Author: Kirsty Eagar
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Publication date: June 29, 2009
Summary (via Goodreads):
Carly has dropped out of uni to spend her days surfing and her nights working as a cook in a Manly café. Surfing is the one thing she loves doing... and the only thing that helps her stop thinking about what happened two years ago at schoolies week.
And then Carly meets Ryan, a local at the break, fresh out of jail. When Ryan learns the truth, Carly has to decide. Will she let the past bury her? Or can she let go of her anger and shame, and find the courage to be happy?
Let me just preface this by saying how much I wanted to like this book. When Melina Marchetta, goddess of everything, says she enjoyed a book, you must acquire it and read it immediately. But this book was just not for me.
Some of the writing was really lovely. At times, it almost felt as though Melina herself was coming off the pages, although I suspect she wouldn't use so much surf jargon, or say things like, "Oi, mate! Get stuffed." But what do I know? The closest I've been to Australia is a month-long unit in my sixth grade social studies class. Oh, and that Mary-Kate & Ashley witness protection movie. You know the one.
Anyway. Because of all that, I was able to make my way through this book while giving Kirsty Eagar, the actual author of Raw Blue, the benefit of the doubt.
The characters were all promising at first.
There's Carly, struggling with traumatic memories and trying to come up for air. And Ryan, with his own history – fresh out of jail, simply treading water, trying not to create any waves. (Is anyone else as amused as I am by my character sketches, which have somehow turned into swimming metaphors?) You have Hannah, a multi-faceted girl that I'm sure we all recognize from college. And then my personal favorites: Marty and Danny.
This is where things get a little rocky.
Marty, you may have forgotten, is one of Carly's co-workers at the cafe. She strikes up a tentative friendship with him. He's a little bit lascivious; has a drug problem; seems to lack a safe living situation; probably has some history with emotional and/or physical abuse (possibly sexual, as well?).
"But wait," you might say. "I don't remember Marty having much of a storyline in Raw Blue. Am I missing something?"
To which I would answer, no, dear reader. You are not missing anything. In fact, it is the book itself that is missing something – namely, development in any character besides Carly, who, despite everything, still feels very humdrum to me. (Colorless, if you will.)
Pretty much any way you slice it, Marty appears to be a total screw-up. But that's what makes him so captivating – perhaps even more so than Carly herself. Because sure, Marty is a mess, but every so often you get a glimpse of vulnerability in him. And that leads me to believe that, underneath it all, he is a soul adrift. Marty is ripe for redemption, but unfortunately he disappears a third of the way through the book. Lost forever. Sigh. Goodbye to another throwaway character.
And then there's Danny, a 15-year-old multi-ethnic surfer who becomes a bit of a sidekick to Carly. His synaesthesia causes him to associate colors with various environmental triggers. This sensory condition seems to be one of his defining characteristics, which I find to be a cop-out. It's like he only exists to tell us how Carly is really holding up. Is she peach today? No? How about blue? Mauve? Let's just say I don't like when characters are used as shallow plot devices. Throughout the book, Danny felt irrelevant, unreal – the manic pixie dream boy.
I will note, however, that I did like this quote:
"To me, Danny rocking up to surf with graffiti all over his face is magic. I want to tell him that I think he's precious, that the fact he talks to me is a gift. But of course you can't say things like that to people."
In addition to these promising but ultimately disappointing characters, I was also thrown off by the occasional comments from Carly that felt incredibly racist and ignorant and dismissive. Like this one – hard for me to articulate why, but it really rubbed me the wrong way:
"SVU, CSI, CSI: NY. These shows, they’re all about things being done to females and children. If they were full of things being done to say, Asians or black people, well, that probably wouldn’t be allowed... But females and children are okay."
Eurgh. She makes it sound as though Asians and blacks are a whole separate category, distinct from women and children. I just found it really jarring.
In spite of her problematic comment, I do immensely appreciate Kirsty Eagar's thoughtful discussion on rape and men and power. It was much more meaningful and blunt and realistic (be warned!) than in other YA books I've read. Still, in the end, this book was just not my cup of tea. Raw Blue did not feel like a cohesive story. The plot itself seemed to go around in circles; there were too many characters that came and went (such a waste); and I found myself not caring even a little bit about Carly or Ryan. And goshdarnit, I'm still really bitter about Marty.