For Readers, For Writers, Q&A 3 years ago

#LoveOzYA Q&A with Felicity Castagna about GIRLS IN BOYS’ CARS

Felicity Castagna’s first novel for Young Adults, The Incredible Here and Now, won The Prime Minister’s Award for Literature, was named the IBBY Honour Book for Australia and was a finalist for the CBCA Book of The Year for Older Readers.

Her latest release, GIRLS IN BOYS’ CARS, is out now!

Felicity chatted to #LoveOzYA’s Julia Faragher about the story of a complicated friendship, and a road trip through NSW in a stolen car . . .

What is GIRLS IN BOYS’ CARS about?

GIRLS IN BOYS’ CARS is a book about two girls named Rosa and Asheeka who end up kind of accidentally, on purpose, stealing a car from one of their boyfriends.

Rosa and Asheeka are sick of everything really. They’re sick of the suburbs and spending their weekends hanging out in the parking lot of McDonald’s and the boys, they’re sick of all the boys for all sorts of reasons so they take off and find themselves in even more trouble than they were in before they left.

It’s summer. Bushfire season. The worst fire season in Australia’s history and Rosa and Asheeka drive right out of Parramatta and into a regional Australia that’s as foreign to them as another planet and those fires just keep on coming.

At the start of the novel Asheeka is missing and Rosa’s looking back on all the things they got up to that summer from her cell in a juvenile detention facility. Does Rosa regret all those things she did out there on the road? No I don’t think so.

GIRLS IN BOYS’ CARS is a literary page turner about a complicated friendship, the stories that define us and two funny, sharp young women who don’t want to be held down any longer.

Rosa spends a lot of time reading and thinking about how stories are written. Were there any particular stories that inspired GIRLS IN BOYS’ CARS?

I was actually thinking a lot about the stories that I read as a teenager. One of my favourite books at that time was Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. I loved the way the boys in that book just drive off from life and I guess I always fantasised about being able to do that too. But as an adult I’ve thought a lot about how women and girls don’t get to inhabit these kinds of stories.

Boys on the road are looking for adventure, women always seem to be running away and driving themselves over cliffs like Thelma and Louise. I wanted to write something where girls get to be the agents of their own kind of road story even if it’s complicated and everyone else is always getting in the way.

Why did you decide to set Rosa’s story during the 2019/20 Australian bushfire crisis?

I was redrafting this book at the time of those bushfires and it really got me thinking more about the differences between urban and rural Australia – something I always wanted to explore in this book. I’m a very urban girl and I never experienced regional Australia until I was in my 30s and it was something of a culture shock to me to learn that there was this other Australia that was very different from my own.

Those bush fires really drove home a lot of those differences to me. Sure, Parramatta, where I live was surrounded in an ashy, foggy haze but those fires were never a real threat to my community or my way of life. Part of the reason why Rosa and Asheeka keep driving into those fires is because they just don’t get it: they haven’t experienced the affects of climate change and environmental catastrophe in the same way that regional Australians do.

I love how the book is structured as a set of short, individualised chapters. How did you know this was the best way to tell the story?

I wanted the story to be told in both the present and the past fairly simultaneously. Rosa is narrating the story of how ‘a good girl like her’ ended up in a juvenile detention centre and she’s doing that by trying to listen to the stories of other girls around her and by thinking about how the stories she’s read might help her find a voice of her own.

Interjected throughout that is the past story of what her and Asheeka did when they stole that car. I really wanted this book to be a story about telling stories and the difficulty of telling one’s own story away from the noise of community, family and society telling, particularly teenage girls, who they are and how they are supposed to act.

That flipping between the past and present shows that struggle.

Why did you choose a road trip setting?

Who doesn’t love a road trip story? I love the way that it gives the story its own momentum and provides for a lot of natural conflict and tension as my characters rub up against new people and new situations all the time.

It is also one of literatures long-standing motifs – this idea of the physical journey that becomes a metaphor for a larger emotional journey and a social and personal awakening, so I milked that.

Do you have any advice for the girls in boys’ cars?

Insist on being allowed to be your complicated selves. Growing up (and I’m pretty sure I’m still growing up at 40) is a long journey of deciding who you are who you want to be against the pressure of others trying to tell you who you are. You can make your own stories.



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