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Friday, June 23, 2017

CBCA Shortlist #1: Frankie by Shivaun Plozza.




Once again I'm making my way through the shortlist, at least the Older Readers. I've just finished this one and borrowed Yellow by Megan Jacobson. Of course, I read Dragonfly Song ages ago, when I got it for reviewing - check out my interview with the author here! Waer by Meg Caddy is currently out, but no rush. I have The Bone Sparrow and Words In Deep Blue, by the wonderful Cath Crowley, on my iPad - I'm keeping the latter for dessert, though I've started it. I suspect I'm going to need it after some depressing stuff. I could be wrong. I hope I am. But every year the CBCA choose at least two or three depressing titles for their shortlist. That said, kids often like depressing books. I've even been asked for them!

What to say about Frankie, a debut novel that has already scored its author a place on the shortlist and an invitation to be a GoH at the Reading Matters conference this year?

It's set on the grubbier side of Collingwood, a formerly working class suburb of Melbourne which, AFAIK, is becoming more gentrified than the novel suggests. But then, I don't live there, and I did once live in St Kilda, which has large numbers of people living in poverty, yet has house prices that reflect its location next to the sea. Go figure. Collingwood is near prettier parts of the city, not far from the river and has the Collingwood Children's Farm, which features in the novel as the place where the heroine was abandoned by her drug-taking, irresponsible mother, at the age of four, to run off with her current boyfriend.

So. Frankie is Francesca Vega, daughter of the irresponsible Juliet Vega, in Year 12 at the local secondary school, but on an indefinite suspension because she broke the nose of a nasty boy with a hardback Works Of Shakespeare. She won't tell anyone what he said to earn the assault, not even her best friend, Cara, or her loving aunt Vinnie, who has brought her up since that abandonment - and whom she has disappointed time after time.

And one day, a fourteen year old boy called Xavier arrives in her life and tells her he is her kid brother, well, half brother. And suddenly Frankie's life in her aunt's Kebab Emporium has changed for good. Xavier is someone she can care about, a gifted artist who wants to make her happy. He's also in big trouble. Huge trouble! He owes money to people who are likely to take it out of his hide. He is a thief. But he is her kid brother and when he disappears she has to go looking for him, with the help of Nate, a boy who looks like Shia LaBeouf and to whom Xavier owes money. Fortunately for her, he's a burglar...

It's good, no question about it. The grubbiness of the area is well described, though I should reassure any readers from outside of Melbourne that a visit to Smith St will give them plenty of restaurants and other such treats, not land them in the middle of drug deals the minute they get off the tram,  and that it's not far from very pretty places by the river, such as the above mentioned children's farm. But it makes you feel the dirt and despair of the heroine's living space - in fact, her own home is about the only one in the book that isn't filthy and broken down and even that is a sort of shabby place above the shop.

Frankie's family, such as it is, seems to be unlucky from the start. Apart from her mother, her uncle is deservedly in jail and even her decent aunt has had bad luck with the men in her life. But Vinnie wants better for her niece and is frustrated that Frankie apparently won't help herself get out of the kebab shop into university.  

The characters are well drawn. Frankie has the right kind of snarkiness to make the reader like her, and she cares, really cares, about a younger brother she has met only three times, not under the best of circumstances, to make her risk her own future to find him. 

Her friend Cara is just the sort of person we all want for a best friend, who,is always in her corner, and when they hang out, sometimes doing unwise things such as drinking Vinnie's vodka, you still get the feeling of two very intelligent young women. 

Nate, the young burglar, is maybe a little too good to be true, and when the obvious attraction blossoms, you do have to wonder what kind of a future there could be for them, given his lifestyle and where he is living(a squat)and the fact that he hasn't really any other options at this stage. 

So, did I like it? Absolutely! I think the girls will like it too - in fact, the Year 8 girl who borrowed it first enjoyed it very much. I got through it quickly and easily. There's plenty of meat for class discussion if, like my school, you're looking for a new class text, for, as it might be, Year 10. 

Would I read it again? Possibly not. A matter of personal taste and it doesn't, for me, have the sweetness of Will Kostakis or Cath Crowley's books. But again - personal taste. And I suspect that anyone who can score a shortlist and a festival appearance on a first novel has a strong career ahead! 

6 comments:

Sharon Marie Himsl said...

This is a good review and does credit to Plozza's creativity as a writer. The characters do not sound cookie cutter. I hope it isn't too depressing at the end. I like stories that offer hope.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - Frankie sounds like an interesting read for youngsters and as you say Plozza has shot into the headlines with this book - it's good to know about ... and depressing stories we learn from ... cheers Hilary

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Sharon! Yes, there's hope at the end, if not a standard happy ending for everyone. I wouldn't have liked it if it had had a depressing ending.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Hilary! It's a bit sad, not depressing. Depressing is Margaret Clark's Care Factor Zero, which ends with the heroine committing suicide. THAT is depressing!

Tamara Narayan said...

As a kid, I remember enjoying books that start off terrible and then later the character finds their way to a better life. In fact, I still like that kind of story arc.

Sue Bursztynski said...

In this one, it's the characters who matter, the "better life" is character-based - nobody suddenly inherits a fortune or wins a scholarship or whatever. I think the kids will like it.