‘just_a_girl’ by Kirsten Krauth

Just_a_girl

Fiction – Kindle edition; University of Western Australia Press; 265 pages; 2013. Review copy courtesy of the author.

The media often warns us of the perils of the internet, but just how dangerous is it for young people? If Kirsten Krauth’s confident debut novel just_a_girl is anything to go by, it’s pretty hairy indeed.

A trio of messed-up characters

The book is set in modern-day Sydney and revolves around three characters: super-confident 14-year-old Layla, who is mature beyond her years;  lone parent Margot, who has found Jesus and fallen in love with the married pastor at her church; and Tadashi, a young single man with a strange fetish.

Each character is dealing with complicated issues of their own, all told in distinct narrative threads — both Layla and Margaret tell their stories in the very immediate first person, while Tadashi’s tale is related using the more remote third person.

What is most striking is the voice that Krauth adopts for each character: Layla is upbeat, frank and “speaks” in a short, clipped style; Margot is anxious, often fearful and her thoughts tumble out of her head in rush of breathlessness; and Tadashi is detached and living in a world of his own.

Online exploits

The book’s main focus is on Layla, who spends a lot of time in internet chatrooms, where she uses the handle just_a_girl (hence the title). She knowingly gets involved with men online and then meets them in hotel rooms for all kinds of shenanigans.

This is in stark contrast to her mother, who is too busy fretting about failed relationships from the past and grappling with depression to know what her teenage daughter is getting up to when she goes to “visit” her grandmother. It’s both alarming and disturbing at the same time.

What’s even more alarming and disturbing is Tadashi’s behaviour: unable to form a sexual relationship with a real person, he invests in a doll, whom he treats like a living, breathing human being.

Modern teenage life

just_a_girl could very easily have fallen into clichéd territory about teenage girls being molested by internet stalkers, but Krauth keeps a tight rein on everything and has her characters behave in unexpected ways. It’s been a long time since I was a teenager, but Layla’s thoughts, dreams and fears are bang on, even if her exploits are quite a bit more daring than mine ever were at that age.

For that reason, this book feels very fresh and contemporary, and provides a glimpse of the complicated world teenagers face every day in which peer pressure is no longer restricted to the school yard during term times but the internet 24 hours a day every day of the year.

This is a super confident debut novel that explores all kinds of issues — online security, teenage sexuality, loneliness, alienation, violence and depression — but in an accessible, easy-to-read way. It should be required reading for parents, but also teenagers themselves — it’d make a terrific novel to discuss in the classroom or a book group.

For another take on this novel, please read Lisa Hill’s review on ANZ LitLovers LitBlog.

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4 thoughts on “‘just_a_girl’ by Kirsten Krauth

  1. Wonderfully succinct review kimbofo. The only thing I would add would be that it’s pretty funny too. Serious subject matter, but there’s a light touch. Also, I liked how our girl sounds more experienced than she really is.

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  2. Thanks for the mention, Kim. I was very impressed by this debut, as you say Krauth has kept control of things very capably. I’m looking forward to whatever comes next!

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  3. Oh yes, some of it is quite funny… Layla has a good sense of humour and comes out with some classic lines, but underpinning this is a sense of danger, of getting herself into trouble she doesnt seem to have the forethought (or experience) to protect herself against. She comes across as being quite savvy and mature and older than her years, but at heart shes still young and naive. She thinks she is worldy wise but doesnt have the experience to back it up.

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