Author: Allayne L Webster
Publisher: Random House Australia
The Centre of My Everything by Allayne L Webster was recommended to me by a friend. At first, when I started reading it, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but I think my initial reserve was that it was too close to home. This is a book that captures Australian small town living and it doesn’t hold back.
The book is set in small-town Mildura, where everyone knows or thinks they know everyone. The first character we meet is Corey. Corey is a football hero and high-school drop out who is struggling in the real world. On first meeting Corey it is quite easy to write him off as a loser, but as the book progresses we learn more about Corey and there is a lot more to him than initially meets the eye.
It is pretty easy to dislike Corey, particularly in the opening chapter when we learn that Corey and his mate Hamish have gone on a bender and stolen bones from the local cemetery. Upon reading this, I wasn’t particularly sure I wanted to keep reading but having grown up in small towns I know that sometimes things that happen don’t always define the person involved.
The next character to be introduced is Tara. It is relatively clear from the beginning that Tara is a disaster. She’s a beautiful disaster, but still a disaster. Her mother is off travelling with her boyfriend and has left Tara to fend for herself and Tara isn’t coping. Tara hasn’t had the best upbringing. Her mother hasn’t been the best role-model.
Next, we are introduced to Justin, who has come back to Mildura after leaving ten years earlier, at the age of fourteen when his mum committed suicide. Justin found drugs in the city but has come back to Mildura clean and looking for answers. His father is the local drunk and is seen most days propping up the bar at the local hotel.
Finally, there is Margo. Margo is aboriginal. She’s not into drinking, partying or messing up her life. Margo wants to escape Mildura and she is working hard at school, so she can leave Mildura and make a life for herself. Out of all the characters, Margo comes from the most stable home.
The book follows the characters and what results is a raw and riveting tale. This is a no-holds-barred book and how refreshing is that to read. I think that’s what holds people back from truly appreciating this book. This is real life and sometimes real life is difficult to read. At the moment I am reading an American YA book and I think that the most significant difference I noticed between the two is that American books are polished (but not always in a good way). Australian YA fiction tends to give us the flawed characters that are relatable. Australian authors don’t sugar-coat characters or a story and Allayne L Webster, in particular, has written a story that is beautifully Australian. Yes, at times it is crude and gut-wrenching, but for lots of Australians so is life.
This is a cautionary tale about binge drinking, but it is never condescending or blaming. Young people don’t always make the smartest decisions, but I think what this book shows is that a bad decision doesn’t have to define you. There are ways out of bad choices. The Centre of My Everything shows that there is hope for everyone, not just the chosen few. Your life may feel like it is out of control, but life can turn around for the better.
The book also presents to us the idea that how someone is presented is not always who they are as a person. That when treated with respect and love a person can show a different side. This happens to all the characters but in particular Corey and Tara. From the outset, these two characters are the most difficult to like. It would seem as though they are wasting their lives away with alcohol and bad decisions. It would also appear that they are no-hopers – not very smart and very little going for them except their good looks and charisma. Through the book, we learn that there is more to Corey and Tara and with compassion and understanding they show what potential they do have. Webster gives us two teenagers who are doing the best they possibly can under the circumstances that they have been handed in life. Neither of the two has had good role models in their life and when they are shown a different way of life they embrace their lives in more positive ways.
The Centre of My Everything is quintessential Australia. It is funny, crude, intense, moving and gut-wrenching. It isn’t always an easy read, but it is a book that will stay with you long after you read it and aren’t these still the best books. The books that make you think, question and wonder. What I loved most about this book is that it is a book about forgiveness and as they say, “to err is human; to forgive divine.”