All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

just_a_girl – Kirsten Krauth

on November 26, 2013

just_a_girljust_a_girl 
Kirsten Krauth
UWA Press
2013, 259p
Copy courtesy of the author/publisher

Layla is just 14 years old. She lives with her single mother who has turned to religion since her husband, Layla’s father left. While Margot is at work or church (and sometimes even when she’s home), Layla cruises online on her laptop in her bedroom, meeting men. She catches trains to meet strangers for hook ups, even travelling all the way from her home in the lower mountains to Newcastle, meeting up with a man in his early 30s.

Layla is perpetually bored by things – her boyfriend is older than her and has a license but she doesn’t seem to find him at all that interesting and their relationship, for want of a better term, is not one based on mutual respect and love. Her mother is far too interested in her evangelical church, one that Layla stopped going to years ago. Margot has been single for a long time now and she finds herself attracted to the charismatic and very married pastor of the church. She is torn by his affection and smiles, his kindness to her. Is he interested? Is his marriage as perfect as it seems, as his wife would have everyone believe? And does he hold the key to her future happiness? Layla also misses her father who left years ago and now lives on the Gold Coast with a succession of usually younger (male) partners. Layla visits him once a year for two weeks and his absence has had a profound effect on her life. His lack of real interest in her outside of her annual visit is something that is almost always on her mind.

Meanwhile, there’s a young Japanese man on the train that Layla makes eye contact with sometimes. She’s unaware of what he has in his suitcase although she’s going to find out.

just_a_girl was reviewed by a few blogging friends of mine earlier this year and I immediately wanted to read it based on the strength of their opinions so when I was offered the chance to review it, I jumped at it! Perhaps because I spend so much time on the internet and I remember the internet becoming a “thing”, I find books that center around it and our interactions on it, so interesting. Layla is so young – but also not really. In a time where it seems that people are growing up faster than ever, she’s already experimenting with her sexuality, making videos to send to men online, indulging in racy talk and even arranging to meet up with several of them. I was 16 when my family got the internet at home on a 28.8k dial up modem. We purchased about 60hours of pre-paid internet per month for a whopping $60. It’s actually almost inconceivable to think of that now, given how far we’ve come in terms of internet availability and speed (and bear in mind Australia still has one of the poorer standards of internet compared to similar countries). I spent a lot of time hanging out in chatting.com when I first began using the internet, fascinated by the idea that I could be talking to people from all over the world. And then when I was bored I could just log off, come back under a different name and talk to more people. There were no webcams in those days but there were still plenty of (I assume) older men cruising for teenage girls and sexual talk. And whether or not people want to admit it, chances are many have engaged in conversations that go further than just friendly chitchat.

I was most intrigued by Layla’s exploration of her self worth and her sexuality because at times she seems to be a total contradiction. On one hand, she records a video and uploads it for a man she reveals at first only as Mr C and she agrees to meet an older man for sex in a hotel hours away in Newcastle. However despite this, she does not have a fully sexual relationship with her 18yo boyfriend and when her boss gropes her at work and when she is filmed being physically assaulted on the train (which is then uploaded to YouTube) she is deeply disturbed and hurt by these incidents and they do have a profound affect on her. Despite her occasional confidence and desire to explore, it’s very much on her own terms and in situations where she believes that she owns all of the control. Push past that and she is a frightened, insecure, unsure teenage girl. I think that it’s no coincidence that most of the men who interest Layla in the novel, or whom she chooses to experiment with, are significantly older than her. She hasn’t had a real father for almost a decade – her two weeks spent mostly alone in his Gold Coast apartment while he works doesn’t really count. This has clearly had a deep impact on her and she seems unable to confide in or relate to her overly religiously zealous mother most of the time. Krauth’s exploration of Layla is expertly and intriguingly done. She doesn’t just make her a teen acting out of boredom or a desire to experiment because it’s what everyone else is doing. She gives Layla real layers of depth to her that are very easy to see and understand.

The storyline with Tadashi, the young Japanese man from the train began in a very interesting way and I was looking forward to really seeing where that was going but I feel as though it wasn’t explored enough. It needed to be taken further or perhaps left out of the story altogether because in the end it didn’t really seem to contribute that much but I think that it could have. I think the detail and ideas were fascinating and I like that Krauth included where she obtained her information in the back of the book. It’s really difficult to imagine for me, why someone might choose to do this but then I think that the author successfully gave Tadashi enough of a personality so that you could see why he would choose it. I just wish it could’ve gone that little further.

8/10

Book #288 of 2013

AWW2013

just_a_girl is book #101 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

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5 responses to “just_a_girl – Kirsten Krauth

  1. writenote1 says:

    Hi Bree, I’m waiting for this book to turn up – looking forward to reading it even more now.

  2. I liked Layla as a character but I agree with you in regards to Tadashi’s storyline, though some one else told me I just didn’t get it *shrug*

  3. Great review, I’m reading this at the moment.

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