“We have an extra special coffee and dessert evening planned for you !” said the woman at the front of church. “With a guest author!”
“Oh dear,” I thought.
A name was mentioned – Katrina Nannestad. I hadn’t heard it before.
“Oh dear,” I thought.
Someone beside me whispered that the author was somebody’s wife’s something.
“Oh dear,” I thought. “I bet it’s someone who’s busily congratulating themselves on the decision to self-publish their utterly awful drivel, and who is now desperately self-promoting while putting off the realisation that no-one would willingly buy their book except through sheer face-to-face embarrassment.”
And everyone at church knows I’m a writer, too. I bet they think I’m SO pleased.
I went home and googled Katrina Nannestad. The word “diary” in the title rang loud alarm bells – but she WAS published by Harper Collins, so she had to be pretty all right. I emailed the woman from church saying I’d come, and ordered Red Dirt Diary from the library. If it was awful, I could just keep quiet at the ladies’ evening and no-one would get hurt.
It wasn’t awful.
It was brilliant.
There aren’t many people in the world who can pull off a novel in diary form – John Marsden is one, Jaclyn Moriarty is another, and whatserface – the writer of Bridget Jones’ Diary – is a third. Katrina Nannestad fits very neatly into that very classy group. This book is very definitely a children’s book (I read mostly young adult books, since that’s mostly what I write) and has no fantasy elements at all (so it’s not really my normal thing) – but I loved it.
As the title suggests, it’s set in Australia – specifically, on a sheep farm that’s slowly dying after three years of drought. Despite what you might think, it is very, very funny. By ten pages in, I was killing myself laughing. The laughs continued all the way through. Red Dirt Diary‘s humour is enough to make the book excellent, but it also manages to be more than that.
Outback Australia is terribly exotic to most of the world (including Australia) so the vividness and detail of the setting is engrossing. At times I was almost in tears because of the sad and seemingly doomed situation of the narrator’s family (and community) – and then I’d be laughing my head off half a page later. I felt so very, very sorry for the parents.
It also manages to be suspenseful (not an easy thing in diary form) and to have a genuine climax-and-resolution ending.
The narrator is Blue, a girl who loves her farm and her family (except maybe her younger twin brothers – but who in their right mind would love brothers like these?) and is wonderfully herself (read the book and you’ll know what I mean).
If you like humour (including some gross-out humour that boys would adore), Australia, or just excellent story writing, this is the book for you – regardless of your age.
Free sample (I was so confident about this book I literally opened a page at random – the twin boys have just had an incident with either pigs, billycarts, fireworks, or all three – I forget):
Mum didn’t even bother calling [the vet, who visits them often as there isn’t a doctor nearby]. She said she’s dealt with enough broken bones and concussions to start a specialist practice.
Wes and Fez are stoked because they can’t go to school tomorrow.