Life as you know it?

incredibleMichael is a typical school boy living in the suburbs of Western Sydney. For him, life has a rhythm and routine which is closely bonded to his older brother’s. That is until tragedy strikes, and he decides that:

‘my life isn’t my life any more: It is like a movie, it’s the place where I enter the scene again and again and everything is different.’

From the time that Michael regains consciousness after the accident, his thoughts are fragmented. Indeed the nature of Felicity Castagna’s book, ‘the Incredible Here and Now’, is that it, too, is a whole story slowly pieced together. Gradually, chapters reveal little insights into the lives of people in Michael’s world, as the picture develops describing his life with family, school and his mates, and how life can suddenly become distorted and troubled.

Without his older brother, Dom, the form of Michael’s life has changed. At home, his mother grieves and (has) ‘slipped out of our lives’. His father, though acting calm and together, ‘walks (him) to school for the first time since I was 10’. In his own way, Michael disconnects from school and other aspects of his old life. He constantly wonders ‘how can someone be there one day and not the next?’

However, ‘the Incredible Here and Now’ is not a sombre tale, but a thoughtful one. As a coming-of-age story, we are taken through the neighbourhood streets where Michael is growing up and dealing with the first throes of love and conflict. Through his eyes, the tapestry of different immigrant lives are illustrated; with their particular features and foibles. Teenage lives are interconnected not only through school, but through sport and other hangouts.

Castagna’s little vignettes capture many different things about Michael’s family, friends and acquaintances. For most people around him, life goes on as before – but how can things remain the same when someone important is lost from your life. Castagna also captures the differing cultures which permeate Michael’s life, and the unique mix of his neighbourhood. This will provide some ‘aha’ moments to those readers who can identify with some of the locations described, and an interesting insight to others from different social backgrounds.

Teen readers will also love the short chapters which collect the thoughts of Michael fairly concisely. As he dips in and out, his thoughts seem somewhat fragmented but are also part of the whole – as he attempts to deal with his now fragmented world.

The Incredible Here and Now does not tell us how to deal with the loss of a family member. Neither does it come up with a solution to everyday teenaged angst. What it does is provide great realistic fiction which should appeal to many teenage boys; they could easily identify parts of themselves in many of the characters, and the situations in which they act.

In Felicity’s words, The Incredible Here and Now:

… is about being an absolute insider in a place you know as well as the back of your own hand. It’s a young adult’s novel told through the eyes of Michael whose life changes dramatically in the summer he turns 15. Michael knows everything about the community he lives in and through his stories, he lets the reader in; to the unsettled lives of his family members, the friends he meets in the McDonalds parking lot at night, the swimming pool where he meets the one girl who will acknowledge he’s alive and the classmates who spend their mornings drooling at the Coke Factory on their walk to school. (Source: the NSW Writers Centre, Felicity Castagna Talks Writing a Sense of Place,

# The Incredible Here and Now was shortlisted for this year’s CBCA awards, and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2014 – and is Felicity’s first novel.

2 thoughts on “Life as you know it?

  1. I so disagree with your review.

    My review
    I studied this novel at school. It does not use the traditional narrative form but is told through a series of vignettes. It won the PM’s YA literary Award. God knows why; I don’t.

    The story explores Michael and his family’s response to the death of his older brother, Dom. Personally, I thought his parents were lax and their lack of supervision was to blame for the family tragedy.

    I appreciate that Michael is only a teenage boy and that the flatness of the storytelling reflects his grief. It was boring to read though and the story itself does not live up to the title and the sequence of vignettes (chapters in the novel) do not support or justify the final chapter. The reader never sees how Michael comes to the realisation in the final chapter and the closing sentence.

    Something I liked:
    I liked the potential that Esther’s and her son’s story offered to the author in exploring the different types of grief over a son who is lost and, in Esther case, found. My teacher said it was a prodigal son story. The allusion gave that story line meaning whereas Castgna did not.

    Things that irritated me about the actual way the story was written
    * I was really p*** that the abrupt end of the pool scene went unexplained for chapters. How is that good storytelling? Not in my book.
    * The non-event nature of the experiences chosen for individual chapters. They led nowhere other than to fill in the way Michael spent time and the reader’s time that led from Dom’s death to the final chapter’s paragraph.
    * The author didn’t use the Esther and son’s plot to make a coherent point. Castgna just presented the slice of life scenes with them in it and left it to random readers’ intelligence to draw from that story line what they could. Everyone I know, except the teacher, skipped those scenes. He made us read them. I was glad he was honest and agreed with us that the author didn’t do a good job with those scenes.
    * Michael, for all of his 1st person narrative, was not introspective in terms of insight into ‘the incredible here and now’ during the story. I didn’t feel or see him healing. Shouldn’t a story – vignettes or traditional narrative- let us feel and experience the journey with the character(s)?
    * The story is one long flat line. If it is was living human being, it’d be dead.
    * I think it is a shocker that reviewers think it is enough for the novel to present pictures of life. I think novels should offer more than that!. I know lots of kids with hard lives and issues but that doesn’t mean a series of scenes from their lives equates to a novel. Shouldn’t novels offer more?

  2. Hi Katy
    Wow, it took me a while to take in your response and decide how to reply.
    I find it interesting that it was chosen as a book for study, so obviously someone felt it had merit, but still you didn’t like it. (Might be better as a recreational read?)
    Without going in to detail to your response, I still feel it has purpose. Whether that be as a way to engage YA readers due to its short chapters and snippets of the story, or that others might identify with its setting, or that it reveals lifestyles not everyone experiences (e.g. the lax parents you speak about). That is not to say that YA needs to lecture or provide a solution to life struggles, of course.
    The great thing about YA literature in Australia is the variety we have and that different writers will appeal to different people. (Still, think of how it got you analysing it, even though it wasn’t your ‘cup of tea’!)
    Thanks for your comment!

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