The Reluctant Hallelujah by Gabrielle Williams

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I have grand plans for incredibly intellectual posts about my smart writer-person thoughts. But first! A review of a strange and hilarious novel I just read by another very great Aussie YA writer. This is the blurb:

 But there I go, getting ahead of myself. Skipping straight to the part where I was front-page news and they were calling me Dorothy, instead of starting at the beginning . . . 
When Dodie's parents go missing just as final year exams are about to start, she convinces herself they're fine. But when the least likely boy in class holds the key -- quite literally -- to the huge secret her parents have been hiding all these years, it's up to Dodie, her sister, the guy from school, and two guys she's never met before, to take on the challenge of a lifetime. So now Dodie's driving -- unlicensed -- to Sydney, and being chased by bad guys, the police, and one very handsome good guy.

 In anticipation of reading this novel, I read all of the reviews of it everywhere on the internet. (This is usually a poor decision. I wouldn't do this if I were you. Stop reading now. I'm kidding. Stay.) The reviews seem to come in two varieties: 1. "This book is brilliantly written but is way too ridiculous and absurd for me", and 2. "This book is brilliantly written and so ridiculous it's awesome." I am so definitely in the second camp. I may have mentioned that I love out-there ridiculousness in novels. The Reluctant Hallelujah has exactly that out-there ridiculousness I love, and yet reading it, it's as if everything that's happening is perfectly normal.

 There's a revelation that comes fairly early on in the novel that put some readers off entirely. I guessed what it was before I'd even started reading, and it wasn't something that offended my sensibilities. I probably would've enjoyed it more had I been surprised, while other readers will know the book isn't for them once they find out. (I'm not going to tell you what the revelation is - you can figure it out for yourself. There are a lot of hints, though.)

 I remember Gabrielle Williams spoke about this novel at the Ballarat Writers Festival last year, and mentioned her US publisher's concern over the themes - I'm not sure whether it is being published in the US, and I can understand why it wouldn't be (despite the fact that it's hilarious and brilliantly written and a great read). I would hope that the controversial aspects don't overshadow the fact that it's quite a brilliant novel. 

The character development is excellent - of almost every single character involved. Dodie and her sister were somewhat irritating (their poor decision-making is probably realistic, but still frustrating). There's still a real insight into these characters. There does need to be a fair bit of suspension of disbelief (which, once you get past that 40 page mark, everything else hardly seems unbelievable), and though it has a thriller plotline it's more of a character-driven tale. Lots of funny conversations and sweet scenes. It's a road trip novel! I love road trip novels. 

This is definitely one for the older YA crowd. It's written in a very conversational, teenager-y style (I am excellent at adjectives, as I'm sure you can tell). I think all of the geographical details (lots of which I recognised! The first part of the novel occurs in Melbourne and underneath Melbourne, creepily) lent believability, and firmly set a fairly out-of-this-world story in the real world. It's pretty splendid, less crazy-adventuring and race-against-time type stuff than I expected (it is certainly not the Da Vinci Code) but full of really genuine characters.

So you might hate it. That crazy revelation might be a little too crazy for you. But even if you don't share my love of the delightfully wacky (and it's pretty gutsy, really), it's well-written and endearing and full of realistic characters in a hilarious, unrealistic situation. It sounds weird, but somehow, it works.

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