Riding on trains with the crazies – this is what rang the most true to me in Kirsten Krauth’s 2013 contemporary fiction novel, just_a_girl. Her protagonist Layla is 14, lives in the Blue Mountains and regularly catches the train with all the ‘interesting’ folk we tend to get on our Sydney train system. And that was how I spent much of my youth as well, dodging unhinged looking people and avoiding the gaze of lecherous men, and guessing at the back stories of fellow passengers in order to pass the time. The scenario rang very true to me and I could relate well to Layla’s thoughts. Perhaps less relatable to me was the current young generation’s views on sex, identity, relationships and beliefs: this is why it’s so interesting as an author and a reader to delve into portrayals of YA characters as we (in my case Gen X) reflect on the differences between our own age group and their age group. I thought Krauth captured the voice of Layla as well as she did the voice of Layla’s forty-something mother. The portrayal of their very close single mother / teenage daughter relationship was well executed and poignant.
However, it was the character of Tadashi who brought something new to Krauth’s novel: his purchase of a life like doll from Japan as a silent companion in his lonely life was original and thought provoking. I recently read a newspaper article about an American man who has two dolls (to keep each other company) and socialises with other men living with dolls. I shook my head at the time at what I thought was the understatement of the year from that guy in the article – “I’m not really a people person” – but I must say that Krauth treats this topic with sensitivity and great dignity. It made me, in turn, reflect seriously on why people would introduce dolls into their lives and whether it was a viable life choice. I thought Tadashi’s story thread really made the novel. I would recommend just_a_girl to adult fiction and YA readers alike.
* This review is linked to the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge