For her first novel, Rachel writes with great understanding and intensity. Her portrayal of young adult passions and emotions are credible and realistic. Their world is filled with issues that cannot help but scar the heart, such as a brother dying of cancer and a family divorce. Coping with these problems forces life to become a day by day journey; sorting out thoughts and feelings, while also developing a new relationship, draws upon every ounce of the main character, Erica’s strength and courage.
The story begins with Erica, the narrator, going on a camping trip with Daina, her best friend, Daina’s brother, Alex and Erica, another girl from school. The night is long and Erica doesn’t go back to the tent that she was sharing with Daina. In the morning Daina is missing and after a time the police are called and a search is mounted. Everyone is frantic and it is here we get to know the characters intimately. Their reactions and the devastation and guilt they each feel is truthfully portrayed.
The writing evokes a sense of recognition in the reader that draws one into the story, and you read it with heart and head. Gradually pieces of the puzzle emerge. When Daina’s diary is found, Erica unashamedly takes it as she needs to know and understand what has happened to her friend. Relationships between Erica and her parents, the families of Daina, Alex and Erica, are explored again with feeling; so many issues and yet so little to be done.
It is great to read a book set in South Australia. For many the area is familiar and makes sense of the story. Rachel also has a wonderful sense of being in the water, describing Erica’s feelings as she enters a pool and swims, holding her breath. “This is how I have taught myself what it is to breathe.” It is almost a cleansing ritual for her, which unfortunately doesn’t help her inner thoughts.
The twist at the end of the novel is startling and brings many threads of the story together. It will allow the characters to move on, although they will never forget the girl, the love, or the lesson. Life today is tough for many young adults, and following the thoughts and inner feelings of the characters helps us to understand and empathize with them.
Shortlisted for the 2016 Ampersand Prize**