In my next life, I obviously need to be from Australia or New Zealand, because they clearly have some of the best YA writers in the world there. Penny Russon, Garth Nix, Sonya Hartnett, Melina Marchetta, D.M. Cornish - and that's barely scratching the surface. Karen Healey is a force in her writing style. Achingly realistic characterization, intelligent dialogue, and just the right amount of cultural shading which informs but doesn't overwhelm. Love, love, love her work.
Reader Gut Reaction: I read Karen Healy's Big Idea piece on this novel, which encapsulated the entire plot: the girl who plans for everything cannot plan for her sibling's suicide. But then, she finds out that it wasn't a suicide at all, but murder.
Ooooooooh, I thought. A mystery! And I was in. I figured I knew the whole plot at that point. Boy, was I wrong!
Concerning Character: As a small girl Keri imagined what it would feel like to break her arm to the point that she knew what it'd feel like, and how she'd tell her friend Janna to run and get her mother. She's that type of person - organized, pre-planning, prepared - for everything but her brother's death. Janna, no longer her best friend, now that they've grown up and apart, believes he was murdered... as her brother was. She has proof, in the form of another boy named Sione, who has a dead older brother, too.
This is a novel for mature readers - not necessarily because of underage drinking or out-of-bounds behavior, but because thematically this is about death, anxiety about death, and the painful clarity of realizing that you didn't really know someone who died - and you might not have loved them as well as you should have. Not everyone will "get" this - and this isn't to say that the writing is in any way inaccessible, but you need to know your audience to pass this one on successfully. It's both funny and sad, scary, wry, bittersweet, and realistic.
Recommended for Fans Of...: Oddly enough, Shirley Jackson's The Lottery comes to mind, as well as Holly Black's Tithe.
Themes & Things: I love sibling novels, I really do, and this has some major sibling mojo because it's about dead siblings - that love-hate relationship becomes loved-and-lost. It's completely impossible to know how an individual is even going to deal with that, but the grieving process here is ongoing - even though for each character the time has been different. And what I love is that Healey not only examines love (aggravation) and loss, but goes into how to make friends your family, and explores creating new links and bonds with good people, who can become your new siblings. These three let nothing stop them -- not even sometimes when they all hate each other.
If that's not siblove, I don't know what is.
Cover Chatter: While there was indeed a completely silly cover for this novel (so, so bad), the two official covers I've seen (there may be at least one more) have been fairly good. The UK/AU cover is suitably atmospheric, with the three teens running through a field of sea grass, and the sky looking kind of shatter-y above them. But my true love is the American cover. It's kind of ... mauve? No, burgundy, really - with what looks like a fist-sized break in a pane of glass. Behind it is the most lovely facial profile. Again -- not a big fan, here, of the Traditional YA Girl Head on novels, but she is truly gorgeous and -- if you hold the cover back and squint through the broken glass - a nonwhite model, who might even be a Pacific Islander, like the Samoan and Māori characters depicted.
You can find THE SHATTERING at an independent bookstore near you!