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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PINK By Lili Wilkinson. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2009

Ava is the child of two university lecturers who were absolutely thrilled when she “came out” and started a relationship with intellectual, chain-smoking Chloe, a girl at her state secondary school.

But Ava has a Deep Dark Secret. She has a pink cashmere jumper hidden in her bedroom cupboard. Much as she loves Chloe, she wants to wear girly clothes – pink if possible – and, dear me, go out with boys, just to see if perhaps it’s her thing. So she has secretly sat for a scholarship to a co-educational private school. When she is accepted, she has to lie, to avoid hurting Chloe’s feelings.

At the Billy Hughes School For Academic Excellence, she soon makes friends with two different groups – the Pastels, who speak several languages, are brilliant in their studies and get the lead roles in the school musical, and the Screws, who are more or less the school outcasts, spending all their time together, doing the set-building, props and lighting.

In the Screws are Jen, the science fiction nerd, Jacob, who is fat, gay boy Jules who hates the other school gays, Kobe the Asian who hates being Asian and Sam, who only feels at home in the undercroft of the school auditorium. Sam has contempt for the actors, in particular the Pastels.

Alexis, the head Pastel, is determined to help Ava get a boyfriend, the dazzling, athletic Ethan, who volunteers with children and is involved with Medecins Sans Frontieres.

But Alexis also has a Deep Dark Secret. And Chloe is starting to worry about what Ava is getting up to.

How can Ava sort out the problems she has caused by her well-meaning actions? What is her actual sexuality – does she even know?

This novel was written as a response to US gay YA novelist David Levithan’s plea for more teen novels with a mixture of sexualities in them. Ms Wilkinson’s argument, with which I agree, is that kids don’t necessarily know what they are and shouldn’t have to decide at sixteen.

There are some nice touches, such as several references to Jane Austen’s Emma, that story of a girl who makes a lot of mistakes while trying to match-make. With luck, young readers of this book might follow it up by reading the Austen novel. There are conversations between the characters which readers might also follow up – even a mention that the trivia mentioned is available on Wikipedia. There is some endearing silliness and a number of very funny scenes.

This book will be going into my school library and I will be interested to see the response I get from readers.

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