Finding what you’re not looking for

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What sort of book gets named a ‘Notable Book’ by the Children’s Book Council of Australia in their Book of the Year Awards? Well, the awesome ‘Cloudwish’ for one. And here’s another – ‘A Small Madness’ by Dianne Touchell.

So, what does Touchell offer that makes this book so notable? Here’s what I found out. And if you haven’t read the book, be warned. Because I’m here to discover why and how a book worked, and little spoilers escape everywhere when I put my thoughts down.

The Basics – write well about things people want to read about

This book is beautifully written, simply written, intricately written. It involves themes that are important to Young Adults, indeed all society. Sure, having the main two characters going all the way on Page 1 is one heck of an engaging start. Most people agree your first page has to jump out and grab the reader… but you still need to deliver.

And this book does.

It hauls you in because from the very start you dread what you fear you think you know will happen. And then it turns out worse.

Stress. Strain. All told in this beautifully detached voice.

Ratchet up the tension and make sure we know you are

Touchell does this well by clearly splitting the book into five sections with dark dividers between.

1: 33 pages. Before. Happiness. For the characters anyway. Me? I was biting nails because I could FEEL that it was all going to go terribly bad. Not that I accurately guessed what was coming.

2: 45 pages. Reaction. A really strong representation of how people can react when something goes unexpectedly wrong. In this case, Rose resorts to her mother’s habit of pretending things are okay, while pushing away anything that reminds her it isn’t the case. Michael, however, reels around on his way to discovering for the first time, as many teens do, that his parent’s aren’t always right and infallible. I was reading this expecting the story to play out in a certain way. Not that that should indicate this section wasn’t enthralling reading.

3. 58 pages. Madness.Here is where we discover Touchell explores things well outside the expected. Rose tries to make her own reality, where she simply has a virus she has to shake off, but we know she can’t fight what is inside her. Ignore some things and they won’t go away… We know that… Michael fears that… Rose ignores it. And no one saves them. It’s painful and riveting.

4: 62 pages. Hiding and breaking. Reality bites back, Rose miscarries badly and she and Michael mechanically try to hide the evidence. Her mother tries even harder. But the damage is done and the cracks are tearing through both families.

5: 29 pages. Truth and healing. It’s a relief, truly it is, to know it’s all coming out in the open. And the final page gives that beautiful, circular hope and reminds us how well we can heal.

I don’t like dark YA, more likely to leave the readers worse of than when they started. ‘A Small Madness’ isn’t like that. It is heavy, it is gripping, but it is also laced throughout with the strength of friendship, love and the human spirit.

Complex characters, every one

Possibly one of the strongest parts of this book. No one here is a stereotype. No one is totally good, or totally bad. These are normal people, making mistakes but for the best reasons they can find. Liv’s mum? How wonderful is her relationship with her daughter, where Liv is completely okay with going to her mum for help? And yet, she’s led Liv down a path that a lot of parents may cringe at. Michael’s brother? So supportive, so self-centred, so superior. I want to hit him and cheer him in succession.

These characters are a key strength, and they can’t have been easy to make. Or maybe they were, in which case, wow – Dianne’s totally amazing and I envy her.

 

Touchell portrays the dangerous power in self-control. But she doesn’t glamourise it. ‘A Small Madness’ is certainly Notable.

Is it the sort of book I normally read?

No. I like books you can escape into, where you go to bed at night imagining yourself a part of that world. But I’m richer for having read it. Touchell tells us People rarely see what they are not looking for. I didn’t know I was looking for this. But I found it.

 

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