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Because of You

by Pip Harry

March 24, 2019.Beth.2 Likes.0 Comments
Despite being a book about writing, the poems within the story are basic and uninspired. The other characters find them deeply moving, sometimes even to the point of tears, which feels more like a firm nudge to the reader than anything else.

This review contains spoilers

Tiny is homeless. Nola has everything she could ask for. They meet when Nola is forced into volunteer work for the writers’ group at the homeless shelter where Tiny is staying, and at first it seems impossible that two people who are so different could ever be friends. But despite her initial prejudice, Nola quickly learns that there isn’t much separating her from the people who live on the streets. And Tiny begins to see that falling down doesn’t mean you never get back up. Because of You is a story about homelessness, prejudice and the power of words to provide a little hope. 

Synopsis taken from Goodreads

I didn’t like this book. While Tiny’s story was interesting and the bit’s surrounding Australian high schools felt very realistic, especially the over the top planning for the Formal, the rest of the story fell flat to me.

I think the main problem was that the author tried to stuff too much into the book, so none of it got touched on deeply enough. The main storylines included Volunteering at the homeless shelter, having two gay parents, not accepting having two gay parents, being dumped, falling in love, the writing group, mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems, the formal, toxic friendships, post-partum depression, abandoning a child, publishing a book, performing at an Art Showcase; and that’s just the ones off the top of my head. There was wayyyy to much to unpack fully and as a result littered the book with stereotypes and half-baked ideas.

While the book was supposed to be about the two girls, Nola seemed to have more page time even though Tiny was the much more interesting character. Nola was privileged, naïve and has no direction for her life. She has two gay parents that she is ashamed of for some reason, but seems more like an excuse to shoehorn diversity into the storyline. When she first visits the shelter she refuses to even sit next to one of the residents because of the smell. She then proceeds to do the fastest turn around possible, even as she flees the group, sitting down with Tiny and instantly becoming best friends. Almost immediately she is putting her arms around her, sharing ear buds, going on trips and becoming the best of friends. She starts to see the good in the other residents as well, turning her life upside down to help them. It’s a typical saviour storyline, which at its best is insulting and at its worst is dehumanising. By the end she manages to get the residents into an art showcase and the turnout is three times more than the room can fit. They are given a standing ovation and Nola gets the beautiful guy and decides she wants to become a Social Worker.

The homeless characters get none of this resolution and their lives after the Showcase isn’t mentioned. Where they go and what they do is less important than Nola’s success, and there was no discussions about why people can become homeless in the first place. Complex issues are ignored and homelessness is blamed almost solely on drug and alcohol issues. This is done to the point that Tiny adamantly states that she has never done drugs or alcohol. The only purpose of this is to seemingly elevate her above the “other” people on the street. She has a redemption storyline and the ability to slip back into her “normal” life, an option not available to the others.

The other homeless characters are one dimensional and often come across twee. Instead of growing from nameless, faceless problems on the street into real people, they seemed to become caricatures of themselves. Their smell and drug issues were to be looked past not because they were human, but because they hid great genius and wonderful stories beneath their tattered clothing. I would have liked to have seen Nola grow from a spoiled, rich, unsympathetic girl into a kind and empathetic one just for the purpose of being a good human, working with people who seemingly had nothing to offer. Instead, she managed to find a talented group of people she could raise from the ashes to become published authors with a huge and admiring audience.

Despite being a book about writing, the poems within the story are basic and uninspired. The other characters find them deeply moving, sometimes even to the point of tears, which feels more like a firm nudge to the reader than anything else. We are told they are good poems, therefore they must be, rather than actually having good poems. At some points in the book the writing was very good, but often the dialogue was incredibly stiff and unnatural. Zach speaking formal English was jarring amongst the other characters and possibly only used to show how he used to be a philosophy lecturer and so was more intelligent than the average homeless person. In comparison, Tiny came across as weirdly bogan, again possibly because she was from a country town, but mostly just had the effect of emphasising how unequal they were. It was alienating, and offensive as it seemed to buy into stereotypes. For example, the lower class, teen mum on the streets, or the confusion of how an educated man ended up there.

Depression was the only mental health issue discussed in the book, and while is a huge problem, would have fit better if only Nola and Tiny were the focus. By disregarding other mental illnesses, many of which contribute to a person becoming homeless, the book once again fell back on stereotypes and ignoring complex issues. I also would have liked it if the book had spelled out Tiny’s mental Health diagnosis. Throughout the book she blames herself for what happens with her son and so the reader is left to assume that she is just a bad mum. In this kind of story I would have liked her to state explicitly that Tiny was suffering a mental illness, especially if it was Post-Partum Depression. It would have been incredibly helpful for both Tiny and the reader to have that explicitly stated to show that Tiny actually wasn’t just a bad mum, and young women can suffer from it as well as older ones. 

Overall, I didn’t like this book. It was a quick read but added nothing to the discussion of homelessness in Australia or how people could help. Instead it tried to dress homeless people up as people worth helping for what they could offer other people, instead of just because they were human. 1/5 stars.

Categories: Book Review

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