Over the last few months I have been helping Ballarat Writers to prepare for the Ballarat Writers and Illustrators Festival for 2011. As part of this I have prepared by reading the novels of young adult author, Tim Pegler.
Tim was a guest of Ballarat Writers for a reading night earlier in the year where I purchased his novels. I actually found out that Tim grew up in the same small town in rural Victoria that I did, and his father taught me for some subjects in primary school. It’s always great when you find that you have things in common with an author to give you the sense of “if they can do it, so can I.”
Tim has written two novels. The first, Game as Ned, focuses on the Ned Edwards, an autistic teen who loves bushrangers. Ned’s friendship with fellow outcast Erin develops and Tim covers some heroic issues, which I won’t mention for fear of ruining the plot. I loved the relationship between Ned Edwards and the Ned Kelly story. There are some great teaching notes on Tim’s blog.
However it was Tim’s latest novel, Five Parts Dead, which I really enjoyed. The central plot is the story of a seventeen year old boy, on holidays with his parents at a potentially haunted lighthouse. His broken leg confines him to close to the house, and when he discovers the diaries of the old lighthouse he attempts to piece together some old mysteries. But it is the sub-plot that is in many ways the central part of the book. Dan has survived a fatal car crash which killed his mates. The novel deals with the themes of death and survivor guilt in such a mature and deeply honest way that I think will strike a chord with young readers. The tone never strays to melodramatic or overly sentimental. Instead Tim writes the truth of the horror and gains a respect from his readers.
I will never forget reading the scene of the fatal car crash. I was eating my breakfast on the train, and had to stop eating for quite a while. Not because of the gore of the situation, but because of the clarity, the sharpness of the waste of young life. I’ve been out of my teens for some time now, but during those years lost far too many friends to tragic accidents. Reading Five Parts Dead reminded me not only of those people, but of course of all of those left behind.
It’s easy for me to say that this was a fantastic novel. But what I considered when I read this was the young adults that I worked with several years ago. I spent some time working with unengaged young people, in particular a class of year 10 boys. As I read I considered if these boys would find this novel interesting. I concluded that they would; between the main plot and the sub-plot there was always plenty of action, the hidden secret of what really happened on the night of the fatal accident was always driving me to read on, and the integrity with which the themes were explored was genuine.
I’m looking forward to hearing Tim talk this weekend at the Ballarat Writers and Illustrators festival even more now that I have read his novels.