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Saturday, October 22, 2011

'All I Ever Wanted' by Vikki Wakefield

From the BLURB:

Mim knows what she wants, and where she wants to go—anywhere but home, stuck in the suburbs with her mother who won’t get off the couch, and two brothers in prison.

She’s set herself rules to live by, but she’s starting to break them.

Now Mim has to retrieve a lost package for her mother. Does this make her a drug runner? Why is a monster dog called Gargoyle hidden in the back shed? And Jordan, the boy she sent Valentines to for years, why is he now suddenly a creep? How come there’s a huge gap between her and her best friend, Tahnee? And who is the mysterious girl next door who moans at night?

Over the nine days before her seventeenth birthday, Mim’s life turns upside down. She has problems, and she’s determined to solve them herself. But in the end, she works out who her people are, and the same things look entirely different.

Anywhere but here. That’s what Mim thinks – that she’d rather be anywhere but these suburbs that are haunted by a missing girl. Anywhere but down the road from the Tarrant house, where a dog called Gargoyle patrols the perimeter. Anywhere but in this family, with a mother addicted to home shopping and two brothers stuck in prison. Where childcare workers take her brothers’ bastard kids away the second Mim’s mum starts loving them.

So Mim has made rules to live by, rules to get out of this dump. No tattoos. Virginity intact. No drugs. No drugs. No drugs.

But all it takes is her perfect-boy crush, Jordan Mullen, smiling at her to send everything spiralling out of control.

‘All I Ever Wanted’ is the debut Australian Young Adult novel from Vikki Wakefield.

‘All I Ever Wanted’ came out in June this year, and was heralded as a landmark YA Australian novel. I put off reading it, for God knows what reason … and now that I have been inducted into the Vikki Wakefield fan-club, all I can think is that I took too long to get here.

This book is a lesson in duality. On the one hand, Wakefield’s novel is dealing with raw and gritty circumstances, as told from the perspective of a sixteen-going-on-seventeen-year-old girl dreamer. Mim’s family is reminiscent of the Cody clan in David Michôd’s ‘Animal Kingdom’ – and Mim’s circumstances are close to that of Ree in ‘Winter’s Bone’, the Debra Granik film. Her family have a reputation – they are a criminal element with a parole record to prove it. But Mim doesn’t want that for herself; she has a sagging bookshelf of Lonely Planet guides and a stuck globe reminding her that what she really wants is just over the horizon. But when her mother asks her to collect some ‘gear’, Mim doesn’t refuse. She pedals her bike into a world of trouble, bought on by beautiful boy Jordan Mullen.

What follows is Mim’s fallout from a pick-up gone wrong; and how she tries to backtrack on a mistake that could end in a territorial clash.

With this subject matter, Wakefield could have gone over-the-top and written something bordering on ‘Underbelly’ for the teen set. But instead she goes the other way – she writes Mim’s criminal family with heart and depth, gives them personality and camaraderie. The residents of Mim’s neighbourhood are a collection of odd souls and kind hearts – Lola, the phone-sex worker next door. Benny and his call of ‘Bloke!’ in underpants with beer in hand. Mim’s best friend, Tahnee, who has broken one of their golden rules. And Mrs Tkautz’s, who calls Mim a ‘godless child’. These are rough people living in an undesirable neighbourhood – and even though we’re reading about them through Mim’s disdainful eyes, readers can see the hodge-podge family knocked together in this suburban wasteland.

Mim, on the other hand, hates everything about this place. The people, her family, the unwritten law that says you avoid walking past the Tarrant house. All of it is getting on Mim’s nerves, and she’s just about at breaking point;

I can see how a perfectly sane, ordinary person might one day shoot strangers in a mall, or hold up a service station, or drive into a reservoir with three kids in the back seat. You hear about them, the quiet people, the ones nobody notices until they snap. They keep to themselves. I reckon it’s not when things are white-hot that they do stuff you read about in the papers. It’s in the flat feeling, the afterburn, when it can seem almost normal doing the extreme. When part of you gives up and gives in. The numb spot.

Mim thinks Jordan Mullen is her ticket out. He’s the beautiful boy from the posh neighbourhood – the boy all the public school girls drop their knickers for, and who is taking a gap year from his Uni course. Jordan is an idle fantasy that takes Mim out of this hellhole – dreaming about him has been a little slice of salvation for many years. But when Jordan double-crosses Mim, and his sister Kate crosses her path, Mim’s view of her ‘people’ and her daydreams go on a collision course.

Mim is a new favourite YA character. She’s a skinny wanderer full of bad blood and big dreams. I loved her. She’s a little bit blind to her own reality, and sometimes too harsh on those who love her. But her faults are her armour – and when she has come from so much muck, you can’t help but admire her.

‘All I Ever Wanted’ is a wonderful novel from new Aussie YA author, Vikki Wakefield. It’s a novel of dualities – our protagonist is a dreamer from a family of brutes. The setting is suburban wasteland, occupied by kind-hearted residents. The story is criminal, with a hidden agenda. And the boy crush is beauty, with a bad streak. Fantastic.

5/5

3 comments:

  1. Amazing review! All I Ever Wanted was just fantastic, wasn't it? Mim & Jordan's relationship was probably my favourite part -- very gritty.

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  2. oh, this review is bril. and i agree about mim being a new fave YA character. she has all the courage and shades of grey to make her totally endearing. i think this one will be winnning a lot of awards...

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  3. Sigh. I always love reading your reviews - they're so articulate and professional-sounding! I never really knew EXACTLY what this book would be about, until I read your review.

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