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

Sunday 3 November 2013

Review: By Any Other Name

‘I picked up the book and thumbed through the pages. Names in alphabetical order, names with meanings, names I knew, names I’d never heard of. How to pick? Nothing that would stand out, nothing that would link me to the past – those were the instructions.

The past. As if everything that had gone before this moment was buried already.’

It’s a new home, a new school, a new town for Holly and her family. Leaving everything behind, even their identity, they are relocated as part of a witness protection program. Holly must let go of all that has gone before – her friends, her history and her lifestyle – and become a completely new person.

Fitting in to a new school group is hard at the best of times, but especially so when you are just as much a stranger to yourself as you are to the other students. Holly struggles with loneliness and an increasing sense of disconnection as she tries to balance the need to protect her family with her need to simply be herself. Will Holly give in to the temptation to contact friends from her past, or will she use this opportunity to become a different person? Is the safety of her family worth it if she loses herself?

Given the witness protection aspect of the story, I had expected By Any Other Name to be a suspense-filled thriller. Having read Laura Jarratt’s novel Skin Deep (KBR review here), I should have known that it would be the characters rather than the action of the story that would draw me in.

The gradually unfolding background story (the events that force Holly’s family into witness protection) was interesting and the dynamics of new friendships, including a potential romance with high school loner Joe, created some engaging scenes and dialogue. Joe’s brother Matt’s recuperation from injuries sustained through military service added another interesting, more thoughtful aspect to the story, but it was Holly’s struggles with her new situation and with her own need for a clear sense of herself that kept me turning pages.

I really enjoy the way Laura Jarratt explores identity and the need we have to define ourselves through her characters. Despite the extreme setting where Holly is forced to completely reinvent herself, readers will identify with her need to find connection and the challenges she faces with friendships and family. The witness protection storyline ensures that the novel doesn’t become too introspective, although this element of the story is a little too predictable to really create a sense of tension or suspense.

I thoroughly enjoyed this thoughtful and thought-provoking novel. Laura Jarratt is definitely on my list of must-read YA authors.

Title: By Any Other Name
Author: Laura Jarratt
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont, $16.95 RRP
Publication Date: 1 August 2013
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781742970240
For ages: 13+
Type: Young Adult