Monday, September 26, 2016

"Here's the Thing" by Emily O'Beirne

Here's the Thing
by Emily O'Beirne

Here's the Thing by Emily O'Beirne is due for release on 19 October and is currently on tour with YA Bound Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my review, an excerpt, a guest post by the author, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

It’s only for a year. That’s what sixteen-year-old Zel keeps telling herself after moving to Sydney for her dad’s work. She’ll just wait it out until she gets back to New York and Prim, her epic crush/best friend, and the unfinished subway project. Even if Prim hasn’t spoken to her since that day on Coney Island.
But Zel soon finds life in Sydney won’t let her hide. There’s her art teacher, who keeps forcing her to dig deeper. There’s the band of sweet, strange misfits her cousin has forced her to join for a Drama project. And then there’s the curiosity that is the always-late Stella.
As she waits for Prim to explain her radio silence and she begins to forge new friendships, Zel feels strung between two worlds. Finally, she must figure out how to move on while leaving no one behind.  

As soon as she hears the words “New York”, the blonde princess perks up.
“You actually lived there?” Her voice is still measured, but I can hear the hint of intrigue. Suddenly I’m worth something. She straightens her blazer, looking curious and a touch self-conscious. Like the mention of that city has chafed at the all-comforting sense of superiority she held a second ago when she sized up my loose-haired, loose-jeaned, couldn’t-give-a-crap eyeliner look. Now her perfectly braided hair, subtle eye make-up, and her prefect’s badge don’t stand a chance against me (well, New York). It’s like she suddenly feels like the boring provincial cliché she is.
Please don’t think I’m a bitch, describing this girl like that. I’m not a bitch. Really, I’m not. It’s just that you weren’t here ten minutes ago. I swear it was surreal. She was nice as pie when Mum was here, making small talk, telling us about the school excursions and clubs and extra university prep courses they offer. Then, the minute Mum went in to chat with the senior school coordinator, she went on this total backspin from perky polite to general disinterest. All before the office door even closed.
Of course, that was before I uttered the four, golden ‘lived in New York’ words. Now she’s all ears.
So excuse me for judging, but you have to admit it’s kind of deeply shallow on her part. Like something out of a bad teen movie. She’s one of those popular girls, all shiny and judge-y and awaiting her comeuppance, the one who underestimates the new girl at the start. This, of course, casts me as the nerdy but likeable girl. The one who’ll either seek revenge on all the high-definition girls like this evenly tanned overachiever next to me or else become wildly popular by getting a makeover from a gay man, making some excellent quips, and then dating from the girl-clique’s private male gene pool property.
Believe me, people, when I say that NONE of this is going to happen. What will happen, if Mum and Dad magically convince me go to this school, is that I will put my head down and stay as invisible as humanly possible. Because if she is a taster of the school social menu, I plan to officially bow out of all interpersonal efforts.
We’ve already taken the full tour of the school and grounds, led by the blonde, in chirruping prefect mode, and the principal’s assistant. Apparently this school’s so exclusive that potential Golden Ones don’t even get to meet the principal until they’re properly signed on, fees paid. Together they schooled Mum in everything this place has to offer. Because she’ll be the one paying the fees for the Olympic swimming pool and the sky-lit art rooms, right? And while I dragged my feet behind them, I didn’t get a chance to find out if all the other students are carbon, depressing copies of this one either. All the girls (yes, only girls, which you would think would make me happy but it actually doesn’t) were tucked away in the classrooms. But my guess is, given the North Shore location and the amount of zeroes I saw on the fees list, that this sample of blonde wayyy-upper-middle-class Sydney sitting right here is probably representative enough for me to turn and run for the hills. Or at least back to the inner west.
“Like, New York, New York? Not the state,” the girl asks, wrinkling her nose slightly as if she can’t imagine that hallowed city allowing rabble like me in. Which, of course, shows how little she knows about the place. If she thinks I’m rabble, she’s got another thing coming when she and her fake designer suitcase finally make it there. If New York knows how to do anything, it’s how to produce prime rabble. It prides itself on it.
“Yes, the city,” I say patiently instead of sighing the sigh of the withering, which is what I really want to do. If I were Prim, I probably would have. I’m the kind of person who can manage to stay on the right side of polite, but Prim’s got zero tolerance for girls like this. But then, Prim’s got zero tolerance for most people. “We lived in Midtown.”
The girl looks blank.
“It’s the middle of Manhattan, near Times Square,” I explain as two girls in uniform, looking just like this one but brunette and sans prefect badge, peer into the office. One says something, and the other cackles as they pass. I shudder. Get me out of here. Now.
Blondie perks up some more. “That’s where they have the New Year’s parade?”
I nod.
“Did you go?”
I fight the urge to roll my eyes. I wouldn’t be caught dead there, fighting for a square inch of space with a gazillion tourists and out-of-towners. The parade is what television is made for. It’s for parents and old people and the rest of America to watch while New York goes out. Prim and I had planned to spend New Year’s Eve planning our New World Order. I don’t have time to fill you in on the details right now, but let me tell you this much—this girl here would have trouble surviving once we run the show.
Before I can respond, Mum is finally ejected from the coordinator’s office. I’m so relieved to see her I have to stop myself from jumping up and hugging her. She gives me a thin smile like she, too, has been to private school hell and back.
The coordinator is right behind her. She’s a shaggy middle-aged woman wearing a pastel sweater dress straight out of the eighties. Now I really feel sorry for Mum. Ten minutes in the presence of that outfit is probably pushing at the edges of human endurance.
“I hope to see you next week, Zelda,” the coordinator says to me. “Meaghan will show you back to the gate, won’t you?”
Blondie McPerfect nods enthusiastically and leads us back to the car park full of shiny land cruisers and zippy hatchbacks. She chatters all the way, practically igniting with excitement when she hears Mum’s line of work. I smirk to myself. It must be killing her that two such unimpressive-looking people’s life CVs are impressing her so much.
I tune out and watch the school go by. The playing fields are movie-set green, the sprinklers keeping the summer sun from doing its worst. That’d be right. Last night’s news said parts of the Blue Mountains are ablaze with bushfires, but North Sydney is lush.
As soon as Meaghan leaves us with a wave and a faux-friendly see you next week, I turn to Mum. “I’m not going here. No way.”

Praise for the Book
"What I liked about this book besides being set in Australia which was nice for a change and being a GLBT story was that though the book was a GLBT story, that wasn't oversexualised and over-played on. I found this book to be more of a YA friendship story and a tale of discovering who you are and what your family, friends , home means to you." ~ Paula Phillips
"This one is fantastically written by one of the very best authors in the genre. The characters have depth and the story is captivating. Overall a great story, that I was sad to see it end. Another winner from Emily O’Beirne." ~ Tiff
"... the way Zel narrates this book, she talks directly to the reader which I could assume isn't everyone's cup of tea. It worked though and actually it is nice reading different narration styles instead of the same thing over and over." ~ Williesun

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
Sixteen-year-old Zel moves back to Sydney, Australia, after spending eight months in New York. She misses Prim, her best friend and crush. Zel and Prim were working on their subway project, following the idea in Prim's favorite book to ride to the end of every subway line in New York. But before they finish, something drives a wedge between the girls. The compelling and touching opening scene makes us wonder what happened between them. Meanwhile, Zel finds a new group of friends in Sydney: her cousin Antony and his Drama class buddies - Michael, Ashani, and Stella.
The Sydney story is told in the present tense, interspersed with past tense flashback of Zel's New York subway trips with Prim, as Zel reminisces while examining the photos she took at the time. The narrative is carefully timed to reveal what happened in New York just as Prim finally contacts Zel in Sydney. The author draws some nice parallels throughout. Stella's story in Sydney mirrors Prim's story in New York. In addition, as the Drama group works on a project centered on the theme of "home", we see how Zel was uprooted just when New York started feeling like home, and how she is now struggling to make a new home in Sydney. In the end, she discovers that "home" is more about the people than the place.
It's great to read a book set in Australia and featuring places I know. Zel, as the narrator, is extremely engaging, speaking directly to the reader, and making you feel like you're in the room with her, as she tells you her story. The writing is beautiful, heart-felt, and full of humor and astute observations. This is the first book I've read featuring gay girls, and the story highlights their difficulty distinguishing between friendship and romance.
This is a wonderful coming-of-age story especially suited to young women struggling with their sexual identity.

Guest Post by the Author
Why the LGBT Label Still Matters
I was asked a couple of questions as a prompt for this guest post.
The first was: Is LGBT a genre?
The answer to this is simple: no, it’s not.
I’m just going to pop on my teacher hat on here. The term genre, which translates from the French to "kind", is used in popular culture to define a set of conventions and expectations of a type of story. For example, when I’m teaching my media students about genre, I start by asking them questions like what they expect to see when they are about watch a new TV sitcom. They’ll inevitably spout a bunch of conventions like canned laughter, lots of one-liners, the short length, limited sets, the lack of narrative continuity etc. And when I ask them what they’ll expect from a fantasy, someone will inevitably call out "dragons!"
The "LGBT" label describes a demographic, not a genre - in the same way the "Young Adult" label does. By using it, we know who the book is about, and, to some extent, who it is for. And like YA, a vast range of genres exist under this label, too. There’s Malinda Lo writing LGBT fantasy with Ash. There’s Robin Talley dabbling in horror with her Macbeth re-render, As I Descended. There’s Molly Beth Griffin writing historical romance with Silhouette of a Sparrow. There is no set of rules or expectations of the label "LGBT" as such. Except, you know, the presence of LGBT folk.
The second question I was asked was: do we still need this kind label for books?
The answer here is an unequivocal, emphatic yes.
Because it doesn’t matter that LGBT is not a genre. That’s not what’s important. What’s important about labelling a book LGBT is that it offers an indicator both for readers that here is a story about them. And given there are still not enough of these stories, for some readers this is a crucial identification point.
I had a teenage reader write to me earlier this year who was saved by a literal LGBT label. She wrote to me asking how she could get a copy of my first book, a YA book about a lesbian relationship, A Story of Now. We wrote back and forth a few times, and in her emails she told that no one outside her online life knows she is gay. Not her parents, not her teachers, and not her friends. And this is because her mother and father are religious and vocally intolerant of homosexuality. She doesn’t dare come out - even to her friends - in case it gets back to her parents. She doesn’t dare buy LGBT books online or in a shop in case her parents find records of her purchases. In fact, until she learned how to hide her browsing history, she was nervous about just looking at anything related to being gay online.
What had saved this girl until this point was physical books. A few years ago she was visiting a public library with her mother when she discovered that some helpful librarian had put a rainbow sticker on the spine of every LGBT book in the YA section. This sweet, colourful identification point told her that queer people lived inside the pages of each and every one of those books. The next chance she got, she came back to the library alone and has been reading her way through all of them ever since. Inside them she found characters she could identify with and stories that made her feel possible. Now she hunts online for LGBT YA wherever she can find the category.
The LGBT label is vital for people like her, who need to find themselves in books. They are also important for building a community of writers in an area of under-representation so we can support and promote each other. And sure, I guess I like to think that one day in the future there might be a time when there is no need to label a book LGBT, but I don’t kid myself it’s close yet. Not when I’m still hearing stories like this. This is why we need to keep putting rainbow labels on the spines of our novels - literally or figuratively. Because that’s how they get to those who need them.

About the Author
Thirteen-year-old Emily woke up one morning with a sudden itch to write her first novel. All day, she sat through her classes, feverishly scribbling away (her rare silence probably a cherished respite for her teachers). And by the time the last bell rang, she had penned fifteen handwritten pages of angsty drivel, replete with blood-red sunsets, moody saxophone music playing somewhere far off in the night, and abandoned whiskey bottles rolling across tables. Needless to say, that singular literary accomplishment is buried in a box somewhere, ready for her later amusement.
From Melbourne, Australia, Emily was recently granted her PhD. She works part-time in academia, where she hates marking papers but loves working with her students. She also loves where she lives but travels as much as possible and tends to harbour crushes on cities more than on people.
Living in an apartment, Emily sadly does not possess her dream writing room overlooking an idyllic garden of her creation. Instead, she spends a lot of her time staring over the screen of her laptop and out the window at the somewhat less pretty (but highly entertaining) combined kebab stand/carwash across the road.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of ten ebook copies of Here's the Thing by Emily O'Beirne.

Plus, enter the Goodreads giveaway for a chance to win one of three print copies of Here's the Thing by Emily O'Beirne (open to US, CA, GB, AU, and more; ends 19 October).