Title: ‘Because of You’
Author: Pip Harry
Age Range: 15+
Themes: homelessness, belonging, hope, stereotypes, identity, friendship, addiction, alcoholism, community service, homosexuality, teen pregnancy.
‘Books can save anyone. If they’re the right ones.’
Tiny is 18, homeless and has been living rough before she finds short term accommodation in a shelter called Hope Lane. Nola is in Year Twelve and has everything she could ask for…and as a few things she didn’t ask for. When Nola is required to do volunteer work with the homeless at Hope Lane she is thrown into a world she has only ever avoided, to date only ever side-stepping homeless people in the street.
It takes an accomplished writer to pull off a dual narrative structure and with ‘Because of You’, Pip Harry uses the technique to great effect. The first-hand perspectives of Tiny and Nola offer the reader an opportunity to explore the inner struggles and triumphs of two teens on the cusp of adulthood who discover each other at exactly the right time to offer support.
Nola and Tiny are wonderful protagonists, but I fell in love equally with the diverse range of minor characters such as Nola’s gorgeous father who happens to be gay (and with whom I’d rather like to have a mani/pedi with as it seems to work for Nola!), Zak the former academic turned alcoholic and addict, Eddie the truly divine sounding uni student and part time worker at Hope Lane, and Meredith, who lost her son to the streets, and who now runs a Street Library providing solace in books, a place to read, and conversation to people living rough.
Author Pip Harry allows her characters the kind of authenticity and relatability which YA readers crave, in what is a very literary text, with exquisite use of symbolism, figurative language, and free verse poetry. I highlighted many favourite lines in my review copy of ‘Because of You’, including: My heart is a mixed-up Rubik’s cube; Mum arrives in a tornado of lateness; The panic rises slowly, like a wave rolling into shore; Pain still sitting like a bubble of acid in my throat; and, I’ll go before Nola’s mum sees me in her house, like a stain on a white sheet.
Although I read ‘Because of You’ over just one weekend, I had to stop several times, and catch my breath and ‘text a friend’ (literally, thanks Trish!) to discuss if I could handle the heavy themes at a time when my own life is more than a little heavy. But, like my own life, there is always hope, and Trish assured me that optimism, inspiration and tears would soon flow. Pip Harry has penned a novel which does not shy away from describing heavy and topical social issues, but her words are imbued with hope, and the message that falling down doesn’t mean you never get back up. ‘Because of You’ is a truly beautiful way for 15+ readers, and those who love the YA genre, to explore themes of compassion, empathy and resilience. It depicts that time in a young person’s life when figuring out who you might become is filled with wondrous triumphs and despairing disappointments, both equally important and unavoidable.
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Pip Harry on the inspiration for ‘Because of You’ (from UQP Teachers’ Notes)
I was inspired to write ‘Because of You’ after I spent several years volunteering in a homeless shelter in Sydney’s Darlinghurst. I worked with a group called Word Association, who visited the shelter for a few hours each week to lead creative writing exercises with homeless and marginalised people. The group of writers who attended sessions were incredibly diverse and interesting and the writing was often of a very high standard. In fact, the writers were invited to the Sydney Writers’ Festival to read their work, and the session was a sell-out – not a dry eye in the house! I knew at some stage I wanted to capture my experience with Word Association in a young adult novel, through the eyes of two teenage girls – one homeless and one a volunteer – and tell a story about how friendship and writing can heal and provide hope.
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