Young adult guru Kate McCaffrey says she likes to cover serious issues in her books, attracting kids who never read.
The Sacred Heart College teacher names S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders and Beatrice Sparks' Go Ask Alice as among her influences.
Their attraction, McCaffrey says, is they hook in young readers on issues.
"It gives them the chance to live vicariously, to see how fictional constructs deal with things and what possible outcomes could happen, without having to experience it themselves," she says.
The author, best known for her 2006 debut on cyberbullying, Destroying Avalon, says she believes young adult fiction should mirror the issues teens tackle themselves. So with this in mind, be warned there's a spoiler alert on this review.
Crashing Down covers sex, drugs, psychosis, legal battles and, heaviest of all, a character's serious consideration of abortion.
Year 12 student Lucy Wishart is planning her future and starting to admit to herself she doesn't have the same approach to life as her pot-loving boyfriend Carl Kapuletti.
The northern suburbs pair separately go to the final social before end-of-year exams but he barely talks to her, then he gropes her outside. Perhaps the confusing encounter is a sign break-up is on the cards.
The next day at school one of Carl's friends, Big Al, tells her Carl has smashed his car, broken his best friend's neck, and is in a coma.
But the nausea Lucy feels at the news is a whole lot more complicated. She's pregnant.
The mother-of-two says she took a deliberate decision to make her smart, even-headed character a girl people wouldn't typically think of as likely to "get in trouble".
"It's one of those stereotypes, that it's always the bad girl or whatever, and the reality is far from that," she explains.
"Good girls, normal girls, average girls — this happens and the stigma that's attached to that sort of thing needs to be dispelled anyway."
Lucy has fallen pregnant after leaving putting on the condom to Carl who appears to make a bit of a hash of it on their first of five times "doing it".
"When you are living under that guise of this only happens to a particular sort of girl, then if it happens to you, what do you do" McCaffrey asks.
She says the young couple are similar to many 16-year-olds experiencing their first romance: they think it's going to last forever.
"They have a good time for a short time," she says.
Carl comes out of his coma and it becomes clear the head injury he has sustained has affected his personality.
He gets angry, paranoid, confused, jealous and aggressive sexually - all while forgetting the people close to him, except for the target of his obsession, Lucy, who he, at times, thinks is his wife.
Carl's not the easiest or most competent person to involve in a decision about whether to proceed with a teen pregnancy.
When Lucy eventually tells him, they argue and he throws her out of his hospital room.
He goes on to have an aneurysm.
Lucy's parents support her in evaluating her full range of legal options — keeping the baby, giving it up, or having a chemical or physical abortion. Her sister, who took the final path and regretted the action, does not.
Carl's parents launch a legal battle to save the baby, keeping Lucy in court until after she can legally take mifepristone, the RU486 abortion pill, meaning any termination would need to be a clinical procedure.
McCaffrey says she writes for 15-to-18-year-old readers.
"I don't write for parents," she says.
However, she acknowledges there are adults among her followers, including librarians.
Crashing Down is published by Fremantle Press ($20, ebook $7). The publisher has made the first chapter of the novel available online with teaching notes for teachers. To take a look, visit www.fremantlepress.com.au.
A TEEN'S PERSPECTIVE
Kate McCaffrey has used an engaging story to deal with confronting and serious issues in a very powerful way. Year 12 student Lucy Wishart is not only dealing with exam pressure, she also believes she has grown apart from her boyfriend, Carl Kapuletti. But as she prepares to admit breaking up may be the best option, Carl is in a car crash which leaves him in a coma. Lucy is left to struggle with her feelings, the idea of right and wrong, and the complexities life throws her. McCaffrey has produced a real page-turner with several unexpected twists.
Jan Nicholls will launch Kate McCaffrey’s Crashing Down tomorrow at Sacred Heart College, Sorrento, at 7pm. RSVP email@example.com.