I’ve been thinking for weeks what to say about Stone Girl, because it’s a book that really makes me question how we define YA. It’s not that I’m opposed to heavy themes (see: my own novel) or don’t think teens should read & think about them, it’s more that I think an adult audience would really appreciate this book, perhaps (probably?) more than teens. I suspect it has been published and marketed as YA simply because the protagonist is a teenager for much of the book, so then, is YA fiction about the characters rather than the intended audience?
Stone Girl follows Sophie from shortly after the death of her mother, through her time spent in Melbourne’s foster care group homes (read: modern-day orphanages). Change is constant and there’s no chance to form lasting, meaningful relationships with anyone, so Sophie shuts out everyone except a handful of other teens who share similar experiences. There’s none of the YA-familiar settings of high schools or summer holidays; it’s a book full of mistakes and bad choices, but more than that, it’s an exposé of the Victorian foster care system and how it fails children. It’s hard to read at times, and while I empathised with Sophie and didn’t blame her for the decisions she ended up making, I also appreciated that the problems detailed are complex and the adults making decisions for her wanted the resources and permanent placements to be available for every child, just as much as she did. Everyone was trying their best in a crap situation, and naturally as the victim in all this, Sophie felt like everyone else’s best wasn’t good enough.
It does make you think, and perhaps that’s another reason I feel it’s well suited to adult readers, who not only have more power to influence changes (if only through the single vote they wield or a letter to a politician), but more of the context of what it’s like to navigate bureaucracies. I think as an adult with a bit more “worldly” experience I was also able to recognise Sophie in the adults we judge, who grew from 12yr olds we pitied but didn’t help enough. It really hurt my heart as a mother.
Despite my back and forth about “is this really YA?” I did think Stone Girl was a well-written, emotional book that brings up a lot of important issues. The author experienced the Victorian group home system and writes from a first-hand awareness of what these problems look like for the real people at the centre of them. The characters are authentic and strong. It’s character-driven rather than plot driven, and I found the revelations about Sophie’s mother a bit anticlimactic, but there’s plenty to think about and discuss, making this a good choice for book clubs too.
I had high hopes for this book, because Erin Gough had attracted a lot of interest with The Flywheel and I was keen to read something of hers after seeing her at the Sydney Writers Festival a couple of years ago. The blurb of Amelia Westlake caught my interest more than The Flywheel, so it made its way to my birthday wishlist. To be brutally honest, I was disappointed. This is not a BAD book, far from it, but there was a lot about it that irritated me.
Anyone who knows me (or has followed me on twitter for any length of time) knows I’m a big proponent of public education and social justice, with some... er, criticisms... of exclusive private schools. But this book kind of feels like it was written by someone like me - with a healthy dose of disdain for private schooling, but little first-hand experience of it. It was like a caricature, and neither of the protagonists felt like real teens to me. Plus, cheating. Of the light variety (“SHE kissed ME, I didn’t kiss her!” followed by a swift breakup when the character realises her emotional cheating isn’t okay) but still, it seemed so unnecessary to the wider plot and I know a number of lesbians are frustrated by the harmful stereotype that f/f relationships are less committed than m/f. That said, it was an easy read and mostly fun, jumping into some deeper issues without getting too heavy. It was okay, and I’d probably give it 2.5 or 3 stars.
I loved Frankie, and while I don’t think this is quite AS good, it’s a good book. Marlowe was a satisfying character, kind and loving at her core, with complicated flaws and a realistic blend of being influenced strongly by her upbringing and questioning some of the ideas/behaviours she’s inherited. I could relate to her easily and felt her love and annoyance at different aspects of her Mum and little brother, and it’s always nice to see siblings presented as friends. The (successful) stalking of her donor’s family was a tiny bit of a stretch in believability, but led to some beautiful depictions of real people in the midst of messy scenarios and emotions. And the resolution was satisfying to me. All in all, I recommend this one.