Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

KYDYAC

KYDYAC – Loving Athena by Joanne Horniman

by Stephanie Van Schilt , August 14, 20122 Comments

Today’s KYD YA Championship post sees YA specialist Judith Ridge explaining why the beautiful Loving Athena should win the glory.

I’ve long been a fan and even something of a champion of Joanne Horniman. I think she’s one of the great under-recognised Australian YA writers. Yes, her books from time to time get a nod in the CBCA or state Premier’s awards, but somehow they still seem to fly under the radar when people think or talk about Australian YA. While readers may be familiar with her more recent and more ‘successful’ novels ­ About a GirlSecret Scribbled Notebooks and even Mahalia ­ for me, it all began with the first novel, in what I can’t help but think of as her ‘Lismore cycle’.

Loving Athena is the story of Keats, who has lived his whole life at Elysian Farm (an actual place, fictionalised in the novel), a shared community inland from Lismore. Raised by Jack, who is neither father nor grandfather, Keats has lived his life overseen by his ‘sort-of mothers’ ­ midwife Juliet and the other women of the Farm who fed the infant Keats their own milk after his own too-young mother drowned. Their babies ­ girls all ­ became Keats’ sort-of sisters, but despite all this mothering and love, despite his beloved Jack, Keats remains somehow alone, conjuring up a substitute mother and muse ­ for Keats has lived up to his name and is a poet ­ in the form of Euterpe, goddess of lyric poetry, who pads silently through Keats’ life as he seeks love and family, and solace for the unresolved loss of his infancy.

The ‘Athena’ of the title is a young woman Keats meets in the streets of Lismore one hot summer day at the start of his final year of high school. Athena’s real name is Etta, and she’s newly moved from Sydney, bringing with her other people’s half-told tales. (‘Give me every one of your memories,’ she says to Keats. ‘I want to make them my own.’) But so struck is Keats by her long-legged, grave beauty (‘awkward and graceful at the same time’) and courageous, forthright way of taking on the world, that to him she is instantly Athena ­ goddess of wisdom and justice, and motherless like Keats (although Etta has the classic nuclear family: mother, father, younger brother). It’s not until Athena-Etta can confess her own great loss, and Keats understands his own, that she becomes to him a grounded, fully human girl, and they make steps towards what will be their first adult romance.

I think I’m personally attached to Horniman’s novels because I lived and worked for a year in and around Lismore ­ —the places she so effectively evokes through her at times sometimes lush, yet also often spare, and always lovely prose. But Horniman does more than describe familiar landmarks; she evokes the very character of this part of the world: the pulse of the streets and countryside through its extremes of climate through the year’s cycle, and the emotional climate of the people who live in town and country, suburb and commune. In doing so, she transcends the specific to explore the universal, as the very great writers do.

The author’s note at the back of my battered 1997 paperback quotes Horniman as saying that Loving Athena completes a trilogy of sorts that began with her early YA novels Sand Monkeys and The Serpentine Belt: ‘They all concern young people who are searching for a lost parent, and characters making strong familial connections with people who aren’t related to them.’ Horniman wasn’t done with those themes after Loving Athena, but much as I love and admire her subsequent novels, I’m not sure that she’s ever written anything that matches Loving Athena for its compassion and insight, for the deceptive simplicity of its prose and its great heart. It’s a comparatively short novel, too, and all the more effective for it, with every word and phrase, every narrative turning carrying more than their share of meaning and nuance. It’s a book I love to return to, for all its grave and graceful beauty. I hope others may now also seek out its considerable pleasures.

Judith Ridge is internationally recognised as one of Australia’s leading experts on children’s and young adult literature. She has worked as an editor, community arts coordinator, writer and critic and has written about children’s and youth literature for journals such as Viewpoint and Magpies, The Horn Book (US) and The Melbourne Age. Judith has twice been a judge on the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, is a Churchill Fellow and has an MA in children’s literature. She is currently project officer on WestWords: the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Project. Judith blogs at http://misrule.com.au/wordpress

If you want Loving Athena 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.




  • http://www.beantherereadthat.com Kate O’D

    I’ve long been a champion and ardent fan of Jo’s work, for all the reasons you note above. I love how smart her books are, how perfectly written the words are, the small observations and the big ideas – and the characters I fall in love with. I’ve never been to Lismore, but her books have given me this very weird romanticised idea of the place.

    This is a wonderful post about Loving Athena and I can’t tell you how pleased I am that you chose this book, Judith.

  • http://www.eglantinescake.blogspot.com Penni

    I think Joanne is one of the most intriguing and intelligent writers writing in Australia at the moment (along with Ursula Dubosarsky and Margo Lanagan). She’s the kind of writer that makes me love YA and what it can do, how the body can inhabit the text: the wonderfully disruptive unreliable leaky revealing body.

    I haven’t read this one though, thanks for the heads up.

loitering-cover-cmyk-570

Sam van Zweden

The Writer at the Centre of the Essay: Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering

Loitering is Charles D’Ambrosio’s quietly brave collection of experimental essays. It doesn’t announce itself noisily, but associations slide sideways through the essays in unexpected ways. This collection is lyric in both senses – freely associative and loose, it borrows from the world, trying meaning on for size, producing metaphors and connections wherever it sees fit. Read more »

discworld

Elizabeth Flux

Footnote to a life: How Terry Pratchett kept me from going postal

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then teenage me would have been the steamroller to Terry Pratchett’s somewhat plagiarised tarmac. In the ten years since I first picked up The Fifth Elephant, my work has been littered with Pratchettisms to varying degrees. Read more »

Patricia-Highsmith2

James Tierney

The Necessary Paradoxes of Patricia Highsmith

A highly regarded author of complex psychological thrillers, including The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith’s fiction comes freighted with a heady mix of cross-purposes and intimate alienations. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

9807778273_afe6ec792d_z

Rebecca Shaw

Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling

We are still at a point where far less than half the movies we see have a clear female protagonist, even though women are half of the population. If women as an ENTITY are not properly represented, their stories not told, what chance then do women of colour have? Read more »

article-2301242-18FA52E4000005DC-314_470x763

Rebecca Shaw

An Inconvenient Truth: Social stigma and menstruation

If you have heard of menstruation, you would know that it is an essential process in a little tiny thing called the EXISTENCE AND CONTINUATION OF HUMAN LIFE, and it is something that most (not all) women experience for about five days every month for a large part of their lives. It is a topic (besides shopping, lol) that women think about frequently. Read more »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

9331818982_322b389ff2_z

Annabel Brady-Brown

The blue pill or the red pill? In defence of highbrow film

Cinema is a powerful medium. Going to the movies, be it a Lav Diaz epic or a Michael Bay blockbuster, is an act of submission. You hand over $15 and the whole mash of your brain/senses/heart/dreams for ninety minutes. Read more »

girlwalkshomealoneatnight

Anwen Crawford

Bad Cities

A Most Violent Year has an atmosphere of all-pervading dread, like a film noir, as if the polluted air of New York itself was causing people to act against their better intentions. Even more haunting and more noir is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a memorably audacious debut feature from American-Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

agent-carter-7683

Danielle Binks

Agent Carter and the future of the female superhero

Agent Carter has been described ‘a Triumph for Women, Marvel and TV,’ and heralded as an important new chapter in comics culture. If this supposedly groundbreaking new show fails, does it spell doom for the future of female-led superhero franchises? Read more »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

cher_horowitz_closet-010_2

Katie Williams

Fashion Forward: How hidden algorithms are dressing up technology

Though we increasingly rely on technology to simplify our lives, we still want to believe that behind the scenes is a happy, human face, rather than an impassive machine that does the dirty work for us. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »

Tessa Waters stars in Womanz

Jane Howard

Fringe Feminism: Women, comedy and performance art

Taken together, the work of these female comics and performers loudly proclaims that their ideas about gender, femininity, performance and comedy are not diametrically opposed. It is because of their performance backgrounds that their shows are hilarious, not in spite of them. Read more »

Before Us_3

Jane Howard

Stuart Bowden’s Unfamiliar, Universal Worlds

It’s hard to classify the work of Stuart Bowden. His one-person storytelling theatre works are at once hilarious and melancholy. They exist in a particular space of fringe theatre: intricately crafted stories built for small rooms & small audiences, they lift and rise that audience, gathering us all up in the magic of stories & the closeness they can breed. Read more »