Friday 2 November 2012

YA REVIEW - 'The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay' - Rebecca Sparrow (UQP, 2006)

Seventeen-year-old Rachel Hill is the girl most likely to succeed. And the girl most likely to have everything under control . . . that is, until her dad invites Nick McGowan, the cutest boy at school, to live with them. Rachel worries that this could only be a recipe for disaster, but her best friend Zoe thinks it’s the perfect opportunity for lurve. Sparks start to fly for all the wrong reasons. Nick finds Rachel spoiled and uptight and Rachel dismisses Nick as lazy and directionless. But a secret from Nick’s past draws them together and makes the year Nick McGowan came to stay one that Rachel will never forget. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

The Year Nick McGowan Came to StayYou may or may not have noticed me mention Rebecca Sparrow before. If you didn't notice, I will offer you the chance to take note again here, but in brief, I picked up her debut novel, The Girl Most Likely from my local library when I was in Brisbane last year, after reading a short piece in the local paper about local Brisbane authors. And I quite fancied doing my bit for the locality. AND I LOVED IT. It made me proper chortle. Lovely, slightly manic Rachel Hill, closer to 30 than to 20 and finding herself back at home after work and relationship disasters give her a bit of a knock. I remember seeing The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay on a few bookshop shelves before we left Brissy, but as I was under pressure to decrease my own book collection at the time, my grabby, cover-caressing hands had to be restrained and I missed my chance to own a copy on Aussie shores.

This is why I had no clue that this book is actually a prequel to The Girl Most Likely. Do you have any idea how happy this made me? It's possible I may have fallen a little bit in love with this book before I'd even read the first sentence. And a big thank you to Maggie from Young Adult Anonymous for drawing my attention to this, gawd love her.

Well, I'm happy to say that my love-at-not-quite-first-sight did not diminish when I started this. In fact, it continued to turn me into a rather giddy, giggly excitable person, which happens to be one of my top 3 reactions to a book. 

It's 1989 and Rachel is 17, focused, ambitious and fond of shoulder pads and Huey Lewis. But also a bit spoilt and self-centred. Actually, quite a lot spoilt and self-centred. This is a good thing, by the way - Rachel leaps straight off the page with her pithy one-liners and stresshead behaviour. I love it when a writer offers up an unapologetic character on a plate so I can really dig my teeth into them. And the famous Nick McGowan manages to get away with being all fit and mysterious without falling into the usual YA boy-being-fit-and-mysterious traps. You don't want to slap him, for starters. He's a great foil for Rachel - dismissive, witty,, mysterious. Trust me, he's not that YA boy. He's lovely. And fit. And mysterious.

Their story develops at a cracking pace, with the aforementioned Nick-centric mystery bubbling away nicely, along with the changing dynamic in their relationship. My only wee criticism on this front deals with what kicks off their whole interaction - I wasn't completely convinced by some of Rachel's actions - ok, she doesn't want him there, but she does care that he thinks she's dripping with cool. But I couldn't quite tally this up with her taking a sudden interest in his career choice. Whatever, I don't care, it kicked off the rest of the story which was flawless. 

I have two favourite things about this book. And I can't decide between the two, so I shall gush about both in equal measure - 

1) THE DIALOGUE. Bloody hell it was brilliant. If I could write dialogue this good, well, I'd be a good  dialogue writer *fails miserably on the writing front there* It was incredibly funny, sharp, convincing, clever...and if you haven't gotten the idea yet, let me show you...

When Rachel tells her best bud, Zoe Budd about Nick's imminent arrival...

'"This is great. You get to have sex with him."
So I hit her with my three-hundred page Web of Life Biology textbook.
"I can't believe you just hit me. I mean, think about it. You can lose your virginity in the comfort of your own home. Think about Lisa Staples, who did it with Gavin Piper out by Trudy Garrison's pool. On twigs and shit. No, this is much better."

2) This isn't a bog standard YA romance. Without giving the ending away, it's about something that is so much more heart-warming and resonant with a teenage audience, in my opinion, anyway. Sometimes I get so sick of all these 16 and 17 year olds declaring their undying love for each other and that this is the happy ending done and dusted, forever and ever, when in reality, this doesn't tend to happen too often. I love it when contemporary stories are about more than romance, about other types of connections and relationships that are formed in teenage years. 

Ok, so I've thought of a third favourite thing about this book - even though it's set in the 80s, the whole nostalgia thing is never rammed down your throat with constant cheesy references. The period isn't central to the story (although I did appreciate the occasional Phil Collins reference) and the interaction between the characters never felt dated or forced. 

So you might have guessed that I enjoyed this one quite a lot. It's been ages since I've finished a book in a day and it's such a great feeling when I do. Ok, it's a short read, maybe a bit too short. Although that might just be me being  a greedy guts, as I tend to be in so many facets of life, but I can't emphasise enough how much this book made me smile, right down to the last page. But that might have also had something to do with the mention of the pub in Brisbane where my now husband took me on our second date.

Ahh, memories... 

(of drunken attempts at playing pool and singing along to Crowded House) 


  1. Awesome review! I really want to read these books. What order do you think is best?

    1. Thanks Belle! You can read either first - that's one of the best things about them :)

  2. Anna! I love this review so much! I totally agree that the dialogue is wonderful in this. It's just so Aussie too, I felt home reading about it.

    1. Thanks lovely! I loved all the Brisbane references too :)

  3. I absolutely adore sharp and witty dialogue - it's one of the few reasons I'll read a contemporary book and enjoy it. That and the mention of fit and mysterious Nick has me quite eager to give this a shot. ;)

    Great review, Anna!

    1. Thanks Sam! This was some of the funniest dialogue and prose I've come across in YA for quite a while

  4. Stresshead is my new favorite word. Rachel, Nick, Zoe... loved them so much. And I love that it mentioned your second date pub! Fantastic review, Anna. It makes me want to go to Brisbane... and stay forever!


    1. Thanks again Maggie for reminding me about this book :)
      That pub doesn't exist any more, unfortunately. It's used to be a great a place to drink a pint and play some pool but is now some awful trendified spot. Not that I venture out much in the evenings these days anyway, hermit that I am

    I'm so excited to read this. Between you & Maggie & Nick (mysterious but not THAT YA boy... hello!) you have me well and truly convinced.


    ps. Shut up, your dialogue is awesome.

    1. I can't wait for you to read this one lady!