Relatably self-conscious, uncool Abby is the heroine of Megan Williams’s debut, which won the Text Prize for an unpublished work for young adults or children. Abby is a prickly portrait of how painful our teenage years can be. She is awkward – like, accidentally kissing your cousin’s cousin awkward – sometimes bratty and she always over-analyses every beat of her day.
Even when Abby is at her most self-conscious, she has her best friend, Ella, by her side. But when the new girl Chloe joins Abby’s friendship group and begins to monopolise Ella’s time, Abby is confused and jealous enough to privately wish the worst for her friend. And when the worst happens – in an unpredictable twist that is both risky and astute – Abby doesn’t know how to fix it.
There’s a lot to like in Let’s Never Speak of This Again. Prepare for the second-hand embarrassment, because Williams writes authentically – at times breathtakingly so – of teen experience. The story itself is well-trodden terrain for this readership, especially in the context of Australian YA, which is diversifying quickly enough that reading a novel about straight, mostly white private-school girls on the east coast feels almost retrograde. But occasionally it goes where you don’t expect and it features some genuinely tragic drama that’s handled sensitively by Williams without becoming overwrought.
The core of the book seems to belong to a younger audience. While Abby is talking about sex and getting drunk at weekend ragers, the central issue – a new friend complicating a tight-knit girls’ group – feels more at home in a novel pitched to 13-year-olds or even tweens in middle-grade, where this plot point is frequently employed. It’s tough to reconcile this tonal inconsistency and it grates against an otherwise winning depiction of teenage life. The format of the novel, separated into interconnected titled vignettes, similarly feels aimed at younger readers unable to follow the sustained thread of a more traditionally formatted book.
As a result, the book seems unfocused and a little thin. It’s up against tough competition – Australian YA is generally world class and Let’s Never Speak of This Again pales against unique stunners such as Will Kostakis’s recent We Could Be Something or Alice Boyle’s effervescent Dancing Barefoot (which won the Text Prize in 2021). While diverting, sweet and occasionally surprising, Williams’s debut lacks the deeply human sense, harnessed in all the best writing for young adults, that teenage life is a tightrope between childhood and being an adult.
Text Publishing, 224pp, $24.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 26, 2023 as "Let’s Never Speak of This Again".
This month marks 10 years since the first edition of The Saturday Paper. The paper is as audacious now as it was then: a rejection of conventional wisdom about what makes the news and who will read it.
To celebrate those 10 years - and the issue-defining journalism produced in them - we are offering all new subscribers a two-year digital subscription for the price of one. That's $298 worth of journalism for $109.
Get more of the best journalism in the country - and celebrate the success of a newspaper built on optimism.
Select your digital subscription