Jane Godwin has created another intense narrative for teen readers which really encapsulates how different a ‘coming-of-age’ might be for disparate individuals. The teenagers at the Otway Community School, which is not your regular school, are used to doing things differently but the ‘dropping’ is a new experience altogether. Based on a similar Dutch activity, the students, in small groups, are dropped into the forest/wilds at 4 pm with a basic kit of essentials and must find their way back to the school, 27 kms away, by midnight. Five very different young people head off in a group which is about to encounter much worse than just the dark and some rain. Each has their own backstory that impacts on their behaviours and reactive responses, especially to challenges:
Elle has lived all over the world as her mother works for DFAT but now finding herself in rural Victoria is still feeling adrift and, as yet, unable to find her niche in the social groups,
Fred has found himself continually in trouble, and angry, since his parents have not only split up but essentially each abandoned him,
Ash is definitely more settled in some ways than the others, but being the child of a same-sex couple he’s struggling to define his own interpretation of becoming a man while determined to reject all the examples of toxic masculinity he observes,
Laila is the daughter of a world-famous self-help guru and appears to be the most collected and calm of all, but her family situation is fraught as her celebrity dad basically ignores them all,
and then there’s Chrystal, exchange student from America, who clings onto her Snoopy stuffie, constantly hums, is obsessed with her phone and appears to be perpetually in some of brain fog.
When things begin to go awry with their hike rapidly, it is hardly a surprise given the dynamics between them all, and there is far more to contend with than just their own mis-management of the experience. A lost child, serious threats from older and drunk males intent on creating havoc in the bush, losing precious equipment and a wild storm lashing the entire district all add to the intensity of their deteriorating expedition.
Facing the elements of nature, the unknown, the intrusion of violence and their own insecurities and fears, the five must somehow survive the night – and each other. Gripping throughout, this is a real page-turner and readers from around 13 or 14 upwards will thoroughly enjoy it. Jane Godwin is adept at creating the kind of thrilling and drama filled narrative that readers in this age group relish and I have yet to have a disappointed punter when I’ve suggested one of her titles.
Highly recommended for lower secondary upwards.