My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s great to see more diversity in young adult fiction, and in particular the treatment of “difference” as no big deal. That’s one of the big pluses of Erin Gough’s debut novel The Flywheel.
Del, the narrator and main character, has a whole heap of problems in her life: absent parents, a family business that’s being run into the ground, and bullying at school just to name a few. She handles these problems with varying degrees of competence but at 17 years old she doesn’t have the life skills to deal with treacherous staff and competing businesses taking away her customers much less handle a school workload. Soon, every aspect of her life is falling apart, and she has some hard life lessons to learn before things start to go her way.
It took me a little bit of time to warm to this book. I found at times I didn’t quite believe Del’s voice, and that the writing had tendency to be contrived. These problems dropped away after about the first quarter of the novel, however, and once I got into the rhythm of Gough’s writing I began to enjoy it more. On reflection, the deeper the holes Del dug herself into, the more I liked it!
The Flywheel has a great cast of supporting characters, including Del’s best friends Charlie and Laura, and her secret crush Rosa. I also enjoyed the portrayal of minor characters, such as her teacher/school counsellor who persisted in trying to get Del to come back to school. Although the novel is set in Sydney to me it had a very Melbourne feel to it, but either way the suburban setting felt real and provided a solid background to Del’s experiences and mishaps.
One of the best things about the novel is, in a way, its ordinariness. Del is just a teenage girl, out of her depth, trying to deal with problems the best way she knows how. She makes a lot of mistakes, avoids issues she should be tackling and sometimes making a bigger deal of things than they need to be. In short, she’s a flawed, loveable and slightly annoying character whose life reflects the turmoil of many teens living in Australian cities and larger towns. And she just happens to be gay.
Despite (for me) a somewhat shaky start I enjoyed The Flywheel. Highly recommended for those who enjoy contemporary young adult fiction that features diverse characters going about their business and trying to do the best they can.