I seem to be destined to have a new favourite Julie Bertagna book each time I read something by her. Let me tell you about my most recent favourite.
There are many ways to write a novel about an unwanted teenage pregnancy. Julie Bertagna’s is by far the best I’ve come across. In The Opposite of Chocolate she writes about this topic in an unusual and mature manner, and yet so lightly that you barely see how she does it.
Although Sapphire is only 14 (which in itself is daring; ‘allowing’ someone so young to have a sex life, without preaching), the book mentions babies and pregnancies and abortion and parenthood and relationships as though the readers are all adults.
They will be one day, and may well encounter Sapphire’s problem before they are. This novel will help them. Julie doesn’t say that one way is the right way. She manages to cover all the aspects of what a pregnant 14-year-old could find themselves facing. She looks at all the solutions, analysing what’s good and bad about each of them.
Sapphire’s parents have opposing ideas of how to solve their daughter’s predicament, and her sister has yet another. Everyone, from the family priest to the GP and the media have ideas, and no one remembers to listen to Sapphire herself.
At the same time, their suburb suffers arsonist attacks every night, and eventually the two meet, and lives change.
This is a short book, but Julie fits in descriptions of the lives of so many people that I felt several of them could do with books of their own, almost. All are different, and all have their own needs and problems. The Catholic church have their policy, and the GP has his. Even Sapphire’s seemingly perfect girl gang friend, who steals her boyfriend, has a ‘background.’ And not all old people are useless, and most of them were young once.
This is truly wonderful!