Thursday 15 July 2021

Girls in Boys’ Cars


Girls in Boys’ Cars by Felicity Castagna (Pan Macmillan Australia) PB RRP $18.999 ISBN 9781760982980

Reviewed by Kathleen Grace

The debut YA novel of this author, The Incredible Here and Now, won the Prime Minister’s Award for Literature, was named the IBBY Honour Book for Australia and was a finalist for the CBCA Book of the Year for older readers. With such accolades behind her and the fact her books have been published internationally, any reader would expect a great read. Unfortunately, Girls in Boys’ Cars didn’t do it for me. 

The first ten chapters of this YA novel introduce Rosa, a not-so-confident, cynical teenager, and her Fijian Indian best friend, Asheeka, in a meandering story as the two friends hang around together, dress up and watch boys. The book’s narrative only revs up in the eleventh chapter named for the book’s title where the two friends travel and have adventures together.

Here, with the setting western Sydney, Rosa and her Asheeka, tired of hiding who they are from their parents and of trying to get boys to see them as more than props in their lives, take off in Asheeka’s boyfriend’s over-modified Ford Falcon with the vague idea of embarking on a road trip. It is only when she is in Arnold’s stolen car that Rosa begins to come to life and becomes a more active and interesting character. The girls’ journey of self-discovery sees them literally go through (bush) fire and ends with a police charge that puts Rosa in a juvenile correction centre while Asheeka goes missing.

Interspersed with chapters about the road trip, are chapters set in juvie where Rosa meets with her therapist, Maree. Rosa says, ‘My life was a series of excerpts cut and pasted from all the books I read in some random order.’ This is a good description of the style of this novel which uses a conversational tone, flipping from topic to topic, relationship to relationship. Rose says, ‘Most stories don’t really go ahead in straight line.’ This self-conscious narrator frequently refers to writing the book with lines such as ‘so all right, I didn’t get to put too much sex in the last chapter, but I’m still trying to work out how to structure this novel.’

Overall, this novel feels uneven. It makes me want to read other books by Castagna, especially the award-winning ones, to see how they compare with this one.

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