It’s often said that one of the defining features of young adult fiction is hope. Despite its dark subject matter, Leanne Hall’s latest novel, The Gaps, glimmers with hope and fury.
When 16-year-old Yin Mitchell is abducted, her disappearance is felt by everyone in the community.
Chloe is a scholarship student who is too new, too poor and too Asian to have been welcomed into the privileged elite of Balmoral Ladies College. Natalia, on the other hand, is born to fit in – superficially at least. In the wake of Yin’s abduction, as days go by and it seems more and more unlikely that she will be found alive, Natalia and Chloe find an unexpected connection in art and the shared outrage at how easy it is for the girls around them to fall through the gaps. “If women hold up half the sky, then why are we so disposable?”
The Gaps shifts from the surreal landscape that defines Hall’s first three books, including the Text Prize-winning This Is Shyness. All the same, her preoccupation with in-between places carries through into the more realistic subject matter of The Gaps, as does her commitment to valuing the lives of teens and reflecting honestly and thoughtfully their concerns, passions, fears and desires.
Introducing the book, Hall said “it’s a terrible fact of being a young woman in this world that violence is a possibility, and I really wanted to show how resourceful and resilient young women are”. The threat of violence underpins the book – not only in the crime itself, but in the daily micro-aggressions the girls experience, how they are portrayed in the books they read and television they watch, and in the burden of responsibility they feel to keep themselves safe from violent men. And while The Gaps is every bit as compelling as a crime novel, Hall’s choice to focus the narrative on the girls left behind, rather than the investigation, gives it a chilling contemporary relevance.
Leanne Hall is without a doubt one of Australia’s best young-adult writers. Hall’s work is full of the fear and risk of adolescence, but also the strength and friendships that define it. The Gaps is a thrilling and intelligent reflection on the impact that violence against women has on the day-to-day lives of teenage girls.
Text Publishing, 368pp, $19.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 6, 2021 as "Leanne Hall, The Gaps".
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