Australian YA fiction is so regularly superior that I pounced when I saw that this 2010 book by Fiona Wood had been re-published in the U.S.
The story is narrated by Dan Cereill, “nearly 15” and having to start a new school after his dad (newly out as gay) left them, the family business went bankrupt, and he and his mom lost their house. Fortunately, they were able to move into a place left to them by the mom’s great aunt.
Dan makes a list of what he needs to do next, which includes cheering up his mom, getting a job, trying not to be a loser in his new school, making himself speak to his dad again, figuring out how to be “good” (“I don’t want to become the sort of person who up and leaves his family out of the blue”), and at the top of the list: “Kiss Estelle.” Estelle is his new next-door neighbor, a girl he hasn’t even met yet, but from the moment he first saw her, she started carrying his heart, as he explains.
His mom sees he is worried on the first day at the new school, and says “Just be yourself.” Dan thinks:
“My ‘self’? I don’t really have a clue who that self is. It’s like some kind of amorphous blob I’m trying to make into a better shape. I just know the bits I don’t want to broadcast to a group of strangers.
Single mom, question mark over mental stability.
Dan quickly discovers the lay of the land at the new school, observing that his class has divided itself into a number of groups including:
“…the blondes, in a teen-America time warp. Why hasn’t anyone told them that’s (no way) (omigod) (only) (like) (so) (totally) (random) (gay) and (way) (not) (cool) or (whatever)? I’ve tuned in. They use about twenty transposable words in all; quite efficient, I guess.”
His new life starts out poorly: “I’m the opposite of okay. I’m nokay.”
Dan is so delightfully charming, funny, insightful, self-deprecating, and brave, you can’t help rooting for him as he sets out against very tough odds to accomplish his goals.
He soon makes a new friend, Lou, another “odd sock” like himself, finds a job (after a hilarious false start), and gets to know Estelle. He keeps revising the progress of his list in his diary as the book proceeds, and by the end, you just know that list is going to come out in pretty good shape.
Evaluation: Fiona Wood is a must-read author for me. She packages teen angst into such a delightful bundle, you forget, for a while anyway, why you ever thought teenagers were not adorable.
Published in the U.S. by Poppy, an imprint of Little Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, 2015