City by James Roy
UQP, 2012. ISBN 9780702249266.
(Age 14+) Highly recommended. Short stories. CBCA Older Readers Notables 2013. A companion volume to the award winning short story collection Town (Ethel Turner Prize, Inkys 2008, German Youth Literature Prize shortlist 2011), City is a compilation of connected short stories about young people in a city which feels familiar but which remains unnamed. The young people are linked in different ways, through acquaintances, or chance meetings or the poetry of the unnamed Poet who leaves a haiku in strange places.
These are a series of striking stories that leave the reader with many unanswered questions and the need to go back and examine stories for hints to identity and connectedness. Each can be read as a stand-alone but reading the whole feels a feeling of satisfaction about guessing some of the connections and frustration about not knowing others. Some stories stand out. The Driver was so memorable, as three young men make mistake after mistake in an attempt to help out a friend. The poor decision making is highlighted by hilarious dialogue from Mitch, who can see the stupidity of what he is doing but seems powerless to stop himself from behaving in a lawless fashion. Toyota of the beast pulses with the emotions of Vee, who was visited by an ex-boyfriend and was reminded of the time when 'a bunch of pissed idiots threatened to gang up' on her. Vulture days tugs the heartstrings with the story of Josie a pregnant schoolgirl who shows her writing to a visiting author and learns more about writing and life than she expects. Threading through the stories are the haikus of the unknown poet who writes them in strange places, hoping that strangers will find them.
There are many ideas to explore in City that would have great appeal to adolescents, all leavened with authentic dialogue and often funny or poignant situations. Themes like dangerous driving, drug taking, death of a parent, unrequited love, music and poetry are linked together in a challenging whole. This would make an excellent literature circle book or class set for older teens. A book trailer is available from Roy's webpage and there is a Sydney Writers' Centre interview with James Roy about the collection.