Who Runs the World?

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Welcome to the matriarchy

Sixty years after a virus has wiped out almost all the men on the planet, things are pretty much just as you would imagine a world run by women might be: war has ended; greed is not tolerated; the ecological needs of the planet are always put first. In two generations, the female population has grieved, pulled together and moved on, and life really is pretty good – if you’re a girl. It’s not so great if you’re a boy, but fourteen-year-old River wouldn’t know that. Until she met Mason, she thought they were basically extinct.

At a Sydney Writers’ Festival panel, Roxanne Gay and Durga Chew-Bose described the general attitude of men towards woman as similar to colonisation. This may seem like a strange and rather daring comparison, but with thought, it is more and more intriguing as well as more and more accurate! Men (as a generalised whole) are seemingly always trying to ‘discover’ women’s true selves, with the expectation that they are the first to truly know us. Little do they know, this ‘true self’ they seek, this sense of identity and womanhood has been here the whole time…  There is nothing to ‘discover.’ We have already been self-discovered. I feel like this idea is articulated as an undercurrent through the fictional construct of the Matriarchy in Virginia Bergin’s Who Runs the World?

I’ve read a lot of negative reviews about this book that say it’s troubling because the Matriarchy as an idyllic society is equivalent to ‘man-hating.’ For me, I saw the long-line of female writers who have written about similar all-female societies in the past that are ‘discovered’ by the male outsider (Sarah Scott’s Millennium Hall and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland to name a couple), and the questions that it raises about gender binary within our society. These other classic novels are explorations and I think that’s also what Who Runs the World?  is… It’s an exploration of an identity that rejects socially constructed and media constructed ideals of femininity, and an exploration of what womanhood would be like if we were allowed to discover ourselves without the bombastic influences of these outside forces. I don’t think the book portrays ‘man-hating’ at all, but rather uses the absence of men as a construct for the absence of gender binary.

As well as this, Virginia Bergin’s writing is clever and seems highly calculated. Each word feels meticulously chosen, which, for me, packed an immense punch with each tightly constructed sentence. Animalistic terminology turns Mason, and the male construct by extension, into creatures of instinct and desire. But Bergin unpacks these attitudes, deconstructing each layer with care. Again, these are attitudes that are being explored not ‘man-hating’. It actually troubles me that when people have reviewed this they seem to have adopted the widely accepted viewpoint that sees forms of expression by women as ‘anti-men’ in some way.

Who Runs the World? is a fast-paced and unsettling read that definitely gives us something to think about. Who does run the world? Should they? And is there any way to change this?

All Day YA: My Top 5 #SWF Picks!

Across the 2017 Festival, some of the world’s most curious and compassionate, irreverent but respectful, intelligent and argumentative writers will be offering up their brilliant works as temporary respite, and interrogating the forces that compel us to come together and find sanctuary.

Michaela McGuire
Sydny Writers’ Festival Artistic Director

It’s that time of year again! That time of year when you’re frantically flicking through your diary and the Sydney Writers’ Festival Guide in the hope that nothing that you desparately want to see clashes. There is one day, however, where I know nothing I want to see will clash (phew, that’s a releif!)

You guessed it! All Day YA is back for the 2017 Sydney Writers’ Festival. This time it makes its home at Riverside Theatres in Paramatta instead of the wharf, but the line-up is so incredible it’ll be worth the trip away from the glorious literary hustle and bustle of the piers for sure!

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Here are my Top 5 picks for the All Day YA program:

1. Love Oz YA Anthology: Begin, End, Begin

I love that Aussie YA is becoming more popular and widespread (which has a lot to do with the incredible #LoveOzYA online movement). It’s important to have authentic, young, and contemporary Australian voices heard, especially because of their diversity! The release of the Love Oz YA anthology Begin, End, Begin is the YA event of the year for me so far and I look forward to hearing what these talented, successful, and passionate Aussie YA authors have to say about their writing and why it’s important to support Australian books and Australian authors. I’m certain it will be an uplifting and celebratory panel about how much there truly is to love about Oz YA!
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2. Defying Expectations: How Female Writers Defy Stereotypes

This is a topic that I hold particularly close to my heart. Being a young woman, and trying to make it as a writer, I am excited to hear what four incredibly successful female YA writers have to say about defying the expectations of gender stereotypes. All four writers on the panel are such inspirations to me! Their writing is raw and genuine and full of life. I am most interested in hearing Amie Kaufman speak about being a female writer who writes female characters that defy stereotypes within the science-fiction and fantasy genres, which are still genres that are overly dominated and defined by male writers, male characters, and gender stereotypes.
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3. Keeping Company: Characters Across a Series

I am looking forward to this panel mainly for Garth Nix! His books have immersed me and challenged me over the years, and I take great inspiration from the ways in which he constructs his characters. James Bradley is a master storyteller of future worlds, and I am a fiend for post-apocalyptic YA (especially when it is done well!), so I’m hoping this panel will include a discussion on characters within dystopian novels. I’m also interested in this panel for my own writing as I am intrigued as to how writers can keep characters interesting and dynamic across multiple novels, and have them leave a special place in our hearts.
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4. More Than Meets the Eye: Diversity in YA Fiction

This is a topic that sparks my interest, especially in YA novels because I believe it’s important to represent diversity to teenagers and young adults in an authentic way. I hope this panel discusses how they each create diverse characters that are not tokenistic, artificial, or stereotypical. I can’t even decide which author I’m most looking forward to seeing from this panel — Sarah Ayoub, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Erin Gough or Will Kostakis. It’s just too hard! Each writer on the panel is a groundbreaking and inspirational figure to me, as I’m sure they are to many other fans out there! These four Australian YA writers are sure to provide an inspiring, funny, and diverse discussion!
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5. Talking Tough Topics with Jennifer Niven

Jennifer Niven is renowned for writing fiction that draws on her own personal struggles and life-altering experiences of growing up. This is what makes her writing so raw and so real for many teens and young adults. I am fascinated by her boldness and her ability to write fictionally about things that she holds so close to her, especially things that might be deemed controversial in some way. There is lots of discussion in the media at the moment about including tough topics in YA literature so I think it will be interesting to hear from a writer who writes about these ‘tough topics’ for teens and what her opinion is about some of the contentious backlash. I look forward to hearing what Jennifer has to say about adapting her experiences and how it feels for her to let them out into the world to be read, interpreted, and discussed.
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A big thank you Sydney Writers’ Festival for giving me the opportunity to write for them. You can view the original post by them and see the rest of their amazing line-up here.

 

#BookReview: Fear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn Marsh

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Putting all things aside about ‘judging a book by its cover,’ the second I saw the cover of this book, I knew I was going to love it. I had never heard of Sarah Glenn Marsh, but we received the US hardback edition of this at the book shop I work at to see if it was worth getting the Aus edition when it comes out. In short… We will 100% be stocking many copies of the Aus edition!

11408650One of the main reasons I was drawn to the cover was its resemblance to one of my favourite YA series The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. I’m an absolute fan of books that have darker undertones and hold deeper meaning as you scrape through its layers, making you live in their worlds long after you’ve finished reading them. This is one of those books!

Sixteen-year-old Bridey Corkill longs to leave her small island and see the world; the farther from the sea, the better. When Bridey was young, she witnessed something lure her granddad off a cliff and into a watery grave with a smile on his face. Now, in 1913, those haunting memories are dredged to the surface when a young woman is found drowned on the beach. Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her Granddad to leap has made its return to the Isle of Man.

Soon, people in Bridey’s idyllic village begin vanishing, and she finds an injured boy on the shore—an outsider who can’t remember who he is or where he’s from. Bridey’s family takes him in so he can rest and heal. In exchange for saving his life, he teaches Bridey how to master her fear of the water—stealing her heart in the process.

But something sinister is lurking in the deep, and Bridey must gather her courage to figure out who—or what—is plaguing her village, and find a way to stop it before she loses everyone she loves.

Small seaside town? 1900s? Isle of Man? Mysterious disappearances? Secretive (yet handsome) love interests? Deep, dark, unexplainable forces? And hints at the supernatural? Yes! This book was definitely calling my name. It is basically the book I wish I had written myself, so my love for it is mixed with a twinge of jealousy.

Despite it’s occasional cliches (I pretty much guessed the mystery of Fynn’s true identity – the love interest and boy Bridey finds injured on the beach – from the get go), Sarah Glenn Marsh is a creator of atmosphere. Each sentence powerfully drew me into the eerie, Gothic setting and made the underworld of sea monsters and witchery believable. And whilst there were no mental asylums in sight like in Mara Dyer, there is definitely the palpable tension of the village community’s disbelief and distrust of Bridey, Fynn, and Morag the ‘witch’ and their entanglement with the supernatural. There were times when it felt as though I existed like Bridey, somewhere between intrinsically part of the town and simultaneously at odds with it. Not only did this beguile me to keep reading (fast) but it also made me feel like Bridey was a character I felt linked to; I was part of both her external and internal journey, and her characterisation was stronger for it.

There is also the minuscule feeling of uneasiness I felt throughout the book about the historical details. While I don’t doubt that the author did her research, there were moments where I couldn’t help but feel like the language and customs of the townspeople were a bit too modern. I read my fair share of historical fiction, especially set between the 19th and early 20th centuries, and to me there were aspects of Fear the Drowning Deep that could have been more embedded within the era. A main example being the propriety between young men and women of the time, although the smallness/remoteness of the town could be held accountable for the lack of scandal that surrounded events such as a sixteen-year-old girl holding hands in public/being left alone at home with a male outsider.

All this aside, the romance between Bridey and Fynn is positively delectable, yet ultimately genuine. I felt the spark of their meeting radiate off the page and their growth together was drawn out beautifully, and I felt the ending was necessary and somewhat unpredictable (NO SPOILERS!) The romance arc of the story defied the usual Young Adult cliche, probably in part due to Marsh’s astute characterisation and observation of the human condition. Even characters that were only glimpsed briefly felt like people I knew. Lugh (Bridey’s male best friend) wasn’t the stereotypical jealous ‘first-yet-never-believable-love-interest,’ Bridey’s relationship with her three other sisters was colourful and Lizzie Bennet-esque, her parents were far from sidelined, and Morag’s archetypal ‘witch-on-the-remote-cliff’ figure was repeatedly (perhaps even as a parody) shot down.

Overall, my issues with this book could in no way outweigh my love for it! I had trouble putting it down, it consumed my thoughts when I wasn’t reading it, and it most definitely left its mark on my soul. Plus, that cover!! I can’t wait to see what else Sarah Glenn Marsh brings to the Young Adult scene because whatever her name is on next, I will definitely be reading it.

Fave Reads of 2016

As my first book post, I want to throw back to 2016 and some of the amazing books that came out! According to my two favourites, I’m into obsessive characters and unreliable narrators, haunting plots and dark twists…

The Graces by Laure Eve

It’s about obsession and desire, and how raw those feelings are when they first envelop you, how they shape everything. It’s about how dangerous our love of glamour can be…

And more simply, it’s about a girl whose most desperate, secret desire is to belong.

Laure Eve on The Graces 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was no question when I read The Graces that it was going to be my pick of the year! From the very first haunting sentence I was intensely seduced by this Young Adult thriller; the world of River, and her obsession with the mysterious and magnetic Grace family, who are rumoured to have the ability to weave magic. This book is a maze of unnerving twists and turns; I reached the end and immediately wanted to go back and reread it to scramble for the clues I’d missed! Reminiscent of Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts and Michelle Hodkin’s The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Laure Eve writes with mesmeric and precise prose that seeps under your skin and creates an ominous atmosphere that makes you shudder.

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Girls had to believe in anything but their own power, because if girls knew what they could do, imagine what they might.

Girls on Fire, Robin Wasserman

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving previously devoured all of Robin Wasserman’s Young Adult fiction, I picked up Girls on Fire – Wasserman’s first dive into contemporary fiction – with high expectations. I was completely blown away! Part crime thriller, part love story, part coming-of-age, there are undertones of True Detective’s Southern Gothic and The Virgin Suicides’ intoxication of female friendship in this haunting and captivating read. At times I was so much part of the words on the page that I myself was caught up in the obsessive intensity of Dex and Lacey’s friendship; I wanted to shake them and hug them close at the same time. Wasserman has the rare power to cast a spell over the reader with her beautifully harrowing prose. But be warned, once you pick this book up, you’ll be sucked into its harrowing world, you won’t want to put it back down, and you certainly won’t forget it.

Other 2016 Releases I Loved