The end of the world is bigger than love by Davina Bell

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An ‘enchanting, surreal tale’ is how The Australian’s literary critic Joy Lawn described this foray into YA fiction for Davina Bell.  Bell is well-known for her picture books and children’s series fiction; apparently working on this novel for the past 12 years and unsure of its worth for publication.  Disregarding Bell’s hesitancy, the tale has definitely found an audience.

It has been shortlisted for the Older Readers’ category in The Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards for 2021, has won the Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult’s Literature in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and been shortlisted for The Readings Young Adult Book Prize.

The author sets her story in a dystopian world branching into magic realism and including a coming of age romance.  Alternate narrations of twin sisters, Summer and Winter, reveal that the girls have lost their mother to a frightening death, subsequently travelling to many countries with their father, a scientist who has destroyed the internet and is being pursued for his role in a pandemic, The Greying, which has become a global weapon.  Their stories, at first convincing, become increasingly more unreliable, to the point where the emotional reality becomes upended in the challenging times of technological progress and climate catastrophe.  Bell creates a landscape of uncertainty, fear and instability with the two girls learning that love can be lost, changed or just waiting to be discovered.

Reading the book is rather like a roller coaster ride, but it is clever and imaginative, with hidden meanings, digressions, humour and poignant moments.  What is it all about?  Each reader will explore something different.

Tracking the two stories must have been a demanding exercise for the author but the consistency and fluidity of both seem to work well. 

I particularly enjoyed Davina Bell’s love song to how much she loved books and how they shaped her life, with the two sisters sharing their memories of books they read and re-read together.

Themes: End of the world, Twins, Islands.

Julie Wells