When I first bumped up against Jess Gordon, I wasn’t sure I liked her. Or Mitch Crawford, Jess’s opposite number in Kirsty Eagar’s SUMMER SKIN. Both Jess and Mitch seemed abrupt, crass, careless of themselves and sometimes the people around them. But they were trying – that’s what brought me back to them, again and again. They were both trying to reconcile things – their opinions, actions, ethics, their dysfunctional approach to relationships, their hopes for the future. They were both stuck in the artificial environment and community of university college/pub life. They were both reaching for something more. And they were both stuck in a society that encourages women to be merely sexy decoration, and men to be so masculine that it becomes self-parody.
The themes of their respective colleges – Virile Agitur (‘Do the Manly Thing’ – no lie) and Nemo Me Impune Lacessit (‘No One Wounds Me with Impunity’) – set the tone of the whole novel, and sets the stage for an epic battle of wills between two chronically stubborn people who’d both rather die than give an inch. The background is Brisbane’s sultry tropic O-week extravaganza at University of Queensland (my own alma mater, yikes), and the book itself is a study in How to Do Things Right in YA: intelligent dialogue and character arcs, genuine emotional exploration, sexual tension to the max, a deep insight into context and sexual politics. If you haven’t got the drift yet, I love this book (and wish I’d written it!) and it comes from the pen of a master – Kirsty Eagar impressed us first with RAW BLUE in 2009, gave great genre in SALTWATER VAMPIRES, and then made me fall in love with Poe-like atmosphere in NIGHT BEACH.
Here’s a link to some nice things people said about SUMMER SKIN in the Sydney Morning Herald, where they called it ‘a romance for our times’.
Something that came up in the author chat with Kirsty Eagar earlier this month was the eternal ‘is it YA’ question – and it seems as if we return to this issue again and again with YA books that cover intense themes, such as with last month’s A SMALL MADNESS. I won’t presume to know the answer, but I can only say that I think SUMMER SKIN is a book that teenagers should read. The intricacies and intimacies of sexual relationships (in this case, het relationships) are something that are barely skimmed over in contemporary approaches to sex education – there’s so much more to sex than just sex – and are covered extremely well in SUMMER SKIN.
Let me know what you think! You can comment here on this page, give a 1-5 star rating if you’re time poor, or add to the conversation over at Facebook on the #LoveOzYAbookclub discussion thread. And stay tuned for next month’s title announcement – I have a feeling you’re going to love it…