Beyond Evie by Rebecca Burton
HarperCollins, 2011. ISBN 978 0732291525.
(Ages 14+) Highly recommended. In a reminiscence, Charlotte tells us of her first love, Evie, and in so doing reveals her own background, fears, contradictions and failings. The deliberately slow pace of the story builds on small episodes and events in their lives, the cumulative effect allowing the reader to know these two girls intimately. From the start the reader knows that something has happened, and the suspense builds as the story progresses, some chapters ending with an enigmatic statement which belies what has been said before. We know we are in for a treat, and settle down to enjoy it.
Evie comes to work at the bakery where Charlotte works. She is startlingly different, her clothes, the way she works, her attitudes, all confront Charlotte and her narrow world of home and school. But when she brazenly asks about Charlotte's father, the girl is taken aback. People do not go that far. They stop asking questions when told he is dead. But not Evie. She wants the details, and probes Charlotte until she has revealed all, telling her more than she has told anyone, even her mum or sister, Amy, or mum's boyfriend, Brian.
Dad's depression, resulting in his death is a constant worry to Charlotte as she looks for signs of it in her own life. She questions decisions she makes, words she utters, thoughts and motives, especially after her mother comments how like her father she is. She is desperate not to take after him.
One day, Charlotte meets Evie and her friend, Seb at the lighthouse point, a remote place on the southern coast. Here, surprisingly, Evie kisses Charlotte, and their friendship begins to change. The budding relationship, like all new loves, is tentative, thrilling and full of longing. Evie and Charlotte spend a wonderful week during the school holidays, culminating in one night together, but then it is over, Charlotte betrayed in a most cruel way.
The setting along the coast that Burton knows well, is stunningly brought to life as we meander around the scrub with the characters she has created. The beach side, the bakery, the lighthouse point, the suburbs that cling to the protected native scrub area with its birds and wildlife, the houses and shacks where Charlotte and her friends and family live, infuse the story. The reader knows well the littleness of the beach side suburb where nothing happens and people must travel outside for work and pleasure. The lives played out against such a backdrop are all the more real. The betrayal of Evie could have pushed Charlotte to despair, but she uses her love of the area to keep her mind focussed on life beyond Evie.
A beautifully told story of first love, of betrayal and ultimately, survival, Beyond Evie will have wide appeal to thoughtful secondary girls. An absorbing second novel by the author of the well received, Leaving Jetty Road.