KYDYAC – Fortress by Gabrielle Lord

by Stephanie Van Schilt , August 16, 20122 Comments

In the second last (!) KYD YA Championship post, YA writer Alyssa Brugman champions the challenging and compelling Fortress by Gabrielle Lord.

I’m backing Fortress by Gabrielle Lord as one of the most perfect books for YA readers. It’s on my list alongside Flowers in the Attic, Pet Sematary or Magician as a book perfectly crafted for teens, with the perfect match in content.

It’s very easy, as adult readers who have an interest in deciding what is age-appropriate reading, to ‘tut’ and ‘should’ and ‘must’ and ‘never’, but that’s because many adult readers have forgotten about the stages of independent reading that we all went through.

Initially, reading itself is a puzzle. The emerging independent reader, tongue poking out of the corner of their mouth, is still s-o-u-n-d-i-n-g o-u-t the unfamiliar words – running their finger along the sentences structured so unexpectedly. The content can’t afford to be too complex, or the task of reading becomes exhausting.

But once a reader is familiar enough with their construction, words are recognised by shape. The reader uses punctuation as a guide to the pace and manner in which the writer wants the text to be read. Reading then becomes an immersive experience.

The structure of Fortress suits a reader right at this point because it supports this type of immersive reading. The narrative is totally linear, from the abduction of the teacher and students of a school, and the violence and murder in a small country town, through to the stronghold the students and their teacher construct and defend at the end. There are very few variations in point of view. The plot is made up of a series of short does not obstruct the reading experience, making it perfect to consume in one big bite.

Can you remember that? Back when you were only interested in what happened in a book, not what it was about? Back when you were no longer just r-e-a-d-i-n-g t-h-e w-o-r-d-s and instead dove headfirst into the book, resurfacing to find that a whole day had passed? That’s the point at which you realise that anything can happen in a book. Anything! You can be shocked by books, and scared by them. You want to be shocked and scared. That’s when you start to actively seek out the most gruesome, explicit, supernatural, escapist content. Wasn’t it thrilling the first time you realised there were books you simply couldn’t open after dark?

Fortress is such a book. It has satisfyingly grisly bits. It’s not about fitting in, or divorce, or unrequited love. It’s life or death. These characters really have something to complain about. It’s horror-lite. Books like these make lifelong readers with broad tastes.

But even teen readers who are ready to think about what the book is about, as well as what happens, will find a most sympathetic companion in this book. This book is about ambushes; fear; violence; bullies; awkwardly executed plans; a vulnerable, flawed teacher; entrapment; hastily rigged survival gear that would make MacGyver proud; and, finally, a cohesive bond between unlikely allies that saves the day.

Sounds like a typical day in Year 9 to me!

Alyssa Brugman writes full time and lives in the Hunter Valley with her partner, their children and various quadrupeds. She is currently pursuing postgraduate studies at the University of Canberra. Her twelfth novel will be released by Text Publishing in March 2013.

If you want Fortress to win the KYD YA Championship, you can cast your vote for it here! Vote now and you can also go into the draw to win some amazing prizes.

  • Stephanie Van Schilt

    I remember reading Fortress for Year 9 English and loving it. The overt personal drama and constant danger meant that I couldn’t put it down – and I recall far less studious members of my class feeling the same. I recently re-read Fortress for this Championship and was struck by how easily it hit the right beats, with its use of violence and suspense, to keep you turning the page. As Alyssa mentions, it was perfect for my racing attention span – I was absorbed as a teen and found it a great, quick read to this day.

    In hindsight, I also find it incredibly interesting that Fortress is one of the books on our KYDYAC list that is deemed ‘contentious’, straddling the boundaries between adult and YA fiction – as noted, the National Library of Australia lists its readership as both ‘Juvenile’ and ‘Adult’ ( Upon re-reading I did notice that Sally (the teacher) is quite young and she is definitely trying to find her way in the adult world. I think this, combined with the students – from young children to teens – showing their strength, demonstrates the ‘in between’ phase that is a YA staple. It is this transitional phase that so often appeals to YA readers too. The scenario presented to Sally provides the impetus for her rite of passage, and by the end of the book she has conquered many of her own demons, as well as the intense plot driving forces. At the same time, the students play an integral part in her development, and the thematic importance of teamwork and education, as well as the complicated nature of the human condition, is prevalent.

  • Estelle Tang

    I haven’t read Fortress, but I found it so fascinating too that this was a book that more than one contributor mentioned wanted to cover. So it must have reached many young readers, but was also written for adults to enjoy.

    When I think about the books I was reading as a young reader, the adult books I’d read were usually classics and genre books. I read lots of fantasy and sci-fi stuff, maybe because it was a continuation of the genre of children’s books I liked to read, but also, like you say, because the fantasy series I used to like to read dealt with transitional phases and calls to action.

    Can I borrow Fortress from you? Thanks!


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