Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2013. ISBN: 9781742973951.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Hardie Grant Egmont seems passionate about publishing debut novels, and the first book developed for what's being called The Ampersand Project is Melissa Keil's novel, Life in Outer Space.
I had heard nothing about it, no build up or word-of-mouth. I found it in Big W of all places (although it has since turned up in my ASO pack), and I just loved it. I think my preferred YA contemporary novels are those with male protagonists, and Sam is the perfect example of such a narrator. He is a clever nerd, with only four friends and a routine life exactly as he wants. It's safe. As long as the arrogant Justin Zigoni and his group (who Sam refers to as 'the Vessels of Wank') leave him alone.
When bold and unique Camilla arrives at school, his organised world is turned on its head. Camilla refuses to fit into any group, any stereotype, any clique, and - horror of horrors! - she invades his familiar spaces and talks to him, without irony, and without embarrassment. Admittedly, the friendship begins online behind World of Warcraft avatars, but eventually their IRL ('in real life') encounters occur almost daily, and Sam's confusion and cluelessness is adorable and funny.
Sam only talks to Camilla because he believes there is no way she could possibly be interested in a romantic relationship. His self worth, governed by the moronic high school hierarchy, gives Sam the opportunity to befriend Camilla, although she isn't one to be refused. She is determined to be part of their group, and her matter-of-fact way of joining conversations, and ignoring the possibility of becoming socially outcast, is pure sass and blustery confidence. I have rarely seen such a genuine character in YA. She's pretty awesome really. Sam's friends are not shoved to the side. We see that Mike is struggling with issues, although it takes till the end of the novel before Sam is able to figure out how to make him talk. His gayness is dealt with honestly and affectionately. Allison seems to be smitten with Sam, yet her storyline is resolved positively, and Adrian, well, he stayed Adrian. Sam is loyal and cares for his friends, another of his great traits. Hmm, I might be gushing, a bit.
Keil uses film, specifically the Horror genre, to highlight her main concerns, to pull the male readers in, and to weave a consistent theme through her narrative, which is all about self perception and figuring out who you are. Great to see a positive and fun Australian YA contemporary. In the vein of Gabrielle Williams and Fiona Wood.