Ever since Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians was published in 1894, there’s been a steady stream of Australian books for children and YA readers with a solidly rural background. Somehow, the authors seem to draw inspiration from our landscape and it seeps through into the events and characters in their books to make our stories unique in the world.
So I asked around the CYL office for books with that ‘country’ feeling they’d recently read and loved, and here’s what came to light:
1. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
In this book, seen by many as a step towards a more adult world than the popular Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, Melina Marchetta explores the world of Taylor Markham, who, at 17 has little memory of either parent since she was dumped by the side of the road, and has been raised to be a responsible school captain. But Taylor’s real preoccupation is with a phony war game played against local ‘townies’ and cadets. This time, the war is about to get emotionally messy, and Taylor must also come to terms with her past, told in a series of flashbacks by her guardian, Hannah.
2. Stolen by Lucy Christopher
‘It happened like this. I was stolen from an airport. Taken from everything I knew, everything I was used to …’
Gemma, a British teenager on holiday, is kidnapped by Ty, and taken to wild outback country. Ty once lived in the same city as Gemma, and has been watching her for years before finally making a move. He sees her as integral to his plan to rediscover his roots in the freedom of the vast Australian desert, presented throughout the book as a character in its own right.
As time goes on, a bond develops between them, and Ty starts to reveal hidden aspects to his character. When he wakes screaming in the night, Gemma starts to wonder about the nature of their attraction: is it Stockholm syndrome, or something more genuine? Steering away from the easy answers, this is a book that looks unsparingly at the consequences of blurring the boundaries between love and obsession.
3. Chasing Charlie Duskin by Cath Crowley
Described as ‘a touching exploration of friendship and its transformative potential’ by Publishers Weekly, Chasing Charlie Duskin is a musical coming-of-age story, written by Cath Crowley before her award-winning Grafitti Moon. It’s a two-hander alternating between Charlie, whose father has completely withdrawn since the death of her mother, and Rose, whose aim is to leave her country town and live in the city. Charlie visits Rose’s country town to see her grandfather, and Rose, who has ignored her in previous years, decides Charlie could be her ticket out. She has won a scholarship in the city, but her mother won’t let her go alone. But if Charlie’s on side …
Charlie is lonely. She channels her emotions through singing and guitar playing, her songs appearing at various intervals throughout the book. As their relationship of convenience turns into a closer friendship, Charlie and Rose find out new things – about each other, and themselves.
Other titles to consider:
Bleeder: A miracle? Or bloody murder?
Desjarlais, John. (2008) Bleeder: A miracle? Or bloody murder? Sophia Institute Press. ISBN: 978-1-933184-56-2. Publisher age recommendation: Adult fiction. Litland recommends age 16 through adult. Not recommended for younger advanced readers. (Article first published as Book Review: Bleeder: A Mystery by John Desjarlais on Blogcritics.) http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-bleeder-a-mystery-by/
Publisher Description: When classics professor Reed Stubblefield is disabled in a school shooting, he retreats to a rural Illinois cabin to recover and to write a book on Aristotle in peace. Oddly, in the chill of early March, the campgrounds and motels of tiny River Falls are filled with the ill and infirm — all seeking the healing touch of the town’s new parish priest, reputed to be a stigmatic. Skeptical about religion since his wife’s death from leukemia, Reed is nevertheless drawn into a friendship with the cleric, Rev. Ray Boudreau, an amiable Aquinas scholar with a fine library – who collapses and bleeds to death on Good Friday in front of horrified parishioners. A miracle? Or bloody murder? Once Reed becomes the prime ‘person of interest’ in the mysterious death, he seeks the truth with the help of an attractive local reporter and Aristotle’s logic before he is arrested or killed — because not everyone in town wants this mystery solved…
SO WHAT DO WE THINK?
Finally, I get to review a book in my favorite genre: cozy mystery! Desjarlais mastered it well in Bleeder. Reed Stubblefield is a professor on sabbatical. While often used to finish research or publish books, a sabbatical is truly meant to be a time of learning, development, self-improvement. Reed endures life “lessons” that he didn’t anticipate in this quiet rural town.
Written for adults, older teens will also appreciate the rich context within which Desjairlas situates his mystery as well as his multi-faceted characters. The protagonist, a religious skeptic, ends up knee-deep in a possible miracle—or hoax? Criticism and misunderstanding of Catholicism are treated realistically and given intellectual critique. In contrast to authors like Regina Doman who integrate classic literature with a poetic effect, Bleeder is equally intellectual but for the philosopher rather than the poet. However, rather than a heady treatment, we are entertained with continuous theme tying Aquinas to Aristotle in the self-talk and dialogue of characters. This gives it practical application to every day life (great for school assignment). A standard ethical process for decision making is provided that leads to the truth.
Each character in the story is dubious, and the reader sees how easy it is to appear to be a “good” person when not. Some are misguided religious fanatics who perpetuate their own beliefs from within a church community, showing how easily one can think they are following a path of Truth while actually straying into twisted religion. For others, their d
I don’ t think I’ve made anyone mad for a while; let’s see if this does it.
There’s a fine tradition of fantasy (or horror) in rural, even pastoral, settings, from Tolkien to King. So much so that you could call it the default; fantasy set in cities gets its own sub-genre, urban fantasy.
Science fiction, by contrast, probably because of its more technical nature, tends to have more urban sensibilities: think space ports, crumbling dystopias that once were fine cities, overpopulated masses, etc.
I’ve been thinking about this because I have noticed what seems to be a bias in publishing, probably a function of its New York/New England foundation: a lot of movers and shakers seem to think that readers can’t relate to rural stories, country people, or simple lives. DAIRY QUEEN is a lovely exception that almost proves the rule… but where I live, a LOT more kids relate to kicking cowpies than to riding a subway, or to growing up in a metro apartment instead of a house with a yard.
And I wonder if that bias encourages gatekeepers to think of rural = fantasy (vs. real-life). Which is why, perhaps, I know writers who’ve been told things like, “Nobody wants to read about a girl living in a trailer park.” (Besides THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY, I guess.) And I’ve gotten personal feedback about things I know in everyday life that folks in NY or LA have thought was old-fashioned because it’s more rural — or simply more lower-middle-class — than their personal experience.
Just throwing it out there. I might be making it up. Any thoughts? And to bring it back to spec-fic, at least nominally: can you think of any relatively recent, rural or pastoral sci-fi that’s not that way because the world ended?
— Joni, who likes both the city and the country for different reasons
Filed under: Joni Sensel
3 Comments on City aliens, country aliens, last added: 9/20/2010