Clare Strahan, The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge, Allen & Unwin, 24 April 2018, 304pp., $19.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781760296797
Fifteen-year-old Vanessa Partridge, gifted cello player, is on her way with her family to their beach side mansion, Shearwater. Named after the birds nesting nearby, this has been their summer home for years. However this year it is very different, with her parents divorced, her father remarried and her mother overseas and out of contact. Her brother’s best friend Darith is with them and Vanessa is secretly in love with him. Vanessa’s best friend Kelsey and her family run the local caravan park and the two families could not be more different. Ashton, Vanessa’s brother, makes friends with members of the Foxhole Resistance group, a group investigating suspected corruption surrounding the proposed development of Shearwater, involving Vanessa’s father. When Bodhi and Marlene from the group want Ashton to find out what is planned, Ashton quickly distances himself from them, while Vanessa spends more time with them. Vanessa is also practicing to perform at the New Year’s Eve party her father has organised with the developers, in particular rich and influential Richard Marks. The evening does not go as Vanessa plans and is a pivotal moment in the novel, bringing plot developments and issues to the fore.
This is a tightly written, witty novel. Vanessa is such a likeable character and while it is very funny in some parts, there is a level of seriousness that becomes more intense and real as the novel progresses. The sadness Vanessa and her brother feel due to their absent mother is tangible. While Vanessa is working through her feelings for Darith and trying to cope with her absent mother, whom she needs now more than ever, she is deceived and taken advantage of by new acquaintances and friends. The very worst, Richard Marks, is a most unlikeable character and with the Me Too movement world wide, shows the reader just what these type of people are like, for he considers himself above the law and entitled to anything he so wishes.
This is a book for all, teens and adults, and is an important one for many reasons. It is also well written and original in voice and plot development. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Liz Derouet