by Vanessa Garden
Published by Harlequin Enterpises AU
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
There was a great setup for this book, hitting all my buttons: plague novel, set in Australia, young adult.
Lena is a girl locked in an outback property with her Mum and two pet dingoes, and kept in by fear of Carriers outside the fences. Y-Carrier disease has swept Australia. It kills women, but only infects men, leaving them with a rash and a deadly cargo. As the story goes on, it appears that this apocalypse seems to have happened while Lena was in utero.
Lena is a teenager now, and she’s got itchy feet. For the first time in her life, she meets a boy, through the fence – Patrick She discovers her dead cousin Alice’s diary, waxing lyrical about a mysterious Markus. And she finds out that her mother has killed a man. Lena decides to climb the fence, join Patrick, and find out what the outside world holds. Danger, romance, and action ensues – but no spoilers!
I was very interested in Lena’s journey, what it might be like to see a boy for the first time as a teenager (this makes the insta-love trope a little more believable, I think), and how she would deal with the fear of infection and the dread of meeting people outside the fence, whose motivations are unclear.
I was less interested in the alien/paranormal storyline, which was infodumped near the end of the book without any of the mystery or gradual unfolding that would have drawn me in. I found it – even as a fantasy reader – very difficult to suspend disbelief and go with it. I felt it could have been entirely expunged from the book, leaving more time to explore the human issues. There were also some clunky phrasings and similes that sometimes stopped me from sinking into the story. Lastly, I was really rubbed up the wrong way by the brief Magical Aboriginal Person motif, a girl called Sapphire, who didn’t affect the story in any meaningful way. This felt to me like an empty nod to Australia’s Aboriginal population, in a story which really could have used some deeper engagement with this rather crucial aspect of the Australian outback.
As a real-world plague story, with more fleshing out and exploration of characters, I think I could have loved it. As it is, I liked it!
I would definitely pick up another book by Vanessa Garden.