Clancy of the Undertow by Christopher Currie

Friday, July 1, 2016

In a dead-end town like Barwen a girl has only got to be a little different to feel like a freak. And Clancy, a typical sixteen-year-old misfit with a moderately dysfunctional family, a genuine interest in Nature Club and a major crush on the local hot girl, is packing a capital F.

As the summer begins, Clancy’s dad is involved in a road smash that kills two local teenagers. While the family is dealing with the reaction of a hostile town, Clancy meets someone who could possibly—at last—become a friend. Not only that, the unattainable Sasha starts to show what may be a romantic interest.

In short, this is the summer when Clancy has to figure out who the hell she is.

(I was lucky enough to help launch Clancy of the Undertow at Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane way back in December. I've recommended the novel to many people since I first read it, but never got around to posting a review: so here you go!)

I really enjoyed Clancy of the Undertow, and I was really struck by how authentic the voice of Clancy was. I think especially when you have met writers you can get a real sense of authorial voice intruding on the story, so you've got this sense of the intrusion of the author, which can be good and can be bad. In the case of Clancy of the Undertow, it was just Clancy, which made me suspect that Christopher Currie perhaps went on a trip to rural Queensland and discovered a very well-written, quite sad journal written by a gay teenage girl.

I think it's very tempting in Young Adult fiction when you're focusing on the central teenage characters to disappear the parents, because it's just a lot more convenient. What I loved in Clancy was the involvement and realism and nuance of Clancy's relationships with her parents and her brothers, and how that was developed.

Clancy lives in the dead-end town of Barwen, and both the landscape, the actual physical place, and the atmosphere, the attitudes of the townspeople are beautifully evoked. There's a very rich tradition in Australian fiction of romanticising rural Australia, but in Clancy's case her town is just awful and very insular. At the same time, small-town mentality - particularly among youth - seems incredibly accurately captured.

Clancy's brother Angus is a conspiracy theorist and is obsessed with cryptozoology and finding evidence of the existence of the fabled "Beast of Barwen", which is an aspect of the story that's both intriguing and amusing. (I'm not one for conspiracy theories, though I did genuinely believe in the existence of the Yowie as a child.) The dialogue is genuine, and the female friendship is endearing.

It's a gorgeous novel, and yet another example of excellent Australian YA. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to both teenaged and older readers.

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