandparents and the tragedies of her family, she’s been suspended from school for a prank gone wrong. Her internal life is rich: she longs to be a writer but fears she lacks the skill, so instead she narrates scenes and events around her as if she is a character in a story. (As an aside, I used to do the exact same thing as a child.)
The novel takes place during the two days leading up to Christmas, and the household is frantically busy preparing for a special dinner at which Laura’s grandparents hope to impress a potential investor in their business. Amid the bustle, Laura must hide the swan boy until she can figure out how to release him safely back to the wild out of which he so unexpectedly arrived.
This coming-of-age story explores family, the migrant experience in America, teenage longing, and the place of stories, within a deceptively simple but multilayered tale.
An added pleasure is the time setting and the references to popular culture of the sixties, taking the reader back to a time that was turbulent and full of change, reflecting Laura’s thoughts and her teenage life.
The magic and the everyday sit comfortably together:
Besides, thought the girl, what miracle didn’t look ridiculous while it was happening? If a miracle looked ordinary it would be like, just, so what?A Wild Winter Swan p190
Readers who like to do a deep dive into character, with a dollop of magical realism, will enjoy A Wild Winter Swan.
A Wild Winter Swan is published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, in October 2020.
My thanks to the publishers for a copy to read and review.
I’m generally not a romance reader and have only recently begun to re-visit the world of young adult (YA) fiction, so at first I was not sure what to make of this new novel by US author Kiera Cass. She is a New York Times best selling author (the series The Selection have been particularly popular). Judging from their covers, her books could be best described as fantasy/romance in the ‘Princess’ mode, of which I’m not a great fan. So I came to The Betrothed with something of a hesitant mindset, to say the least.
The Betrothed managed to do two things at once: confirm some of my prejudices and confound them. Here’s how.
The novel is set in a fictional world loosely based on Europe or Britain of around the eighteenth century. Lady Hollis Brite is a beautiful young woman at Keresken Castle, the court of King Jameson, who is thrilled to be singled out for attention by the handsome young king. Soon the king makes clear his intention to marry Hollis, much to her joy and that of her self seeking parents. She now has to step up and learn about the kingdom and its relations with neighbouring countries, and prepare herself for the demands of her future role.
What happens next, of course, throws an unexpected obstacle in the way. Hollis finds herself drawn towards another young man, Silas, who with his family have escaped from the cruel and paranoid King Quentin of the nearby kingdom of Isolte. She must choose between the life she had dreamed of and the new possibilities that now present themselves with Silas.
For my taste there was not enough world-building in this novel. There is a lovely map at the beginning, showing Hollis’ homeland of Coroa and surrounding countries, but few of the map’s features are part of the story. To be fair, the author might be planning to explore more of her created world in later books, as I’m guessing The Betrothed might be the first of a new series by Cass. In this book, though, the clothing, manners and lifestyle feel ‘borrowed’ from historical romance tropes. At the same time, the language used by its characters, particularly Hollis and her friends Delia Grace and Nora, don’t really match the setting, with plenty of Americanisms and teen expressions that regularly threw me out of the story.
However…I acknowledge that for her army of loyal readers, Cass uses expressions that are familiar and accessible. I also acknowledge that I am not one of her target audience and not familiar with the language typically found in this genre of books.
Finally, I want to mention the way in which The Betrothed confounded some of my expectations. Towards the end of the book, I realised to my relief that this was not going to be a ‘happy-ever-after-Princess’ story. Far from it. Hollis has to confront the consequences of decisions she has made, and is plunged into a harrowing sequence of events that test her mettle. In this, the author has given her heroine a range of experiences and characteristics beyond her beauty and an initial desire to become queen. I thank Ms Cass for that.
The Betrothed will no doubt please Kiera Cass’ fans who’ve been waiting for her next novel, and other young adult readers who enjoy a mix of fantasy, romance and a royal theme.
The Betrothed was published by Harper Collins in May 2020.
My thanks to the publishers for a copy to read and review.