Published: 1st February 2016
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Format: Paperback purchased
If fourteen-year-old Kirra is having a mid-life crisis now, then it doesn’t bode well for her life expectancy. Her so-called friends bully her, whatever semblance of a mother she had has been drowned at the bottom of a gin bottle ever since her dad left them for another woman, and now a teenage ghost is speaking to her through a broken phone booth. Kirra and the ghost make a pact. She’ll prove who murdered him almost twenty years ago if he does three things for her. He makes her popular, he gets her parents back together, and he doesn’t haunt her. Things aren’t so simple however, and Kirra realises that people can be haunted in more ways than one.
I picked up this book because I was heading to Penguin Teen Australia’s #YASquad 2016 event in Sydney and Megan Jacobson was one of the four Aussie authors speaking. I can’t thank Penguin enough for bringing this book to my attention, or Jacobson for writing such a gut wrenching book.
Not going to lie, I went into this book with no expectations and the 90s world Jacobson writes about smacked me in the face with all the subtle etiquette of a freight train. In fact I started reading it while waiting for my younger sister’s drama class to finish. In that hour I was outraged and texted Amy from Lost In A Good Book (because I knew she’d read it and loved it) like crazy … weeks later I still don’t have enough words to sum up this book!
Yellow is about Kirra, a 14 year old teenager who lives on the wrong side of the hill near South Beach, a small costal town near Mount Warning and not too far from Bryron Bay in Australia. Nicknamed yellow because of the unusual shade of her eyes, she is constantly taunted by the unforgiving world of teenager girls in high school. After a particularly harsh day, Kirra hits the deserted unpopular beach only to find an abandoned telephone box ringing. Odd. Not to be weird out, but fearing yet another harrowing teenage prank, Kirra answers the phone and learns that the voice on the other end belongs to a teenage boy named Boogie who claims to have been murdered 20 years prior.
‘I don’t believe in you,’ I whisper. ‘Ghosts aren’t real.’
‘You’re wrong,’ He sounds upset. ‘There’s nothing more real than the things that can haunt you… but, you know, there’s nothing more powerful than deciding not to be afraid.’
Maybe he’s right, but the thing is, fear doesn’t let you decide if you’re going to feel it or not. It barges in on you without knocking.
I connected with Kirra from early on in the book. High school, or in my case primary school, was not all sunshine and roses. In particular I learnt from an early age that girls can be really cruel when they want to be. So to see the extent of the bullying in this book, and to see it so viciously on the very first couple of pages made my skin crawl. It got me outraged and so angry and brought back a flood of memories. It made me feel violently ill in places and it’s been a while since a book has given me that kind of physical reaction.
I think what the book is trying to say is that everybody is vicious and brutal really, once you scratch the surface. It’s only society that makes us pretend that were not.
The quality and ease of the prose of Jacobson’s writing astounded me. From the very first page I was sucked into her world, and it only took a couple of pages for me to fully see just how amazing her writing style was. The words on the page ebbed and flowed with the natural grace of the story; they were almost whimsical and musical, and just so profound in parts that I found it hard to place this book within the knowledge that this was Jacobson’s DEBUT novel! There are some seriously beautiful passages in this book.
Words are the most powerful things there are. Words change thoughts, and thoughts change actions, and actions change the world.
Yellow is a heartbreakingly sad and in your face raw and honest narrative about the world around you. I touched on it above, but it deals with a number of serious issues that aren’t usually conveyed in YA novels – or at least aren’t usually all represented in the one book. It’s one of things I admire about the narrative, about Kirra’s characterisation and about Jacobson’s writing; the refusal to back down and shy away from the unlike-able and unfavourable parts of life.
Kirra isn’t a perfect character by no means. She’s self centred – a trait that we can move past given everything that’s going on in her life -, insecure, obsessed and driven by this need to be popular and liked. But more importantly she’s lonely.
Before I grab a couple of sets to put on the beds I stand there for a moment. I close my eyes and lean against the frame, and with my eyes still closed, I slot my hand inside the folds of one of the bed sheets at the bottom of the stack. I imagine, with the pressure of it, it’s someone holding my hand. Not just someone. I imagine it’s my mother holding my hand, and she’s soft and nice and smells sweet like washing powder. She’s holding my hand because she wants me to be safe.
Her parents have recently split, her mother is an alcoholic and her father has a new family and a new baby on the way too boot. Her friends are not only nasty, but out right bullies!
.. I think of The Circle, and how it felt like their words were scratching me right up, except the scratches were all on the inside, and how it felt as raw and painful as it would have felt if they’d been using their fingernails to claw at my skin. Maybe more. Real scratches heal. Those words they used, they drew blood all right. I need to use those types of words, Boogie said, and I wonder where I can find them.
Kirra can’t see life past the few weeks before her because she simply can’t fathom the world beyond her town and high school.
From up on the hill my town looks so small, like a toy town, with one main road, some fish and chip shops, a police station, a grocery, a library and a hardware store. But when you’re in it, my town seems like the biggest thing in the world.
It seems like the whole world.
Nothing around her shows her that there is more to life than the misery and gloom that surrounds her. Until Boogie of course. But he is a whole other story. One I can’t deal with here without hinting heavily at spoilers (this review is so hard to write without giving anything away!).
But despite all that, I really felt for her. On almost every page I wanted to pull her from the pages of the book and just pull her into the tight hug and tell her that it will all be okay. Kirra has a strength of character that I haven’t seen since reading Frankie by Shivaun Plozza, and yet it’s different too. She’s clearly alone, fragile and has low self-esteem, but she’s also incredibly smart and brave and courageous for what she does and how she overcomes things. Although I don’t condone some of her actions, and I wanted to scream at her with some of her dealings mid-to-late-book with her ex-best-friends (I literally put my head in my hands at one point), I generally admire her as a character. Especially in the scene where she tries to help her mum overcome her addiction, even if she might have gone about it the wrong way.
Only stupid people aren’t scared when they face something dangerous. Courage, real courage, comes from being afraid but doing it anyway.
Even more so, I love that despite all the shit Kirra is dealing with, with her problems at home and those confronting her at school and with Boogie, she’s not whiny. I can’t commend Jacobson for being able to pull that massive feat off enough!
There is really so much to love about this book. The narrative is not only intriguing, but its full of mystery and suspense and the smallest touch of paranormal that somehow works despite the relatively contemporary grounding of reality present in the narrative itself. The paranormal aspect just works even though it sounds like it shouldn’t, in that vain I think it’s similar, but perhaps a more mature version and target of the paranormal elements found in Kaz Delaney’s Dead Actually and Almost Dead books. There’s also a touch of romance with Noah and a sense of true friendship with Willow, who also brings this sense of life and humour to the book. Willow is kind of awesome in that regard, as she is both an enabler and a sense of reason for Kirra, and yet she is so witty and laugh-out-loud-funny!
Do not define me by my gender or my socio-economic status, Noah Willis. Do not tell me who I am and do not tell me who society thinks I am and then put me in that box and expect me to stay there. Because, I swear to God, I will climb the hell out of that box and I will take that box you’ve just put me in and I will use that box to smash your face in until you’re nothing more than a freckly, bloodied pulp. You got that, sweet cheeks?” – Willow
And lastly, the big I-can’t-talk-about-moment most of all is this books ending and what an ending it is. I think Jacobson nailed the pacing to this gripping conclusion, but I so was not ready for all the feels, even if I did suspect what was going on regarding a big reveal fairly early on in the book. Even knowing didn’t diminish it’s effect or power.
Yellow doesn’t shy away from life’s hard truths. Told poetically by Jacobson, you can’t escape the unfathomably raw and hard to take realities of Yellow’s/Kirra’s world. In the end, I think its wiser that you don’t. This book will hold you captive from the very first page and force you on emotional journey that perhaps you didn’t think you were ready for. It will make you more aware of the types of friendships you surround yourself with, and the type of person you want to be. That you can be.
Yellow is the type of book that leaves you staggering for more and I’m not afraid to say that following Frankie, I think Yellow is my second favourite book of the year so far. I know it’s a big call, especially this early on to make. And I never make these calls, but I really don’t know what can beat it now. With this one book, Megan Jacobson has firmly cemented her place on my MUST BUY list and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.
To learn more Megan Jacobson, visit the following social media sites:
To purchase a copy of Yellow, visit the following online retailers: