Published by Penguin, 2009
Loved this book – it has become one of my favourite reads of the year. Once I started reading I didn’t want to put it down. Very deserving of all the praise I’ve seen heaped on it (and what encouraged me to finally pick it up and see what all the fuss was about).
Carly has dropped out of uni. She feels like a disappointment to her parents and moves away, working a monotonous kitchen job so she can devote the rest of her time to what she really loves – surfing. In the ocean, Carly feels like she belongs, and doesn’t have to think about what happened to her two years ago at Schoolies. Except then she meets local boy Ryan, and his presence in her life means she will have to face up to her problems, or let the past prevent her from truly being happy.
This is a great young adult novel that is authentic and involving. It has trauma and anguish but the story and emotion is always wonderfully controlled. There is a quality of self-assurance to the writing – it is clear Eagar knows what she wants to say and has tapped into the best and truest way of saying it. This is not a sentimental book, and that’s because the focus is on Carly’s anger. It is the anger that provides the fuel for the story – it sets up the pacing, the themes, the prose. Despite all the emotional brevity, Raw Blue feels lean and whipped into shape. There is an urgency to it that is quite addictive – I was drawn in by how far Carly could push herself and let others push her until she just completely cracked.
I grew up with the beach, and I love it, and Eagar too seems to have an obvious affection for the ocean, the surfing culture, and the people who are a part of it. This really shines through in her writing. Personalities are quickly drawn and dominate the pages in much the same way they dominate the ocean. Their nuances, the way they speak, their attitudes – I feel like I know these people. I do know these people. It is fascinating to see these familiar types observed and brought to life so realistically (and fondly, even if they are a total ass).
I just love this book because it really does feel so honest and real – the people and the situations are ones I have come across a million times before. And yet they are never boring or lazy; they are written in a way that makes me come to them with fresh eyes. I also think Eagar has excellently captured how it is to work in a kitchen, or ‘behind-the-scenes’ at a cafe or restaurant. I remember working in a few as a teenager, and I swear I could have transported myself into the pages of Raw Blue and I would hardly notice the difference.
Not a great deal happens in this book, and there is no big climatic moment. Carly just sinks deeper and deeper, and the good things that happen to her are really only distractions in her seeming intent to self-destruct. The last few chapters show the slow re-emergence of hope and recovery. And yet something about the story made me keep turning and turning the pages. I don’t often really come to ‘care’ about characters, but I did with Carly. I think it’s because despite all the crap and moping about, she doesn’t feel sorry for herself – she just gets on with it, using all her anger to drive herself forward.
A last two things I love about Raw Blue – the distinct Australian tone of it, and the fact that it deals with a university-aged teen. It was a refreshing change from YA that revolves around high school, and actually an age group that I feel in fiction often gets overlooked.