Western Australian Writing Review: Bye, Beautiful by Julia Lawrinson
Sandy Lansing is the middle child. Her older sister Marianne is the golden child- beautiful, trendy, popular and desirable. Her younger brother Laurence can do no wrong. Wedged between them, Sandy feels invisible. When her police officer father moves to a small country town to be the new Sargeant, Sandy must start over. But compared to her siblings Sandy does a rotten job of fitting in. And then there is Billy- Sandy's first crush. Of course, Billy is immediately attracted to Marianne, whose engagement to a boy in Perth seems to be of little consequence, much the same way that Billy's mixed blood doesn't bother Marianne the way it bothers everyone else...
The book is set in 1966, in a small country town. Immediately to me this made me think of my favourite book ever, Craig Silvey's Jasper Jones. There were other similarities. A relationship between a white girl with a powerful father and a mixed race boy. Small town bigotry. A horrifying crime at the beginning of the novel (read it and see, because I'll never tell.) But tonally, the two books are extremely different. Jasper Jones is a novel which looks at the world with a bleak sense of humour, largely due to the cynical yet intelligent voice of the narrator Charlie. But Bye, Beautiful is written in the third person. It is usually focussed on Sandy, occasionally shifting to another character when it seems cogent to view Sandy from the outside. At first this perspective is isolating. Then I realised that this was the point. Sandy's awkwardness and her despair are so potent that she is even excluded from the reader. She seems to exist in a soundless bubble. And I know I've certainly felt that way.
Plot-wise, this book could be said to be wise beyond its years. Themes of sexuality, race and religion blend beautifully without being too explicit and the reader is allowed to make up their own mind nine times out of ten. Lawrinson creates a world where the sexuality which surrounds Marianne is palpable. When Bill Read or Constable Bates look at Marianne, their eyes wandering, your skin crawls. You read with open mouthed horror as the truth about Frank Lansing's violent control of his family is revealed layer by layer.
Minor characters like Peter, the fiance in Perth leave something to be desired. He is as absent on the page as he is off, and his role in the plot has about the emotional impact of characters eating breakfast.
Read this book if you loved Jasper Jones or Lawrinson's earlier work. (My favourite was Skating the Edge.)
I give this book four out of five mini skirts.