Off the Map is an engaging young adult novel set in fictitious Australian towns

  • Off the Map, by Scot Gardner. Allen & Unwin, $19.95.

Readers may doubt my credentials for reviewing Young Adult fiction, and fair enough.

But I enjoyed this book and it taught me a lot. It is well-written, with stimulating plot twists in many of the stories, the characters are, on the whole, attractive and believable.

The stories leave an engaging, and perhaps, confronting, picture of contemporary Australia.

There are 15 stories, each seen through the eyes of a teenage boy or girl.

They are set in fictitious towns of rural Australia - closely interconnected - and the reader might think East Gippsland just because the "Magellan Peninsula" feels a lot like Wilson's Promontory.

The reader may easily come to like and sympathise with the young voices on display.

It is the skill of Scot Gardner to get the tone right, so although the writer is in his fifties, we believe the voices of 14 or 15-year-olds.

The issues that confront these young people are the issues with which we are all familiar.

It is the response to these issues which is so different. Grandparents, wishing to understand their teenage grandkids could learn a lot from Off the Map.

Readers may be impressed by the positive, accepting spirit of the narrators, by the co-operation between young people, and by the strength of the friendships which emerge.

It is interesting, too, to see the importance of family, particularly mothers and fathers, to the self-image and confidence of the swarms of young people who crowd these pages. While the "olds" will not be followed blindly, they will be listened to, and their ideas and values assessed.

Readers may like some stories more than others. I particularly liked "Magellan" because the young narrator, Tiff, really does not want to go camping with her parents and brother in the wild country at New Year's.

She proposes "Aqualand" seven years since she had last been there. But Tiff knuckles down to the task imposed by the others, grabs her swag to make the best of it.

Tiff begins to enjoy the ramble, the country, the closeness to her family. She is proud of her achievement in accepting what the others wanted, and comes very close to her mother.

This is all touching and memorable. The plot takes a shocking turn and the reader sees Tiff required to overcome unexpected difficulty.

There is so much in Off the Map to enjoy and relish. This is Australian writing at its best.

  • Michael McKernan was a teenager 60 years ago.
This story Sympathetic young voices in a story to relish first appeared on The Canberra Times.