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Saturday, October 15, 2011

'Chasing Charlie Duskin' by Cath Crowley

From the BLURB:

Charlie Duskin is running. Fleeing from failures and memories and friends who have given up on her. And she's not only running, she's chasing things–like a father who will talk to her, friends who don't think she's as invisible as a piece of cling wrap, and an experience with a boy in which she doesn't look like an idiot.

But Charlie Duskin is about to have the best summer of her life. She's about to meet a friend who'll change her forever. She's about to fall in love. She just doesn't know it yet.

Rose Butler and Charlie Duskin couldn’t be more different.

Charlie lives in the city, with her dad. Her mum died when she was nine, and her dad has been mourning her ever since … and ignoring Charlie in the process. At school, Charlie is a gutless wonder. She’s always a step out of beat, uncoordinated and all too willing to let people walk all over her. Her best friend, Dahlia, is just starting to figure this out – and, as a result, her and Charlie’s friendship is crashing and burning over the summer holidays.

Every Christmas Charlie and her dad return to his childhood town where he and Charlie’s mother fell in love. This time of year should be full of pine trees and celebration. Except this is the first year since Charlie’s grandmother passed away. The last person in the world to think Charlie was truly special, and now she has gone too. Her grandfather isn’t coping, and now Charlie is stuck with two men who can’t seem to come to grips with the absence of the women they loved.

Rose Butler lives next door to Charlie’s grandparent’s house. Her little hometown is a toilet stop – someplace you pass through, but never want to stay. For years now, Rose has been watching Charlie ‘Dorkin’ breeze through her town – always to end up on the freeway, going back to the city and a better life. And this year, Rose might just go with her … because Rose has a scholarship burning a hole in her back pocket. A scholarship to a city school, and out of this dustbowl town.

But Rose will miss her best friend, Dave, and boyfriend, Luke. She’ll miss the river and the falls, and the safety of shared history.

Charlie would give anything to hang out with Rose, Luke and especially Dave. She’d love to feel like she belongs, just for a bit. And to feel wanted. She’d like to be part of a choir, instead of always singing solo.

Rose will get out of this town. Even if it means using Charlie Dorkin to do it.

‘Chasing Charlie Duskin’ is the beloved 2005 YA novel from Cath Crowley.

I came to the Cath Crowley fan club a little late. I read ‘Graffiti Moon’ this year, and loved it. Now I’m back-tracking through Crowley’s previous books … and I really shouldn’t be surprised that ‘Chasing Charlie Duskin’ is as brilliant as I thought it would be.

Charlie Duskin is a frustratingly beautiful character. She is walking wounded – having lost her mother at a young age, which also led to the disappearance of her father as he retreated into grief. Now Charlie is living with more heartache since the recent passing of her grandmother, which lumps her with another male who is not coping well with the death of his beloved wife. As a result of so much tragedy, Charlie is disarmingly negative about herself. She thinks she’s broken – clutzy and embarrassing, unable to talk to boys and utterly invisible. She thinks her best friend, Dahlia, lucked out in the friendship stakes, and is unsurprised when it appears their camaraderie is starting to dissolve. Charlie sings and plays guitar, but all her songs are about wanting to fit in but knowing she never will.

Rose Butler, on the other hand, is a firecracker. She has lived in one place her whole life – with two boys who know her better than anyone else in the world. Her car-mad friend, Dave, and her boyfriend Luke. Rose loves these two - but she hates her town. She feels frustrated by her complacent parents, and their suffocating love. So when Rose is told that she has been awarded a city school scholarship, she keeps it a secret. She doesn’t want to be told she can’t go, and she doesn’t want to see the look on Luke’s face when she tells him she’s leaving.

Rose and Charlie are heading for disaster when both of them (unknowingly and unwittingly) present the other with what they most want in the world. For Charlie, Rose represents everything she can’t be – confident, carefree and cool. For Rose, Charlie is her ticket out – and she intends to be sitting in the car with Dorkin when she and her dad breeze out of town and head into the city.

Disaster is bound to ensue.

Cath Crowley’s books are reading confectionery. Her lyrical words are gooey caramel that get stuck to the roof of your mouth so you can tongue them and savour the sweetness. She looks at the world through dizzying heights and candy-coloured spectacles – and I can’t get enough of her writing or her characters.

Charlie Duskin was sublime. I just wanted to wrap her in a bear hug and whisper words of encouragement in her ear. She’s that kind of character – one you want to bundle off the page and bring home to make hot chocolate for. She’s beautiful and doesn’t know it, and that made her superb.

Rose was equally charming and disarming. The book is told from both points of view – Charlie and Rose’s – and in the beginning, through Charlie’s eyes, I did frown down at Rose and her seemingly perfect life. But Crowley loves shades of grey, and Rose is just a gorgeously lost and nervous as Charlie is (even if she hides it better).

The book is ultimately about the fragility of people, and giving a little kindness to watch them grow. The finale is a chest-swelling crescendo, and a fitting ‘Aha!’ moment for dear Charlie Duskin.

We watch her walk into the spotlight she’s been hiding from most of her life. Sure, friendship is all about believing in someone so hard they believe it, too. Sure, it’s about trust. But if anyone hurts her tonight, it’s about ripping them apart with my bare hands and really enjoying it.


Cath Crowley is certainly an Aussie YA treasure. Her books take you down to the lowest lows (so that you find yourself crying on the train while reading) but then she makes it up to you when her characters soar (so that you do a little fist-pump on the same train ride home). I think that whenever Crowley puts fingers to keyboard, a little bit of magic happens … I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

5/5

1 comment:

  1. I love this book, it's just so amazing, I loved your review of it. Dave is just so sweet! I hope you enjoy her other books, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts about them.

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