Anyone who reads a lot of YA fiction with LGBT themes will be accustomed to reading about characters who are in the process of coming out. In contrast, Pink's heroine Ava Simpson is someone who is out... but wondering whether maybe she's not so gay after all. Why? Because secretly, her favourite colour is pink. Because her relationship with her girlfriend isn't going so great. And because she might perhaps even like boys after all. Most of us have been through that stage of wanting desperately to fit in, and Ava Simpson has the added pressure of not being sure whether she's gay or straight - but really wanting to find out. As a protagonist, she's almost too easy to relate to: her preoccupation with trying to belong leads to blunder after blunder, making it impossible not to flush with embarrassment on her behalf on several particularly awkward occasions. With humour and honesty in equal measure, Pink takes us through the ups and downs of Ava's quest to find out where she belongs.
While the depiction of the social divisions at Ava's new school is occasionally familiar (think mean girls nicknamed 'the pastels' by the resident misfits, and some serious Regina George / Janis Ian dynamics), Wilkinson brings every one of her huge cast of characters vividly to life. From Ava's infuriatingly obnoxious girlfriend Chloe, to her new friend Alexis, whose pastel exterior conceals a few geeky secrets of her own, these are characters you can't dismiss as all bad or hail as all good. From the stage crew freaks to the in crowd, each individual has their own special blend of personal qualities, quirks and motivation - and that's what makes the lessons Ava learns so very convincing. They're as complex and multi-layered as the real people all around us. Pink is a book that says sorting and labelling people - even yourself - into narrow restrictive categories is entirely bogus, and definitely not the key to happiness.
I don't usually tend to discuss cover art in my reviews, but I really can't review Pink without commenting on the oh-so-pretty pastel pink cover - complete with raised pastel pink images of objects that relate to Ava's journey. I'm a fan of pink covers in general - it's my favourite colour, and the fact that some readers will instantly dismiss pink books as frivolous or shallow or 'girly' (like that's a bad thing) makes me feel a little bit defensive for them. Judging a book by its cover is one of the themes Lili Wilkinson addresses in Pink, so it's interesting to consider that some people who would really benefit from reading it might never pick it up because they've done just that. It's also good to be reminded that picking a book up because it's pink is every bit as judgemental, in a different way. While Pink does explore themes of femininity and feminism and sexuality and gender identity, it's a book that I think everyone should read, regardless of what gender or sexuality they identify as.
In Pink, Lili Wilkinson has created a narrative of deceptively thoughtful brilliance: a story that thoroughly entertains the reader while exploring key questions of identity in terms that are both intelligent and accessible. With its smart, witty and intimate voice, Pink is a shining example of everything that's good about the best contemporary YA fiction. It's a book that asks big questions but thankfully doesn't offer trite answers. I adore it, and I'll be telling everyone who'll listen to get themselves a copy. Stat.
Out: this edition, 1st August 2010, UK