Every year as an educator I inevitably teach at least once a unit in Human Sexuality to a group of year 8 or 9 students. As part of this program we explore the gender and the general differences in brain function between the sexes. It never ceases to amaze students that in males the part of the brain which predicts unfavourable outcomes is less developed in teenage boys than their female counterparts. Of course, as educators we know this too well, seeing this played out on a daily basis with the boys that we work with.
“Why did you do that?”
The subject, a year 10 boy shrugs his shoulders.
“What were you thinking?” We probe a little further.
“Nothing.” Comes the emphatic response.
Nothing is probably the best description of what was going through the adolescent brain the moment the chair (or fist or rock) was thrown through the window. Impulsivity is characteristic of many teenage boys and the impact of such an episode is the core focus of Nova Weetman’s latest YA offering Everything is Changed. The novel tells the story of Jake and Alex, best mates who, in a moment of spontaneity, make a mistake that will change the course of their lives forever. Told in reverse the novel tracks back through events and documents how their lives, and those around them, literally fall apart.
Everything is Changed is suitable for use with students in the middle years of secondary school. I imagine that grade 10 will be the sweet spot for this. With engaging language and a cast of characters that students will easily identify with, this is a story that doesn’t preach. The story speaks for itself and will no doubt evoke an emotional response in students while also providing rich content for debate and discussion. In light of this I would definitely flag this as a wonderful text for shared class reading. Similarly, it would work well in smaller reading circles. Of course, in terms of text construction, the story provides wonderful opportunities to discuss how the reverse telling of the story contributes to our understanding of the key themes and ideas. Students might also appreciate comparisons with other film and prose texts that also challenge the convention of a linear and chronological narration; Pulp Fiction for example.
Everything is Changed is a compelling read with a grittiness that will strike a chord with adolescent readers. I imagine that many of these readers will find its accuracy haunting, as they will no doubt draw parallels between Jake and Alex and their own experiences.
Tanya Grech Welden