'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Review: Wavelength

Writing a review for Wavelength was difficult. I sat here staring at my computer screen for a long time, wondering how to start. As I wondered, flashbacks of the story played in my mind, making me quietly smile.

I could easily envisage the Chunky Muffin Co. van with its enormous muffin perched on top. I could see the glistening swimming pool, smell the hot chips with sauce. I could picture main character Oliver in his odd-looking shirt (that once belonged to a dead man) and the cool stare of protagonist Emma and her jade earrings swinging sarcastically from the sides of her head.
But most of all, I could feel the emotional strings pulling Oliver between his mum Susan (located in Perth where all the cool stuff happens) and dad Jim (located at Sunny Haven Estate where all the oldies converge for aqua aerobics and wheelchair sunbasking) - and between Oliver's imminent HSC exams and the 80 per cent he needs to study geology at uni - and the youthful uncertainty about where he fits and where he is going.

When Oli visits his dad for a week (which soon becomes longer) to focus more solidly on his studies, things don't start well when he loses his baggage on the train, leaving him with only the clothes on his back. Oh - and with the bag goes all his exam textbooks, which he... um... kinda needs.

Dad Jim pulls through by sourcing some outdated books that might help, but for the most part, Oli's chances of getting any kind of study done are limited, particuarly when surly, enigmatic swimming pool tuck shop attendant Emma decides she can't stand him.
This slice-of-life book delicately reveals the everyday nuances that make life so beautiful, with a strong focus on the balancing act we call relationships - between people we know, don't know or thought we knew. It also looks at our dreams and ideals - and how what we think we 'should do' or 'should become' may not necessarily resonate with our hearts.

It also weighs carefully the notion of 'success' and why a middle-age pool cleaner who basks in daily sunshine and fishing on the jetty is any less successful than a world-travelling geologist of global renown. Or a chronically over-worked mother with an obsessive need to build a Chunky Muffin empire, for that matter.

Another thing Wavelength does is show us that we can never judge a book by its cover. That life happens and waylays us sometimes, and people may not always be what they appear to be.
I guess I struggled to start reviewing Wavelength because there is just so much I want to say about it and don't know where to start. The plot threads woven through this story are so deliciously subtle, they're hard to express verbally - they are rather just felt. And it's more than just feeling - it's an understanding.

The two main teen characters - 17-year-old Oliver and 19-year-old Emma send adult readers back to their own teenhood - most especially the teenhoods of Australians and most especially-especially those who spent any time near swimming pools or the beach (which, let's face it, is 99 per cent of the population).
With a warm, slighty kooky, delicious cast of characters every reader will relate to in some way, Wavelength is not just a story for boys (as its cover design would a little inaccurately imply) - in fact, I think girls would adore this book, as would adults. There is a lot of sensitivity and beauty woven through its pages that females would cling to ferociously.

I adored the descriptives of the everyday life at Sunny Haven - the beautiful elderly characters and their quirks, the glorious Elvis-loving Hemi, flatmate to Oli's dad Jim. The fishing from the dock. The cooking on an unused stove top. The soft tinkle of museli falling into a bowl and the young person fate of having to sleep on the couch. The line up of lollies at the tuck shop, the muscles in Emma's shoulders, the plastic hoop earrings... so much comes flooding to me right now.

I also adored the uncertainty of Oli and where his future lies. I adored his inability to relax and fit in to a life that was loose and unstructured and rigidly unambitious. Author Betts has a knack for writing audibly and visually - in that you can see and feel and eat and hear the words come to life as you read them.

This innate writing talent beautifully rounds out a simple yet deeply satisfying storline that, just like real life, leaves many things unresolved and open-ended. The relationship between Oli and Emma, the direction of his dad, his exams, his future, his ideals...

I may have been left slightly bereft at how I would start this review, but I can easily finish it. More please.

Title: Wavelength
Author: AJ Betts
Publisher: Fremantle Press, $17.95RRP
Publication Date: 2010
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781921696305
For ages: Teens +
Type: Young Adult Fiction

Teachers' Notes

You can buy this book online