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Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Just Finished Reading... Ballad For A Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield. Melbourne: Text, 2017

I received this book courtesy of Text Publishing, in my Reading Matters conference goody bag. I was a bit surprised, because it was a very new book, just published this year. I think Text has been doing a huge promo for this book; I saw a number of reviews on Goodreads whose authors mentioned they had received it in a giveaway. Of course, those might have been eARCs, or even just ebooks, but this is a print copy and there were several hundred attendees at the conference. That's a lot to give away, and not even proof copies! 

So I thought it deserves a review of sorts, even a chatty, informal one like this - and I hope to do a more formal version for January Magazine, which really prefers to review books published recently, so I can't review CBCA shortlisted books for them. It will probably  end up on next year's CBCA shortlist anyway, and I'm betting it will be on the Aurealis shortlist too, if not the Ditmars. 

So, what is it about? In a small town called Swanston(I'm guessing in South Australia, where the author lives)is a girl called Grace Foley. Her mother was knocked over and killed by a car a couple of years ago, and the family - Grace, her Dad and her brother Cody - moved from their farm into town, where they are still grieving.

Grace does pranks for her friends. Currently, she is grounded for one of them, but being grounded doesn't stop her from responding to a text message persuading her to do something called a "pipe challenge." 

Swanston - or Swamptown, as the kids call it - has a gorge nearby, crossed by a pipe. Teenagers have been going there forever and students from the state secondary school are competing with those from the private school next door, Sacred Heart. The challenge involves getting safely across the pipe in record time. Grace holds the current record. 

But this time, something strange happens on her way back. She doesn't remember what it was, but for a short time she has been seeing something different from her friends - something very different. 

Soon, Grace realises that she has become possessed. She finds herself bruised for no obvious reason, the gentle, placid dog is snarling at her and she is drawing pictures in art class of a girl who disappeared twenty years ago. She was believed to have been murdered by a boy who apparently stalked her and looked in through her bedroom window, but there was not enough evidence to convict him. However, he had jumped into the gorge a year later and died. There is a ghost who is possessing Grace, one who won't go away until she has found out what happened and the ghost has had justice. 

But it isn't just a ghost story. It's about Grace and her friends, and how she learns to move on, and acknowledge she hasn't treated them well in recent months. It's about her family and coming to terms with what happened to their mother. They feel responsible because they didn't worry when she was late coming home. 

Oh, and there is a twist near the end, so please don't do the DNF thing. Read and finish! Even if you are annoyed with Grace! She is annoying, but there are reasons - and she admits that she has been doing the wrong thing by her friends. (Which is no excuse for what one of her friendship group does to her)

It is interestingly like CBCA shortlisted novel Yellow in some ways. Both books are set in a small town, where everyone knows everyone else and anything you say is likely to be all over town in a short time. Both have a ghost in them and both have something dreadful that happened over twenty years ago, and a heroine who is investigating it. But this one is scarier and the heroine is under much more pressure to solve it, because the ghost won't go away till she does, whereas in Yellow, she just has to keep away from the phone booth from which she hears the ghost boy's voice, and she does for a while. And unlike Yellow, which was set in the 1990s, this one is set well and truly in the present day, where kids all have their own phones instead of relying on adults, where anything that happens is all over Facebook and you can be hurt when you're unfriended on Facebook by a lifelong friend. Grace only has to google information about what happened during that tragedy twenty years ago, instead of having to read old newspapers. 

And both have a twist at the end.

But to be honest, I prefer this one to Yellow, though that one was good. If you've read these two books, what do you think? 


Sharon Himsl said...

Hi Sue. Have not read either, but I do love Australia settings.
Thanks for visiting my blog today.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I imagine this book will be out in the U.S. soon enough. Thank you for visiting!

Satima Flavell said...

I envy you your job - you can read on the boss's time!There is so much good YA stuff coming out that it must be impossible to keep up!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Actually, I can't, Satima! That is a common misunderstanding of the role of the librarian. We just don't have time to read during the working day. I read on my way to work and when I get there I sigh and put away my book, knowing I don't have time to read it till I leave for home, except maybe twenty minutes during my lunch break. However, I can claim any YA books I buy on tax and I can go to great conferences like Reading Matters and have it counted as professional development.