"Carly has dropped out of uni to spend her days surfing and her nights working as a cook in a Manly café. Surfing is the one thing she loves doing … and the only thing that helps her stop thinking about what happened two years ago at schoolies week.
And then Carly meets Ryan, a local at the break, fresh out of jail. When Ryan learns the truth, Carly has to decide. Will she let the past bury her? Or can she let go of her anger and shame, and find the courage to be happy?" (from Goodreads)
Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar
Note: there may be some mild, general spoilers in this review for those readers completely unfamiliar with what this book's about.
The realistic characterization is one of the most solid aspects of Raw Blue. Kirsty Eagar has a way of capturing individuals very distinctly, so that the reader is really able to visualize them within a first impression. Her characters are flawed and troubled, each carrying his/her own baggage. However, I felt the varied cast of characters was a drawback in a way, because there are so many of them that we don't get to know any of them that well, excepting the main character Carly (and I had some trouble remembering who was who). There are some introduced at the beginning, like Kylie and Georgina, who simply seem to disappear partway through, once the relationship storyline as well as Carly's psychological progress take precedence.
Carly herself feels like a very real person. She's tough on the outside but very vulnerable, guarded but scared, and mentally and emotionally damaged from her experiences. She views herself negatively and the world cynically, mistrustful of others and relying only on herself. Throughout a large part of the book she blames herself for what happened, and I think in a way she believes that she deserved it. I think deep down she's afraid to hope for the future, and seeing herself as a "bad person" helps her avoid this. Carly's reactions didn't always seem that rational to me, but we're very different in some ways. At one point I felt like shaking some sense into her and making her realize that she was shutting Ryan out when he could help her.
I wasn't as thrilled with Ryan as a character. I know some readers swoon over him, but I feel like we don't really get to know him all that well — and neither does Carly. Their relationship's uneven progression left me going, "What? Did I miss something?" because it felt like the reader gets left out of a very crucial scene, one where emotional declarations or disclosures are made. Instead we are propelled from an uncertain kind-of-friends stage to a new level of intimacy, completely passing by all the stepping-stones in the middle that I really enjoy reading about in a burgeoning romance. (We don't even get to see their first kiss! I felt totally cheated.) And he and Carly don't actually talk about much at all besides surfing and work, at least until towards the end.
The friendship between Carly and Danny is rare in a YA novel, and I think other authors could take a cue from that in breaking out of the stereotypical friendships we see permeating the genre. Danny himself is a unique character — a 15-year-old mixed-race boy with synesthesia — and the age gap and lack of any romantic interest from either of them makes their relationship stand out.
The first half of the book at least has a noticeable lack of direction — it's more the detailings of the ins and outs of Carly's daily life rather than a decisive plot. The momentum of an actual story — at least beyond the horrible memories Carly struggles with — is missing. I knew ahead of time that this book involved rape, so the "mystery" of her past at the beginning wasn't a mystery for me (although I didn't know the details). Even when she and Ryan start hanging out, there isn't a real push in terms of plot. It's only when their relationship becomes very serious, and Carly's past begins to interfere with her present chance at happiness with Ryan, that things start to pick up.
As mentioned before, there are several characters that are introduced but then never play an important role in the story. It feels like there are subplots that get left hanging, or are just forgotten about when the Carly-and-Ryan plot takes over.
Also, most of the book is quite dark. It's never stated that Carly has depression, but some of the signs are most certainly there, and things take a decided turn for the worse partway through. While Carly's emotional state is understandable and empathy-deserving, it does make for a bleak read. Through most of the book I felt apprehensive, dreading what was to come. It seems like she just keeps getting dealt one bad hand after another, and you start to wonder if things will ever get better for her. Of course, Carly does have control over some of the events that happen, and her own power to make choices proves to be, in large part, what will determine her future. We also are shown how important support is, and how friends can kind of become family without you realizing it. The ending is hopeful and feels right.
While I felt like Raw Blue doesn't really bring anything new to the table in terms of its approach to the subject of rape, it illustrates well one girl's emotional response to such an experience, and makes clear that the reaction needs to be understood and taken seriously, not made light of. Carly demonstrates how devastating and damaging that experience can be, and how long it can take for someone to start to heal emotionally. Personally I thought her realization at the end comes a little out of the blue, her psychological progression happening a bit too quickly and conveniently. She doesn't acknowledge the cognitive distortions she'd held for so long surrounding her experience, and I wanted to see more of her thought process as she began to view things more positively.
A large number of the scenes in this book take place at the beach. There's a lot of surfing lingo used and frankly I found it difficult to visualize what was actually happening. I don't surf, personally, and it wasn't often described in such a way that I felt myself experiencing the activity along with Carly. Although sometimes the conversations that happened in between were interesting, and it's made clear that surfing satisfies an important emotional need for Carly, the actual surfing usually bored me. I wish there'd been less surfing and more scenes set in the restaurant.
I am not generally a fan of 1st-person present tense, as it tends to feel more choppy and stilted to me, and I find it more difficult to ease into. I think it also has the tendency to make things feel like they're moving more slowly, because you're experiencing everything in the moment with that character. Raw Blue really didn't need to feel any slower, because the pacing was quite sluggish already due to the lack of action.
The Aussie flavour of the book was both a pro and a con for me. Naturally, it grounds the book in a setting, providing an authentic cultural backdrop, but on the other hand the terms were sometimes unfamiliar to me and not always clear in context.
Kirsty Eagar's ability to capture a concept, thought or emotion in a succinct moment is something to be noted. She has a wonderful knack for crystallizing an idea with a short, poetic description that is often symbolic or metaphorical in some way. These little gems are scattered throughout the novel and cause one to sit back and reflect for a minute before moving on.
The "new adult" aspect: I thought that Carly's voice matched her age, embodying that "just starting out in adulthood" kind of vibe. Content-wise, it's definitely more mature than most YA. It would have been neat to have seen a few more flashbacks/memories of her college experience, but that wasn't really the point of this book.
Final verdict: 3 shooting stars. Excellent characterization and interesting in terms of psychology, but the slow-moving pace, lack of direction, and uneven romantic storyline bumped this one down for me. While there's a lot of substance here to analyze, in terms of personal enjoyment it fell short.
This book counts for my "New Adult" Challenge, the TBR Pile Challenge, and the Just Contemporary Challenge.
Note: there is mature, explicit sexual content and coarse language in this one. I wouldn't recommend it for early/mid-teen readers.