Hello and welcome to a new feature of bookclub! For some time I’ve been thinking that there are just way more OzYA books out there than we have time to read in bookclub, so this is a way I’ve thought up to shine a spotlight on books not selected for reading, or neglected OzYA classics, or for discussions around books we’ve read personally and would like to share our opinions about. I’m hoping it might even introduce some new books to new readers! If it’s interesting to people, I’ll continue with it – so this is a bit of an early experiment 🙂
Our first Books in the Spotlight feature is looking at BETWEEN US by Clare Atkins.
First, the book: BETWEEN US is a hard look at how the asylum system in Australia affects teenagers. It’s the story of Anahita, an Iranian refugee, and Jono, an Australian high schooler whose Vietnamese dad, Kenny, works at the local asylum detention centre. Clare Atkins manages to successfully weave three points of view into this book, which poses serious questions about how the Australian government can continue to justify its treatment of asylum seekers in centres like Anahita’s. The book appeals to readers’ compassion, through the gentle connection between Anahita and Jono, and reminds us that those who arrive in this country seeking refuge are forced to live in oppressive, dehumanising conditions during ‘processing’.
Is it possible for two very different teenagers to fall in love despite high barbed-wire fences and a political wilderness between them?
Anahita is passionate, curious and determined. She is also an Iranian asylum seeker who is only allowed out of detention to attend school. On weekdays, during school hours, she can be a ‘regular Australian girl’.
Jono needs the distraction of an infatuation. In the past year his mum has walked out, he’s been dumped and his sister has moved away. Lost and depressed, Jono feels as if he’s been left behind with his Vietnamese single father, Kenny.
Kenny is struggling to work out the rules in his new job; he recently started work as a guard at the Wickham Point Detention Centre. He tells Anahita to look out for Jono at school, but quickly comes to regret this, spiralling into suspicion and mistrust. Who is this girl, really? What is her story? Is she a genuine refugee or a queue jumper? As Jono and Anahita grow closer, Kenny starts snooping behind the scenes…
The author of BETWEEN US is Clare Atkins, who also wrote the acclaimed NONA & ME. She started as a scriptwriter, script editor and producer for shows like Headland, Home & Away, All Saints and Wonderland, before moving into YA fiction. She has a deep commitment to research and dives into each YA project – NONA & ME was written while she was living with her family in the remote Aboriginal community of Yirrkala in the Northern Territory, and she has done an amazing job with the research for BETWEEN US, her sophomore novel. Clare has also worked in community development and has a teaching degree, so she is truly multi-talented.
BETWEEN US was published by Black Inc. Books and was recently named the 2019 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers) – Clare’s beautiful acceptance speech is here, where she talks about ‘re-defining what is possible for people growing up in the in between’. If you’re interested in using BETWEEN US in a teaching setting, you can find copies of the Teacher’s Notes here. Clare has provided an interview with her publisher here, talking about the process of writing the book and the ideas explored within it.
If you’ve read BETWEEN US, please comment on the post at our FB group page and tell us what you thought! And if my prompting has encouraged you to order the book, you can go through Boomerang Books and use the ‘loveoz’ code to receive free shipping.
And that’s the end of Books in the Spotlight for this month! Let me know at the #LoveOzYAbookclub group page if this is a feature you think is worth continuing, and see you around the traps (with an OzYA book in hand!)