a discussion of the indie and self-published books that inspire, engage and challenge me
Sometimes I will go months without finding a book that grips me, sometime a year. Imagine my extreme delight when I was able to stumble on TWO amazing books that I devoured in just days over the last few weeks.
The second, This is Shyness, by Melbourne author, Leanne Hall leaves me almost wordless. The narrative and setting are so achingly beautiful and unique and dreamlike. There are no epic stakes at play, and yet the desperation and need in the two protagonists, Wolfboy and Wildgirl, are palpable.
The story begins with Wildgirl, the random alias chosen by our female protagonist, who is escaping from the most recent cause of her teenage angst by taking a trip to the dark side, literally. Wildgirl is hanging out in one of the local pubs located in Shyness, a town that is bathed in perpetual night. It is here that she meets Wolfboy and, drawn by mutual attraction and a need to escape and live and finally feel something other than what they've been mired in, they spontaneously decide to leave the pub and begin their exploration and adventure in the small world overtaken by the Darkness.
The story is poignant and Hall is a master at using the setting to imbue a constant sense of foreboding into the story, even in the less dramatic parts. The lack of parents throughout the entire narrative gives a sense of wild, youth abandoned tapered only by the dark secrets and dangers that lurk in the shadows of Shyness.
I loved both of the main characters in This is Shyness.
Wilgirl is tempestuous and fiery, with a great sense of humour and a hidden self-assurance that even she is ignorant of. She is hurting, in response to issues both deep and superficial, but is not needy or whiny. She takes control of her destiny and sees the opportunities for fun and escape that a night in Shyness can provide.
Wolfboy is a bit of a loner, despite having friends that he can regularly rely on. He's also a little damaged and, having lived for years in a town that never sees the sun rise, finds a shining light in Wildgirl who brings out a more fearless Wolfboy who begins to care about things enough to take risks for them.
The dynamic between Wildgirl and Wolfboy is perfectly developed and articulated. Their growing bond develops naturally and heightens in the face of the issues and dangers they face in the course of their journey through Shyness. Their moments of happiness and bittersweet comic relief are thrown in sharp contrast to the underlying sadness that pervades Shyness and its damaged residents, from the dazed Dreamers to the sugar-crazed Kidds.
Finally, if there wasn't enough things to love about this story, I absolutely and totally fell in love with the subtle flavour of Australia throughout the story - from the pub bouncers, to the St Vinnies furniture, to the miner's cottages and corrugated iron porches.
If you are looking for a unique story told with an engaging narrative voice from the point of view of two very different, but interesting and deeply-portrayed, characters, then This is Shyness is your sort of book. It's sequel, Queen of the Night, was published in 2012 and is now waiting for me on my Kindle :)
There is a great line in eden Hudson's How to Kill Yourself in a Small Town - one that (in my opinion) perfectly sums up the anti-hero protagonist of the story, Tough. It's a line that comes from the POV of another character, which has a certain poignancy to it once you get to know the characters and the wounds which scratch and tear at their souls.
"Tough", I said. "Weird name".
"I just mean, Tough's one of those names like Gorgeous is for girls. One you can never live up to".
I love Tough. He is this incredibly flawed anti-hero who is constantly struggling with... well, everything. His hometown of Halo has been his own personal Hell for years and it seems that he will never take a trick. But as flawed as he is, he is above all a fighter. He wants to survive, he doesn't want to give up (even when he thinks he does).
Tough is just one of many human and non-people (NP) characters (and POVs) that inhabit Halo, the fictional redneck US town where Hudson's Redneck Apocalypse Series takes place. The story of HKYST, the first in the series, is succinctly summarised by its author:
The holy champion chosen to save the world is enslaved to a beautiful, sadistic fallen angel and losing the battle for his sanity. The guy chosen to save the holy champion is his binge-drinking redneck brother. So, basically, the world is screwed.
Hudson is an intelligent writer with great flair for words and deep insight into her main characters. Their interactions with the world of Halo, their desperate situations and each other are told in distinct voices that cut to the inner conflict that is central to their identities.
The themes of self-preservation, family loyalty and unfulfilled/thwarted desire are perfectly explored against the backdrop of a sweltering summer that offers no relief. Despite the heaviness of the themes and the depth of characters, the writing itself is light and twinged with an irony and dry wit that derives from the youth and 'f*ck you' attitude of the characters.
A great character-driven story where the high stakes game of saving the world takes a back seat to the immediate desires, emotions, reactions and doubts of the beautifully-flawed, engaging and interesting anti-heroes of Halo.