Head of the River by Pip Harry

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University of Queensland Press, 2014. ISBN 9780702253263.
(Ages 13+) Recommended. Set in present-day Melbourne, Head of the River tells the story of seventeen-year-old fraternal twins desperate to lead their school to victory in Head of the River. Their stories begin six months prior to Head of the River, an Australian school rowing event, however the twins, Leni and Christian both encounter many different challenges that push them to their limits as they fight to stay on the team while maintaining relationships with peers and family.
All the characters in Head of the River were well rounded and relatable, with both flaws and merits that affected how they interacted with their surroundings. The story alternates between Christian and Leni's point-of-view. Both have the same goal, however their personalities and choices take them on completely different journeys. While Christian considers the use of drugs and steroids to lose weight and make it back onto the team, Leni finds herself trying to manage relationships and school while training for the big event. The plot is very character driven, and although it is a bit slow to begin with, it quickly picks up. It was refreshing to see characters in realistic situations face realistic consequences based on their choices. The dialogue flows smoothly and adds to the characters. There is some coarse language, however it is used sparingly to show the mood or personality of characters. Head of the River deals with themes such as family, peer-pressure, drugs and friendship in a mature and sensitive way while stressing the importance of decisions and how they impact both the lives of individuals as well as those around them. The writing style is simple and unobtrusive, with the tone changing depending on the point-of-view. It instils a wide range of emotions in the reader from guilt to joy and creates vivid scenes that remain true to life. The first person, present tense gives readers and in depth look into the protagonists' minds and keeps them on edge as the plot develops.
Overall, Head of the River is a highly enjoyable, thoughtful read that takes readers on a rollercoaster of emotions with complex and three-dimensional characters that stay with them even after the end. The novel deals with issues that are relevant to many teenagers' lives and shows the importance of family and friends. Head of the River appeals those who would rather curl up with a book than go outside as well as those who enjoy sports, specifically rowing, making it a very entertaining read.
Ruby T. (Student)