BOOK REVIEW: The Reluctant Jillaroo by Kaz Delaney
Allen & Unwin
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
Identical twin sisters Heidi and Harper couldn’t be more different. Heidi is all about sun, skating and waves; while Harper prefers spending time on a farm, milking cows and caring for horses and sheep.
There were differences, of course, but you had to know us to pick them. Like, my sister was left-handed and I was right. We each had one dimple – hers was in the left cheek, mine right. Dad reckoned we were the mirror image of each other. Then there were our non-physical differences: I was skirts, she was jeans. I was pink lip gloss, she was clear lip protection, which kind of summed up our personalities, really.
But when Harper winds up in the hospital and is unable to attend the ten day Jillaroo camp that her agricultural scholarship hinges on, Heidi has to step in. It’s her fault, after all. It was Heidi’s skateboard that sent Harper to hospital and robbed her of her chances.
Heidi’s a… surfer out of water, and things aren’t exactly going smoothly.
Don’t ask me why, but the sheep I separated from the flock was one big mama. Like, huge. And she was smart. I had her pinned in the corner but she wasn’t going anywhere peacefully. She went left and I blocked. She went right and I blocked. She stared at me. I stared back. It was a Mexican standoff. And I was pretty worried that I was going to blink first and she’d win.
Not least because she has to pretend to be her sister in front of Harper’s biggest competition at school. Trent is bound to notice that “Harper” is no good at things she used to be able to do with her eyes closed… And he seems to be trying to trick her into making a fool of herself.
‘You’re crazy, Harper, but you’re not fooling me. You know all this stuff. Trent’s been telling everyone how great you are at everything; all those ribbons you’ve won at the ag shows… weren’t you like runner-up for Junior Farmer of the Year one time? And you don’t even live on a property! I just can’t work out why you keep pretending you don’t know what you’re doing. Is it because you don’t want to show us up? That’s so sweet, but it’s okay, really. Just be yourself.’
But there are good things too, like her sweet, gentle horse, Poppy.
When I stroked a hand down the white strip on her nose, she leaned her head into my shoulder and I had to admit it was love at first hug. I may not be a total horse person like Harper, but I was human and she’d melted my heart.
Cute, supportive, funny surfer/Jackaroo-in-training, Chaz.
I tried not to, I really did, but somehow I found myself wandering closer to Chaz. Metal filings and magnets. Moths and flames. Heidi and Chaz. Whichever way you looked at it, it spelled a total lack of control.
And she’s not as entirely hopeless at things as you might think.
A twin-swapping, horse-riding, story full of fun, friendship, and blossoming romance?
The idea behind this story was interesting enough, though of course there were holes in the main plot, too.
Such as: if the camp is the only thing that can secure Harper’s chance for a scholarship, and most of the other kids attending are hoping for similar, what chance does a girl who hasn’t been on a horse properly for years really have?
But you have to allow a little suspension of disbelief in stories such as these, so let’s ignore that and look at the other things that dragged it down.
It was telly – You’ve heard the phrase “Show, don’t tell” I’m sure, but unfortunately it seems like this writer, or maybe the character might not have. Everything was spelled out for the reader.
The writing was dumbed down – The characters in this story are fifteen and sixteen, but they read as though they’re thirteen, tops. Perhaps this started life as a middle grade novel, but the characters had to be aged up in order to verify the urgency of Heidi attending the camp in Harper’s place.
The characters were flat – There were friendships in this book. At least I’m pretty sure there were… Because the main character went out of her way to tell the reader how much she valued her new friends.
Instalove/Insta-obsession – Seriously; Chaz, Chaz, Chaz, Chaz, Chaz. Barely a page went by without mention of him, and it honestly felt like each activity the group did was just a way to break up all the interactions with Chaz. I get that she’s a teenager, and crushes can be all-encompassing at that age, but that doesn’t mean it’s fun to read about. This was supposed to be about the twin swap and the rural, fish-out-of-water stuff with some romance thrown in, but it was mostly just about the romance, with bits of actual story squished in between.
The ending – Too cheesy for words. Just… the way everything came together at the end was so incredibly forced. It actually had me laughing out loud at the silliness.
To be fair, the last 50 pages or so of this book were more about the story than about the romance, and the pace picked up a lot with the mystery finally coming into play. If the first 300 pages had been anywhere near as engaging as the final 50, this might have been a 6/10 read.
I will be looking at reading more of Delaney’s work, hoping that maybe the tone will be a little more authentic there. My sole reason for this is that her acknowledgements section was a lot easier to like and relate to, so I know she has that authentic voice in there somewhere.
Perhaps she just needs to stop overthinking the voice.
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