Letters – Issue 117

“Misleading expectations”

Barbara Else’s review (NZB, Spring 2016) of Mary-anne Scott’s young adult novel Coming Home to Roost contains several errors of fact. Else writes, “The blurb states that the novel tackles teen pregnancy from the boy’s point of view.” The book’s blurb does no such thing. In fact, it only alludes to a “rumour”, thereby making the reviewer’s subsequent comments about “misleading expectations” and so on inaccurate and misleading in themselves, not to mention spoilers.

The Roost title clearly indicates a character who wants his problems to disappear. The novel is not, as Else states, what “Scott is saying about male teens”, but it is what she’s saying about one male teen, her main character, Elliott. Rather than “dodging the issue”, she allows her character to find his own way, stumbling and awkward as that may be. He is hardly “let off the hook”.

It’s too easy for Else to dismiss Scott’s novel as an “issues book”. There was no large message driving this novel other than that of the all too common 17-year-old struggling with his brother’s success, his parents’ expectations and his own self-imposed limitations. News of Lena’s pregnancy comes later in the story and is yet one other thing Elliot would prefer to ignore ….

No marketing department, as was stated in the review, was involved in the writing of this novel. The writer was not rushed as suggested; she and I worked through the book carefully, twice. The second time we worked through the text sentence by sentence especially mindful to use the language of her characters. (Fortunately the author has four sons to call upon for advice.) As editor, I felt I was paid sufficiently by the publisher, thanks.

In my view, Mary-anne Scott does tell us “something important about teenage males in the clearest, most illuminating way”. Again, in my view, her characters are memorable. She reveals much about the loyalty between brothers and mates, and delights in their inventive, bantering humour, their deep, awkwardly displayed love. And Wellington, Arnie’s Wellington at least, is imaginatively and vividly embedded in this reader’s mind. There’s much to recommend in this novel, but more importantly, a distinct and individual voice to be encouraged.

Barbara Larson
Freelance editor

Barbara Else responds: “I did indeed make an error in the Scott section of the piece on trends in children’s reading and publishing. The line about the book tackling teenage pregnancy from the boy’s point of view was not in the blurb but was prominent in the marketing material that came with the review copy.”

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