The Things We Can’t Undo

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Gabrielle Reid, The Things We Can’t Undo, Ford Street, May 2018, 300pp.,  $19.95 (pbk),  ISBN: 9781925736045

Samantha Chen and Dylan West have been a couple for almost a year, they’re in love and make each other happy. So when Sam asks Dylan to go with her to a quiet bedroom during a Saturday night party, Dylan assumes that means Sam’s as ready as he is to take their relationship to the next level – sex. But afterwards Sam and Dylan have very different accounts and feelings about what actually occurred that night and the fallout from this becomes devastating, not only for them, but for everyone around them.

The Things We Can’t Undo explores the consequences of teens having sex without proper communication and consent. It also looks at the pressure young people experience at school and home, and how that can affect their ability to make decisions, speak out and their mental health in general. It explores themes of consent, mental illness, suicide and social media and these triggers along with sexual assault/rape and self-harm should be kept in mind before reading or recommending this book.

The narrative is well planned and thought out. It examines the situation from many points of view, but also manages to retain a strong main protagonist, Dylan, to drive the story. Clever use of mixed media, texts messages, essays, and reports, as well as ordinary prose, tell the tale, giving the story a current feel, making it interesting and keeping the pace zippy.

I loved that the empathy and thoughtfulness pressed into, what is in essence a tragic tale, left me with hope. Hope that, by addressing these issues and situations, we might be able to create an atmosphere of understanding and conversation, so events such as these might be prevented in real life. This is an important book and has the ability to help teens positively question their assumptions and choices regarding sex by showing that a good person can still hurt someone they love.

I adore the fact that this book is a contemporary Australian YA novel and deals with real issues that affect Australian kids today. It does this so well, that I would encourage every teenager who is thinking about becoming sexually active or is in a relationship to read this book. Especially young men.

This book would be a fabulous class read for senior years as it’s easy to imagine the passionate, thoughtful class discussions that would ensue. A parallel to Shakespeare’s Othello is used within it, raising the question of whether a person can be a flawed hero — good at their core, but corrupted by others – so reading this modern version in conjunction with Othello, would be also be worthwhile and an interesting exercise.

The author Gabrielle Reid was a High School English teacher in NSW and the amount of depth she has managed to squeeze into this book without losing pace, essence and while still keeping the reader engaged, is remarkable and should be highly commended.

I would highly recommend this book to middle and senior level high school teachers, as well as teens aged 15 years and over and their parents. It’s a highly thoughtful, important and engaging read, set in Sydney, that explores consent from more than one perspective.

Teachers’ Notes are available on the New South Books website.

Reviewed by Renee Mihulka

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