The build up season by Megan Jacobson
Penguin Books Australia, 2017. ISBN 9780143573388
(Age: Senior secondary) Highly recommended. Themes: domestic violence, first love, first sex, family, coming of age, Darwin. 17 year old Illy and her mum are living in her Nan's house in Darwin, escaping domestic violence. Illy had been sent to boarding school to keep her safe but angry and rejected she managed to get expelled. Her mum, Eve is a wellness expert, hosting retreats to make a living but her calmness belies the fact that they all live in fear of being found and punished by Iliad's violent father Troy. Refusing to be a victim Illy takes her anger out on her family and schoolmates, she doesn't fit in and is only interested in Art. Max, a boy who lives near her is also keen on art, wanting to make films but when he asks her to drive him home and suggests they stop at his house to see his python Illy misinterprets, overreacts and orders him out of the car. A prank war ensues mediated to some extent by Mia, a geeky, idiosyncratic classmate Illy feels protective of. Mia turns out to be strategically perceptive and supportive and she and Max's mate Hamish are there for their friends when they are most needed.
When Illy meets and falls in love with Jared Lovett, the principal's son, she learns that love is not rational. She becomes besotted with the self-centred frustrated actor, spending all her time with him, working out ways to help him be successful. As the relationship develops she makes a conscious decision to have sex with him, pondering the meaning, in this modern world, of the significance of losing one's virginity. However, Jared has anger management problems and becomes very jealous leading to a violent outburst. Illy finds herself making excuses for him, slipping into the role of victim. Dealing with this revelation pales into insignificance once the real terror begins and she discovers who she can turn to in a crisis. Just as the heat and humidity of Darwin builds, so does the threat of violence but for Iliad things also become clearer as she makes her own decisions and adjusts her perspectives.
A powerful story about surviving domestic violence and first love and while explicitly exploring first sex it is with empowerment rather than loss. The minor characters are well drawn, each with their own issues but subtly looking out for one another. The novel also acknowledges the academic disruption caused by domestic violence and shifting schools yet Illy is able to have very real aspirations not dependent on broad academic excellence which many students will relate to. Highly recommended for senior students.