Book Review: Two New Young Adult Reads From Aotearoa
Lucy Black reviews some YA that cover some hard-hitting themes in Draw Me a Hero and The Dark Quest of Countess X: A Call to the World's Youth. Whether you are finding yourself or smashing the patriarchy, they have all your teen needs covered.
Draw Me a Hero by N. K Ashworth (Lemon Ink, Lasavia Publishing Ltd)
Draw Me a Hero is about drawing our own heroes, creating characters and coming of age. ‘Plain’ Jane is 14, living in Auckland in a rented cottage with her cooler sister and her overworked solo mum. Unfortunately the reader doesn’t get much of an idea of who Jane is before her ‘hero’ appears in the form of a good looking teenage neighbour called Bailey.
Jane is intrigued and easily influenced by Bailey, she allows him to boss her around, change her name, cut her hair without consent and to lead her on unknown adventures. I was beginning to roll my eyes and curse Jane’s naivety and lack of backbone when thankfully, Ashworth steered away from the tropes and introduced some interesting plot twists; this isn’t the straight forward teen romance one might expect. There is a lot packed into this slim volume, the author tackles sexuality, socio-economic hardship, eating disorders, grief and solo parenting.
I felt that Jane’s character often got lost in the drama spiraling around her and I wish she was given more of her own personality and friendships. The reader doesn’t get much of who Jane is before Bailey takes over her life, I would have liked to know who she hung out with and what she did for fun. Jane’s strongest character point is her love for art, and Jane and Bailey bond over illustration and story as they create their own graphic novel.
I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Draw Me a Hero should have been a graphic novel. Bailey and his duplicitous life, Jane and her lack of spirit and Mads the sick sister could have been interestingly developed in graphic format and I feel their voices would have come through more authentically with the aid of illustration. N. K Ashworth has written the story along similar lines as a graphic novel with lots of twists and turns and interesting noir elements. I found myself wanting some dark and inky imagery to go along with the jam packed plot.
I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Draw Me a Hero should have been a graphic novel...I found myself wanting some dark and inky imagery to go along with the jam packed plot.
Draw Me a Hero never felt laborious or one note, I am looking forward to seeing what Ashworth does next—she is clearly a writer brimming with stories to tell.
Draw me a hero
By N. K Ashworth
Lasavia Publishing Ltd RRP $30.00
The Dark Quest of Countess X, A Call to the World’s Youth by L. P Hansen (Onepoto Press )
The Dark Quest of Countess X is a passionate and unflinching novel that at times reads like a fantasy but is firmly set in the real world. This YA story has the markers of a fantasy novel; a mysterious rich benefactress, chosen children on a mission, unknown evils, conspiracies and mysteries abound. What makes this book different is that it is unapologetically based on fact.
L.P Hansen and her character Countess X are deeply concerned about the welfare of girls and women around the globe and that reflects in the themes and the details of this book. Countess X has a lot of money and is consumed with worry for the large numbers of girls and women that go missing globally so she sets up a research group of teens to tackle the issue. The research teams come up with plans to help the women before they go missing, addressing poverty and the patriarchy with the help of sponsors and Countess X’s leadership.
The large and varied cast of characters are nearly exclusively girls and women and their private lives are examined through a political lens as they research other women for the cause. I really appreciated the focus on the young woman and their friendships, in particular I liked the girls from the Cook Islands and the relationship they had with a savvy grandmother. Sometimes girls and women are not seen as fully realised in young adult novels unless they have men to bounce off, rail against and position themselves around. The characters Hansen has created barely need to consider men at all and that is refreshing. Breaking away from the gender binary would have been appreciated too but maybe it was too much of a reach for this particular novel.
Sometimes girls and women are not seen as fully realised in young adult novels unless they have men to bounce off, rail against and position themselves around. The characters Hansen has created barely need to consider men at all and that is refreshing.
At times the research, the politics and the urgency to help women overwhelms the plot, and it was hard to get a sense of the characters and their lives because they were so driven to find facts and change the world. The plot crescendos towards the last acts with singular focus.
Hansen obviously cares deeply about the missing women featured in the book and the statistics whilst fascinating and saddening sometimes become repetitive and dull. I think many teens will be heartened to read about young people making a difference and adults willing to listen to them but as a cynical old millennial I found a lot of Countess X’s operation contrived and too good to be true.
The Dark Quest of Countess X, A Call to the World’s Youth
By L. P Hansen
Onepoto Press RRP $28.00
Lucy Black is a writer, mother and avid zine maker and enthusiast. She lives in a city apartment which she is slowly but surely filling up with books.