Friday, 15 March 2013

Peeling the Onion

I expected this book to be Canadian, as it was listed that way in 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up. So I was somewhat surprised to find that Peeling the Onion is set in Australia! Small town Victoria to be precise. I see now that Wendy Orr, although born Canadian, moved to Australia in the 70s, has lived here since, became a published author in the 1980s, so her writing career has been Australian I guess. She has featured quite prominently in the Children's Book Council of Australia awards over the years.

I feel more than slightly embarrassed that I wasn't more familiar with either her name or her work. I had seen her latest book Rainbow Street Pets around in the shops recently, but not really noticed the author's name or put two and two together. Her most famous work seems to be Nim's Island, because there was a movie version made of it, and the sequel Return to Nim's Island, starring Bindi Irwin is about to be released this month.

Peeling the Onion is the moving story of Anna Duncan, 17 years old when we meet her, competing in a karate tournament, and just about to start the last year of high school. Except right on page 1 Anna is involved in a bad car accident. Written in Anna's first person voice, we are drawn in from the start. I cared about what happened to Anna from that first page.

A star of shattered glass, cold against my temple.
Sinking in the wooly blackness, choking, drowning, suffocating.

Anna has a number of major injuries, and her world is turned upside down in that moment. She wants to be heading back to school and back to her karate training, but she is in hospital instead, trapped and in pain.

I thought Anna's experience of her recovery, and the realignment of her life and her goals was pretty well done. I thought it was all nicely balanced with the first boyfriends, her lingering pain and injuries, and darkening mood at times. When she talked to God in italics it reminded me a bit of Are You There God? It's Me Margaret.

March already- first term more than half gone!- and evenings are getting darker again; Matt and Bronny are watching a sitcom before they go to bed. Gross adults and cute kids are stuck in another unbelievable predicament, blaring canned laughter and sentimentality. Mum and Dad say they hate it- but follow enough from behind their paper and book to snort in disgust. I don't bother pretending. The slippery surface of my mind is content with the meaningless action, the empty words which don't expect to leave a trace. 

It gets a bit philosophical at times, particularly with Anna's friend Luke and his Taoist beliefs. And when Anna becomes sad, depressed or angry there are powerful words.

I always knew that if I ever started to cry I'd never be able to stop, and now I've started and it's true, there's so much sadness, so much misery inside me and it won't stop til there's nothing left of me. The tears aren't coming from my eyes, they're pouring out of my soul, out of every bit of my body, my blood and my muscles and right down to my bone marrow where the deepest, harshest grief has been buried. I didn't think that I could feel like this and still live, but the misery, the tears and the terrible wailing noise keep on going, and I think maybe this is what hell is, to know that your life is out of control and there's nothing you can do about it.

I can see that this would be a very powerful read for teenagers. It's a shame it's not more widely known. My area library doesn't have a copy. It's a superfast , enjoyable read, and a nice slim little volume, although the printing and font on my copy isn't great- the page numbers are barely readable- why do publishers do that?



Hannah said...

I think I just hyperventilated. THIS WAS ONE OF MY FAVOURITE BOOKS EVER GROWING UP. I can't even count on my fingers the number of times I read it. I even had that exact cover. Oh, my heart! My heart!

I also had, and loved, Ark in the Park. Oh Louise, I feel a little teary!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I can see why this book would be so loved. Very powerful story of a girl who comes to a wall in her life.