Author: Kirsten Murphy
Publisher: Penguin Australia
Date of Publication: June 2009
Length: 336 pages
From Penguin: It's the first day of Term One, and Luke and Anna are on opposite sides of the student-teacher divide. School is the last thing Luke feels like - how can he feel halfway to good when his father is sick, his mother is sad and his older brother is painfully present? Anna's life still revolves around love, friendship and homework, but she's a graduate teacher now. Can she cope with a bullying co-worker, a persistent ex-boyfriend and a class of unforgiving Year Elevens, and still find time to help Luke?
Last year I read Kirsten Murphy’s The King of Whatever and was pleasantly surprised at her enjoyable writing style and the way she wrote such an accessible male protagonist. Once again, Kirsten has completely charmed me with her most recent novel, Halfway to Good.
The novel focuses on Anna, a new graduate teacher from a close-knit (and completely chaotic/loveable family) and Luke, a likeable Year 11 student who’s trying hard to keep a brave face whilst hiding some heavy stuff. We follow both Luke and Anna, and watch as their lives surprisingly intercept both on and off the schoolyard (though I feel like I should make this clear so people do not get the wrong kind of idea – it is not THAT kind of student-teacher relationship). I liked that the two perspectives weren’t built into the structure of the book (it’s not a dual-narrative in the style of Will Grayson, Will Grayson or Good Oil) but instead is a bit more fluid and Murphy’s writing allows the reader to move effortlessly between the two.
As an older-reader (well, older than the intended audience), I especially connected with Anna – particularly as she is the same age as me, and a number of my friends have just started their first teaching positions this year (which freaks me out a little, as that means it’s been 5 years since I was in high-school!). I also thought that the age difference allowed for some really interesting comparisons and will appeal to a wider range of readers.
An aspect of the novel I really loved was the way it drew attention to some issues I feel are under-represented in YA (at least in my own reading experience) – particularly anxiety in young men and workplace bullying. Both were treated with respect and care, given insight and offered solutions, without ever feeling preachy or alienating.
Again, Murphy has also crafted a cast of realistic supporting characters – with my particular favourites being Alex, Luke’s smart-arse best friend and Anna’s (slightly dysfunctional) siblings, Ben and Georgie. The way all of the characters interact is so engaging and fun to read (Kirsten Murphy is brilliant at wry observations and sharp, unpretentious banter). We also gain some pretty amusing (and also a little scary) insights into the inner-workings of the high-school staff room, which I found to be rather entertaining.
Halfway to Good manages to be the perfect balance of laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly touching. Definitely worth reading and I highly recommend also checking out Kirsten Murphy's other novels (I'm still trying to track down a copy of Raincheck on Timbuktu but am sure it won't disappoint).