This is Shyness

(last night I launched Leanne Hall's marvellous This is Shyness. Here are some of the things I said.) I'll start with a joke... of sorts.

Maureen McCarthy, David Lynch and a WEREWOLF walk into a bar. Not just any bar. It’s one of those deeply cool, unmistakably Melbourne bars, with absolutely no signage out front. One of those bars that’s down two different alleyways, behind some bins, at the bottom of a dirty flight of stairs. Inside the bar it’s all moody and mysterious, with dimly lit alcoves holding enticing, shadowy people. It’s like a different world down there, in that bar. A world where anything could happen. You forget that the city is rumbling above you.

Maureen orders a glass of red. David Lynch has a whiskey sour. The werewolf wants a Cosmopolitan, but is aware that it sounds a bit lame, particularly as Sex and the City is sooo 2006, so he orders a dirty martini instead and feels quite sophisticated.

They find an alcove and cluster round the table, drinking and talking. They start to wonder… what if this night lasted forever? What if the darkness never got chased away by morning? And as they talk, their imaginations run away with them, and they create this strange, wonderful story about two teenagers in a suburb where the sun never comes up, where sugar-crazed kids and creepy, bug eyed monkeys run riot in abandoned housing commission flats. It’s a beautiful story, a frightening story, a compelling story

The punchline of this joke isn’t really funny, and I apologise. Here it is: This story about the boy and the girl and their wild, unforgettable night isn’t a story that was cooked up by Maureen McCarthy, David Lynch and a werewolf. Astonishing, I know. But the really astonishing thing is this: that whole story came out of the mind of Leanne Hall.

This is Shyness is like nothing I’ve ever read before. It’s gritty and urban but also full of hope and yearning, and a little romance. It’s dark and strange and unfamiliar, but at the same time you feel like you know Shyness. You just haven’t been there for a while, but you totally know the streets and the buildings, over there, sandwiched somewhere between Fitzroy and Collingwood.

If this were a book published for adult readers, I think people would be worrying about what box to put it in. Literary fiction or commercial? Or fantasy? Or horror?  It doesn’t really fit in any of those. The wonderful thing about YA is that there are no boxes. Teen readers don’t need to be able to categorise and label a book, they’re quite happy to fall into the world and soak it all up to the very last page and then they keep thinking and imagining where the story goes after those closing lines, and I’m sure that’s what you’ll do with This is Shyness.