Pauline’s Shelf-Talker: “Green Valentine,” Lili Wilkinson

green valentine

When Astrid and Hiro meet they give each other superhero names. She’s Lobster Girl and he’s Shopping Trolley Boy. Not an auspicious beginning. But it gets better. Then it gets worse. Much worse. Classic romantic comedy: girl-meets-boy, love blossoms, and is derailed. Incredibly engaging, upbeat, funny and smart.  Astrid Katy Smythe is beautiful, smart and popular. She’s a straight-A student and a committed environmental activist. She’s basically perfect. Hiro is the opposite of perfect. He’s slouchy, rude and resentful. Despite his brains, he doesn’t see the point of school. But when Astrid meets Hiro at the shopping centre where he’s wrangling shopping trolleys, he doesn’t recognise her because she’s in disguise – as a lobster. And she doesn’t set him straight.

Astrid wants to change the world, Hiro wants to survive it. But ultimately both believe that the world needs to be saved from itself. Can they find enough in common to right all the wrongs between them? A comedy about life and love and trying to make the planet a better place, with a little heartbreak, and a whole lot of hilarity.

Readers of contemporary Australian YA will be very familiar with Lili Wilkinson who has had success with her previous novels such as Pink and The Zigzag Effect.  Although the blurb makes this out to be a romantic comedy, and it is romantic and funny, this novel is so much more than that.  It tackles some environmental issues that are of great concern to many in our community but it also shows that you can have a sense of humour about yourself and the beliefs that you hold passionately dear.  Both Astrid and Hiro hold strong beliefs but both are also flawed: Astrid is passionate about consumerism and packaging and gardening and making a difference, but she is also sometimes judgemental and preachy.  Hiro, on the other hand, is rebellious and recalcitrant but somehow they become friends as they undertake midnight Guerrilla Gardening.  Filled with humorous footnotes about serious environmental issues both of them learn that sometimes you just have to give a little to get a lot.

Suitable for 14+


Top 10: Fiction

  1. The Eye of the Sheep,” Sofie Laguna
  2. A Little Life,” Hanya Yanagihara
  3. Salt Creek,” Lucy Treloar
  4. Go Set a Watchman,” Harper Lee
  5. All the Light We Cannot See,” Anthony Doerr
  6. The Little Paris Bookshop,” Nina George
  7. The Rosie Effect,” Graeme Simsion
  8. Circling the Sun,” Paula McLain
  9. The Other Side of the World,” Stephanie Bishop
  10. A Year of Marvellous Ways,” Sarah Winman

Top 10: Fiction

1) “Go Set a Watchman,” Harper Lee

2) “Salt Creek,” Lucy Treloar

3) “All the Light We Cannot See,” Anthony Doerr

4) “The Little Paris Bookshop,” Nina George

5) “A Little Life,” Hanya Yarangihara

6) “A History of Loneliness,” John Boyne

7) “The Rosie Effect,” Graeme Simsion

8) “Station Eleven,” Emily St John Mandel

9) “The Green Road,” Anne Enright

10) “The Girl on the Train,” Paula Hawkins

Myles’ Shelf-Talker: “A Little Life,” Hanya Yanagihara

It’s impossible to discuss “A Little Life” without detracting from the sheer experience of reading it. The synopsis, misleadingly, suggests that this is a familiar, even cliched story: a quartet of college graduates move to New York in pursuit of their dreams. This all-male group of friends is a diverse if privileged group, and Yanagihara riffs on their aspirational existences with bountiful wit and energy.

This is not Yanagihara’s story, though, and as we are coaxed into a comfortable place- tedious parties, dead-end jobs, the coded language that exists between close friends- it becomes clear that the novel is headed for darker, uncharted territory. The reason for this is Jude, a quiet and considered lawyer, whom alone amongst his friends remains an enigma both to them and the reader. As Jude is brought into focus, both his present day struggles and long ago traumas, the reader is transported into a baroque, Gothic fairytale, a world as complex and confronting as Jude’s interior life.

The most striking feature of Yanagihara’s world is that it exists in an ahistorical space: though her New York is consistent with the idealised city seen in countless other novels, her decades-spanning narrative is set in a continual present day. The result is that the relationships depicted- platonic and romantic, predominantly between men- are allowed to fully develop, without relying on the tropes usually seen in queer-themed novels. This is a New York without a mayor, without even September 11: her characters inhabit the idea of the city, everything that it has promised them both as individuals and a group.

There will be many who will find the degree of misery depicted in “A Little Life” overwhelming. Yet this a novel of extremes, and its most horrific moments are juxtaposed with vignettes of pure freedom. The image of the crippled Jude walking aimlessly through New York’s open streets, simply because he is young and he can, will be revisited with heartbreaking poignancy as his condition later deteriorates: Yanagihara suggests that these moments are all the more perfect for their impermanence.

“A Little Life” does not offer salvation, even for those who inarguably deserve it. Instead, it depicts the capacity for grace, found only through human connection. There are no simple answers, or fixes: some wounds are too unspeakable to ever recover entirely. And though these wounds are depicted here in chilling, unsparing detail, they exist alongside moments of profound ordinariness, the irreducible matter of human life.

“A Little Life” is longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize.