Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Seventeen-year-old Friday Brown is on the run—running to escape memories of her mother and of the family curse. And of a grandfather who’d like her to stay. She’s lost, alone and afraid. 

Silence, a street kid, finds Friday and she joins him in a gang led by beautiful, charismatic Arden. When Silence is involved in a crime, the gang escapes to a ghost town in the outback. In Murungal Creek, the town of never leaving, Friday must face the ghosts of her past. She will learn that sometimes you have to stay to finish what you started—and often, before you can find out who you are, you have to become someone you were never meant to be.

I am really, really jealous of Vikki Wakefield because Vikki Wakefield writes these extraordinarily authentic novels that are also profoundly poetic and have a surreal edge. I just read her new one, In-Between Days, which was wonderful (review forthcoming!) and which prompted a reread of Friday Brown

If you are not familiar with Wakefield's work, Friday Brown is the sort of novel frequently described as gritty, but the word gritty just makes me think of the stuff in the bottom of fish tanks, rather than such an excellent book. It would probably be best described as contemporary YA, but it transcends that categorisation; I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to adult non-YA readers (though really, everybody should be reading YA because it is the best) as well as YA readers fifteen and up. You probably want to be emotionally ready for it, though. It will put you through the wringer. 

It is a dark novel, and that darkness is never shied away from; characters are difficult and flawed and sometimes dangerous, but always well-characterised. Friday is a particularly compelling character. The atmosphere is incredible, particularly the outback ghost town; something I could clearly picture in my mind. I think this novel would be extraordinarily well-suited to film. The writing is beautiful throughout. Some of the content is pretty confronting, as it's a novel about a gang of homeless youth, the leader of which has worrying intentions and motivations, but it's always well-depicted, and violence and crime are never glorified.

My only disappointment with this novel was that, in a way, the ending felt unrealistic for such a grim novel. After all of the awful preceding events, to have such a hopeful and sentimental ending didn't quite fit. On the other hand, a novel that is unrelentingly dark isn't really typical of YA; even though a darker ending might have felt 'realer', it was a relief for goodness to ultimately be acknowledged. 

I spend a lot of time thinking about what defines YA as YA (which, yes, is a pointless endeavour) as well as about what makes for satisfying endings of stories. Half of the experience of a novel is down to the reader and their perspective and experiences; as a younger reader I probably would have felt the ending of this novel was perfect (and I wanted, to a greater degree, to read novels with uplifting endings, and read almost exclusively YA), whereas now I'm a bit older, I don't mind a bleak ending as much. Sometimes I prefer them. So my comments on the ending are only really a matter of interpretation; the next time I reread Friday Brown I will likely feel differently about the ending again.

Friday Brown is evocative, beautifully-written, dark and heart-wrenching and ultimately hopeful. Yet another example of amazing Australian contemporary YA; the sort of novel you will stay up all night reading, and then have to sit with for a few minutes, once it's over, to let all the feelings settle.

Friday Brown on the publisher's website
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