BOOK REVIEW: Yellow by Megan Jacobson
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
The Setting: A small Australian town near Mount Warning, mid to late nineties.
The Plot: Kirra’s life is going downhill fast. She’s just had a talking to by her friends at school; they don’t like the way she walks, among other things, and they’re trying to show her just how undesirable she is, how much she needs them. Her dad moved out three months ago and is living with his four-month-pregnant girlfriend. Her mum is attempting to drown the pain and is drinking herself
slowly to death. Oh, but don’t worry, the ghost of a teenage boy who haunts a broken phone booth is going to help her fix her life, but only if she’ll bring his murderer to justice.
It’s an old Telstra telephone booth that sits beside a disused track. The glass has been long smashed, used chewing gum is shoved into the coin slot and For a Good Time someone could Call Carly The Dirty Mole, or so says the graffiti scrawled on the back wall in faded texta. The whole thing smells like pissed-out VB. It seems so forgotten and desolate, and yet here it is, ringing to itself.
Nope, nothing insane going on here!
If asked to describe Yellow in three words, I’d have to say tragically, beautifully nostalgic.
There is so much here to love. So much to feel.
You’ll feel protective of Kirra as she deals with the people she thinks are her friends, as they tell her that she needs to be more like them and less like… well, less like her if she wants to stay in their group.
It had been days since anybody talked to me. I’d sit in the group but I’d be a million miles away from their conversations about the beach boys, which Lip Smacker flavour was the best (Can’t-Elope!) and which Spice Girl represented each of us. Cassie and I are both blonde, but she already called called dibs on Baby Spice.
When this happens, you know a Circle is coming. A Circle is one of those torturous rituals that could only have been dreamed up by a mind as sadistic as a fascist dictator or a teenage girl. On second thoughts, even fascist dictators had their limits. It’s like someone is killing you and you have to watch.
You’ll feel your heart ripped out as she looks after her alcoholic mother, looks after her because she’s the only one who cares enough, the only one who stays.
The problem with Lark not even having the decency to skip town when he left us is that this town is too small. Mum and I ran into him when we were doing the groceries and when she saw him standing in the fruit aisle she snatched the eggs from our basket and started throwing them at him, one by one, across the citrus section. I was grabbing her hands and trying to stop her and our fingers were slimy with yolks and she kept slipping from my grip. When he scampered out of the store quick smart she just crumpled, and she looked so small with her head down it was like someone had just tossed an old dress onto the ground, she hardly filled it. She sat there, heaving, in a pile of broken eggshells and slime, with half the town watching on. A manager came over with a mop and a pail and crouched down close to her.
‘You’re going to have to pay for those, ma’am.’
You’ll feel uplifted as she realises that there are people who care for her.
I’m not quite sure what the feeling is that’s washing over me, but I’m sure the Germans have a word for it. It’s something like relief at that fact that I won’t have to face this alone, but it’s more than that. I think it feels like friendship.
And still a little heartbroken by that, too… but in a good way.
There’s a sort of kindness that makes you want to cry more than any cruel words slung at you. Both kindness and cruelty will acknowledge you have a problem, but cruelty, at least, lets you don your armour and fight back when you’re faced with it. Kindness can be harder. It will look inside you and hold your troubles with soft, open hands, and you’re standing there, face to face with all the things that you’re pretending so badly aren’t wrong. You’re staring them right in the eye, but you’re not allowed to wear your armour when you deal with kindness. When someone offers to help you it strips all those defences away. I know if Noah Willis never speaks to me again after this night it won’t matter. I will love him. After what he’s done for me tonight, the way he speaks so gently to my mother.
I will love him.
The ghostly aspect to this story was the only element that felt like it maybe didn’t entirely belong, but a lot of events actually came together in the way that they did because of him. So, while there’s a niggling feeling that he’s out of place in this novel, I couldn’t imagine it without him.
This is a story about every teenager who ever had things go wrong in their life, and who ever felt like they were worthless. Kirra continuously thinks of herself a “speck” and wonders how she can really be heard on anything, let alone make a difference in the world, if her “friends” are only going to tease her for it.
It’s only for doing well at school that assembly becomes a shameful thing. It’s typical of our country; our heroes are Ned Kelly, who was an outlaw who stole horses and shot at policeman, and our unofficial national anthem, ‘Waltzing Matilda’, is about a homeless man who steals sheep and then drowns himself when he’s caught, so that he doesn’t have to deal with the consequences.
She struggles to get her mother to care enough to stop drinking, to get her dad to help with her mother or at least let Kirra move in with him so she can stop being the grown-up in the house, to avoid being bullied by the people she thought were her friends, to succeed in school without being made fun of by… everyone. And it’s all just so very adolescent and heart-wrenching.
But there’s true friendship, and there’s ambition, and there’s hope.
We’ve all been there, trying to find our places in the world, trying to work out who we are, and dealing with our own rubbish lot in life, which is perhaps where the true power in this work comes from. It taps into that confused and lost teenager in us all, and makes us feel everything that Kirra is feeling.
Oh, and don’t forget the wonderful “Aussieness” of it all.
Here there be mentions of Christmas Beetles, VB, minimum chips and seagulls, Chiko Rolls, “ratbags”, Billabong, Roxy, Ned Kelly and more!
It was honestly like taking a step back in time to the days when the popular girl in my group insisted on being Baby Spice.
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