I was lucky enough to win this book in a randomness competition over on Nicola Morgan’s Wasted blog. I regularly read Nicola’s other blog, Help I Need a Publisher, so had wanted to read Wasted for quite some time, although my local bookshop never stocked it and although I do buy some fiction online, I much prefer to go into bookshops to buy fiction books for that whole book buying experience (even if my now one and only bookshop is a certain national chain). I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t won it I’d have ordered it online eventually but before even getting round to reviewing this book, the very fact that this book isn’t in my local branch of Waterstones has been an eye opening experience for this wannabe writer. I think it can be fairly easy to assume when you’re a writer desperate to be published, that when you eventually, if you’re lucky enough, get there, that of course your pride and joy will be on the forefront of every bookshop across the country and Amazon will be sending out countless e-mails trying to persuade people to part with their money for your tome. Of course I know that it’s not really like that, specially for new authors but when such an experienced author as Morgan, who has written such a well reviewed book as Wasted, doesn’t get their book pride of place in the YA section of your local Waterstones, it makes me wonder as a reader how many other good books I’m missing (because if it wasn’t for me reading Nicola’s blog I’d have never heard of Wasted). As a writer it’s made me realise even more what a game of luck getting your book on shop bookshelves really is and how important marketing from the author via blogs and stuff is as well.
I’ve mentioned luck twice in the last paragraph, a not even really subconscious reference to the topic of Wasted, which is about whether there is really luck at all. It tells the story of Jack and Jess; Jack, who has been ‘unlucky’ enough to lose his mother twice is looking for a new lead singer for his band and by a freak combination of factors (choosing to walk the long way through school to avoid someone, a sound proof door failing to shut properly), he meets Jess. The band, Schrodinger’s Cats are due to play at the leavers prom two weeks later.
Jack is obsessed with luck, chance and fate, he has a wall of newspaper stories in his bedroom of people who have died in freak accidents, people who if they had done something slightly different in their day wouldn’t have been at that precise spot, at that precise time to meet their death and Jack is obsessed with how many times we all make that decision that in effect keeps us alive because if we had made the other decision, no matter how small it was, we could have been under that roof just a tile falls off or on that pavement just as a drunk driver mounts it.
The book has a very unusual omnipresent narrator, necessary for the all seeing nature of the book where at several points we see two different versions of events that swing on seemingly small differences, such us whether a girl (not remotely central to the story) can get into a club on her fake id or whether someone gets the hire car they want or not.
But back to Jack, after something that could have turned out far worse, Jack begins to get more and more obsessed with chance, becoming addicted to tossing his special coin and going by whatever the coin decides, his life takes a number of dangerous swerves (including a brilliantly atmospheric fairground at night scene), resulting the reader in the end to toss the coin themselves to decide the characters final fates on the night of the school prom.
This is an excellent book, guaranteed to make anyone think about those small decisions, choices, flukes that have altered the path of their life. Thinking of my own life, I’ve often thought, even before reading this book, about how my life has swung on one night as an 18 year old, fresh at college, I had decided to be brave and attend a comedy night on my own at the Union bar. At that night I just happened to meet my future husband and the father of my children, what would have happened if I had chickened out and not gone? It was quite nerve wracking the thought of going out on my own and I could have very easily not gone and I think if I had made that decision that night not to go I could have well not gone to any of those comedy nights as it is so easy to keep to the path of the ‘safe’ decision once you have made it and therefore possibly never have met my future husband at all (my husband regularly went to the comedy nights, so some could argue if I hadn’t gone that night I might have gone another night and met him then). So of course that night at the Union bar changed my life, who knows what I’d have done with my life if I hadn’t met him, all the decisions and actions taken as a couple would have been different as a single person.
Of course I may not have even been at that University to go to that Union bar on that night, I didn’t do well in my A-Levels, so I had to go through clearing, I remember clearly sitting down by the telephone with my big book of universities, which was arranged alphabetically and starting at A I went through each university that had the course I wanted and rang them. Now I can’t remember at what point I started getting bored going through the book alphabetically but I did get bored, so on a whim I decided to start working through the book backwards and well the university I went to, it’s old polytechnic name (under which is was still filed in the book) began with W, I can only assume there were no biology courses I was interested in (if there were any at all) in Yarmouth or Yeovil, because the first university I rang after my decision to go backwards began with W, I spoke to the course tutor on the phone and he was such a nice old chap that I decided to go there then and there whilst on the phone, I remember the course tutor laughing and saying “Well I’ll have to send you the paperwork first”.
There are of course always a lot of life changing decisions surrounding where you choose to live; in my adult life I’ve made two joint decisions with my boyfriend -then – husband about where we should live (we initially lived in Balham which was his decision as he moved to London before me). Both of the joint decisions had quite a large element of chance; the first was when we decided to moved from Balham to the London Docklands. Now when flat hunting we were looking at the area around Canary Wharf, what is basically the Isle of Dogs, being not very clued up newbie Londoners we didn’t actually know that the term Docklands actually extended over the river and into parts of Southwark, so really we should have been more specific with the estate agents and said Isle of Dogs when instructing them, as that is what we wanted, but we weren’t specific enough and said Docklands. So after a whole stream of flats to see on the Isle of Dogs, the estate agent had one more flat to show us over the river.
“Oh that’s the Docklands is it?”
“Didn’t know that.”
We ummed and ahhed, we’d researched the Isle of Dogs well and we knew all about the shops and the transport links but didn’t know anything about the amenities and the transport links over on the other side of the river but we went and had a look at the flat anyway and fell in love and ended up living in the area, in a total of three different flats in the end, for years. Now if we had been more specific with our instructions to the estate agent and actually said what we wanted instead of being unintentionally vaguer, who knows what could have befallen us when we stepped out what would have been a front door on the Isle of Dogs somewhere?
The next time we had to move we were umming and ahhing between staying in our not quite Isle of Dogs Docklands or moving somewhere else and to be honest I think if not by a completely unrelated fluke at work we would have stayed where we were, just bought another flat in the same area. I was an expert witness, nothing glamorous, just small stuff and my job basically involved working in an office with a lot of other people doing the same job, going to a large grey filing cabinet when we needed work and taking a case file, always the case file at the front, that was the rules. Now normally if I got called to court my cases led me to the most dreariest parts of Britain that you could imagine, but by chance one day I was the one to pick out a case file where the case happened to have happened somewhere nice and I just happened to be called to court for it (I wasn’t called to court for every case). So I stumbled out of the train, heavily pregnant (the reason why we were thinking of moving), in a part of London I’d never been in before, wasn’t even aware it really existed and fell in love again. I remember sending a rather clunky (back in the day sort of thing) video message to the husband, of the shopping centre, basically saying “Right we’re moving here”. And then more ‘luck’ happened when we were actually house hunting months later, we’d been looking on the south side of town, with not much luck, happened to go and see something on the north side, fell in love again and after a rather stressful house selling experience moved in to a flat that just happened to be next to a mainstream primary with an excellent reputation for teaching autistic children, my son Boy Lacer (who happens to be autistic) was born a year later.
Obviously where you live has a massive impact on what things fortune throws at you, a tile could be falling off a roof in Southwark but if you’ve by chance gone to live across the other side of London, no problem, although of course the other side of London could be full of falling roof tiles and Southwark manned by very good roof engineers. But all those things; where you chose to live and the chances that make you make that decision, just as the decision on whether or not to go out that night can all lead to big obvious changes in your life but we go through life not noticing the smaller decisions, the ones that keep you on your path and prevent you from being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or even prevent you from being in the right place at the right time), we never see those but they’re still there. Nicola Morgan illustrated this quite well with the chapters about Jess’s father and his hire car, where a catalogue of small decisions, actions (by yourself or by others) lead to you being at a certain place at a certain time.
Talking of Jess’s father and moving away from discussions of chance, this book was interesting in that it broke one of Morgan’s own rules about writing YA; she wrote recently on her blog in Top Tip 1 – writing for kids / YA
Because you have been both child and teenager, you are much more interested in them than they are in you. Therefore, where adults appear in your story, do not bother to include their emotions, desires or crises. Your readers do not care. They care only as far as adult actions impinge on the characters.
In Wasted there is a great deal of time devoted to the feelings and motivation of Jess’s alcoholic mother, slightly less time devoted to Jess’s mainly absent father and a little bit of time to Jack’s father. I personally didn’t find anything wrong with this and I like to think teenager readers didn’t find anything wrong with it either, after all I remember as a teenager starting to read adult fiction which of course by its nature has lots of boring (or not so boring really) adults in it really. Just shows rules (or top tips) can be broken!