Thursday, 29 April 2010

Wasted by Nicola Morgan

I bought this one because I follow Nicola's blog, and she seemed so excited about this book's publication, I wanted to see what it was all about. It's a YA novel. Sadly I am not a YA, and therefore am not its intended audience. Also I now realised that I didn't actually realise what a YA novel really is. I suppose I thought it meant roughly the same as a crossover novel, ie one meant for kids but which also appeals to adults, like the Harry Potter series. But no, Wasted is an entirely different thing. It's aimed, I would say, at older teenagers. Fifteen and upwards. I think I'd have loved it when I was seventeen.

Actually I should rephrase that. I think I would first have loved it aged seventeen. I'm 44 now, and loved it anyway. When I bought it, I thought I'd pass it on to my kids. My older son (now 15) might like it in couple of years time (though there are no battling Romans or exploding orcs in it, so his tastes will need to broaden first). My younger son (now 12) is definitely too young for some of the themes.

That's what surprised me most about this book - the underage drinking, getting into clubs on false ids, spiked drinks, knife crime, alcoholism. Yes, all this goes on in real life. Yes, I guess all kids of the target audience range will be aware, to a greater or lesser extent, of all this. But I was surprised these things make it into books aimed at teens. (That's why I said I realise now I didn't know what YA fiction really was. When I was that age, there was no such genre. When you grew out of Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransome, you read your mum's Catherine Cooksons and Shirley Conrans, or your dad's Arthur C Clarks. Well, that's what I did anyway. It was that or my brother's Commando comics.)

Anyway the novel's been an education to me, in many ways. So what did I think of it?

Well, as I said, I loved it. Great voice. I would have said I don't like third person present tense, but it's absolutely right for this book. The language is simple and slightly staccato, but the prose is so well-formed it pulls you along quickly. The viewpoint is omniscient, we are hovering over the action, knowing everyone's thoughts, being given hints all through that tiny actions and decisions the characters make now are going to have unguessable and far-reaching consequences for them.

Because that's what the book's about - chance and luck, and infinite possible futures.

The time frame of the book is those halcyon days at the end of the summer term, when you've finished your last exams and are therefore free to do what you like. Jess joins a band and falls in love with Jack. Jack's obsessed with tossing a coin to make decisions, to make a sacrifice to fate in order to ward off bad luck. There's a gang of tarty girls who've got it in for the pair of them. Some bad stuff happens. Some bad stuff nearly happens. As the novel progresses, two versions of some chapters are given, to show how tiny differences can have huge effects on events. At the end the reader is invited to toss a coin to decide the final outcome. (I got heads. Sorry, Jack.)

It's a very unusual book, in terms of the voice, the theme and the structure. I hope it does very well.


  1. Thank you so very much for that! It always surprises me when people are surprised at what YA fiction consists of and I am delighted to have opened your eyes and in a good way. I agree it's aimed at older teenagers, not I think because there's anything for anyone younger to worry about but because a younger reader is unlikely to get the full pleasure from it as they may not understand some themes, as you say. But I am someone who believes anyone should read any book at any age and I know some 12 year-olds will read Wasted and I'm not too worried about that. If they don't get it, they'll drop it.

    Thanks again - I hugely appreciate your time in reading the book and writing your feelings about it.

  2. I think the YA novel market has really come on in leaps and bounds. I often choose books for my students in the age bracket and have a quick read first to make sure they're suitable. Many are excellent. Haven't yet read Wasted but have heard lots of good things about it...