A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Rose didn't tell anyone about it. She wondered if it showed. She looked at herself in the mirror and turned this way and then that way. She stood as close to the mirror as she could, leaning over the bathroom basin, looking into her own eyes until they disappeared behind the fog of her breath. Looking for something. Some evidence that she was different now. Something had shifted inside her, a gear being ratcheted over a clunky cog, gaining torque, starting her up. But it didn't show. How could all of these feelings not show? She was a woman now but it didn't show and she couldn't tell anyone.

This book. Intense. Horrifying. Incredibly well-written. (It's the first time in ages I've read a YA novel where I had to look up words, which I love - learning new words is the best.) I think just as many readers of adult literary fiction would enjoy this as readers of YA fiction (I think a lot of YA fiction transcends what people stereotypically think of as YA fiction - this novel is a great example of that). I can't say I enjoyed it, because it deals with events that are downright awful, and characters that behave in some pretty horrendous ways, but it's an impressive novel.

Rose's best friend Liv is the most likeable character (and the most sensible). The actions of Rose herself are often incomprehensible (hence the 'madness' bit). Credibility stretches a little when it comes to the ignorance around sex and pregnancy displayed by the central characters, given they're seventeen-year-olds in modern Australia, who seem middle-class and not strictly religious. (It had a feel of being set in the past, though it wasn't; had it been, it might have been more believable.) It reads as a cautionary tale, but it's not at all moralising.

If you're sensitive to issues around teenage pregnancy and miscarriage, and you like your YA novels cheerful and uplifting, this might be one to miss. I'm not prone to recommending younger readers away from certain novels - I read YA fiction from the age of ten, and though I liked to steer away from dark, unpleasant stuff back then, but that might not be the case for all readers - as you'd know your own limits in terms of novel content better than I would, obviously. That said, I do think older teenaged readers and adult YA readers are much more likely to appreciate this novel. It's a very compelling read, and the writing is magnificent, but it's also incredibly confronting.

A Small Madness on the publisher's website
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