Title: The Incredible Here and Now
Author: Felicity Castagna
Publisher: Giramondo Publishing
Short-list NSW Premier’s Literary Awards
Short-list Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year: Older Readers.
Summary: Michael’s older brother dies at the beginning of the summer he turns 15, but as its title suggests The Incredible Here and Now is a tale of wonder, not of tragedy. Presented as a series of vignettes, in the tradition of Sandra Cisneros’ Young Adult classic The House on Mango Street, it tells of Michael’s coming of age in a year which brings him grief and romance; and of the place he lives in Western Sydney where ‘those who don’t know any better drive through the neighbourhood and lock their car doors’, and those who do, flourish in its mix of cultures.
Through Michael’s perceptions, the reader becomes familiar with Michael’s community and its surroundings, the unsettled life of his family, the girl he meets at the local pool, the friends that gather in the McDonalds parking lot at night, the white Pontiac Trans Am that lights up his life like a magical talisman. Suitable for young readers from 14 years of age.
My Review: Firstly, I just have to say how much I enjoyed the style of this book. At Katooma for the Sydney Writers’ Festival (see my post Debut Fiction at the Sydney Writers’ Festival), Felicity Castagna talked about how she wrote her novel in the vignette style.
‘A vignette is a short impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or gives a trenchant impression about a character, idea, setting, or object’, or in Felicity’s words – a series of ‘short short stories’. She then put her stories into linear fashion and filled in the gaps. Well, it worked beautifully – the book is so cleverly written.
The chapters, or vignettes, were short, sometimes only half a page to a page or two but within those small scenes she gave us glimpses into Michael’s life, and revealed much more than some writers might do in a long laborious chapter. It was concise, lyrical and addressed the complex issues of death, grief, multiculturalism, first love, friendship and the ‘incredible here and now’ that is happening all around us right now.
It’s not often a reader can immerse themselves within a book that is set in a region that they themselves know well, especially for readers living in the suburbs of Western Sydney. For me as a reader for example – I have been to Paris, so when reading a novel set in Paris I have a slightly heightened sense of the setting, that little thrill of – ‘Oh, I’ve been there – I know that place’, and I through my own experience I can picture the setting in my mind as the character moves through the story.
I loved that sense of place, of Parramatta and surrounds – I definitely felt closer to this story than if it had been set in a suburb of Melbourne. The novel is not so ‘place specific’ that you need to know the area to enjoy the book though – the setting is Michael’s world – but the stories, observations and his life through that hard summer shine through.
I congratulate Felicity Castagna for her short list in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year: Older Readers – what an amazing achievement for her debut novel.
Good luck to her for CBCA Book of the Year!
My Rating: 4.5 stars.
Author Bio:Felicity Castagna spent her youth living and travelling around Asia and North America before moving to Parramatta, where she has worked as a teacher, arts worker and editor for the past ten years. Her collection of short stories Small Indiscretions (Transit Lounge, 2011) was highly praised. She has won the Josephine Ulrick Literature Award and the Qantas Spirit of Youth Award.
This book is reviewed as part of the Australian Women Writers challenge – Join the challenge here.