After seeing Kirsten Krauth speak at the Sydney Writers Festival about her novel just_a_girl, Angela (founder of this book club) and I each grabbed a copy. A couple of months later when it was Angela’s turn to choose our monthly read, she chose just_a_girl, and I’m so glad she did. It was great book to read in itself, but also an interesting, complex and very current book to discuss in a group.
I had planned to do a review of just_a_girl myself but as Angela was the chairperson of the book club meeting and had thoroughly researched the different themes of the novel, (as she always does!) I just knew she would be far better to do the review than me.
We discussed the lyrics of No Doubts song ‘Just a Girl’, learnt the symbolism of the transformative moth and talked about the dangers of the internet and of girls growing up to fast. Layla, Kirsten’s protagonist was a particularly interesting character to discuss, as was her mother Margo and the intriguing man Tadashi.
Tune in to Radio National on Friday 8th August at 9am to hear Kirsten Krauth talk about just_a_girl.
For the first ‘Guest Post’ on Welcome to My Library – I welcome Angela Long and her review of just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth.
Author: Kirsten Krauth
Publisher: University of Western Australia Publishing 2013
Category: Adult / YA
Summary: just_a_girl tears into the fabric of contemporary culture. A Puberty Blues for the digital age, a Lolita with a webcam, it’s what happens when young girls are forced to grow up too fast. Or never get the chance to grow up at all. Layla is only 14. She cruises online. She catches trains to meet strangers. Her mother, Margot, never suspects. Even when Layla brings a man into their home. Margot’s caught in her own web: an evangelical church and a charismatic pastor. Meanwhile, downtown, a man opens a suitcase and tenderly places his young lover inside.
just_a_girl is a novel about being isolated and searching for a sense of connection, faith, friendship and healing, and explores what it’s like to grow up negotiating the digital world of facebook, webcams, internet porn, mobile phones and cyberbullying – a world where the line between public and private is increasingly being eroded.
Review by Angela Long: If you feel that the contemporary novel has a responsibility to reflect on the culture and issues of the time and place it is set, then you would agree that ‘just_a_girl’ by Kirsten Krauth, has more than fulfilled it’s brief.
Layla, a 14-year-old schoolgirl from the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, may not be the epitome of every girl her age and in fact there was much debate at our reading, of just how reflective she was; but that’s when you know your writing has been successful. Debate, discussion and analysis; would my daughter do what Layla did? Was I that sexual, brazen, knowledgeable? Is she a symptom of today’s society or has nothing changed?
Layla incites anger, fear, sympathy and empathy in her quest to understand her sexuality and find a place that she belongs. A Lolita for the 21st Century, a nymphet, who, like the moth that flutters through the pages of the novel, is the embodiment of attraction, suggestion and allure, emitting pheromones that she has little control over, but at the same time is acutely aware of their effect. Echoing the Gwen Stefani song of the same name “I’m just a Girl, Guess I’m some kind of freak, Cause they all sit and stare with their eyes’.”
Laylas have existed throughout time but does social media and technology make us more aware of them? Does it make her more vulnerable, more in need of protection? Or are we ourselves simply uncomfortable with someone so young, understanding and embracing their sexuality? In a world where there are more laws than ever to protect children in our society, Krauth questions our perceptions of trust and protection and the blurred line between childhood and adulthood. Should we trust Pastor Bevan the in-control idolised head of the Church, or Tadashi the abstruse man on the train lost in a world of longing and loneliness? Who does Layla trust, her friends, Margot her fragile and distant mother or Geoff, her self-absorbed drunken father? And should Margot trust Layla, as her phone, her computer, her life, sit begging for inspection?
Our century is one of connectivity and instant self gratification however Krauth’s characters are lost in their own worlds of fantasy and disconnection, each avoiding their realities and unable to connect with their emotions. But where the others are caught in the despair of their own choices, Layla openly explores her options. We fear for her as she meets a man in a hotel or sits alone and vulnerable on a train with the drugged up ‘monkeys’ bouncing around her, but we also fear for the choices of Margot, Tadashi and Bevan. Age seems no barrier for poor decisions. Naïve or in control, technologically savvy Layla knows how to make social media work for her. From meetings on-line to her vicious payback when she breaks up with her boyfriend, unlike those around her, she understands her power, after all; ‘Facebook is all about sharing’ ‘I only have to put it online’ ‘It’s only a click of a button’.
Ingénue or nymphet, the choice is ours, either way, Layla and her world are real and relevant, and ‘just_a_girl’ is a must read novel for our time.
Author Bio: Kirsten Krauth has worked in and around words for 20 years, as a writer and editor. She lives in Castlemaine, regional Victoria, nestled into the ever-broadening expanse of writers moving to the region. Her novel just_a_girl was published by UWA Publishing in 2013 to critical and popular acclaim. While it was written as literary fiction for adults, YA readers have loved it too… At her Wild Colonial Girl she blog on her passions (books, writing, authors, film & tv, local artists, family life) including the Writing Mothers series and Friday Night Fictions focusing on debut authors.
Kirsten is also regular contributor to ABC Arts Online where she covers regional arts. She has written personal essays, and film and literary criticism, for Good Weekend, Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Peppermint Magazine, Metro Magazine, Empire, Screen Education, Island Magazine and RealTime, and she has the best job in the world as Commissioning Editor of the NSW Writers’ Centre magazine, Newswrite, and have edited a compilation of best-of articles from Newswrite in an ebook, Talking Writing.
For more information about Kirsten Krauth please visit her website HERE