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just_a_girl Paperback – June 17, 2013
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"A wholly original book whose teenage heroine gets more convincing and complex as the book progresses." - Kerryn Goldsworthy, The Age; Sydney Morning Herald. 6 July 2013.
"[Writing sex] can be at once banal and shocking, as in Kirsten Krauth's debut novel just_a_girl, with its 14-year-old protagonist, Layla, and her disconnected digital persona ("I start to feel it, slowly, for the camera.")" - Damon Young, 'The Lure of Erotic Fiction', Sydney Morning Herald. 1 October 2013.
"When it comes to voice, Krauth is in her element. Online and offline, every word of dialogue hits its mark." - Michelle McLaren, The Newtown Review of Books, 2 July 2013.
"... this idea of parents who are more child-like than their children permeates the book - and it's very crushing and contemporary." - Simmone Howell, Post Teen Trauma blog. 10 July 2013.
From the Author
But status updates, blog posts, tweets, RSS feeds: do they offer any sense of real connection? Your friends might 'like' your posts but does that convert to a genuine response? My own experience is that relying on social media is making us lazy in the offline world. It doesn't translate into action. Why call when you can text? Why commit when something better may come up? Why send a birthday card when you can just say 'happy birthday' on Facebook when the calendar reminds you?
There's also the question of public versus private space. Many older users of Facebook are careful in the information they distribute. My own rule is that I use Facebook and Twitter as a kind of online work cubicle. If I wouldn't be happy pinning it up to a wall at work, I don't put it up on Facebook. If I distribute images of my children, I'm very careful about how they are represented. But what about our children's use of social media?
I've recently published a novel, just_a_girl, which features a 14-year-old girl who is reckless with her internet use. When researching the book, I was interested in the idea of characters more isolated than ever in the digital age. I began to focus on teenagers. I stalked a lot of young girls on Facebook (in the early days). I was astonished at how naïve they were in terms of the information they shared. With most I could easily find out their names, their birthdays, where they lived, which school they went to, their pets, boys they liked, and what they were passionate about. Parents were rarely in the equation and I'm guessing they had little knowledge of their daughters' online worlds.
According to a 7.30 Report story on 'sexting', 'one in five young women have posted images of themselves nude or semi-nude online. Nearly half the girls have been asked to.' These are not small figures. An increasing number of girls are being exposed in this way, some by choice and others not. If girls come from regional towns, the problem can be heightened. As the ABC's Louise Mulligan reports:
"They're the images that make any parent of a teenager's stomach turn: young girls in so-called 'selfies', shot by themselves in a state of provocative undress, taken on their smartphone and sexted, maybe to a boy they like, but the pictures get out. And, snap, they're on a Facebook page dedicated to exposing girls it calls 'sluts'. The page is the third to come out of one Victorian regional town in the past two years. We've chosen not to name it to avoid further harm to the girls. Two of the girls were aged under 18 and one under 16."
Girls walking down the street in their hometowns are then accosted as 'sluts' by people who recognise their images from Facebook. Labelled and judged. When parents of the girls in the above case tried to get Facebook to remove the images, their requests were refused. The girls are stuck up there. Imagine your first sexual experiences captured and displayed to a wide audience ...
I wrote just_a_girl for parents grappling with the new technologies thrust upon us. I think about my four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. They deftly scroll through my photos on the iPhone and iPad, their little fingers flicking the screen like experts. How do I teach them to respect each other and themselves? To commit to friendships? To take time to focus on things that aren't on a screen? To think carefully before posting images and words?
It's time for parents to sit down and notice. To help teenagers negotiate these changing spaces - to help them connect both in and out of the digital spheres.
But we can't do that unless we understand these spheres ourselves. And most parents are looking the other way.
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON THE WHEELER CENTRE DAILIES BLOG.
- Publisher : UWA Publishing (June 17, 2013)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1742584950
- ISBN-13 : 978-1742584959
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5 x 0.8 x 7.5 inches
Best Sellers Rank:
#2,258,372 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #52,718 in Contemporary Literature & Fiction
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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It indeed gives a good insight into what your children may be doing when you think they're safely in bed at home.
Kirsten Krauth admirably reflects the inner thoughts of a lonely neurotic mother ,her rebellious daughter and the sexual lust of men.
The main character Layla, an angst-ridden, precocious 15yo, has a distant mother, a single parent immersed in the life of a Sydney mega-church. This character's chapters, written in the first person, expose a spiritually confused, emotionally raw woman who aches for the love of God but who is still too wounded from a lack of more conventional affection. She is coming off antidepressants and is in love with her pastor, a Pentecostal smoothie called Bevan who encourages Sydney suburbanites to prosper through praising the Lord. The mother’s entire life becomes filtered through the prism of her own peculiar theology.
Kirsten Krauth captures so perfectly the myriad anxieties and crises of adolescent life, occasionally making me laugh in recognition. Easy to read, filled with provocative ideas, and an excellent commentary on the pressures faced by contemporary youth.
Which is not to say that Layla isn't a strong character with her own agenda, ideas and nous. Krauth, however, has crafted the story in such a way that the reader can step back from Layla’s often witty self-justifications to see the fragility of the facade she presents to others – and to herself. The narrative is propelled by three separate characters: Layla, her mother Margot, and a disconnected young Japanese man, Tadashi. The interweaving of these three voices breaks the reliance on Layla's self-narrative, without attempting to recapture identical events from multiple perspectives. Each character is whole, although I was curious as to why only Tadashi was rendered in the third person. Perhaps this approach echoed his distance from human contact. Although each narrator was sad and strong in their own way, perhaps only Layla emerged with an intact sense of potential.
Krauth’s writing is restrained and therefore effective. She clearly cooperated with her editor! Character voices are consistent, with nary a sense of artifice in the prose. The author has made her word choices carefully: appropriate to each character's repertoire, yet direct and expressive. As a first novel, just_a_girl isn’t difficult to read; in fact, it’s a pleasure. What endures, though, is the sense of disappointment that the hopes of Layla’s grandparents – and the posturing of her parents – continue to fail young women, no matter how many followers they attract.
Each character finds ways to survive without a safety-net and network of family and friends and, thanks to Kirsten Krauth's excellent writing, each attracts our sympathy. But Layla's story is the most compelling - in contrast to Margot and Tadashi's reliance on fantasies, Layla is determined to make real-life connections. She has few illusions about adult motivations and behaviour (perhaps partly as a reaction against Margot's multiple self-delusions). But she is nevertheless overconfident and unaware of her own vulnerability and, assisted by the availability of the internet and Margot's lack of understanding, she frequently makes decisions which could put her in harm's way. However, she develops throughout the novel and, despite a lack of adult guidance, has the intelligence to pose questions about the priorities and preferences of her peer group and to gravitate towards more fulfilling choices and relationships as the novel progresses.
Top reviews from other countries
Negatives: Too many untied loose ends. There seems to be a trend at the moment to leave many questions unanswered, but I like resolution! There were several intertwined story lines in and pretty much none of them were resolved, I found the ending disappointing and frustrating, I really liked the characters and although I didn't expect all the story lines to be neatly tied in bows, some resolution would have been great.
Told through the points of view of 15-year-old Layla, her mother Margot and the introverted stranger Tadashi, the story juxtaposes Layla's often brutal and dangerous path to maturity with Margot's dashed hopes and dreams, against the backdrop of a church community that hides its manipulative and controlling nature behind a guise of religion and community.
Most striking is the exploration of the impact of the internet on everyone's lives, and how one little mistake, or misadventure, can be uploaded to You Tube in seconds and preserved forever.
Just_A_Girl is a fantastic read. I couldn't put it down.