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Book DetailsISBN: 9781922268136
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Book Review: This Is How We Change The Ending by Vikki Wakefield - Reviewed by CloggieA (31 Aug 2019)
5 stars “I like facts. Facts resolve questions, and a question with an answer is a worry that has lost its power.”
This Is How We Change The Ending is the fifth novel by award-winning Australian author Vikki Wakefield. At sixteen, Nate McKee is trying to make sense of life. He’s intelligent and engaged, and he worries about the world. He tries to stay under the radar with the bullies at school and the one at home, Dec, his father, while looking out for his three-year-old twin half-brothers. “I worry that it's too hard much hard work to be a good person. If I was truly good it should be easy.”
Refuge comes in the form of time spent at the Youth, and with his friend Connor Merrick. Writing in his notebook keeps him sane: “I got a few words down. Not great ones, but that's not the point. Mostly they're just random scenes, fragments of sentences or long letters to nobody. Ideas that probably wouldn't make sense to anyone but me. They're out of control, so they're not poems; they have no music, so they're not lyrics. I suppose they're a kind of alternative reality, a possible reality more than a parallel universe. Like it could happen to me, instead of a different version of me. My notebooks are like my own private well and my words are like stones: I drop them in the well so I don't have to carry them around. I need the well. It keeps me from self-destructing.”
If Nate initially strikes the reader as self-deprecating, it becomes apparent, when his insightful English teacher sets the class an innovative exercise to have them seriously consider their life goals, that Nate’s view of his own future is bleak. Perhaps his acknowledgement of the potential obstacles to success make him less a pessimist than a realist, but perhaps he simply doesn’t recognise his own capacity.
Certainly his home life is not conducive to a positive mindset or even simply schoolwork: he has to share a bedroom with his brothers (one fast becoming a hyperactive clone of their father, the other apparently developmentally delayed) because Dec has appropriated his bedroom for an illicit hydroponic weed crop; his step-mother is sweet but subservient and nutritious meals are beyond her; and Dec regularly tries to force Nate to consume beer and use the weed he grows.
Into the mix are thrown a falling out with his friend, contact from the mother who abandoned him as a child, and the threat of closure for the Youth. When his (very private) words appear as graffiti on the walls, he’s not sure whether to be angry, flattered or worried. This earnest young man easily captures the reader’s heart with his genuine intention to do the right thing. Wise words from a vagrant lead him to discover friends he never realised were there.
Wakefield’s characters are authentic and their dialogue is believable. Nate and Merrick communicate in a movie script shorthand and have serious discussions on many issues. When Merrick suggests the bin chicken as a target for his slingshot, Nate counters with a well-thought-out opinion: “First, ibises are only feral because we built a McDonalds on their wetland - they have to adapt to survive. Second, don't you see the hypocrisy in sacrificing an ibis's natural environment to feed consumers of French fries and chicken nuggets, stripping it of its dignity and forcing it to resort to eating discarded pickles, and then calling it feral? The species faced extinction so you could have your cheeseburger. They adapted. There's the root of your repulsion.”
It’s difficult to limit quotes from this thoughtful character: “Nance thinks I write things down because I want them to be different. It's not only that - I write them down because I want to remember exactly how it feels to be me, right now. Otherwise my brain plays tricks - it changes things, normalises things that aren't normal. I don't have the data, but I’m willing to bet nostalgia is the brain's way of protecting itself, making sure that you only remember the good stuff. By the time we're eighty, our entire memory bank is probably some kind of utopian alternate reality. That's why old people only tell you stories about the good old days.”
Wakefield deftly demonstrates the importance, in the development of young adults, of perceptive teachers and youth centres, particularly where parental support is lacking or, worse, negative. A character like Nate gives hope for the future. This is another brilliant read from a talented author. It may be labelled YA, but older adults will also find this a thought-provoking and uplifting read.
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