“All I Ever Wanted” by Vikki Wakefield: A Review

Logo of a silhouette of a steampunkily-dressed woman in a hat carrying an umbrella. In white text on the silhouette is '2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge'.Yesterday I read my first book of the Australian Women Writers Challenge! You can see my AWWC sign-up post here.

Title: All I Ever Wanted
Author: Vikki Wakefield
Publisher & Year: The Text Publishing Company, 2011
Pages: 200
Genre: YA/Contemporary

Blurb (from Goodreads):

Mim knows what she wants, and where she wants to go — anywhere but home, stuck in the suburbs with her mother who won’t get off the couch, and two brothers in prison. She’s set herself rules to live by, but she’s starting to break them.

Now Mim has to retrieve a lost package for her mother.

Does this make her a drug runner?

Why is a monster dog called Gargoyle hidden in the back shed?

And Jordan, the boy she sent Valentines to for years, why is he now suddenly a creep?

How come there’s a huge gap between her and her best friend, Tahnee?

And who is the mysterious girl next door who moans at night?

Over the nine days before her seventeenth birthday, Mim’s life turns upside down. She has problems, and she’s determined to solve them herself. But in the end, she works out who her people are, and the same things look entirely different.

My Review:

“Should you keep moving forward, even if you don’t know where you’re going?”

book cover All I Ever Wanted, with a hummingbird and a girl running along railway tracksAll I Ever Wanted is a standalone novel, unlike so many YA offerings – but I was left wanting more. And it is not your typical sodapop middle-class romantic-love-triangle YA contemporary!

Jemima “Mim” Dodd is “just a girl”. And she has a set of rules:

* I will finish school.
* I will not take drugs.
* I will not get tattoos.
* I will not drink alcohol.
* I will not say “fuck” all the time.
* I will not have sex until I”m over 18.
* I will not be like everybody else.
* I will only trust myself.
* One day I will leave this place and never come back.
* I will not turn out like my mother.

Does she sound like a goody two-shoes? She isn’t.
Does she know everything? She doesn’t. But she does know you don’t walk too close to the Tarrant house.

Vikki Wakefield’s scene-setting is beautiful. She deftly paints a picture of the poorer Australian suburbs. As a reader I could feel the heat, sweat, and mosquitoes of a summer blackout, the shift in the air from bone-dry to muggy-damp, the huge drops of warm rain that turn dust to sludge. I could see the broken chain link fences and feel the the brown crispy grass and smell the train exhaust and Breezer vomit. Mim lives in the “worst street in the worst suburb”, and her life lies in sharp contrast to the shiny, white, alien middle-class life of her crush Jordan and his muso sister Kate.

The novel examines fear and safety, intimidation and revenge, dreams and realities, assumptions and expectations. Of Jordan, Mim says “He’s got me all boxed up in a brown, shabby little package, like the one he stole from me. He thinks his sister has shiny paper, hospital corners, and a big pink bow.” This book is not all about the romance or the middle-class characters; it’s about Mim and her place in the world, about the people around her. Sometimes Mim breaks from their expectations; but in addition, her family and neighbours, at first glance a disparate crew of drunks and criminals and child neglecters and sex workers and nasty old ladies, are not all who Mim thinks they are. She is even forced to take a long look at who her Mum really is.

The book is very “between”, very liminal – very YA. There are things left unsaid, messages left unsent, rules broken, dreams unspoken, relationships hanging in the balance, uneasy truces, shifting power balances. Wakefield has a glorious touch with metaphor: the dog on the chain who Mim goads, stnading just far enough away, deadly menace only a breath away. The wax in a mostly-dead lava lamp, like dreams nearly out of reach, dead one day, the next day twisting, but still trapped. Moving boxes left unpacked, unopened stacks of mail-order boxes, packages that aren’t what you (or Mim) think they are, and people who might have your back when you least expect it.

A couple of favourite quotes:

“I know my hair is limp and ratty and I’m covered in green slime. I’m a skinny, sixteen going on seventeen-year-old girl with an awful name, bad breeding, and a dubious future. I feel strong and beautiful.”

“Fly all you want, but if you’ve got nowhere to land, you’re fucked.”

Content notes: fat-shaming language (subverted somewhat); domestic violence, sexual violence, animal cruelty (all treated as the horrors they are).

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism

Tags: , ,

%d bloggers like this: