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BOOKS THUY ON > Books Editor LIONEL SHRIVER HAS always been a controversial writer. Though best known for her disturbing and utterly unforgettable novel We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003), she’s not afraid of courting controversy in her books. Neither is she averse to voicing contentious opinions about cultural appropriation and identity politics at literary festivals (but that’s another story). Property is her first collection of short stories, including two novellas, and shows an under-appreciated side of her: sly humour. There’s a lightness in these tales that belies Shriver’s reputation as a purveyor of the dark and tricky. It’s an anthology about real estate and other material goods. Among the stories is one concerning a millennial layabout who won’t leave home, to the chagrin of his parents; one with a recalcitrant postie and his haul of purloined packages; and one about neighbourly disputes over a littering tree. One of the novellas, ‘The Standing Chandelier’, explores the notion of possessiveness in the love triangle between a man, his fiancée and his best (female) friend. Shriver’s wry observations and wit are evident. Speaking about weedy seedlings that her protagonist is struggling to eradicate, she says, “Her attempts at jerking these interlopers from the ground were no more effective than the Home Office’s feeble efforts to deport asylum seekers.”

NEVERLAND MARGOT McGOVERN

MISS EX-YUGOSLAVIA SOFIJA STEFANOVIC

Kit is 17, and has struggled with repressed memories, depression and self-harm since her parents’ tragic deaths. She retreats into fantasy stories – and a dizzying cloud of drugs, alcohol and sex – as she struggles to face the monsters of her past. After an attempted suicide, her psychiatrist uncle has Kit committed to the island that was once her family home. Now dubbed Neverland, her uncle has turned the island into a psychiatric facility for troubled teenagers. Kit’s friendships are fractured by her destructive behaviour and her on-off relationship is challenged by an alluring newcomer. But will he save her, or damn her? It’s only after hitting rock bottom and starting therapy that memories from her childhood resurface and she’s able to confront the past. Margot McGovern’s debut novel merges myths, ancient Greece and the realities of teenage mental health issues in a raw, painful and graphically honest telling. The happy endings may not mirror reality, but they certainly inspire hope. Trigger warning for self-harm, eating disorders and suicide. NIKKI BIELINSKI

Born in Yugoslavia, raised in Australia and now living in New York, Sofija Stefanovic has written a memorable, hilarious and candid paean to growing up as the perpetual outsider. As an immigrant during the Yugoslavian Wars, her childhood was filled with the noise of the TV blasting constant war news. Her mother, a child psychologist, and father, IT expert, move with Sofija and her little sister to Melbourne in the 90s. From being a velour-tracksuited failure at a school recital, through to her first love suggesting they be “great friends”, the cringeworthy moments make for both heartbreaking and hilarious anecdotes. But beyond the bad hair and bizarre beauty pageant experiences is a death in the family and the loss of home; Stefanovic never loses sight of the tragic behind the comic. Arty, creative and clumsy, she is every one of us who never quite made the “cool group”. Her willingness to mine her past without exploiting the family, friends and visitors who make cameos feels respectful. Stefanovic has worked for SBS, The Moth and Women of Letters in New York. She is a storyteller par excellence and this book is a gem. CAT WOODS

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BREAK-UP BOSS ZOË FOSTER BLAKE 

If you’ve recently gone through a break-up and are still crying into your pillow, Zoë Foster Blake’s latest book should be picked up alongside a jumbo-sized box of tissues. With illustrations by Mari Andrew, this guide helps to steer you back on course. In chatty conversational tones, much like a girlfriend over drinks, Foster reminds the heartbroken that break-ups force us to “grow and blossom, and really understand who we are”. She writes: “They are life-changing, magical catalysts, a gift from the universe to force you into some (often overdue) emotional development.” Foster knows how hard it is to move on and her chapters are divided into empathically titled categories like ‘WTF just happened?’, ‘I can’t do this’ and ‘I hate them’. The important take-home message really is, “Do not let a break-up break you.” The book insists on your taking charge, instead of wallowing around indefinitely cursing your ex and your sad sack circumstance. Also available in an interactive app. THUY ON PRINT

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THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 18–31 MAY 2018

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Book review The Big Issue May 2018  
Book review The Big Issue May 2018  
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