Book review: Frankie by Shivaun Plozza

Frankie by Shivaun Plozza
Review by Kylie Thompson

Genre: Young Adult, Drama, Mystery

It can be hard for first-time novelists to stand out in the market. Our eyes are drawn to familiar names, and we know established authors have a track record of producing high quality work. It can take a lot for a first-timer to make a name for themselves, but Australian author Shivaun Plozza has done it with her novel, Frankie.

Titular character, Frankie, is the sort of girl it’s hard not to love. She’s not some Disney styled princess in search of her prince. She’s angry- the sort of angry that gets you in trouble, and your name known by the police. When Xavier arrives on the scene, a younger half-brother she never knew existed until he made contact, her life gets even more complicated.

It would be easy to make Frankie a caricature of the stereotypical angry teen; to diminish her character to a punching, screaming ball of rage over trivial reasons- after all, we like to think that teenagers are needlessly emotional and prone to overreactions. Instead, Plozza has crafted an intelligent young woman struggling with her (justified) rage at the world, a character both sympathetic and realistic in her struggles. There is more to Frankie than her rage, even as it’s a feature of her personality that defines her in her own mind, and in the minds of those around her.

But it’s Plozza’s unflinching exploration of ‘us and them’ Australia that creates an unforgettable story that’s impossible to put down.

When Xavier vanishes, no one seems to care. Xavier’s father certainly doesn’t, and the police are far more interested in pinning a string of thefts on the missing boy than bringing him safely home. Meanwhile, over in the good part of town, the media are focused on another missing boy, Harrison Finnik-Hyde. Unlike Xavier, Harrison is a private school boy with a dazzlingly bright future already clearly defined.

Unlike Xavier, the world cares whether he comes home or not.

It’s an unpopular reality of life that certain disappearances are considered more important than others; that certain lives are given more meaning and value based upon finances, geography, or family connections. It’s a bold move to showcase that reality so bluntly, especially for a first-time novelist writing for a younger audience. I don’t doubt that there will be feathers ruffled by the choice.

Despite myriad reasons against the idea, there’s still an old-guard of gatekeepers arguing that YA and children’s fiction should be sweetness and light personified, full of happily ever afters, and easy resolutions. The problem is that far too many children and young adults can’t relate to those simple problems, and the world has moved away from clearly-articulated ideas of good or bad.

Personally, I love that there’s a slew of YA novels moving beyond the first world problems that were a staple of YA a few years ago (Does the boy I love, love me? Am I pretty enough? How can I make my crush notice me? Why won’t my parents let me do something I want to do?), and into the darker territory that is an unfortunate fact of life for many younger (and older) readers. Frankie is the sort of story that not everyone will appreciate, but far more people should be reading.

Shivaun Plozza has proven herself to be a gritty, realist writer unafraid to explore seemingly taboo social issues. If this is the quality of her first foray into novel writing, I can’t wait to see what comes next. Frankie is published by Penguin Random House Australia, and is available through the publisher’s website, and through the usual online and physical bookstores.

Rating: 5 stars

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