My first Nick Earls book was 48 Shades of Brown which I reviewed a couple of years ago for Eclectica. Brown is part of the Graphia imprint from Houghton Mifflin which highlights smart and hip books for teens that are anything but ordinary. It was a pretty simple story on the surface: teenage boy moves in with aunt and her roommate so he can finish out the school year when his parents are transferred out of the country for work. Things got complicated though as the aunt was very young and cool, the roommate was very hot and cool and Dan was pretty much overwhelmed by his deep desire to be some kind of cool but stuck with having no clue how to do that.
He's your pretty typical teenager in that respect.
The book went so far beyond what it could have been though; it was as much about discovering that it is okay to like (and miss) your parents as it was about figuring out how to talk to girls. Dan's attempts at being a witty conversationalist (or at the very least not sounding like a complete idiot) prompt him to study all sorts of esoteric subjects so he can be prepared for anything â€“ hence the many shades of brown mentioned in the title along with a lot of other random bird information and a hunt for the perfect pesto recipe. In the end, 48 Shades of Brown was a great coming-of-age story that made me deeply care about the main character and put Nick Earls on my reading radar; I was really interested to see what he would come up with next.
After my review Nick and I stayed in contact and he let me know when his new book, After Summer, was coming out in the states. Summer is equal parts romance and coming-of-age and follows the trials and travails of Alex, who is waiting to hear about his university acceptance and hoping it will give him some idea just what he's supposed to be doing with his life. Vacationing with his mom on the coast as he waits, he tries very hard to think about anything except the letter, which we all know is impossible, but you can't blame the guy for trying. Then he meets a girl who won't tell him her name (I won't reveal it as guessing is part of the story) but does give him a whole new way of looking at the world. She isn't waiting for her life to start; she's living it and Alex just can't imagine what that kind of freedom could be all about.
But wait â€“ don't think it's all about running away from home or anything because that is totally not what's going on here.
Alex falls hard for the girl and over the course of his two week holiday they spend more and more time together as he tries to figure her out. Her family is, for lack of a better description, a group of artsy hippies that do support themselves but spend a lot more time being happy instead of worried. And the girl is a true free spirit in every sense of the word â€“ but a whip smart one who is no kind of fill in the blank aimless flower child from central casting. She makes Alex think about what he wants from life and who he wants to be, big questions he has most studiously been avoiding. This prompts some deeper thoughts about his parents (I can't say how much I enjoy reading a YA author who treats parents as something other than stock background footage), and the future. In the middle of all the thinking there is plenty of room for romance and Earls nails the budding relationship with ease. Again, he proved to me that he knows teenagers, and more importantly he knows how to honestly portray thoughts and feelings that all of us, regardless of age, have experienced. There is nothing fake or forced about Nick's writing and the sincere way in which he tells his stories is truly a wonder to read.
I hate comparing writers, but as I don't think Nick is nearly as well known in the U.S. as he should be, I do want to make all fans of John Green's An Abundance of Katherines aware of him. The same kind of smart and funny story, the same kind of three dimensional characters (especially of the male teen variety) and the same kind of small revelations about life can be found in Nick's books. He's an author who understands that growing up is not about shopping, screwing and being stupid. Yes, a lot of that does happen along the way but it's not the point. The point is deciding who you are (and who you want to be) and Nick gets that and he writes great books that share that message without being full of self importance. His writing is sweet and true and it makes me laugh every time; he truly is a delightful wonder.
While I was getting ready for this special "Best Read With Vegemiteâ€� edition I emailed Nick to see what he's up to literary-wise and he pointed me in the direction of the website for his new book, a collaboration with fellow author Rebecca Sparrow, Joel & Cat Set the Story Straight. In this go-round the teens in question are Joel Hedges and Catriona "Catâ€� Davis, who do not get along but have work together. Here's the set-up:
Due to an unfortunate incident involving a leaking pen and suspected outbreak of Bird Flu, Joel and Cat are forced to sit next to each other in Extension English. To make matters worse, and to their mutual horror, they are paired together for a tandem story writing assignment.
When I read Cat's description I pretty much fell in love with this book: "Cat enjoys listening to music (Ryan Adams, Silverchair, Ani DiFranco), watching old movies (Sixteen Candles, Roman Holiday, Barefoot in the Park), staring at her Orlanda Bloom poster and trying to find grammatical errors in restaurant menus.â€�
She is so totally my kind of girl!
To get readers in the mood for the tandem story idea, the authors are hosting a contest at the Joel & Cat site for readers who want to give writing their own collaboration a shot. Head on over and learn about the book, the authors, and join in with readers and writers from all over the world who are chiming in with their own ideas. The contest ends September 9th. You can also find out about Nick's many other books at his site. He's a wonderful writer and I highly recommend his work.