Author: Kirsten Krauth
just_a_girl follows the confronting and questionable cyber behaviour of 14 year old Layla as she chats with strangers online and starts exploring her sexuality. She lives in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales with her mother and spends a lot of time on the train.
There are three protagonists in just_a_girl – Layla, her mother Margot and Tadashi, the Japanese man she often shares a train with. The three voices are very different and it takes quite a while for Tadashi’s relevance to the story to surface.
Margot suffers from depression and is just coming off anti-depressants with the help of charismatic Pastor Bevan at the evangelical church she’s a member of, Riverlay. Her narrative is written in the form of her thoughts so we are taken right inside her head. This gives us a better insight into Margot and explains the dynamic of her relationship with Layla quite well.
The relationship between Margot and Layla is quite strained and distant. They don’t talk and Margot has no idea of the things that Layla gets up to online, or the way she brings her online behaviours into her real life. It is quite scary to think of the risks that Layla is taking and how easily she gets away with it.
Layla is not close to her mother and she hardly ever sees her father who is a celebrity chef living in Queensland with a succession of boyfriends. She only sees him for a couple of weeks a year and their contact is sporadic between visits. I think this has got a lot to do with Layla’s behaviour, the men that she chats with validate her and give her a sense of worth that she isn’t getting from her family. Her boyfriend is 18 and his family are also quite dysfunctional.
Layla’s behaviour is risky and the whole thought of a 14 year old behaving that way makes my skin crawl, especially knowing that I will have a 14yr old daughter one day. Teens are growing up much quicker now than they were when I was a teen. Yes there were girls behaving similar to this, without the benefit of a computer screen to separate them, but it seemed very rare and now it is becoming disturbingly common. I found that even though Layla took many risks with her behaviour she had a definite line she wouldn’t cross. She involved herself in racy talk online with strangers, and even uploaded a video of herself to YouTube but I don’t think she ever went all the way with her boyfriend. She met an older man online and booked into a hotel with him, it seemed like the whole purpose of the meeting was for sex but that didn’t eventuate.
She finds herself physically assaulted and filmed on the train one night, with the video ending up on YouTube. While working in a supermarket she is sexually assaulted by one of her bosses, a perverted old man who has a habit of inappropriate behaviour with the young female staff and everyone turns a blind eye. They try to warn the new staff not to be in a position where they could find themselves on the end of his hands but that’s as far as it goes. These incidents affect Layla quite deeply, even though she puts herself in much riskier situations. I think a lot of it is that she had no control over these events, and she was in a situation where they shouldn’t have happened.
The one thing that I found extremely irritating about Layla’s voice was the sentence structure. Her POV was written in short jarring sentences that often seemed more like fragments, like sentences were just cut in half and that took quite a but if getting used to.
Tadashi, his is a story that I am still trying to get my head around long after finishing the book. He is looking for the perfect lover and someone he can share an intimate companionship with, the problem is he is extremely introverted and has been alone since the passing of his mother. He was ostracised at school for being different so has always been on the outside and his loneliness has only deepened since losing his mother. He purchases his perfect lover online, a Candy Girl Petite Jewel love doll. I couldn’t seem to connect to Tadashi, possibly because he is such an introverted soul who always keeps himself at a distance. Even on the train he always makes sure that he is in one of the single seats so that no-one can sit with him. The amount of care he takes with his love doll is quite intense as he wants her to be perfect and I wasn’t even aware that this was something you could purchase, let alone to such exact specifications. I found his interactions with her to be a little creepy, she was very real to him and he interacted with her as such.
just_a_girl has been described as a Puberty Blues for the digital age and I can see why. Layla is trying to find her place in the world as she explores the power of sexuality and her body. She is disconnected from her parents and has very little other family and few friends, her boyfriend is older and they don’t seem to connect on more than a physical level.
This is a complex and disturbing novel of loneliness, isolation and the dangers of disconnection. It was a story I enjoyed and that will stay with me for a long time, it will certainly have me checking on the online activities of my children as they get older as well. Kirsten’s writing style is entertaining and the three voices were so different that it was quite easy to keep them separated which I really appreciated. I will certainly look forward to more by Kirsten Krauth.
WIN A COPY
Thanks to Kirsten Krauth and the good people at UWA Publishing we have 5 print copies of just_a_girl to give away to 5 lucky readers.
For your chance to win a copy please tell us in the comments section below where you spend most of your cyber-time.
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