Lucy Christopher

Stolen is an intense adventure novel from Lucy Christopher. In an interview, the author said she wanted to write her first novel about the Great Sandy Desert in northern Western Australia. It is a place that both disturbs and draws her. She decided this desolate setting called for a “disturbing” situation: abduction. Stolen is written in a form of journal, or long letter, from sixteen year old Gemma, to her captor, Ty, after her release. Bold choice for a first-time novelist. Ms Christopher wanted the “intimacy” of this format. With the pen of a less talented writer, a teenager’s epistolary style might have strangled the plot. I marveled at how simply (seemingly) Ms Christopher managed to insert action, purposeful description, metaphors and symbolism into the journal writing of a terrified sixteen year old girl.

Although the primary hash tag for this novel is Stockholm Syndrome, I wonder if the real theme isn’t redemption. The book cover’s displays its emblem, the bright orange butterfly. Once captive in the cocoon, it now flies freely. Twenty-five year old Ty desires redemption from a traumatised childhood by adopting the ways of the “old fellas” and by hacking out a new life, a new world for himself in the wild Australian outback. Clearly he believes he is redeeming Gemma from a restrictive and empty life in London. In his plan, she will become a new Eve. Ty pursues his paradise with revolutionary fervour–laws, societal values are meaningless to him. He sees himself as the ultimate custodian of the Earth. Mistakenly, he sees himself as the ultimate custodian of Gemma. In a neat flip of the Garden of Eden story, a snake sets Gemma free.

Ms Christopher deserves a ten out of ten for her seductive word-painting of the Great Sandy Desert’s spare beauty. Although labelled Young Adult, Stolen will appeal to any reader who enjoys high quality fiction.


The 10pm Question

Kate Di Goldi

A coming-of-age story set in an unnamed town in New Zealand, The 10pm Question describes the toxic trajectory of anxiety in the Parson family.

Trajectory: a curve that cuts all of a given family of curves or surfaces at the same angle.

Frankie Parson’s mother is agoraphobic. The family accommodates her needs but it is almost taboo to speak about her condition. Frankie’s own anxiety compels him each night to his mother’s room with a worry she must resolve before he can sleep: the 10pm question.

Are the smoke alarm batteries flat?
Does the cat, and therefore the rest of the family, have worms?
Is the kidney-shaped spot on his chest actually a galloping cancer?

At twelve years of age, Frankie is questioning his mother’s limiting way of life. He grows increasingly troubled he might become like her. The Parson family’s lives remain functional only through adhering to routine and controlling boundaries.

Newcomer to town, twelve year old Sydney has already attended twenty-two different schools. Her life is characterized by change and challenge. Given her history, Sydney doesn’t expect to stay in town long, which she feels initially is probably for the best. Homemade funky clothes and dreds single her out as different from her classmates. Most of them avoid her, including Frankie and his best friend Gigs. Sydney refuses to be excluded. Frankie goes from being afraid of her to teaching her his secret language (this would be fun to hear in the audiobook version!) and eventually to falling in love with her. Both teens have problems at home. Becoming friends and opening their hearts to one another, each finds the support to question and discern, and to envision the future in an optimistic way.

Frankie and Sydney are believable, delightful characters who make me want to meet their creator. Showing a profound love of language, Kate De Goldi writes with empathy and positivity about anxiety. The 10pm Question presents a gentle view of a condition not uncommon among teens or adults. For this reason, it is an important as well as a beautiful book.


The Light Between Oceans

M. L. Stedman

M. L. Stedman’s debut novel, The Light Between Oceans, imagines how love and loss, truth and consequences will change a relationship. Shell-shocked veteran of the Great War, Tom Sherburne trains to become a lighthouse keeper. After a few years he is given his own lighthouse on a remote island off Australia’s western coast. During the week’s vacation before leaving for Janus Rock, Tom meets Isabel, the young woman who will eventually join him in his isolated life.

Initially, their time together is idyllic, bolstered by mutual love and anticipation of children. Multiple miscarriages and then, death of a premature baby dismantle the idyll. Isabel’s spirit is crushed by the weight of her sadness. When a dinghy washes up on the island carrying a live baby and a dead man, Isabel believes she has been given one more chance for happiness. She overpowers her husband’s objections and they keep the baby as their own. Years pass before Tom discovers the baby’s true identity and the couple must answer for their actions.

The glimpses into lighthouse keeping during the 1920s–the massive workload and technical aspects–cast a spell over me. Add the arc of a tragically flawed marriage and The Light Between Oceans engulfs the reader’s heart with its extraordinary emotional range. I don’t know where Ms Stedman’s storytelling will take her next, but I will be sure to follow.

I indicated at the top that this was a sampling only. I’ve left out noteworthy authors like Liane Moriarty (The Husband’s Secret), Kate Grenville (Sarah Thornhill), Hannah Kent (Burial Rites) and Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries). Always a fan of the underdog, I naturally went for the lesser-known but equally gifted writers.

Who is your favourite antipodean author or novel? Share with us below.