Love stories in blue covers and alternating narratives

Despite the different themes and agendas, these two new YA novels from Pan Macmillan do have things in common, including both being told in alternating chapters from each character’s point of view.

minaDeep blue.jpgWhen Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah  is set in Sydney amid the refugee debate, the alternating narrative between the two main characters reiterating the idea that there are two sides to every story – even if one side is clearly influenced by ill-informed, Islamophobic parents and easily swayed – and ultimately showing a more compassionate way to live.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley is set in a whimsical second bookshop where people hide letters to loved ones in significant copies of texts and secretly grieve for those they’ve lost.

The first novel is politically charged, topical and raises serious concerns about social justice and the dangerous views held by those who don’t welcome refugees and migrants to Australia’s shores. The second references some of my favourite books and poems – Great Expectations, Cloud Atlas, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock – and shows how these shape our understanding of love, death, knowing and how they can draw us closer to each other.

Both novels show the developing relationship between two teenagers. There’s Michael, proudly standing by his family and their ‘Aussie Values’ but attracted to Mina who arrives at his school from Afghanistan, via Auburn. Mina’s initial dislike of Michael is completely understandable given his views on immigration, but she stands her ground and is determined to show him another perspective. The other novel has Henry and Rachel, best friends for years, briefly estranged and inevitably destined to be together. There’s the complication of Amy – demanding, beautiful, unobtainable – and the lost letter Rachel wrote declaring her love, but ultimately this is a charming journey of friendship and love.

Rachel and Mina are both grieving for lost siblings. It’s difficult to talk about for both of them and their losses makes them more complex than others can comprehend. Rachel helps us understand more about the dead and develops her own ideas about souls and memory in relation to what she reads. I love that David Mitchell’s transmigration of souls comes into this book in a way that changes a character’s understanding of the world.

I feel like every time I finish reading a book my understanding of life is altered just a little more and through this understanding, living becomes just a little bit easier. I think Rachel and Henry would like that idea. Words in Deep Blue gently helps readers navigate the unexpected changes and losses of life without ever feeling preachy or forced. There are more specific understandings that we gain from books too and When Michael Met Mina shows us what it’s like to have to move to a new country out of fear and embark on a dangerous and horrifying journey, hoping for safety. Michael learns about this through getting to know Mina and it’s an important lesson for all of us.

When Michael Met Mina has a strong purpose and a point of view that shifts in the way the author hopes others will also shift their perspectives. The high school dynamics are believable and real difficulties of Mina’s family are held up as a way to examine current society.

Words in Deep Blue is a more timeless story and although the cast of characters are still distinct people the messages are much more subtle. They are patient with each other, kind when they’re called on and most appealingly they all read, talk about what they read and look at the world differently depending on what they read.

Both hold important messages; both books highly recommended.

See your memories

I’ve become a little obsessed with facebook’s “see your memories” thingy whereby you can see exactly how similar you were feeling about life on this day last year, the year before or even back in 2007. It’s horrifying to see firstly how quickly a year has gone by and secondly how much has or has not changed in that 12 months. Horrifying but also sometimes affirming.

Here’s something from 13 months ago:


Although I see no evidence of this actually happening, I’m still convinced it’s what the world needs. There are some stroppy, fiery, speak-before-they-think people running significant parts of this world and they’ll try and change us – make us feel that our ideas and decisions are less because we communicate them calmly; that our feelings and instincts are nothing compared to their grand plans and loud demands – but we won’t change.

Sadly, I think society still sees strength as anger over reasoning; volume, rather than integrity; busting things apart, rather than holding them together. But many of us are not impulsive or naturally angry people and our strength comes from the gentle, deliberate and well-considered way we approach things. We agonise over decisions because we know the impacts can be far-reaching and we take on many different points of view and consider them in own our time before forming strong opinions. We reflect on ourselves and make a point of being consistent and professional and never losing our shit in public. Other people might not always see that as strength, but as long as we’re acting in accordance to our values and taking our own feelings and beliefs seriously… well, frankly, other people can piss off.

About 5 years ago I was musing on this from a slightly different angle. I was thinking about how we can trust things to be okay for cosmic and scientific reasons and that there’s logic and necessity behind feeling all the feelings there are to be felt. The part I hadn’t realised at this point though was about trusting those feelings. That post five years ago ended with two questions I can now answer: You can and Yes. I realise now that we must trust our feelings. In fact our own feelings are often the only true and honest things we can know. It’s rare but refreshing to find other people who can also see this. More often than not people are invalidating our feelings, telling us to “cheer up”, “harden up” and to stop being “so dramatic.” People will react to our expressions of emotion with “it’s not that bad” or “it’s not that funny” (my most hated phrase to hear – I’ll laugh like a lunatic if I want to!) So rarely do people just let you feel what you’re feeling for a bit. Likewise, society has taught us that we can change people’s minds. Again this is invalidating especially for those of us who have carefully considered each decision we’ve ever made. In childhood we can quickly learn that “no” doesn’t necessarily mean “no” and that nagging, whiney, goading, pleading, bullying and persisting will get us what we want. Holding onto this belief into adulthood is dangerous and disrespectful and encountering it is a constant test of my resolve that strength is integrity and I shouldn’t have to raise my voice or cause a scene to be listened to.

My utopia is still a world run by calm and thoughtful people. People who listen to each other, trust their own instincts and make well-considered decisions based on feelings. If I continue to look back on my posts year after year, I want to still feel the same way and know that I’ve managed to stay true to these values.  We shouldn’t have to change to fit into society’s expectations just to live the life we believe in because, let’s be honest, society’s way of operating actually hasn’t been working out that well for society.