20,000 words in 12 days

Because it’s not about how fast you run the race, it’s about finishing it.

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In the last 12 days, I’ve written over 20,000 words. But I let myself down on Thursday and wrote absolutely nothing. But instead of scolding myself for not writing, I’m treating myself with care. I didn’t write my 1667 words yesterday but I did write something and today was the same. Tomorrow I’ll probably write more. I knew this week was going to be hard as it is a busy time of year for me at work and it proved to be not as horrible as I thought.

I expected NaNoWriMo to be like when I first ran 10km. The first kilometre is exciting and fast as you run together in a group. You run faster as you’re excited about being with all these other people. Then you realise you can’t keep up the same pace the whole way. You need to slow down and feel dejected. As people run past you in the next few kilometres you feel bummed and feel slow. You’re not sure why you decided to do this. Maybe you should just walk as you’re not jogging very fast.

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But then you hit the halfway mark and you suddenly feel your energies rising again. You can do this. You get into a good pace that you maintain until the last kilometre. Then you pick up the pace. Then you sprint as you hit the 500-meter mark and as you cross the finish line you’re exhausted, hurting and bursting with pride that you managed to finish much faster than you thought.

 

Right now I’m finding my pace to get me through the next 22,000 words without tearing my hair out or injuring myself. I’m finding that I write between 500 – 800 words in the morning and the same at night. However, the time it takes to get there varies. Sometimes I write for 45 minutes in the morning and an hour at night. Sometimes, I write for 2 hours at night to get to the same point.

And sometimes, like Thursday I do nothing because I am so exhausted I just need to sleep. When I first had to slow down and walk during my first 10km run I felt so dejected as it was so early on in the race. But then I realised, it was okay to take a breather. I would tell myself, you can walk to that tree then you need to start jogging again. And so there were times I walked during my first run. In my second 10km run a year later, I needed to walk less but if you’re body needs a breather, give it a breather. But don’t confuse give yourself too long of a break. Just enough of a break so you can get to the next milestone.

 

I have had my break and now I’m determined to get to the halfway point by next week. I’m sure there will be another break as I approach the 35,000-word mark and maybe again. But I know I have two days off at the end of November in which I will probably sprint the last 10,000 words. Maybe I’ll just scrap the 50,000 or maybe I’ll exceed it.

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But whatever happens. I will get to the finish line in my own time. Because it’s not about how fast you run the race, it’s about finishing it.

Why do male antiheroes get more adoration than female ones?

Will be a point when writers can write complex morally dubious female characters and have them admired as much as their male counterparts?

I’ve been a bit quiet lately as I’ve been preparing for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which starts tomorrow. My idea for NaNoWriMo involves a lot of incredibly flawed characters exploring trauma and revenge. I’ve been watching a lot of anime to get into this headspace, specifically Code Geass, Death Note and Elfen Lied. I enjoy dark stories with flawed characters because it delves into the dark part of humanity we’re all capable of. There is a very slim line between the antihero and the villain depending on the type of antihero.

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However, I’ve noticed the most popular antiheroes tend to be men and they tend to get more adoration than female antiheroes. Why is it as an audience and a society we are more forgiving of the things men do? For example, many people hate Breaking Bad’s Skyler White and root for Walter White despite Walter do far more despicable things than Skyler ever does. It got so bad that the actress who played Skyler, Anna Gunn wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about the vitriolic response her character received.

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Light Yagami from Death Note is another example of a character who does horrendous things and yet he gets a pass because he’s a handsome young genius. His supposed ‘good’ motivation of killing criminals is quickly thrown aside as he begins to play games with the Japanese Police Force. He’s a full blown sociopath and yet somehow I was still rooting for him to win for some bizarre reason. Despite the fact that every woman in the show was a sexy lamp I still found it a compelling watch and would definitely watch it again. There is something so addictive about watching Light indulge his darkest desires and god complex. His crazy laugh is also something to behold 

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Then there is Elfen Lied which is the most gut wrenching thing I have ever watched. Absolutely everybody in the show manages to be horrible but sympathetic at the same time. It was so dark I was depressed for days after watching it. Yet I’d probably watch it again as it is a very complex tale about identity, revenge, regret and the nature of humanity. It also features two female antiheroes which was a nice change after watching the sausage fest that is Death Note. However, almost everybody in the show is tragic and flawed so it takes a bit of the impact away from the female antiheroes as there is no morally superior person to contrast against.

 

There still seems to be a shortage of compelling, complicated women as antiheroes that are adored the same way their male counterparts are. There has been a lot written about female likeability and it will continue to be an issue in fiction as it is in real life.

 

As I contemplate my own work I’m about to embark on for NaNoWriMo which sees a female protagonist slowly descend into darkness. I want to know if there will be a point when writers can write complex morally dubious female characters and have them admired as much as their male counterparts?

 

 

 

 

 

Discarding survival of the fittest (Part 4)

Defying Doomsday comes full circle with the final three stories.

This review contains spoilers for Defying Doomsday.

What If: the world ended and you had a disability or were chronically ill.

Defying Doomsday takes this “What If” scenario and explores it across fifteen short stories. Each story does this incredibly differently.  This post explores four of the short stories and how they approach the scenario. Check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

 

Spider Silk, Strong as Steel – Samantha Rich

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Humanity we know it no longer exists due to giant spiders taking over the world. When it’s written like that it sounds cheesy but the story doesn’t dwell on the why or the bigger picture of the world. It focuses on Emm who uses a board on wheels to get around. It doesn’t specify why but it is stated people in her community tried to cast her out before they realised she could go into the spiders dens and collect items. Now she’s treated with distant reverence. The story focuses on Emm getting ready for a ‘hunt’ where she goes into the spiders den on her board. Superstition and ritual are emphasised throughout the story such as Emm sleeping late and treating her board almost like a person.

Most of the story focuses on her going through the lair and out of all the stories in this collection, this one scared the absolute hell out of me. Giant spiders are gross and she’s sneaking through this lair pulling herself along with ‘silk’ and I was on edge the entire time I read it through. I have mentioned previously that some of the stories had too much cramed into them. Spider Silk, Strong as Steel was a wonderful and terrifying story. There was no big explanation as to why Emm couldn’t use her legs nor how the world ended up like this. It was just a slice of life in the day of a young woman who also has a disability trying to survive.

No Shit by K L Evangelista

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A plague has ravaged Australia. The story starts with Jane burying her parents. Despite this rather grim task her sarcastic tone gives immediately sets the tone for the story. “Let’s be clear up front. I didn’t kill my parents. I loved them. The plague killed them, and everyone else.”

Jane spends the next few days getting drunk and trying to find other survivors in Woolgoolga, NSW. Eventually she finds another survivor called Sam who is living in a Winnebago collecting books such as Dealing with Change and Composting Toilets. They both make a joke about not wanting to deal with sewerage (No Shit) and decide it will be the unofficial motto of their survival group. The tone of the whole story is incredibly light and amusing despite the fact these two are seemingly the last two people around.

They manage to find a professional FM transmitter and start tagging the places they go with graffiti stating Jane and Sam Alive at 5pm. They start travelling up towards Brisbane and broadcasting their message. You get a fair way through Jane’s hilarious and biting commentary before you find out she’s got Crohn’s disease which affects her bowels. Sam gets angry about her not opening up and you realise the hilarious commentary is more of a defence mechanism. Even as the narrator of her own story she doesn’t reveal this to us. They get to Brisbane and find a hospital with full energy but empty. Jane wonders why they’re not rerouting power and you get the second big reveal about her character – she’s an electrical engineer. They meet a doctor in the hospital who has a theory that the people who survived the plague all have autoimmune diseases – Sam had orchidness, Jane has Crohn’s and the doctor has MS. If this is actually correct the story doesn’t delve into it as Jane and Sam head to Mount Cootha where they’re met with applause from their fans.

This was such a great story as Jane’s voice was so strong from the outset but also allowed the reader to slowly uncover her secrets with Sam. I like that the autoimmune disease survival theory was thrown in but not explored too deeply. I’d honestly read more of Sam and Jane’s adventures as they navigated the post-apocalyptic Australian East Coast in a Winnebago.

I will remember you – Janet Edwards

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On day zero, an alien spaceship hovers over Corlforth St Peter and the USA tries to attack it. The weapons do nothing. On day one blue dots started appearing on people’s hands. The dots signified the day you were going to die. The main character Megan doesn’t have any dots on her hand as she was born without one. She assumes she will die on day five like her parents. The last day before they prepare to die is a horrible heart wrenching thing to read. They’re so calm and just eating dinner. They then go out to sit in a trench with all the other day fives to die. Megan’s mother dies midsentence and it’s so sad to read. It takes a while to realise Megan’s not actually dead. She finds out that some people have not been marked for death and they’re the heirs of humanity. Megan goes to the trenches and tells people she will remember them. They give her photos and write messages on the back. Another village has an heir but its six month old baby. Megan agrees to look after him and they set her up on a farm so she will be able to survive when everyone is gone. Another heir is found but he refuses to meet Megan until day fourteen, when everyone will be dead. As the last of the people die, Megan prepares herself for the reality she is going to be alone with a baby and a complete stranger. The other heir is a seventeen year old boy and the two of them watch as the alien spaceship leaves, their cleansing of the earth complete. As the ship flies away Megan mutters “I will remember you.”

This story was amazingly gut wrenching. From the opening of Megan describing her last day with her parents to the slow build-up of Megan knowing everyone around her was going to die was so well written. It didn’t feel melodramatic but you felt such horror at the events unfolding completely out of everyone’s control. This was the last story in the collection and it was such a great way to end. I don’t know if it was intentional but it felt like the collection came full circle – the opening story, And the rest of us wait, saw a teenage girl singing and rallying her community while I will remember you was a teenage girl watching her entire community die.

Do you think that traditionally survival and post-apocalyptic stories over favour survival of the fitness rather than luck? Would you survive the apocalypse? Start a conversation below or share on social media.

4 Dystopian Futures Set in the Past (and how they read now)

4 books with terrifying futures set in the past…..

  1. 1984 by George Orwell

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Released in 1949, George Orwell’s 1984 was a response to the end of World War 2 and the start of the Cold War. Many of its cultural references such as “big brother”, “group think”, “thought crime” and “newspeak” are still in common use 67 years later. It was the basis for the term “Orwellian” which is often used to describe heavy authoritarian societies.  The main themes of surveillance, censorship and nationalism are still relevant today.

 

How does it read today?

It’s very clumsily written with a good third of the book is Orwell bombastically describing the history of their society like a textbook. The plot itself is fairly thin and moves at a glacial pace. There are so many other works out there exploring the same themes that you’d be excused if you only have read the Wikipedia page instead of the work itself.

 

That being said, despite the fact you’re reading about a future set over 30 years in the past it still have relevance today and if you understand the true historical context of the book (being one of the first modern post World War 2 dystopian works) and its cultural influence, it is worth a read. However if you’re looking for a great moving plot, characters and an easy to read writing style. Give this one a miss.

 

  1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Published in 1953, it was a response to censorship and the dumbing down of society in general by television and other mass media. It is set in a future society where books are outlawed and firemen burn any they find. The date isn’t actually specifically stated in the book although if you do research 2053 seems to be a common answer. So technically, it’s still considered the future although you can immediately tell it was written pre-2000 as there is no mention of the internet or mobile phones so that’s how I’m allowing it in on the list. Funnily enough, it has found itself of banned book lists many times in it 63 year publication history.

 

How does it read today?

It’s actually a very short book and the writing style is easy to read. The themes are still incredibly relevant over 60 years later and the only thing that gives away the age of the book is the absence of the internet and mobile phones. Otherwise, you could be reading an accurate future for our current society. Definitely worth reading on its own even without the historical context that inspired the author.

 

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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I’m going to be upfront about this – The Handmaid’s Tale is the one book I’d take on a deserted island to read. It has been a huge influence on me as a writer so I will try my best not to let that influence my analysis too much.

 

Published in 1985, the Handmaid’s Tale is set in a near future North America where a totalitarian Christian organisation overthrows the US government and establish the republic of Gilead based on Old Testament religious fanaticism, part of this is severely limiting women’s rights. While the timeframe it is set isn’t specifically stated, it is mentioned that the birth rates started tapering off in the 1980’s so it’s assumed its set in the early 2000’s. It explores the themes of gender, religion, politics and the power of language.

 

How does it read today?

It is an easy to read book with relevant themes and requires absolutely zero need for historical context. It could have been written today as the idea of the Gilead government is to regress society, therefore references to outdated technology make complete sense.

 

  1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K Dick

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Published in 1968, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is set in 1992 post-apocalyptic San Francisco where a nuclear war has destroyed much of the environment. The UN encourages people to migrate to off world colonies by using the incentive of free androids. Androids are banned on Earth to further assist this process. The themes focus on what it means to be human and what is reality.

 

How does it read today?

Phillip K Dick’s style of writing is designed so you need to reread his work to get every meaning. It’s difficult as its classic scifi that predicts nuclear war, robots and flying cars which all feel incredibly dated in today’s society. Being a child of the 90’s meant that the immediate threat of nuclear war wasn’t something I experienced as I missed the Cold War. The thing that saves it is this isn’t a book about robots or nuclear war but about the classic age old question “what does it mean to be human?” I also recommend you read the book before you watch the very well-known film adaption Blade Runner as they are two very different beasts but both amazing.

 

I really should have talked about Brave New World as well but I haven’t got around to reading it yet. What are your thoughts of on these books? Are there any I should have also explored? Start a conversation by commenting below or sharing on social media.

 

 

 

Six degrees of post-apocalyptic separation

Same What If Different Execution – The Stand versus Station Eleven .

Welcome to the first in the “Same What If” series. These are posts that compare novels that have the same “What If” Scenario and compare the execution. First up in the series – Stephen King’s The Stand versus Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven. This post contains major spoilers for both books.

What If: The majority of the world’s population is wiped out by a deadly disease and the survivors must rise up against a greater evil that rises from the ashes.

The Execution

Stand

The Stand starts in June 1980 (1990 in the uncut edition) when a weaponised strain of influenza is accidently released from a remote US Army base. As 99 percent of the world’s population dies, King focuses on a group of survivors who all have dreams of a 108-year-old woman called Abagail Freemantle. All the survivors begin to gravite to Nebraska where Abagail lives and find out how they’re all connected to fight a great evil that is brewing in Las Vagas, Nerada.

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Station Eleven starts in the mid to late 2010’s when a Swine Flu epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population. Twenty years, a group of actors and musicians known as the travelling symphony find themselves coming up against an evil cult with a charismatic leader.

 

Setting

Time and place are incredibly important to the narratives of both The Stand and Station Eleven. Technology of the time are critical to the spreading of the disaster at the beginning of both books. I struggled with The Stand’s technology and pop culture references as the book is set 10 years before I was born. I didn’t feel such a strong connection to the touchstones of pop culture the same way I did with Station Eleven. I wonder if readers ten years from now will have this issue with Station Eleven. The pop culture references are supposed to tug at the heartstrings of readers to remind them that the world the characters live in is not so far from our own. It sometimes works, it sometime doesn’t. King is renowned for his propensity to overload his writing with pop culture references. It can be a bit distracting at times, especially since the references are now over thirty years old. Mandel uses pop culture sparingly however she flashes the story forward so the characters have less time to mull on these references whereas King’s story only spans a year.

 

Characters

The Stand and Station Eleven have large casts of characters that are all interconnected. The richness of the cast of characters is why both books are so excellent. It would be impossible to write about each of the characters so I will focus on the main cast who moves the story forward.

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Station Eleven’s Cast

Arthur Leander is a successful film and theatre actor who dies the first night of the epidemic. He is the key connector to all the characters.

Kirsten Raymonde is a child actor from Toronto who witnesses Arthur Leander’s onstage death. Before he dies, he gives her a graphic novel called Station Eleven which is written by his first ex-wife. She is the main narrator when the book flashes forward twenty years. She is part of the travelling theatre troupe and is obsessed with Arthur Leander and the graphic novel he left her.

Tyler Leander is the son of Arthur and his second wife Elizabeth. Arthur gives him the only other copy of the Station Eleven graphic novel. He is stranded at Severn airport when the epidemic begins. He becomes the leader of a cult and is the main antagonist.

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The Stand’s Cast

Abagail Freemantle known as Mother Abagail is a 108-year-old woman living in Nebraska. She appears to the survivors in dreams and urges them to go to Boulder, Colorado. She has visions from God and prophesises the final stand against Randall Flagg, the main evil of the story.

Randle Flagg known as the man in black is the main evil in the story. He is the evil across multiple of King’s novels. He is presented as an otherworldly demon who is never killed rather defeated. Like mother Abagail, he appears to survivors in dreams and attracts those who are drawn to destruction and power.

Stuart Redman is one of the first people exposed to the plague and survives. He becomes one of the key authority figures in the Boulder Free Zone where the ‘good’ survivors establish a settlement. He is one of four people who go to face Randall Flagg in Las Vegas. He is the ‘everyman’ character who the reader is supposed to identify with however he’s also the most black and white character of the cast.

Larry Underwood is a successful young singer who achieves fame with his debut single “Baby, Can you dig your man?” He falls into the wrong crowd in LA and moves back to New York with his mother just as the epidemic hits.

Nick Andros is a deaf-mute from Nebraska who survives the plague and has the most vivid dreams of Mother Abagail. He leads survivors to Mother Abagail and then becomes the leader of the free zone committee.

 

Overall

While both works explore the concept of good and evil in a post-apocalyptic setting The Stand explores it on a macro level with a large ‘good’ verses ‘evil’ battle while Station Eleven explores it on a micro level with more shades of grey and ambiguity.

King has a much larger cast of characters than Mandel however King’s work is much longer. King is known for his predilection for writing long meandering works sometimes to his disadvantage. As wonderful and powerful as the Stand is, it’s a long read that could have been made better with tighter editing. Mandel’s work on the other hand doesn’t meander too much into mysticism and cynicism the same way King does but it doesn’t have the same sense of grandness that The Stand has.

Ultimately, both works are fantastic explorations of good and evil and human nature.

 

 

Is this Australia’s best YA novel?

As much as I love Looking for Alibrandi, On the Jellicoe Road is Melina Marchetta’s magnum opus.

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What If: a young woman abandoned by her mother as a child starts examining her past.

 

The Execution:

 

Seventeen year old Taylor Markham is a student at the Jellicoe School, a state run boarding school. Her past is a mystery she tries to unravel. All she knows is she was abandoned by her mother at eleven years old at the 7/11 outside Jellicoe. Then only a few minutes later she was found by Hannah, who lives at the Jellicoe School. She feels like Hannah knows something about her past and her mother but won’t tell her.

 

Thrown in a bunch of sub plots that all interconnect such as the wars between the school, the townies and the cadets, a serial killer, Hannah’s manuscript and a will they won’t they romance and it all combines to make such a richly layered work.

 

This story is the type of book you’re not really sure about when you first read it and then you get to the end and realise it all connects. Then you want to go back and read it again with a more critical eye.

 

I have read this book many times and it’s the execution that keeps me going back. The first read you’re spending so much time trying to figure out how it all connects but the second read you realise how multilayered and rich all the characters are.

 

 

Setting:

 

The majority of the story is set in and around the Jellicoe School which is roughly located a few hours from Sydney. Despite Jellicoe being entirely fictional, Marchetta paints the picture of the school and the surrounds with such loving language. The Prayer Tree, Hannah’s House, the Jellicoe Road, the School and the town felt like real living places rather than just a backdrop. The setting is critically important which is why the setting is the title. The word pictures to paint the description of Jellicoe make it seem like a dream like place with a soporific quality.

 

“It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La.”

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Characters:

 

Marchetta does characters well. They feel like people you’d meet in the street, that you’d want to be friends with. One of the reasons I re-read the story so much is that I love the characters. Even the small ones like Santangelo’s mother who only gets like two scenes in the entire novel. Those two scenes make me want to hear an entire story about her.

 

Main Characters:

 

Taylor Markham is the narrator and protagonist of the story. Her voice is incredibly strong and distinct but also works as an unreliable narrator due to the trauma of her early childhood. How Taylor describes the other characters makes them feel like living breathing people, even the very minor characters. The book is obviously set in Australia and the characters are Australian but it doesn’t feel heavy handed or jarring.

 

Jonah Griggs is the antagonist of the story. He is the leader of the army cadets from Sydney that come to Jellicoe every summer to camp. He comes across as gruff and hard but like Taylor has had a life filled with grief. He is incredibly strong and has fun antagonising the students of Jellicoe as part of the ‘war’.

 

Chaz Santangelo is the leader of the Townies, the teens who live in Jellicoe. He is of Aboriginal and Italian descent and his parents are the Mayor and the Chief of Police respectively. He has the type of confident that comes from living in a small close knit community and is very sure of himself. However, it has it downsides such as getting thrown into the watch house by your dad for causing a fight. He and Raffy have crazy sexual tension although he does develop a nice bro-mance with Jonah as the story goes on.

 

Raffy is a townie but goes to the Jellicoe School as her parents are teachers at the Jellicoe high school. She has known Chaz since she was a child and the familiarity with each other’s history makes for great interest. Her mothering nature clashes with Taylor’s fierce independent nature but she’s the closest friend Taylor has.

 

Hannah is the closest thing Taylor has to family yet they have a distant relationship as Taylor senses Hannah knows the answers to her deepest darkest questions about her mother and her father. Hannah’s absence is one of the main drivers of the story. She is also the author of the parallel story told about the young people living in Jellicoe in the 1980’s that Taylor reads.

 

The Brigadier is the mysterious presence that found Taylor and Jonah when they ran away years ago. Taylor believes he is connected to a series of disappearances that have been happening around Jellicoe for the last decade.

 

 

Themes:

 

Identity:

 

Taylor believes she doesn’t know who she is as she has little connection or memory to her past. This is reinforced by Raffy and Santangelo’s relationship that is based on shared history having grown up together in a small town. She feels disconnected from everyone and doesn’t feel she fits in despite being the leader of the School.

 

Family:

 

Taylor’s lack of family is such a strong theme throughout the book however she realises she has an unconventional family in the students of the school and in Hannah. The contrast to Taylor and Jonah’s experience of families to Raffy’s and Santangelo’s close knit families shows the wide spectrum of how families operate.

 

Friendship:

Hannah’s manuscript about the five young people living in Jellicoe serves as a parallel story to the main storyline. The theme of friendship, family and identity are echoed in this story within the story. Marchetta shows the idealistic friendships of youth so well in both the main storyline and the story within the story.

 

Final Thoughts:

 

Melina Marchetta is best known for her 1992 young adult smash hit Looking for Alibrandi. She is incredibly talented at writing compelling characters that you want to read over and over. As much as I love Looking for Alibrandi, On the Jellicoe Road is Melina Marchetta’s magnum opus. The layers of character, setting and subplots make it the type of book you’ll read over and over.

 

About the Book:

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta won the US Printz Award and was shortlisted for the ABIA Awards and the Queensland Premier’s Awards.

 

Agree? Disagree? Other thoughts? Start a conversation by commenting below or sharing on social media.

 

The horrifying future of Australia’s foster care system

Welcome to Orphancorp is a great young adult read touching on a number of issues with a unique voice. Set in a dystopian near future Australia where the foster care and prison systems have been given to a private corporation, it explores the themes of sexuality, institutional abuse and race with sensitivity and wit.

Welcome to Orphancorp

This review/analysis contains mild spoilers for Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward.

 

What If:

Australia outsourced the role of providing foster care and prisons to a for profit corporation.

 

The Execution:

The story is told through the perspective of 17-year-old Mirii. She is one week shy of her 18th birthday and escaping the Orphancorp system. The story starts when she is transferred into a new facility. This gives us the perspective that even though she is seasoned in the system that it’s still full of new characters. If she is good she will be released and if she misbehaves she will ended up in a Prisoncorp.

 

This delicate balance between her rebellious nature and the opportunity to escape the system that has been repressing her as a child is the main internal struggle for Mirii.

 

Characters:

Miriiyanan Mahoney (known as Mirii) is the narrator of Welcome to Orphancorp. She is a week off being eighteen and has been in the system for years. She is a wiz at gadgets and tattoos. Despite being the narrator you don’t a lot of insight into her past, just glimpses such as memories of her parents. She’s more interested in telling you how she knows the system and how she survives which can be interpreted as a defence mechanism for the horrifying life she’s led so far. She comes across as incredibly intelligent, sarcastic and insightful. She still manages to make meaningful connections with others in the house, knowing the relationships she makes could be pulled apart at any time.

 

There are numerous characters who show up only for a few moments which gives the realistic feeling of being in a large institution but is sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s who. It also feels like no one is truly fleshed out as a character other than Mirii as she doesn’t get time to get to know her roommates other than superficially. It does occasionally feel like some characters served to move the plot along such as the tech wiz at the very end.

 

The secondary characters that stood out:

 

Cam works with Mirii in the workshop as her runner. He is significantly younger than her and she is incredibly hostile to him at first. She sees the younger children as trouble. She warms up to Cam and advises him to go to school so he can at least have some smarts about him when he gets out.

 

Freya is set up as the antagonist early on in the story when Mirii catches her as she’s trying to escape. Despite Freya causing issues for Mirii, ultimately she isn’t the main antagonist of the story. She’s just like Mirii – trying to survive and escape the system. The system itself is the ultimate antagonist and the aunts and uncles serve it.

 

Setting:

The entire story is set within Verity House which is described as “a big grey box straddling an entire city block.” The technology and slang imply it is set in a not-to-distant future but we don’t get much of an outline about how updated technology is other than what serves the story. The technology is almost an afterthought and merely a plot device, the strength in the story doesn’t come from the setting or the technology but rather the characters themselves.

 

Themes:

 

Sexuality

Mirii never states she’s bisexual but early on she says “I can’t tell if they’re male or female, but it doesn’t matter because sweet babes need no gender.” The use of sexuality as another means to survive the system is incorporated seamlessly into the narrative and there are never any “ick” moments, despite the orgy that happens halfway through.

 

Privatisation of State Services

The concept of privatising the foster care and prison system seem farfetched in the current Australian system.  On closer inspection of our history as well as the American trend to farm out services previously provided by the state to corporations, it suddenly isn’t a huge leap of the imagination.

 

The business model plays on current trends in the foster care and prison system. Statistically, a ward of the state is more likely to not complete education, have unplanned pregnancies, end up in prison or experience mental illness. The fact that a corporation has decided to use this to gain profit is ingenious and horrifying at the same time.

 

Abuse and Neglect in Institutions

The physical, emotional and sexual abuse of institutions is touched upon in the delivery of Mirii’s narration as well as how the characters interact with each other. The reliance on sexual intimacy to replace the emotional support given by parents is what begins the orgy scene. It feels like a natural by-product of the environment. There is no outright depiction of sexual abuse but it is stated that the uncles have inappropriate relationships with girls in exchanges for drugs and protection. The physical abuse is the only abuse that is outright depicted with Mirii in starting the story in shackles and a gag.

 

Race:

Race is lightly touched upon in the story. Mirii believes she is Indigenous as her name means shooting star in Gamilaraay but she does concede she only knows this because she looked it up. Otherwise, she has no connection to her culture other than her name and a brief memory of a dark skinned woman she believes was her mother.. She scolds a younger resident on using derogatory terms towards Aboriginal people. It isn’t a major component of the story but it feels right to be in there due to the over-representation of Indigenous children currently in the foster care and prison systems.

 

Final Thoughts:

Welcome to Orphancorp is a great young adult read touching on a number of issues with a unique voice. Set in a dystopian near future Australia where the foster care and prison systems have been given to a private corporation, it explores the themes of sexuality, institutional abuse and race with sensitivity and wit. The restricted viewpoint of Mirii gives readers a glimpse into the results of a terrifying future for disadvantaged young people but also holding a mirror to current issues within the system. It is a solid debut novella from Marlee Jane Ward.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward won Seizure’s Viva La Novella 3 and the 2016 Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction. It was shortlisted for the NSW Premiers Award, Aurealis Award and the Norma K Hemming Award. It is available from Seizure, Amazon, iBooks, Google Play, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Gleebooks and Readings.

 

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