Wednesday, August 4, 2010

leanne hall, this is shyness

Because the last thing I would do is lie to you, dear reader, I have to let you know that I actually work with Leanne, and I like her. She’s lovely, and funny, and always asks after my own writing. (Current status: OH GOD THIS SCENE IS BORING DELETE ENTIRE NOVEL INSTANTLY.) Still, if I hadn’t enjoyed her prize-winning young adult novel This is Shyness, I wouldn’t have written a review saying I liked it; I probably would have just kept quiet. Well, upon further reflection, seeing as I find it hard to shut up, I probably would have written a review, but it would have been quite short and said something like, “Wow, you should all read Leanne’s book, because the font is EXCELLENT and the spelling is SPOT ON. Hooray Leanne!”

Luckily for me, she won the Text Prize for this not just because she’s really nice in reality (ruining my illusions about being able to bribe publishers, alas) but because This is Shyness is legitimately, fabulously good. From the first chapter I was smiling happily to myself about all those lovely pages ahead that I knew I was going to enjoy. And I did.

Wildgirl is in the unnerving suburb of Shyness for the night, doing her best to get away from her problems—her disinterested mother, and the awful breed of monster known to some as the classmate—when she meets Wolfboy in a bar. Wolfboy is also shrouded in issues, but the two of them see each other across the room, and that’s it—they see in each other someone they want to know better, and they blow that popsicle stand and head out to a night filled with endless possibilities. And, in Shyness, it’s a night with no eventual dawn. Shyness is a place that has been abandoned by adults and the sun itself, where sugar is the currency and drug of choice, and somewhere Wildgirl wants to experience with someone who knows it well. And so together they navigate this odd place and its residents, from criminally-inclined under-12s after their filthy sucre, to mystical kebab makers and sinister doctors.

It’s a story that charts exactly the thrill of being a teenager; how life can become so awful that escape seems like the only option, but how hope and confidence can still be found in the face of the adversity that can come with youth. Wildgirl is overwhelmed in some situations and breezes through others; Wolfboy seems about the most physically attractive fictional character in the history of the novel (quiffs, tight jeans, swoon) but he is out of his depth in some situations. The two of them are the heart of the story; two fascinating and gorgeously real people in a world both strange and familiar, wading through life and sticky situations the best they know how. When Wildgirl jokes around you laugh with her; when Wolfboy hurts you feel for him. The other inhabitants of Shyness radiate personality, and the town itself feels like a dream but smacks of something real.

Sometimes, though I’m not yet thirty, all the sparky emotions I felt when I was a teenager seem very long ago. This is Shyness brings them all back, and while the idea of an endless adventure of a night made me a little unsure at first—all the endless nights I remember from being a teenager involve everyone getting drunk, a short bout of frenzied dancing followed by hours of Deep and Meaningful Conversations About Stuff And Things—what This is Shyness is really about, for me, is being able to find, even when everything seems impossible and hopeless, someone else out there who will hold your hand and simply be there.

I’m biased. But I loved it. And, much to my excitement, I knew about half the people on the acknowledgments page, though shockingly I was not on it. And I’d imagined the moment so clearly: “And most of all, thanks to Fiona, who I met after writing and editing this book, but who distracts me at work by yabbering on about nail polish and her own writing. This couldn’t have been done without you.”

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