By Vikki WakefieldYoung adult Text Publishing
Vikki Wakefield’s second novel, Friday Brown, has been described as a love letter to Australia – which she accepts as true. Wakefield follows her 17-year-old protagonist from the outback to the city and back again, as she tries to escape memories of her larger-than-life, recently deceased mother and the family curse.
While she writes characters rather than themes, Wakefield says that a series of questions emerged from the characters and story itself as she wrote: What is family? Does character decide destiny? And the duality of human nature – is there good and bad in all of us and is there a seminal point where we have to choose a side? She hoped to give the book the feel of ‘a campfire story’. On the run, Friday Brown befriends Silence, a strange boy with a troubled past. But it is the charismatic Arden who challenges Friday in more ways than she’d like. In Murungal Creek, a ghost town in the outback, Friday must face her own past. She learns that family, like fate, is more than what you’re born with – and that love is always worth fighting for.
‘Wakefield creates extraordinary tension during the first half of her novel but it’s when Friday arrives in a desolate country town that the blood really gets pumping,’ says Emily Gale in Readings Monthly. ‘It’s an action-packed second-half that may make you cry and will certainly make you want to champion Friday.’
Adrift, alone and on the run after her mother’s death, 17-year-old Friday is searching for her place in the world. Falling in with a group of street kids, she befriends Silence, the strange young boy who never speaks.
From casual cruelties to the loyal bonds of friendship, these characters are real and flawed, struggling with troubled histories. Evoking Friday’s own isolation, the book stretches from the anonymity of the city to the vast Australian outback in a heartaching story of personal discovery.
Elegantly crafted and beautifully written, Friday Brown is a haunting tale that stays with the reader long after the final page.
If there is one inescapable truth high school teaches you, it’s that, for the most part, books aimed at teenagers aren’t good books. YA literature is flooded with cliches, dodgy grammar, blatant emotional manipulation and an unhealthy dose of fantasy-oriented smut. Vikki Wakefield’s Friday Brown is a reminder that this genre – a genre so fatally aimed at people who have read little other than a textbook all year – can be so much more.
Filled with detailed, delicate prose, Friday Brown explores a community of teenagers who have fled from their home lives and are trying to forge a new home with each other. But there is always a cost to running away. Friday Brown, our protagonist, lives wandering from town to town with her restless mother, guided by her family folklore – every woman in her family has died on a Saturday, and every time it had been caused by water. But when her mother dies (on a Saturday, by water) Friday, named as a premonition, cannot keep on living as a nomad; a place never needed to be a home while she found home in her mum. Now she is alone, and for a teenager there is nothing more frightening.
Around me the city was awake and crawling. Buildings rose into low cloud and when I looked up I felt dizzy. Too many people in too little space. All I wanted was to escape the crush, feel the dust between my toes and taste clean air.
While at a train station in the city, Friday meets Silence, a young boy with grating blue eyes lost in time, and he takes her to his cohort of teenage misfits who all squat in an abandoned house together. Led by Arden – sensual, compelling – they struggle, and we watch, as they try to ignore the baggage they carry, the price they pay for their denial of the past, in a world rendered totally foreign by their perceptions of the reality around them. There is something mythical about this book that, while making it implausible to a sceptical reader, summons up a feeling that’s something like being a teenager – the surreal nature of everything in a world driven by hormones and oxymorons.
The teenager’s world – virtual or otherwise – gives rise to a preoccupation with telling strangers our deepest darkest secrets. Due, it seems, to a crippling insecurity that makes us need confirmation that people notice us, there is a required amount of attention and self-disclosure before we feel comfortable. But Friday is nothing like this, closed-off and hesitant to make commitments, she can be quite challenging to understand at the beginning, something that ultimately makes her more real than if she was clear-cut, because she is so full of – to quote the mad hatter – muchness. Friday’s story does what it’s meant to do – makes us care, makes us cry – but does so with nuance and intelligence, something that is so often lacking in YA. What Wakefield has done is create a story that tells a person, not a person to tell a story, and for that literary ‘young adults’ are externally grateful.
And yet somehow, no matter how beautifully written Friday Brown is, most YA novels – good or otherwise – have the same flaw. What does it say about how adults perceive teenagers that every story is, at a basic level, exactly the same? We have the group of diverse tropes who clash for the most part but are a community. There is the strong leader whose character is deceptive. Our main character falls for the most unavailable guy. The readers are eventually caused huge heartbreak as a perfect relationship solidified in the previous chapter is broken in some way (I’m looking at you, John Green). And there is never a Happily Ever After. We plough through issues of death, power, manipulation, reality, grief, fear and, of course, identity. Friday Brown issues a book you love not for its originality but for its rendering of a story we already know.
The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist