“Clancy Of The Undertow” by Christopher Currie

I can’t remember what drew me to this book when I requested it on NetGalley – I think it was one of those random requests based on cover and genre, and by the time I got around to reading it, I’d forgotten any small amount of info provided on the blurb and didn’t have the internet access to look it up again. (Oh, the joys of reading review copies while on holiday.) Thus, the whole thing was a surprise, but thankfully, a nice one.

clancy-of-the-undertow

Publication date: November 16th, 2016

The first thing I noticed about the book was that it’s very Australian. Talking to Cait @ Paper Fury meant I understood most of the words (and my brief Dance Academy obsession helped with some of the others), but there were still various bits of slang I highlighted to look up later if my Kindle dictionary couldn’t help me. Observation: Australians have never seen a word they didn’t want to shorten. Is “afternoon” really such a burden that it has to be shortened to “arvo”? Is “pm” not an adequate substitute?

But really, it was refreshing to read something outside the usual US-dominated YA that crosses my path, as well as outside my immediate cultural circumstances. Though the setting wasn’t a huge part of the story itself, it gave it a fresh feel, made it a bit different to other contemporaries I’ve read recently.

Because I think this is a contemporary, even if Clancy’s brother is searching for a possibly legendary creature from a hideaway in the woods (in true cryptozoological fashion: it wouldn’t be hunting for beasties if you did it like a normal, non-sketchy person). This borderline supernatural element doesn’t play a major part in the story but for a catalyst and context for other events, and it’s never clear whether the creature actually exists. Instead, the book focuses on Clancy’s family, on her inability to form friendships, and on her sexuality, though she’s still pretty confused and closeted about all that.

I was intrigued by Clancy’s experiences as a lesbian in this particular town because in some ways, it seemed to me a little outdated. Well, no, that’s the wrong word. But while I don’t feel the town where I live is particularly progressive, I would be shocked if somebody used homophobic insults in public, or freaked out the way certain characters do when they learn the truth. It’s something I wouldn’t expect to see in 2016, which just goes to show how narrow my cultural understanding is – my suburban London experience is not universal, and this brought that to my attention.

However, I don’t want to sound like Clancy faces a relentless barrage of homophobic abuse, because it’s far more minor than that, and it would be misleading to say it’s the focus of the book.

It’s hard, in retrospect, to pin down exactly what is. Clancy’s family is struggling because of her dad’s involvement in an accident at work for which many townspeople blame him, so that’s definitely a major part of it. As well as that, there’s Clancy’s relationship with her brother Angus, and her tentative friendship with a girl from her science club – I liked that she was involved in that kind of thing, even if she’s slightly embarrassed of her own nerdiness.

The book also deals with class issues, and poverty (“povo”), and a whole ton of different themes, so it’s not easy to pick one out to say what the book’s about. But I guess it’s about learning to relate to and communicate with people, and learning to be honest about your feelings to yourself and to the people you care about.

It was an enjoyable read, on the whole. The dialogue’s witty, the narration moves quickly and was equally entertaining, and while I have no idea how the slang would read to someone from that part of Australia (sometimes I find British books cringey and unrealistic; obviously I can’t judge that when I’m unfamiliar with the colloquialisms), I found it grounded me in the setting and helped me get into the characters’ voices. There are both romantic and platonic elements to the relationships it explores, and they aren’t overshadowed by each other, although I have to say I thought there was potential for romance to develop between two characters and it didn’t, which almost disappointed me. (I like friendships. I also like happy f/f relationships…)

I was pretty impressed by how well the book saw into the mind of a teenage girl without diving into stereotypes, especially as it’s by a male author. Although Clancy’s a bit more butch than your average seventeen-year-old, she doesn’t feel unrealistically so, and she felt natural and believable. I had to double check the author bio before writing my review because my default was to assume it was a female writer, which just goes to show I’m not above falling into assumptions about gender – sorry! Kudos to Christopher Currie, though; I was impressed.

The plot isn’t a high-stakes high-action plot, in many ways, because it’s more a series of small events building up to cause drama than a single instant. However, there’s enough happening to keep my interest, and the humour definitely helped with that. Perhaps the lack of resolution in that one relationship was the reason the ending felt a little unsatisfying to me – I really thought it was going to go further than it did, and as a result it felt slightly unfinished – but it didn’t particularly mar my enjoyment of the book.

Rating: ****

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