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

Saturday 15 June 2013

Review: Sweet Damage

Tim Ellison is a cool, relaxed kid. He likes a good surf, appreciates a hot chick and is more than happy working a few nights a week in his dad's restaurant, waiting tables. He's a likeable character - both for his tousled good looks and relaxed attitude, but also because he has heart.

Author Rebecca James likes to write characters with heart.

Tim has been staying with his ex-girlfriend Lilla and her thug-like boyfriend Patrick. He needs a place of his own, and when a cheap, too-good-to-be-true room comes up at Fairview, one of Fairlight's most beautiful mansions, Tim is curious. He feels compelled to check it out. Surely, it must come with some kind of 'catch'.

He's right.

Tim is met at Fairview by Marcus and Fiona, a straight-laced brother and sister lawyer team who introduce him to Fairview's current resident, Anna London, a withdrawn, somewhat creepy blonde who finds it hard to make eye contact, let alone engage with her potential new flatmate.

Tim is shown to his spectacular room and learns that the 'catch' for living with Anna is to be there for her if she needs him, because Anna suffers from crippling agoraphobia and panic attacks. She can't leave the house. On top of this, it's quite clear she's mentally ill - and good friends Fiona and Marcus are determined to keep her safe.

Easygoing Tim still thinks he's on a good wicket, and anywhere is better than staying with Lilla and Patrick, so he moves in. But does Tim have any idea what he's in for?

Author James has created an open, likeable character in Tim, whose inquiring nature, kindness and trust become the epitome of strength in Sweet Damage. Her intensely flawed Anna is initially painted as a psychotic mess, but as details of her past gradually come to light, a greater depth emerges, creating intense reader empathy and understanding.

I loved the dance around mental illness and damaged hearts in this book. The revelation by Anna, made three-quarters of the way through, made me gasp out loud and brought tears to my eyes. And I loved the way the plot pulled my suspicions from pillar to post, but also steadfastly unravelled an intensely moving past that made for extremely satisfying reading.

Despite the book's dark nature, I found Sweet Damage fluid, delicate and light in terms of James' writing style and its deep understanding of the complexities of life and the power our minds can hold over us. I'm not usually drawn to thrillers but Sweet Damage delivers thriller-like impact without the predictable schlock and gore of some YA fiction.

Its characters are memorable, with lovely intricacies and unexpected connections. Its voice is pleasurable with plenty of visual evocation - something I personally adore.

KBR Founder Tania McCartney will be in conversation with Rebecca at Paperchain Bookstore in Canberra on Thursday 20 June, where she hopes to unearth more about Rebecca's next novel. If you're close by, come along and see why this new voice in YA fiction has something sensational to say. Event info here.

Don't miss our review of Rebecca's first book - Beautiful Malice.

Title: Sweet Damage
Author: Rebecca James
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, $24.99 RRP
Publication Date: April 2013
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781742373010
For ages: 15+
Type: Young Adult Fiction