Monday, June 20, 2011

REVIEW: This Is Shyness by Leanne Hall

This Is Shyness
by Leanne Hall (website)
Released: 08.02.2010 (Australia)
272 pages
Text Publishing
Awards & Recognition: The Text Prize, 2009 
Children's Book Council of Australia Notable Book for Older Readers, 2011
Source: received from the author for a fair and honest review

A guy who howls. A girl on a mission to forget.

In the suburb of Shyness, where the sun doesn’t rise and the border crackles with a strange energy, Wolfboy meets a stranger at the Diabetic Hotel. She tells him her name is Wildgirl, and she dares him to be her guide through the endless night.

But then they are mugged by the sugar-crazed Kidds. And what plays out is moving, reckless...dangerous. There are things that can only be said in the dark. And one long night is time enough to change your life

Here's the other reason I was intrigued: I really like the trailer, and the music in it reminds me of my '90s garage band music happy place.  Do you hear that guitar wrapping itself around you?


REVIEW: Holy Sweet Mother of dubs-tee-eff.  I'm still wrapping my thoughts around this one.  Here's what I've come up with: the Brothers Grimm meet up with Pablo Picasso during his Blue Period for a drink.  They decide it's going to be a GREAT idea to make a Before Sunrise martini with a younger lad and lassie splashed with the Neverending Story and shaken with the surrealism of a dream.

You with me?

On second thought, I am not really sure if it's possible to adequately define This Is Shyness.  Leanne Hall has managed to create something that feels entirely 'other'.  You can't put the book into any neat little category; it's simply young adult, and that's about as far as you are going to in terms of categorizing.

The good news is that this cocktail goes down fairly smoothly.  Hall's narrative swings through from start to finish, and Wildgirl and Wolfboy both are intriguing, resourceful characters who come to bat with their own set of problems.  Wildgirl comes from a way-less-than-privileged background and is dealing with some serious B.S. at school because of it.  Wolfboy is living in a singular pit of sorrow - you know the kind - it's the sort of hole a person has to fight and claw to get out of.  It's a random night that these two find each other, and it leads into an absolutely crazy, no-rest-til-dawn adventure.  Hall's writing really shines in her characterization of these two (check out the quotes down below - lovely, aching, sharp), and you will get to know them and their thoughts through the wonderful internal dialogue she gives to both. 

Beyond that, it's difficult to discuss the book without giving too much away.  Shyness is just over the border from where Wildgirl lives, yet she never heard how the sun doesn't rise there.  The fact that you can't really pin down the setting makes reading the book feel a bit like falling down Alice's rabbit hole - you can't tell if this is an alternative reality, a futuristic setting, a paranormal community - everything feels familiar, but it's not - I won't say it's like a dream - it's a bit more maddening than that.  It's something akin to Dorothy's returning to Oz and finding it turned upside down, or Mac's reaction to there being a 'secret' Dublin that's disappeared off of maps and been forgotten about in the Fever series.  It's a familiar unknown..  I got the feeling that the darkness which encompasses Shyness is somehow connected to Wolfboy's sadness, who holds special status in that community. Or perhaps his sadness is a singular symptom of its overall origin.  Things happen: embarrassments endure, deaths occur, addictions develop, social pressures constrict, etc.  It's the self-determination and the connections with others, the support that gets you through.  Shyness doesn't feel like a place of punishment for the things that have happened to you in life, but more like a place of suspension, a consequence of not talking about and moving through the things that have happened.

The balance and two-person dual narrations make this a fast-paced story that doesn't lag.  The surreal situations and people they encounter hold your interest and sometimes boggle you.  There is a play-counter-play between Wildgirl and Wolfboy's POVs, and it really offers insight into just how easily looks and words can be misconstrued, especially between two people who hold an attraction and growing affection between them.  There is a sweetness in their vulnerability that helps you connect to them as characters.  There is a bare bones honesty in their hushed confessions that make you repect their experience.  I'd love to be friends with them both.

However, that same connection also drove me nuts with not getting clear answers to some questions.  The upside is that This Is Shyness is so 'other', so unlike anything else that I've read, that it gave me the ability to 'just deal' with the lack of answers.  Here's the thing with with this book: as with any new person you might meet, you have to take the book as it is.  There is no comparing it, no standard to hold it up against, not with this story.  It has a beginning, middle, and an end that doesn't feel like an end - it feels like a continuation.  That's not to say that there is a sequel, because in all honesty, I get the feeling that there won't be one (although I would love answers to my questions).  It's more like the characters are going to 'swing through' if that makes sense. 

But, really, 'swinging through' does make sense in This Is Shyness.  The story here is not in some neatly wrapped up plot; it's in the character details: the shy looks, the hanging conversations, the private confessions and resolute actions.  They're like puzzle pieces that make up the same picture, but don't quite match up at the edges.  You try to force the edges into each other, rather than just let them complement each other, then you are going to come up frustrated.  But if you let the story just 'be' what it is, then you have something singularly special.  This Is Shyness is the quirky friend you might never fully understand, but once you stop trying to figure it out and pick it apart, you will fall into it's unique personality and truly appreciate it for what it is.  And the story is about two young people who don't find answers, but by coming together, they come to terms with facing the questions.  There's a lot of beauty in that. 

UPDATE: I heard it from Nic below and from Leanne, as well, but there WILL be a follow-up with Wolfgirl and Wildboy!  Woot!!!

"I imagine crossing Grey Street in the daytime.  Would night fall over me gently like a velvety curtain?  Or would the day turn dark in the blink of my eye?  I don't really need the sunrise to know that Shyness is different.  It's like there is a thin layer of static over everything that stops me from seeing what's really going on.  People here scuttle around like they're scared of their own shadows."
-Wildgirl, page 25

"We're all here to take care of ourselves, and ourselves only.  This is how I look at it: if a gunman rampaged through the flats, I'd barricade Mum and me in our place and forget about anyone else on our floor.  If the gunman broke into our flat then I'm not entirely sure I'd take a bullet for Mum, or vice versa.  When it comes down to it, we're all on our own.  Once you realise that, life becomes simpler."
-Wildgirl, page 29

"I howl at the roof like a hotted-up bomb doing donuts, full of screeches.  I howl like an air-raid siren, my arms stretched out wide.  Howls are like songs.  They can't be summoned; they just happen.  They come from a place that I barely understand.  And then something else climbs to the surface, something black and jagged, something from the deep.  Imagine all your worse feelings surfacing.  Imagine coughing up razor blades.  Imagine not being able to stop the pain from coming out, and not knowing when it's going to end."
-Wolfboy, page 110


  1. Brilliant review! I really enjoyed this book and like you can't really describe it. It is definitely quirky and unique. And there is lots of questions but you do just have to let go. I just got an email from Leanne recently and she said she is writing another book in the "Shyness" world!

  2. Your reviews never fail to amaze me Linds, you have a way with words! I love how you said the sheer otherness of this book made it easier to accept the lack of answers on some things, that's good to know:) I think the lack of answers always bothers me when it's a world that I feel is pretty realistic and one that I could understand if I just had a little more information, but this seems like it's so unique that it doesn't even matter if certain things go over your head!

  3. @Nic Ohhhh, that's awesome! I would LOVE to get answers to all of my questions. I do think it could've been stand alone, but it would be awesome to find out 'certain' things. ..

    @Jenny This world feels real, but it's not a world you or I would recognize. It's pretty damn cool, though, and it does make the unanswered things easier to deal with. Looking forward to the sequel now!


  4. Boy do you know how to paint the perfect picture! That opening to review still has me reeling.

    You'd think a concoction like that wouldn't go down smoothly, but I'm very happy to know it does!

    I love every part of this review, especially this: "The story here is not in some neatly wrapped up plot; it's in the character details: the shy looks, the hanging conversations, the private confessions and resolute actions."

    How wistful is that?! And I love the idea of a familiar unknown. Again, you gave perfect descriptions for that!

    Certainly facing questions with somebody by your side is a helluva lot easier/comforting than facing them alone.

  5. I would never have imagined a book that could sucessfully combine elements from the Grimms, Piacaso, and "Wizard of Oz" before! Just the quirkiness makes me interested in this book. It kind of reminds me of my experience reading Bray's "Going Bovine" which is a modern rendition of "Don Quioxte". Sometimes you need to stop thinking and just go with the flow. I'm putting this one on my tbr list!

  6. What a unique and bizarre sounding book. This seems like the kind of thing I'd have to be in a specific mood before I could read it. It's not the kind of book I'd pick up casually, but would have to savor and talk about. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  7. @Missie - Oh yes, it always helps to have that. . . one of the very best things about learning to trust!

    @Rummanah Aasi - Glad to have helped you grow that list! This one definitly has quirk - can't wait to hear what you think!

    @Logan - Yeah, I can certainly see waiting for a specific mood to read. I had one looooong Saturday afternoon, so it was great to read it in one sitting.


  8. This seems very interesting. Rather out there, actually. But it must be good if it all made sense or you got to the point where you accepted not having answers.

  9. It's a really great book (as mentioned). Yep can't wait for the 'follow up'. Thanks heaps for posting the trailer!

  10. @Alison - it is REALLY interesting, and the characters are so well-written that you don't mind the no answers thing. BUT, now that I know there is going to be a sequel, I can't wait to get my hands on it!

    @Paul - my pleasure! The trailer is one of the best I've ever seen.


  11. Not gonna lie- This book sounds crazy weird! Not sure that I'd like this one... But, great review! :)

  12. Ashley, it's a good kind of different. Your a book soulie here - I'd bet you'd like it - Oh, what am I talking about?!?!?! You'd LOVE Wolfboy!