The only girl in town by Ally Condie

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This is an outstanding book - intense and beguiling!  For the central character, July Fielding, there is a ‘Now’ and a ‘Once’. She tells the story of her past and her current state, her ‘Now’, as the ‘only girl in town’. Abandoned by all around her, even the ones closest to her, in an enigmatic half-life mystery where everyone has disappeared, she tells the story of her ‘Once’ existence as a popular teenager.  Her best friend, running mates, boyfriend and former first-kiss partner, and her family are all extremely important to her, but they are no longer with her – they have disappeared. Only her cat, YOLO, reappears as a support to her in her current painful life.  As she reflects on the mystery of her Now and the importance of her past (the ‘Once’ she remembers), there is both an unravelling and a putting back together of her life. Will we as readers understand the mystery and the direction of her life and understand July’s path to a future?

This is brilliantly written, an enigmatic and almost ethereal journey through the agony  and discomfort of adolescent mental pain. Written reflectively, July is presented as a much respected, loved and ‘together’ teenager with anything possible for her future. With glimpses of possible struggles scattered through the ‘Once’ chapters, the book mostly paints a picture of abandonment and isolation for the central character in a mysterious crisis. Her revelation of the cause of her struggles happens slowly, revealed in short, sharp chapters, and creating distress for the reader as the unknown continues to play out. This is such a powerfully woven story; it would be worthy of study by senior students, but equally it is an enthralling, entertaining (although serious) story for teenagers aged 15+. The narrative is not in chronological order, the central character is an unreliable narrator, there are baffling clues, the unfolding of the drama is not linear, there are links to other texts and also transcripts from conversations, and consequently this is a book requiring a degree of maturity for YA readers. But it is magnificent! It is the kind of story that makes you want to immediately re-read the book to see how the author has managed to obfuscate the details that are so important. Only in finishing the story can you see where it was leading. It is absolutely worth the journey.

Themes: Loneliness, Relationships, Mental illness, Mystery, Romance.

Carolyn Hull