By Author / Illustrator
Paperback / softback
A compelling, heartbreaking and hopeful book for fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Jennifer Niven and Holly Jackson.
In the unremarkable town of Amberside, the unthinkable has happened: Terrorists have attacked a local festival. No one knows why, and no one knows who the attackers are, but that doesn't matter. What matters first is survival. And what matters after that is survival, too.
In this brilliantly written account of hope, humour and humanity, five ordinary teenagers are caught up in a truly extraordinary situation. It's a heart-pounding and gripping account of the fight for survival as the attackers prowl the festival grounds, told from multiple perspectives.
This is a book for anyone facing the barrage of bleak reports that fill our newsfeeds and for anyone who needs to see that behind the hate that makes the headlines, there is always love.
The events in This Can Never Not Be Real take place over the space of a few hours, creating a very intense experience for the reader. There are just two locations, the garden and inside the mansion. It all happens at night, which brings the sanctuary of darkness for the young people caught up in the attack, but also creates the problem of remaining concealed whilst trying to alert the authorities, family and friends, or using the light of a phone as guidance in the unfamiliar terrain.
The story unfolds through the narration of eyewitness accounts given by survivors. Although we learn this at the outset, knowing that the particular teens narrating the story ultimately survive was not a plot spoiler, nor did it decrease the tension throughout the book. In fact, it added to the intrigue of how did these protagonists make it through to the point of rescue?
There are four main voices that describe the unfolding story. The voices do not have a chapter each, but paragraphs following each other, sometimes threads of the same storyline, sometimes moving the setting. Initially, I found this difficult to focus on and had to go back to check which character was with whom, so I could pick up their story thread. I would recommend sticking with it, as it gets easier to do the further into the book you read. The story arc settles into itself after the initial confusion of the attack has been established by author Sera Milano and her characters assess the reality of their situation; their new primary objective is to survive.
Milano creates tension throughout, as the night progresses and the desperate teens need to make, literally, life and death decisions. The reality is that not everyone behaves altruistically, bonds are forged, sacrifices are made, courage tested and assessments of what is important are realized. Due to the nature of the plot, it is a book with frequent scenes of bloodshed and violence but I felt these were not gratuitous. It was in context.
The final chapters were a welcome relief from the main body of the story, lifting the reader's emotions. The decision not to give a platform or backstory to the attackers relegates them to a place of insignificance; the story is about the human ability to survive a terrifying ordeal, from whatever source the terror arises. This Can Never Not Be Real is on the shortlist for the Southern Schools Book Award. Suitable for Y9+.
352 pages / Reviewed by Jan Blagden
Suggested Reading Age 14+