#LoveOzYA Reading Recs with Lisa Walker
There’s nothing I like more than reading a book which is set in a place I know. It brings a special sense of intimacy to the reading experience. So here, in no particular order, are some OzYA books which remind me of places I love.
The Pilbara – Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
I recently spent six month driving around Australia, which was an amazing experience. I’d never seen the Pilbara before and the country there was so unexpectedly wild and beautiful, it really moved me. I began to seek out authors from the area and came across Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, a sister and brother team who belong to the Palykupeople of the Pilbara. Catching Teller Crow is set in a small regional town, which may or may not be in the Pilbara. The book is a mixture of poetry and prose and is both a ghost story and a thriller. The novel has two narrators – ghost detective Beth Teller and Isobel Catching, a crime witness who only speaks in verse. Catching Teller Crow is a short book, but it packs a punch, tackling issues like racism, abuse, and the stolen generation. Aboriginal spirituality and views on life, death and time add a deeper layer to the mystery. In the words of Beth’s grandpa: ‘Life doesn’t move through time. Time moves through life.’ Gripping and moving, this is a rewarding and important read for all Australians. I’m so glad I read it.
Northern New South Wales – The Minnow by Diana Sweeney
The Minnow is set in a small coastal town that feels like it’s in northern New South Wales, where I live. Diana Sweeney doesn’t live far away from me, so it probably is. I first read The Minnow in manuscript form and fell in love with it at once. It’s a dreamy, off-kilter story about a girl called Tom, who has lost her family in a devastating flood. Floods are a regular feature of my local area, so I could easily picture the river washing through Tom’s house and taking her family with it. Tom has become pregnant to a much-older man, Bill, and pictures her baby as a small fish – a minnow – inside her. She talks to her dead sister, in the form of a catfish, to Oscar the carp in the pet shop and of course to the minnow. Beautifully written, with more than a hint of magical realism, The Minnow treads lightly across issues of grief, death and sexual abuse.
Brisbane – The Things that Will Not Stand by Michael Gerard Bauer
I picked up this book, not really knowing anything about it, after I heard it had won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award. It was a wonderful surprise to discover that it was set at University of Queensland, which is where I went to uni. I have such fond memories of the sandstone buildings, the jacaranda trees and the lake. I studied science, so I was also very familiar with the Pitch Drop Experiment, which features in the book. This is the world’s longest-running laboratory experiment and involves waiting for pitch – a type of tar – to form droplets and fall, proving that it is a liquid rather than a solid. Since 1927, only nine drops have fallen, so it’s not much of a spectator sport. Anyway, moving on, this book is a witty romantic comedy with a lot of heart and that’s basically my favourite type of book. Also, pitch drop experiment…
Sydney’s Northern Beaches – Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar
My morning surf is the best part of my day, so a book about surfing is always going to be a winner for me. Raw Blue is set on the northern beaches of Sydney, where I lived for six years. It’s the story of Carly, who turns to the waves for healing after a sexual assault. Carly is a realistic, relatable character and Raw Blue is a fresh and distinctively Australian story. Kirsty Eager captures both the underbelly and the beauty of Sydney’s beach scene. ‘It’s a glitter skin day. The ocean is a vivid emerald colour and the wind ruffles the wave faces so that they shatter the sunlight like glass …’ Oh my.
Lisa Walker writes novels for adults and young adults. She has also written an ABC Radio National play and been published in the Age, Griffith Review, Big Issue and the Review of Australian Fiction. Her recent novels include a young adult coming-of-age story, Paris Syndrome (HarperCollins, 2018), and a climate change comedy, Melt (Lacuna, 2018). She has worked in environmental communication and as a wilderness guide, and recently spent six months in a Kmart tent in outback Australia. Lisa lives, surfs and writes on the north coast of New South Wales. Her latest book, The Girl with the Gold Bikini, is her sixth novel.
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