#LoveOzYA Q&A with Susanne Gervay for THE EDGE OF LIMITS
Award winning author Susanne Gervay’s passion is empowering people to be critical thinkers and develop the resilience to advocate for justice. She tackles themes from feminism in Shadows of Olive Trees, harmony and inclusion in Elephants Have Wings, and extremism and the war in Heroes of the Secret Underground.
Her latest YA novel, THE EDGE OF LIMITS, tackles consent and control. #LoveOzYA’s Kelsey Mahoney recently chatted to Susanne about the novel.
For those who haven’t read The Edge of Limits, can you tell us what it’s about?
Edge of Limits has the high stakes of ‘The Hunger Games’ and the wild risks of the wilderness. It is an authentic journey into young adult male culture, giving insight for both guys but also girls. It is an emotional, funny, perilous and defining journey. It’s eight rugged days on a school trek into the wilderness. There are no showers, sleeping on rocks, hard trekking, abseiling, climbing, wild rivers, wilderness … and there are the flies, thousands of them and the freezing nights and the sweaty days. There are scenes of exhaustion as the boys collapse after the rock ledge climb. Hilarious scenes at the leech invasion. Great mateship. Great betrayals. Eight days descending into fear, exhaustion, ravines and rivers, heading for their final place of initiation.
As the narrator Sam Knox deals with the death of his grandfather, he seeks the purpose of life. There is “heroic” Jones, Fat George, weedy Spano, sex obsessed Andrew, lead-foot Con, shell shocked Bennie, evil Watts, the rigid teacher Seaten, spunky instructor Sarah and … girls. It’s about girls – getting them, discarding them, wanting them where consent is subjective or coercive or real love or distorted through peer group pressure of the Rave Party and the rape.
The Edge of Limits explores sexuality, mateship, the wisdom of the grandfather, leadership, male humour and the way boys speak, or don’t speak. Ultimately, as the camp winds towards the final place of initiation deep in the mountains. It goes to the heart of consent in modern society and challenges them with hard choices of courage.
This book tackles some really interesting and important themes that aren’t often addressed in the YA genre. What inspired you to write a story like this, and what lead to the choice of sexual assault being a focus?
My father faced the trauma of war, forced labour, survival. He rarely told me stories about this time. I knew he was a hero, except he never did. The soldiers were going to rape a woman in front of her grandchild. My father who was a prisoner, called out. ‘She could be you mother.’ They stopped and he disappeared into the pack.
‘Weren’t you afraid?’
‘There are some things you cannot live with.’
I learnt something that day. ‘The Edge of Limits’ is brave. ‘The Edge of Limits’ confronts racism, homophobia, misogyny. It confronts drugs, alcohol and smoking, but it’s even more important. It confronts parental expectations, self-doubt, peer groups, identity crisis, relationships with girls. It’s a personal journey. I go to one of the hardest places of identity, CONSENT.
Why did you decide to have the story take place during a survival camp?
A survival camp is the ultimate challenge. We all know about camping, the dreaded ‘long drop, trekking into the wilderness. It is exhilarating, funny, hard with mates and enemies and trying to find the pathway ahead. It is a time to think about mateship, sexuality, the wisdom of the grandfather, leadership and the confronting issues of life. Why do people die? Why are you here? How come you matter? What will you be?
Knox comes from a single parent household, and is coping with the recent death of the main father figure in his life. What was your reason for writing your protagonist with this background?
I am a sole parent who raised two kids from the ages two and five. The grandfather was my father. When Sam deals with the death of his grandfather, he struggles like I did. The grandfather promised he would be there for him. He promised, but he died. He left Sam to travel on that search for identity alone. However Sam was never alone. We need to know that.
What was it like working with your son on this book?
My son forced me to dive into male identity. I didn’t want to. He got irritated as I questioned him about caving and rock climbing, until I felt I could cave and rock climb. He made me confront the loss of the grandfather. Confront the complexities of being a sole parent. I learnt how amazing was my son. He had courage then and now.
What specific audiences did you have in mind while writing The Edge of Limits, and what do you hope they can learn or take away from the story?
It is about critical choices. Consent is personal. It is your decision. It is not parents, teachers, media, peer groups, mate or even enemies, influences. Sure, consent can be compromised by alcohol, drugs, testosterone. It can be compromised if you grow up with racism, misogamy, antisemitism, homophobia, domestic abuse. But the real deal is YOUR identity.
Sexuality is the trigger, but the foundation is your search for identity. ‘The Edge of Limits’ opens the questions. You decide your future.
As the news is filled with reports of the ‘boys’ club’, the AFL and racism, 150 students on a private online chat room advocating racism, homophobia, sexism and extreme sexual behaviours, the NSW parliament reports the culture of the ‘boys’ club’, enough is enough. Girls are speaking out, but boys need to too. How can that happen? ‘Through ‘The Edge of Limits’ where dialogue is open. Where boys and girls talk and read it and make those decisions that are change-makers.