Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pink by Lili Wilkinson

Ava secretly longs to ditch her all-black wardrobe and wear fluffy pink clothes. She loves her chic girlfriend, Chloe, but Ava wonders if maybe she should give boys a chance. What Ava wants most of all is to be normal. She convinces her radical left-wing parents to enroll her in one of Melbourne's exclusive private schools, where she plans to re-invent herself. Easier said than done, of course; Ava makes plenty of mistakes as she tries to be someone that she is not. Her journey to self-discovery is both funny and painful.

On Ava's first day at the Billy Hughes School for Academic Excellence, she has a meeting with Josie, who is the school's "integration architect" (guidance counsellor). Josie tells her that at Billy Hughes "We're committed to de-siloing the learning experience." She explains why students use their teacher's first names and write their own report cards (in consultation with teachers). Also, "At the beginning of each semester, you birthday a performance plan, with a list of key outcomes you want to achieve and a series of deliverables over the course of a semester that track your progress." Ava has second thoughts about attending a school where "birthday" is used as a verb, but she perseveres.

There aren't too many bisexual main characters in teen fiction and for that reason alone, Pink is a wonderful addition to the genre, but there are plenty of other reasons to love this Australian book. The prose is fresh and witty. Ava is endearingly flawed and she is backed by a whole pack of believable, funny supporting characters. The action centers around the staging of a school musical theatre - Bang! Bang! - and Ava sneaking around on her girlfriend, kissing boys, trying to fit in with both the popular crowd and the misfits in the stage crew, as well as hiding her new girly clothes from her parents. 

Ava's inevitable comeuppance is handled with compassion. The tone remains hopeful even in the face of disaster; there's the reassurance that owning up to mistakes is the first step towards forgiveness. Many teens will be able to identify with Ava's dilemma of fitting-in versus being herself.

Grade 8-12.

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