When everything changes, can friendship survive?
Luke spends his days hanging out at the beach, working shifts at the local supermarket, and trying to stay out of trouble at school. His mate Bongo gets wasted, blocking out memories of the little brother social services took away and avoiding the stepdad who hits him. And Casey, the girl they both love, dreams of getting away and starting a new life in a place where she can be free.
A powerful and authentic look at teen life from talented new author Emma Cameron. – Synopsis from Goodreads
If I were to list all the issues that Cinnamon Rain touches upon, you could be forgiven for thinking this book is heavier than a box of hammers.
So I’m not going to, because it isn’t. And I think that it would be doing this book a great disservice, if it were to be passed over on basis of a misconception about its content. Because rather than being just another book about [insert topical teen issue here], Cinnamon Rain is one of the most insightful and hopeful young adult novels I’ve read this year.
That’s not to say that Cinnamon Rain sacrifices authenticity for the sake of an uplifting subtext, or lacks depths in its discussion of complex social issues. In fact, the opposite is true. Cinnamon Rain is often painfully honest in its portrayal of abuse, homelessness, neglect and isolation.
Verse is not exactly my favourite medium of story-telling, but for Cinnamon Rain’s purposes, it works. Cameron’s particular style is sharp and direct, while handling her subject matter with grace. All of the gravity of the story is conveyed, without weighing it down or delving into overly dramatic territory. Rather, Cameron clearly captures the voices of each of her three central characters – and the rawness and yearning that permeate their stories.
This is a frank, open book that doesn’t shy away from telling it like it is. I think I had unconsciously expected something softer, more cautious, so I was pleasantly surprised by Cameron’s matter-of-factness when it came to subjects like drug use and sex. There’s a lot of integrity in the way the circumstances and actions of each character are related. Rather than glossing them over, or alternatively gratuitously inflating them, Cameron writes candidly about the characters’ experiences, making this novel one of the most accurately portrayals of high school in Australia that I’ve read. (It’s also the little things, like the references to playing handball at lunch and spraying people at the bubblers. Which are both things I did a lot of.)
Possibly my favourite aspect of Cinnamon Rain is the fact that it addresses a section of young adult society that I don’t often see tackled in YA (funnily enough) – early high school leavers. For various reasons, none of the main characters pursue a typical path through high school, yet never does the book “typecast” them for their decisions, or come across with some heavy-handed: “stay in school” message. Instead, it skilfully demonstrates the point that there are different paths to a given destination – and that while life can take people in unexpected directions, this doesn’t necessarily put their goals out of reach. Essentially the story of Cinnamon Rain, and the friendship at its centre, feels circular – each narrator picking up the thread and eventually weaving the ends back together.
My second favourite aspect of Cinnamon Rain is the handling of the core relationships between Luke, Casey and Bongo. (Yes, Bongo. Despite my initial reservations, I did come around to that nickname). A complicated blend of friendship, attraction, unrequited love and loyalty – the relationships between the characters are exceptionally well-rendered and above all, believable. I felt emotionally invested in these characters and what was happening to them, all the more so as their personal stories began to unravel.
In a similar vein, I’m particularly impressed with the decision Cameron made regarding the ending of Cinnamon Rain, keeping the story realistic and true to her characters. It felt like the right way to leave Luke, Casey and Bongo – anything else would have felt like a cop out, to me.
I really hope Cinnamon rain finds its way into the hands of more readers, because it deserves appreciation. If you a fan of contemporary young adult novels, verse novels, or both – do yourself a favour and read it.
Publisher: Walker Books
Publication Date: 1 February 2012