Narrator: Matthew Backer
Published by Penguin Random House Australia
Published on 31 August 2021
Genres: Adolescence, Contemporary, Young Adult
Source: my local library
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Luca Mason has been preparing to audition for the Australian Ballet School for more than a decade when a missed step on a flight of stairs lands him in hospital. But it’s not all bad—as Luca settles into a life of doctor’s appointments, unwieldy crutches, and absolutely no ballet (and no, he does not want to talk about it) he strikes up an unlikely friendship with the perfect-in-every-way rowing star of his new school, Jordan Tanaka-Jones.
You know how a couple of weeks ago I said I totally loved a book that I could totally see bits of my life in?
Well, I had absolutely NOTHING in common with this book, and it still blew me away.
Tobias Madden has been on my radar ever since he edited the Underdog #loveOzYa short story collection and I went, “Hang on, that name is familiar, why do I feel like I’ve heard of this author before? Why do I feel like I’ve seen him in a leotard?”
I don’t know if you know, but as a teen I was obsessed with everything Cats: the musical (and no, I do not want to talk about the film, that thing is an absolute atrocity and should never have been made), and I dragged my poor, bewildered husband to see the Cats tour of Australia a few years ago, starring Madden himself, and that’s where I knew the name because I’m that weirdo who memorises Cats actors.
So when Madden announced his debut YA novel, an #ownvoices Australian story about a gay ballet dancer who suffers a catastrophic injury that changes his entire life, I was like, “This is about the performing arts, sign me up!”
This book didn’t disappoint. I listened to the audiobook version, and first of all the casting of Matthew Backer, whose performance definitely ranks up there with some of my favourites like Tavia Gilbert and January LaVoy, was absolutely spot on perfection. He put so much thought and love and emotion into voicing these characters, I swear it was a perfect match between narrator and author, almost like they conspired together to make this incredible product. The main character, Luca, had such an incredible voice even without narration, and the entire time I felt like I was listening to a story being told by my best friend. Like, I am legit sad that Luca is actually fictional because I low key have a lady crush on him.
I was super glad that this book wasn’t about Luca coming out: he was already an out and proud gay boy and the novel wasn’t about his struggle with this. He knew exactly who he was when it came to his sexuality – his life, maybe less so, now that ballet, the one thing he had been working towards his entire life, was gone.
I loved so much the diversity in this as well: Luca’s new best friend (and one hundred per cent certified sweetheart) is of Indonesian descent and is a hijab-wearing Muslim, which I found so lovely, because Luca reflected how her faith was part of her life, and something he didn’t have. Luca’s parent was a single father, a hear of gold guy who lovingly supported his son, and Luca’s love interest was a popular half Japanese football playing rower and school captain.
Definitely the best thing about this novel is the character voice throughout. I felt that the plot and the diversity of the characters gave it a really great solid foundation, but Luca’s voice and attitude, his struggles, his triumphs, and the Aussie-ness, all through what sounded like a really authentic gay teen boy voice really pushed this novel all the way to five stars for me. I only recently discovered ‘speeding up’ audiobooks, but this novel was way too good to listen to anything but the speed intended.
I absolutely loved it and I can’t wait to read more performing arts stories from Madden.