At seventeen, Jacklin Bates is all grown up. She’s dropped out of school. She’s living with her runaway sister, Trudy, and she’s in secret, obsessive love with Luke, who doesn’t love her back. She’s stuck in Mobius—a dying town with the macabre suicide forest its only attraction—stuck working in the roadhouse and babysitting her boss’s demented father.
A stranger sets up camp in the forest and the boy next door returns; Jack’s father moves into the shed and her mother steps up her campaign to punish Jack for leaving, too. Trudy’s brilliant façade is cracking and Jack’s only friend, Astrid, has done something unforgivable.
Jack is losing everything, including her mind. As she struggles to hold onto the life she thought she wanted, Jack learns that growing up is complicated—and love might be the biggest mystery of all.
So, Inbetween Days is my new favourite Vikki Wakefield novel and, considering how much I love Vikki Wakefield's other novels (check out my review of Friday Brown here), that's saying something. Australian contemporary YA has so many amazing writers, and Vikki Wakefield is up there. She isn't afraid of difficult characters and uncomfortable situations and moral complexity, and her writing is lyrical and beautiful without being inaccessible.
I think something that appeals to me immensely about Vikki Wakefield's work is that it's in-our-world but not-quite-in-our-world. There are things about Jack's life that anyone who has ever been a teenager will easily identify with (especially her insecurity and desire to escape), and her town is one you can imagine driving through on a road trip, but then there are elements that are just a little bit out-of-kilter, just slightly surreal - like the stranger camping by the suicide forest, or the number of tiles in the shop changing. The setting is wonderfully atmospheric. Mobius is like a town in a David Lynch film.
This is definitely one for the older YA reader. In a way, Jacklin and her fierce attitude reminded me of Kirsty Eagar's Summer Skin; Jack, like Jess, is unapologetically herself, but she still makes (many) poor decisions. She is real and raw and insecure and wonderful. The relationships she has with her family and friends are complex and difficult. If you expect characters to be likeable and to behave reasonably, you'll disappointed - but I think the realness and messiness of relationships and family dynamics (particularly between Jack and her mother) are what make this novel so honest and affecting. Also Jeremiah is the loveliest.
Adult readers of literary fiction would enjoy this. I also think it will really appeal to older teenaged YA readers who might have moved on to adult fiction. (It might be a bit confronting for the younger YA reader - it's quite dark, with themes of suicide, and sex is dealt with casually.) It's not straightforward or plot-driven nor does it rely on stock storylines or stereotypes, though it touches on lots of universal themes. Jack's life is dull to her but enthralling to the reader. Her sad, dark, dying town is beautifully evoked. If you can get through all the bleakness, I promise it's heartwarming in the end.
Inbetween Days on the publisher's website.