It’s difficult to pinpoint the difference between a good book and a great book. I have the privilege of reading and reviewing many wonderful books, but I believe my latest YA read, Crossing the Line, by Dianne Bates (Ford Street Publishing, 2008) will become a classic of modern Australian literature, and I’ve been trying to work out why.
The book blurb is short:
Being abandoned is nothing new for Sophie. But things look up when she moves in with Matt and Amy.
So how come she ends up in a psych ward? And aren’t therapists supposed to help?
From the first lines, we are firmly in Sophie’s point of view. Bates is a masterful writer. She weaves narrative, dialogue and introspection expertly together so that the reader lives the story, eyes racing down the pages. Often, I found myself nodding or cringing over a wryly-observed character trait, and always sharing Sophie’s pain and triumphs. Sophie is a chaotic mix of confidence and anxiety, revelling in rare moments of peace, annoyed by bureaucratic intervention, and desperate for love. Her voice is an authentic teen voice. Before I read the novel, I assumed the main character would be rebellious, contemptuous, probably someone I wouldn’t much like. But I loved Sophie, and got inside her skin to the extent that I wept over her story.
I hate to think of children who ache for a mother’s love. In my perfect Book Chook world, being loved and cared for should be just as fundamental a right as having access to quality reading material. Reality tells a different tale. In Crossing the Line, we share Sophie’s life, and understand why someone would want to self-mutilate. Abandoned by loved ones, controlled by bureaucracy, Sophie’s deep depression seems alleviated only in those moments when she cuts herself.
Yet Crossing the Line is not gloomy or dark. Neither is it sweet and uplifting. Above all it is real, every facet of the story contributes to seeing Sophie’s life the way it is.
Even the minor characters in this powerful novel are beautifully drawn. They’re three dimensional - some likeable, some not, but all believable. I swear I have met many of them. Crossing the Line should be mandatory reading for those in the psychiatric and welfare industries. It helps the reader comprehend what it’s really like to be a teen struggling with mental illness.
The story stayed with me, long after I closed the cover on the final page. At odd moments, I’ve found myself wondering and worrying about Sophie, and wishing I could give her a hug. I’ve decided this is what makes Crossing the Line a great book, and future classic. Not just Bates’s awesome writing skills, but her ability to create a character so real, and so loveable, that you want to adopt her.
Sophie, I know you’re out there. Hang in there sweetheart, we’re on your side.