For me, it was Hating Alison Ashley.
You see, I was a sun hating kid.
Australia is a magnificent country. But in summer, the heat is oppressive to the point of tyrannical. I envied the more fire-resistant kids running around outside in the playground in 40 degree heat. No hats. No sunscreen. No worries. I got over my envy by embracing the nerd shrine that is the school library.
Cool and quiet and about as reverential as an Australian state school can get, the library was my refuge against the ferocity of the elements outside. And as I patiently processed its shelves, I found this gem.
Robyn Klein clearly drew heavily on her own experience as a state school teacher to bring us this slice of authentic 80s Australiana. It was a time when Kylie Minogue was still safely tethered inside the fourteen inch colour TV confined to conquering Britain as Charlene Robinson in Neighbours. Her tinny tyranny of the soundwaves was still a few years off.
And in Robin Klein’s Hating Alison Ashley the main character, Erica Yurken, was busy hating her life with the sort of passion only twelve year old girl can muster. This book held such appeal for me as a child. The characters, whilst larger than life, were definitely drawn from real life.
The squabbles, the struggles, the joys, the utterly devastating embarrassments.
Erica Yurken felt like the best friend I never had. I empathised with her ham-handed attempts to befriend the posh kid Alison Ashley, I cheered her tiny victories, and felt the devastation of her failures and her barely acknowledged loneliness.
At the time, I didn’t really know how to feel about the ending. Where [spoiler alert] Lenny, the 24-carat truck driving new stepdad, saves the day. It went over my head at the time. There was clearly a moral lesson that I was missing. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it stuck with me.
And then I rediscovered the book as an adult and as an author.
Reading it again was not just like bumping into an old friend in the street (although it certainly was that), it was an author masterclass in characterisation and authenticity of voice. And I also worked out what the moral of the tale was.
Accept your family. They are your people. Utter embarrassments though they may be.
Hating Alison Ashley was about a pretentious little snob of a twelve year old realising that her lot in life is not so bad really. And her family are a lot more awesome than she gives them credit for.
And so, dear reader, tell me … was there a book that spoke to you as a kid? A book that opened your eyes to a whole new world? Or a concept you had never encountered before?
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